For a game based on a historical period and littered with historical figures, the latest Call of Duty game sure does take a lot of liberties with, well, history. So let's try and sort the fact from the fiction.
Call of Duty: Black Ops takes place during the Cold War, a period of time in the second half of the 20th century when tensions between the United States and the USSR threatened to plunge the world into a Third World War. While the two world superpowers never directly came to blows, they constantly fought proxy battles around the world in the name of their respective ideologies and agendas, and it's these conflicts amongst which Black Ops is set.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Beginning in 1961, with the abortive attempt by the CIA to retake Cuba from Communist forces at the Bay of Pigs, Black Ops spends the rest of the 1960s taking players to Vietnam, Hong Kong, the Soviet Union, the Arctic Circle and even the waters off the United States. Some of those places - and the reasons you're sent there - actually happened, others are ridiculous, while others, well...
Because they were secret operations, we can't be certain they didn't happen, regardless of how silly some of them seem.
Below you'll find some (we obviously don't have the space to list all) of the key events, weapons and pieces of equipment found in the game, broken down in the name of history to show you what really (or in some cases most likely) happened.
Now, we're not trying to pooh-pooh the game or the developers: they had a work of fiction to produce, and in many cases, the actual events of the Cold War weren't nearly as interesting or as exciting as they are in this game. We're just trying to give you a little background to all that stuff you'll be blowing up and rampaging through while playing the game.
THE BAY OF PIGS
What Was It? The Bay of Pigs invasion was an attempt by the US to remove Fidel Castro and his Communist government from power on the island of Cuba. Having a Communist nation so close to the continental United States was a major concern for the administration of President Kennedy, so in 1961 a small invasion force comprised almost entirely of ex-patriot Cubans (with more than a little help from US aircraft and the CIA) was landed on the beach at Playa Girón, on Cuba's south-western flank.
What Black Ops Got Right: In the game, what begins as a cocky adventure into Cuba ends in disaster, the American-backed Cuban exiles routed by a better-supplied, better-equipped Communist force. The few American handlers in the area overseeing the operation are forced to flee, as the "invasion" ends in embarrassment and defeat for the CIA (who backed the operation) and US President John F Kennedy. That's also how it went down in real life.
What Black Ops Got Wrong: Not much! While the exact locations and events depicted in the game may be fictitious (particularly the "assassination" of Fidel Castro), the general course of events as well as the involvement of US special forces and the United States Air Force in the battle checks out.
NAZIS IN THE SNOW
What Was it? During the game's "flashback" sequence, players take control of Reznov as the Soviets battle an elite Nazi force in the Arctic Circle. Despite this event taking place at the end of the war, when Germany was critically short on both men and equipment, you encounter a large Nazi base dug into the snow, complete with stores of nerve gas and V-2 rockets.
What Black Ops Got Right: Though the idea itself sounds fanciful, the Germans did establish bases in the Arctic Circle during the war, in such remote locations as the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, the Lapland region between Finland and Sweden and even Greenland.
What Black Ops Got Wrong: The Arctic Circle in the 1940s was a difficult place to work; getting enough men and equipment up there, even by boat, would have been almost impossible for the Germans by 1945. Because of this, the recorded German bases in the Arctic Circle were a lot smaller and a lot less dangerous, most being weather stations (indeed, one machine - "Kurt" - remained intact and undiscovered until 1981.
What Was It? The SR-71 - unofficially nicknamed the "Blackbird" - was a large, expensive and incredibly advanced spyplane built by the United States Air Force in the 1960s. Oh, it was also fast; so fast that the airspeed record of 3529km/h it set in 1976 still stands to this day, despite 34 years of subsequent advances in aeronautical engineering.
What Black Ops Got Right: The Blackbird first entered service in 1964, so flying one in 1968 - as you do in Black Ops - is real. So too is the "space suit" the player wears, as the SR-71 flew too high and too fast for a regular flight suit to keep a human alive. In the game, it also appears as though the Blackbird is flying in "space"; with an operational ceiling of 85,069 feet, it may as well have been.
What Black Ops Got Wrong: While the developers got most of the aircraft right, what they put inside it was a tad fanciful. In Black Ops, players use an infared video camera to guide a squad of infantry, who you are also in radio contact with. That kind of technology would not exist in the real world for decades, even for special forces units. Instead, the real Blackbird had to make do with regular cameras (both still and video) which were used for reconnaissance. It did have an infrared film camera, but it couldn't do the surveillance depicted in the game.
What Was It? In reality, Soyuz 2 was the second mission for the Soyuz class of spacecraft, launched atop the dependable Vostok class of rockets. It was a fairly routine mission as far as pioneering space flights went, with nothing exploding and nobody being killed.
What Black Ops Got Right: The rocket looks like it should, and Soviet spacecraft did indeed lift off from Baikonur, the base you storm during the game (and which is still a functioning space centre to this day). Amazingly, one of the early Soyuz craft did also explode, though as you're about to find out, it wasn't exactly under the circumstances depicted in the game.
What Black Ops Got Wrong: The developers got the destruction of a Vostok rocket and Soyuz spacecraft partially right. See, while Soyuz 2 - the craft you attack in the game - had an uneventful mission, its predecessor, Soyuz 1 (which takes off safely in the early stages of Black Ops' Baikonur mission) actually blew up on re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere after a litany of technical problems, killing its pilot.
HECKLER & KOCH G11
What Was It? The G11 was a prototype assault rifle designed by the West Germans, which despite its appearance in Black Ops never actually entered production. Work began on the weapon in the 1970s, and would continue through until the 1990s, when it vied with competing firearms to replace the M16 as the standard rifle of the United States military. In addition to its radical appearance, the G11 was a revolutionary weapon in that it fired "caseless" ammunition. Because its bullets did not eject shells, the rifle was easier to both use and maintain.
What Black Ops Got Right: Because the G11's ammunition did not have to spit empty shells out after every round, recoil was greatly reduced, making it an accurate weapon. In Black Ops, the weapon is only available during a single level - Hong Kong's Kowloon stage - but it's a memorable appearance, with the virtual G11 being as revolutionary (and accurate) in the game as it was in real life.
What Black Ops Got Wrong: Developers Treyarch got the look and feel of the gun right, but overlooked (or more likely did not care) the fact that the gun did not yet exist in 1968, the year in which it's given to players. Instead, design of the G11 did not begin until the early 1970s.
What Was it? A revolutionary assault rifle, designed by the Austrians and still in service in many armed forces (including those of Australia, the Netherlands, Taiwan and, of course, Austria) around the world today.
What Black Ops Got Right: Given to players during the assault on a Soviet base located beneath Mount Yamantau, Black Ops' version of the AUG looks and sounds like the real thing. And that's about it.
What Black Ops Got Wrong: Most levels of Black Ops are set during 1968. To have weapons like the G11 and the French FAMAS rifle in the game is wrong, both being designed only a few years after the events of the game. The Steyr AUG did not enter into production until at least the early 70s, so it's an anachronism too.
What Was It? In some stages of the game, players are given access to "Dragons Breath", a type of incendiary shotgun round that not only shoots its victims but burns them as well. It may sound like something out of a gun nut's fantasies, but it's actually very real.
What Black Ops Got Right: Dragon's Breath shells are incredibly expensive to produce, so yeah, it's right that they'd be rare. They also give off a tremendous "flash" effect when shot, which the game also replicates.
What Black Ops Got Wrong: Dragon's Breath rounds are for show. Because they're packed with zirconium, and have an emphasis on pyrotechnics rather than stopping power, they're actually very low-powered rounds compared to a regular shotgun blast, making them ineffective on the battlefield. They don't set people on fire, either; while the "flash" effect the rounds generate make them dangerous (and usually illegal) to possess on the grounds they're a fire hazard, that's only because the sparks could start a fire in things like grassland. There's nowhere near enough incendiary material inside a round of Dragon's Breath to make a man combust like they do in Black Ops.
What Were They? Zombies? They're the living dead. Corpses returning from beyond the grave to flesh on the living. In Black Ops, you get trapped in buildings surrounded by the things, and have to survive by slaughtering them in their thousands.
What Black Ops Got Right: Pretty much everything. A true zombie does not sprint, he shambles. They moan, they shuffle a lot, they have a taste for human flesh. Also, Treyarch were spot-on getting Fidel Castro as one of the survivors. As a member of the living dead himself, he's the first man I'd want by my side when the apocalypse comes a'knockin.
What Black Ops Got Wrong: Nothing.
You could raise a hundred more topics regarding history and this game. Would President Kennedy have really authorised an assassination attempt? Could the Soviets have built such an impressive underwater base right under the Americans' noses? Would an African-American (Bowman, played by Ice Cube) have been such a prominent figure in the pre-civil rights movement US combat forces of 1961?
Answering them, though, would be difficult. The beauty of setting a game during covert operations means we may not know the truth behind some of these events for years, if ever. And even if you could answer some of them, that would probably just lead to a hundred more questions! So let's be content with finding out the truth where we can, and leave the rest to the imagination of the kind of people who make video games.