As I see it, I owe Treyarch mad props. Though a bit derivative and lacking in serious upward movement, Call of Duty: Black Ops is a great entry in the series.
Though quality has, until now, ebbed based on developer, the Call of Duty franchise has never failed when it comes to offering a grand spectacle of lights and sounds. Black Ops absolutely dazzles when it comes to presentation. Characters look great; environments are varied and - gasp! - colorful... this is easily one of the series' more impressive offerings.
However, the one element that stands out above everything else is the animation. Facial modeling is realistic to the point of being creepy and helps to infuse just a little more emotion into scenes (now if only the same could be done for gameplay). I especially liked the improved enemy hit areas. Rather than drop to the default "leg hit" animation, reaction animations are based on where enemies were hit. Animations are still, as far as I can tell, canned, but shooting some in the knee looks different than shooting them in the upper leg.
Treyach drafted an all-star cast to fill out Black Ops' cast of characters. Sam Worthington dons an American accent to portray main character Alex Mason, while Gary Oldman once again jumps into the role of World at War's Viktor Reznov.
The non-star studded voices are just as good, but characters talk way too much during battle. Nearly everyone you're teamed up with is a Chatty Cathy. I could stand the excessive talking if it meant something, but often its just needless filler that, on occasion, overlaps over important information like what you're supposed to do next.
Music jumps between great and "meh." I loved the orchestral score running throughout the campaign, but could have done without "Fortunate Son" and "Sympathy for the Devil" showing up in certain areas. I get the concept, but the choices (at least "Fortunate Son"), by now, are almost cliché. Surely other songs came out during the era, right? At least you only hear it once.