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Call of Duty: Black Ops - multiplayer gameplay impressions from LA reveal


Following on from the first bunch of details from Black Ops' LA multiplayer reveal this morning, Justin Kranzl drops full play details, including hands-on experience with the exploding RC car and time with the just-videoed Wager modes.

Despite what the untutored layman may tell you, remote control cars are twitchy, fiddly numbers to control. Which is why in Call of Duty: Black Ops you’ll have the ability to unlock one on your third kill, which is strictly “entry level” in the COD vernacular. Easy access is important, because there’s every chance when you do get one, your strikes will be anything but surgical as you race around banging into scenery looking for any foe to drive it up to and explode.

We speak from first hand experience. Tonight at an event in Los Angeles, Treyarch finally unveiled its vision of multiplayer for the Call of Duty series. And the exploding RC car - unveiled in their initial trailer - was always going to play a part. But with press finally being given both detail and hands-on time, there’s considerably more on offer than rehashed Modern Warfare material and miniature four-wheelers.

As the earlier summary revealed, Treyarch has imbued Black Ops with a distinct gambler’s atmosphere. Players not only will accrue in-game currency (with no real-world monetary value, Activision producer Daniel Suarez was careful to point out) but they will be able to lose it to other players. COD Points (or CP) will not only enable additional goodies and customisation options to be bought, but will also be able to be gambled away in the form of in-game contracts (see below) and in the game’s Wager Match modes.

Playing in one of these modes - titled One in the Chamber - was an exercise in focus and frustration. The premise is simple: everyone spawns with a pistol and a knife. You have one bullet. Kill someone and get their bullet. Miss them, and you have to hare around trying to stab someone. Even in the comfortable confines of an opulent Activision event, the word most were using to describe the action was “intense”. Factor in people gambling online with their hard-earned CP (a typical Wager Match winning condition is finishing in the top three) and it’s only going to be more so.

Aside from running around shooting, missing, then trying to stab each other, a lot of play time was spent in trusty team deathmatch tonight. The first thing you'll notice is the sense of identity. Or rather - how the convergence of Treyarch’s Call of Duty body of work with the Modern Warfare series is as complete as it ever will be. The countdown to action, the colour slowly bleeding into black and white - even the sound and sight of your teammates sprinting carelessly away from you into open ground (and death). It all brings to mind Infinity Ward’s efforts - and that’s not even touching on the custom loadouts or the playing modes. The only omission we found was third-person deathmatch mode, presumably gone forever. The experience was kind of like Modern Warfare. Call of Duty: Recent Warfare probably wasn’t considered as compelling as “Black Ops”.

Recoil increased

Moving along. Standard multiplayer modes in Black Ops are like slipping into a comfortable pair of shoes. The main glaring difference we noticed - killstreak gimmicks like the RC car and the dogs (yes, they’re back) aside - was the dispersion and recoil on most of the weapons we tried was noticeably increased. When quizzed later on this, Suarez stated this was just a game balance technique, although we had a hard time finding any weapon which would fire bullets with the kind of precision of some of Modern Warfare 2’s.

The result is firefights which can last a beat longer than you may be used to. If Modern Warfare is blink and you’re dead, Black Ops is more blink and you’re at death’s door. If you’re not playing a Wager Match, it’s a safe expectation that if you’ve picked up Modern Warfare title in the past, you’ll know what to do right from the start.

Even the game’s new bot mode, Combat Training is being pitched not only as a skirmish field for new players, but also as a training tool for more advanced CODers. Suarez claims he likes to warm up with the mode before playing the hired guns at Treyarch. He thinks the mode will get some love for veterans who want to experiment without it costing them their precious kill:death ratio - which the game helpfully lists on the score screen.

There were two maps for players tonight. Radiation, a installation-themed map with an open area with a twist. A large hatch in the middle opens up and allows easy egress to a sub-floor level - otherwise only accessible from a (more vulnerable) ladder climb down. Expect this sub-area to come into play in objective-based modes; Suarez called it out as a control point area for the Domination play mode. Treyarch are hoping the ability to open and close the hatch adds an element of strategy, although in the games we played, strategy was taking a back seat to wild firing and kamikaze tactics.

The other map, Cracked, is a semi-destroyed urban locale. Lots of buildings to duck into, windows to shoot out from, and collapsed rubble to scale. Sessions on this map helped bring home the realisation people may love to complain about grenades - how many, how damaging - but everyone throws them about if they’re available. Black Ops follows Modern Warfare 2’s path in restricting their availability to freshly spawned players, but that didn’t stop the final kill on the very first game we played being to a hapless punter who ran into two at the same time.

If you’re the kind of person who runs around like a maniac trying to knife people you’ll have plenty to feel encouraged by here. Even amongst the sedate confines of the games press there was plenty of panicked melee action when aim failed. Throw in rewards - both from normal challenges as well as the new Contracts - for stabbing people, and you can expect to see even more.

While on the subject of Contracts, it’s the other way to gamble away your hard earned CP in Black Ops - although there’s arguably a little more control over how you do so. Contracts are split into three different types - Merc, Operations and Specialist - and are essentially you taking a bet on completing specified combat tasks in a set period of time. The more difficult the task, the higher the buy-in fee - and reward if you manage it. Merc contracts and Operations are reasonably run-of-the-mill, if difficult. Kill X people, finish on the top spot of the scoreboard, etc. But the Specialist contracts look positively evil. Kill five people - via headshot - in one life. That kind of thing.

Worth mentioning even from a couple of hours of play is the increased detail Treyarch has applied to the in-game player card. The game tracks considerable amounts of detail - weapon usage, accuracy, what’s killing you, and what you’re killing with. There’s pages of this stuff, even two different “heat map” options we saw, one showing on a model of your body where you’re being hit, the other showing the kill zones on a given map - where people are dropping. For those familiar with the Battlefield series of games and their stat tracking, it’s a familiar (and welcome) sight.

Special spot in our heart for flamethrower attachment

Our main reservation is Cold War setting or not, maybe it’s too reminiscent of last year’s winning formula. Differentiation in scenery is a hard ask from the two maps we saw: late 20th Century urban decay is ageless, and one industrial facility looks like another. Weapon differences too are toned down. Put away the Black Ops crossbow for a second and you’re confronted with a very similar set of firearms - a selection of shotguns, machine guns, rifles, pistols and rocket launchers are what you’ll be leaning on mainly. That said, we already have a special spot in our heart for flamethrower attachments, the “Grim Reaper” chain gun, and steerable rockets.

Ever the man with an eye for a quote, Treyarch head Mark Lamia described the studio as going “all in” on Black Ops. With the game’s big selling point being tied to in-game currency and the ability to win or lose more via online gambling in Wager Matches - it’s an apt statement. With Sledgehammer Games and Infinity Ward also working on Call Of Duty titles, it’s no secret Treyarch realises they have a one-game window to prove themselves the lead developer for the franchise. If they falter, it won’t be from offering multiplayer that’s unfamiliar to the masses.

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