“Call of Duty: Black Ops” starts with you shooting Fidel Castro in the face. It ends with zombies swarming the Pentagon. In between, you’ll find a ridiculous and exciting Cold War thriller that’s both fun and troubling.

“Black Ops” shares the standard “Call of Duty” hallmarks. The single-player campaign is a hyperactively edited, globe-spanning story that features multiple lead characters. Multiplayer is a deep and progression-based shot of pure, story-free action. There’s a zombie-survival mode in which you and up to three friends last as long as possible against endless waves of the undead. “Black Ops” isn’t just another sequel, though; this is the best “Call of Duty” since 2007’s “Modern Warfare.”

It comes down to story. The campaign’s convoluted plot remains compelling no matter how quickly the game rushes through it. The political intrigue of the 1960s makes for a fascinating and relatively fresh setting, and the numerous twists offer up a number of genuine surprises.

It’s also a shooter, so it’s fundamentally childish. It’s another high-tech upgrade of the imaginary battles children have fought on playgrounds and in back yards for centuries, but marketed toward teenagers and adults. And it’s “Call of Duty,” so the thoughtfulness of “Bioshock” and nuanced storytelling of “Mass Effect 2” are replaced with action movie setpieces and eye-popping explosions. Character development is mostly restricted to references to “The Manchurian Candidate” and every Vietnam movie ever made.

Online multiplayer is what made “Call of Duty” a phenomenon. “Black Ops” has all the expected multiplayer modes, such as Team Deathmatch, Free-for-All and Domination. You get experience points for every kill and victory, which unlock perks and weapons. Matchmaking on the 360 is smooth, quick and mostly lag-free, but the PC version currently has a number of connection and server issues. Until Activision fixes those, you’ll want to stick to the consoles.

The multiplayer is a pure distillation of everything good and bad about “Call of Duty.” It’s a bloody but bloodless burst of thoughtless aggression that is tremendously fun to play. If you can divorce the polygons and computer code from the realities of combat, you’ll probably have a great time. If you’re somebody who wants to shout offensive slurs at strangers while fake-killing them on the Internet, you’ll be happy. If you’re even remotely troubled by trivializing or fetishizing war, then you probably already know that “Call of Duty” isn’t for you.



Hollywood is just one giant comic shop. TV sets and theaters overflow with iron dudes, bat bros and other adolescent power fantasies. With both comics and their Hollywood adaptations, you have to dig deeper to find the good stuff, and it rarely gets better than Robert Kirkman’s zombie series, “The Walking Dead.”

A monthly comic that started in 2003, “The Walking Dead” uses a devastating zombie outbreak as the backdrop for a richly textured ensemble drama. It’s a best-selling independent comic, but not as well-known or successful as such superhero fare as “The X-Men” or “Spider-Man.” Don’t be surprised if AMC’s new TV show, which debuts tonight at 10, changes that.

Kirkman has written every issue of the comic, with art from Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard.

He was always open to Hollywood adapting the comic, but he never thought it would happen.

“It’s the zombie movie that never ends,” he recently told the Herald. “You can’t really turn that into a movie, and I didn’t think anybody would be awesome enough to do this on TV.”

It almost didn’t happen. Frank Darabont, director of “The Shawshank Redemption,” has spent five years trying to get the show on the air. Darabont, who produces “The Walking Dead” and wrote and directed the pilot, originally optioned the series in 2005, Kirkman said. “It drifted in semilimbo until (“Aliens” and “Terminator”) producer Gale Anne Hurd came along, and then AMC was brought in. That happened about 18 months ago. From that point on, it’s been full-speed ahead.”

Don’t expect a scene-for-scene adaptation of the comic.

“It’s important to me that the comic book and the show don’t spoil each other,” said Kirkman, who also wrote an episode and serves as an executive producer. “I don’t want anybody who’s reading the comic to know exactly what’s going to happen in the show, and I don’t want anyone who’s seen the show to read the comic and see the exact same thing they watched on TV.”

“(Darabont) and the writers honor the comic book,” said Kirkman. “There are a lot of key moments from the comics, and characters act like they’re supposed to, but there are unexpected twists and turns that will make this show absolutely enthralling for anybody who’s read the comics.”

One thing that will make the jump to the screen: the comic’s gory violence.

“I don’t know if (AMC) paid people off or what, but the show is full of startling violence that you wouldn’t expect to see on television,” Kirkman said with pride. “It’s not gratuitous, and it’s very much part of the story, but I think people are going to forget that they’re watching a TV show. People are going to be blown away.”

Kirkman tries not to think about “The Walking Dead’s” gradual lurch from popular indie comic to full-blown phenomenon.

“If I did, I’d get too excited and wouldn’t get any work done,” he said. “I try not to let myself enjoy it. Which is just sad.”


What happened to the faux-rockers and pretend pop stars? Have they moved on to real music-making? Music game sales plummeted over the last year, thanks to overexposure, market glut and the economy. No fads last forever, but has the music really stopped?

“Rock Band 3” proves there’s still room for growth in the genre. It features the full-band tour modes, online options and deep, diverse set list you expect from “Rock Band,” along with the standard guitar, bass, drums and vocals lineup. It also adds a keyboard to the mix. This isn’t just a controller, but a fully functional, two-octave MIDI keyboard. In normal mode, you use five keys color-coded like the buttons on the guitar. Switch over to the new Pro Mode and you’re actually playing keyboards, hitting both white and black keys up and down the neck.

There’s also Pro Mode for guitar, with two new controllers arriving soon. One awkwardly simulates a real guitar with 17 frets and six plastic buttons apiece. The other is a real six-string Fender Squier that can plug into an amp or into an Xbox. The Squier has fantastic potential as an instructional tool, and there are enough lessons and tutorials here to teach the basics of guitar playing to anyone.

Pro Mode requires a gamer to either memorize each song or to possess an uncanny ability to understand a new musical notation system. It feels like work, but it’s worth it when you feel the pride of earning five stars on a song on Pro Mode’s expert level.

“Guitar Hero” returns with the limp “Warriors of Rock.” It regresses from last year’s fine installment, with an embarrassing story cribbed from “Brutal Legend” and a set list that skews toward metal and hard rock. It’s the least essential “Guitar Hero” since the series added drums and microphones.

“DJ Hero 2” superbly upgrades a strong original. You’ll hit buttons, scratch and crossfade between tracks like before, but now a friend can sing along. It’s easier to start up a multiplayer game with the new Party Play mode. Most importantly, the soundtrack is full of great music. While a few mash-ups are awkward, the New Order/Major Lazer and “War”/“Superstition” tracks more than compensate.

While “Guitar Hero” stagnates, “Rock Band 3” continues to grow as both a game and instructional tool. “DJ Hero 2” is fresher than either and feels more like a game. Still, “Rock Band 3” can’t be beat.


It’s obvious why most Nintendo characters are popular. They look cute or cool and play off basic heroic myths. Mario’s an out-of-shape Everyman who occasionally turns into a superhero. Link is a young adventurer with a wicked arsenal of swords, bombs and boomerangs. Samus Aran is a no-nonsense bounty hunter who straight-up kills everything.

Then there’s Kirby, who’s just a pink blob of goo. Yeah, he’s cute, especially when he furrows his brow, but in a generic way, like a smiley button. There’s no life to him, no light behind those cartoon eyes. My lack of regard for Kirby is so deep and entrenched that I usually forget he exists. That’s why I’m shocked at how great “Kirby’s Epic Yarn” is.

This is a gorgeous game. Kirby usually looks like the child of a Pokemon and a chewed-up wad of bubblegum, but “Epic Yarn” turns him into a circle of pink thread and places him in a world where everything’s made of cloth. It makes your TV set look like the inside of a Jo-Ann Fabric store. Bright colors and realistic textures give “Epic Yarn” a novel and immensely enjoyable aesthetic. Toss in a less-cloying version of Kirby’s standard adorableness and you have a pure visual distillation of childlike wonder.

Beyond the good looks, “Epic Yarn” is a well-crafted, two-dimensional platformer. Kirby jumps from platform to platform, swinging from buttons, grabbing collectibles and pulling zippers to open new areas. Enemies are defeated by pulling on the buttons they have for eyes. Kirby transforms into a car, a submarine, a tank and other vehicles to overcome certain obstacles. Two can play together the entire time, with the second player controlling Kirby’s friend Prince Fluff.

“Epic Yarn” can get tricky in spots, but it never punishes the player. Kirby can’t die, so survival isn’t an issue. It’s a relaxed jaunt through a beautiful world with a few difficult jumps to keep you on your toes.

Sure, it might look like kid’s stuff next to the blood-soaked dudes of “Grand Theft Auto” or “Call of Duty.” It’s obviously built with children in mind, but good games transcend generations. If you love superlative art direction and elegant game design, no matter the genre, you might love “Epic Yarn.”

If you won’t even consider playing it because you think you’re too old, then you probably shouldn’t be playing video games at all.