Black Ops is a first-person shooter. The player assumes the role of a foot soldier and thus has access to various firearms, of which two at a time can be carried, as well as explosives such as grenades and other equipment to fight enemies. When players are close enough to an enemy, they can perform a melee attack which ensures a one-hit-kill.
A character can be positioned in one of the three stances: standing, crouching, or prone; each affecting the character's rate of movement, accuracy, and stealth. The player can directly dive prone from a standing position. The player can momentarily run faster before getting tired. When the character has taken damage, the screen glows red. Health regenerates by avoiding damage. When the character is within the blast radius of a live grenade, a marker indicates the direction of the grenade, helping the player to either flee or throw it back.
The game features a variety weapons such as crossbows (with alternative explosive ammunition), Dragon's Breath rounds and ballistic knives.