If you read our hands-on preview of the recent Call of Duty: Black Ops multiplayer reveal, you might have a vague sense that we’ve only just scratched the surface. And you’d be right. There is, indeed, much, much more to say. The teams at Treyarch and Activision have loaded Black Ops with more multiplayer features, game modes and customizable gear than we’ve seen in any deathmatch pile-up in recent memory. While history will ultimately determine whether this online go-around with CoD can give Halo’s multiplayer a run for its money, there’s certainly enough here to keep diehard death-dealers challenged.
We’ve already told you quite a bit about Combat Training (a welcome, artificial alternative to actual people), CoD Points and Wager Matches (finally, a place where I can gamble on human life), Contracts (as if the constant cycle of headshots and tea-baggings wasn’t already challenging enough) and the Theater (for celebrating your victories or becoming the star of another player’s virtual snuff film). We’ve gone over Killstreaks, emblems, loadouts and perks. We’ve killed; we’ve been killed. And still there’s more to say….
But before we dig deeper into the maps and gameplay modes through which we offered up our inelegant, curse-laden pwnage, here’s a look at our trigger-happy experience and a brief glimpse at how we took our own ops from pitch black to blood red:
There’s virtually nothing that can doom even the most fully-featured multiplayer game than a poorly designed, badly balanced set of maps. Alternately, a strong set of unique arenas can make the difference between a solid game and a title that consumes your life and ruins your marriage. Having glimpsed four new levels of Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cracked, Radiation, Launch and Summit – we’d venture to say that the verdict is still out on this latest chapter in the franchise.
Of the four we played, three consisted of military-style locations, remote bases offering a variety of close-quarters and out-in-the-open combat. While the corrugated metal facades and flickering retro tech became a bit repetitive from level to level, lacking the distinct visual motifs seen in Modern Warfare 2’s High-Rise or Quarry, each level featured some first-rate design elements, not the least of which is a massive nuclear weapon mid-liftoff. Here’s a quick breakdown of what we played:
Radiation: With the exception of a small outdoor area flanked on two sides by railings and ledges – the perfect vantage from which to fire down on your friends – Radiation is largely a close-quarters map, set against the dimly-lit hallways of a military industrial space. In the center of the map, a set of blast doors and radiation vents lead down into a sub-surface series of passageways. A conveyor belt can help launch players back up to the surface with a well timed jump, so long as you avoid falling into the churning grinders below.
Summit: A second cousin to Modern Warfare 2’s snowy submarine level, Summit offers up a high-altitude, ice-laden complex for a nice combination of indoor and outdoor combat. While not as sprawling or expansive as its distant relative, a multi-level interior command center with tall, vaulted ceilings offers a reprieve from the cold outside. But if you’re the type who likes to hole up in a tight, quiet sniping position, keep an eye out for a ski-lift boxcar you can reach with a perfectly executed leap.
Cracked: Perhaps the most visually distinct of the four levels we played, Cracked offers up a sun-baked city in absolute ruin. Surface and subterranean levels merge seamlessly as sunken streets descend into the basements of collapsed buildings. Small gaps between blown-out, brick-and-mortar walls allow for straight-on sniping locations while thru-lanes and alleyways set the scene for some cat-and-mouse machine gun action. Flaming vehicles and some eye-catching graffiti offer a dash of personality.
Launch: The night’s loudest “Holy sh*t!” moment came courtesy of Launch. As we emerged from an in-door firefight, muzzle-flare lighting the darkness, a high-pitched wail cut the gunplay. The cacophony of bullets was instantly swallowed up by the sounding of an alarm that could signal absolutely nothing positive. As our enemy demonstrated a clear inability to absorb bullets with his cranium, we spilled out into the daylight, sirens blaring, to discover a massive nuclear missile thrusting itself in a fiery display toward heaven. Sadly, however, we’re told that there’s no way for players to perch atop the bomb as it rises from the silo below, although there’s no scenario we can conjure greater than the kamikaze glory of sniping down on your opponents whilst riding a bomb into space.
One of the game’s most impressive touches is the way in which the new modes immediately change the ideal strategy for each map. While all the old favorites are present – Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, etc. – the four new Wager Modes provide a completely original, and often significantly more intense, gameplay experience. Combined with the ability to gamble your CP on the likelihood that you’re much better (or suck much less) than your enemies provides a totally new feel to CoD’s mulitiplayer action.
Gun Game: Likely my favorite of the new Wager Modes, Gun Game truly tests your proficiency with each weapon. Beginning with the most basic and ascending to the most powerful, the mode will provide you a new weapon with each kill you make, reaching its crescendo with the ballistic knife and the explosive crossbow. You’ll have to factor in elements like reload times and rate-of-fire as you go head-to-head with similarly armed enemies. But there’s a catch in that being knifed will set you back a weapon, so use your blade strategically on those with a more powerful arsenal than yours. But watch your backs…
Sticks and Stones: This mode is more about the money. Players are provided the crossbow and the ballistic knife along with a single Tomahawk. A kill with either the bow or the blade will earn you a good bit of wealth, while an expertly tossed Tomahawk will bankrupt your enemies and set their earnings back to zero.
Sharpshooter: A play on the Gun Game mode, Sharpshooter cycles every player in the match through each available weapon in timed rounds, ensuring that everybody on the board is carrying the same loadout. A minute with the pistol, a minute with the rocket launcher, and your strategy can never, ever remain static.
One in the Chamber: This might certainly be the most challenging (read: frustrating) of the new modes if you’re not a deadshot, straight-between-the-eyes marksman. Players are given a pistol, one bullet and three lives. Kill a dude and grab their bullet; miss a shot and you’re left with only your knife…with which you could cut the proverbial tension provided by this pulse-pounding game-mode.
And with that, we’ve officially scratched the surface of Call of Duty: Black Ops’ multiplayer component, but after a few hours of blastin’ fools, we’re convinced that there are dozens…and dozens…and dozens of hours to come. Check out the brand new Wager Match trailer and start brushing up on your headshots because Black Ops is rapidly approaching...