Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 multiplayer - First details, impressions and screens
14th Aug 2012 | 07:18
The reveal for
Two years ago, the publisher took over the California Science Centre for the first Black Ops and last year it rented out Howard Hughes's old airplane hangar for the utterly insane COD: XP. Attendees to the latter event will remember the three-storey zip line, the life-size replicas of The Pitt and the Scrapyard Maps from MW2 and Kanye West closing out the event.
Compared to that, the Black Ops 2 multiplayer reveal at a non-descript building in Cologne looked positively subdued. It was fitting in a way; perhaps Treyarch were aware that there was only so much time to unload a massive information dump on the journalists crowded into the venue. The last thing they needed was to have us distracted by flashing lights and celebrities. We had a lot to get through.
Between a lengthy presentation by Treyarch's Game Design Director, David Vonderhaaar, and two-and-a-half hour's worth of time spent at its controls, Black Ops 2's online mode seems focussed on bringing the player up to speed as quickly as possible.
Treyarch have crafted a mode that's eminently accessible; it hurls a ton of customisation options at the player, encourages them to work out their preferred approach to playing the game and then drops a couple of carrots in front of them to keep them glued to the multiplayer incessantly. While it's doing all this, it also sizes up the player's skill level and prepares to introduce them to a wider community by upping the stakes of the entire experience. Here's how they do it:
First up, Treyarch's bolted a brand new Create-A-Class feature to the multiplayer. The rigid Class structure in which players were forced to fill slots with weapons, perks and equipment has been stripped out and replaced with a points system. The new 'Pick 10' system assigns the player 10 points to buy perks, weapons and equipment and they can spend them any way they like. If, for example, you've never used your secondary weapon in a fight, why bother having it? With the Pick 10 system you can toss your secondary weapon aside for some points, which you can then use to buy a second weapon attachment.
Players can also buy Wildcards for a point a piece, which allow them to deepen their customisation options. The 'Perk Greed I' Wildcard, for example, allows players to double up on perks from Tier 1, so you can pick the Hardline perk and the Flak Jacket perk at the same time. Wildcards also allow players to bolt up to three attachments to a gun or carry more grenades and flashbangs. Naturally, there are a limited number of slots to maintain the balance in the multiplayer; you can't start a match with eight perks and three bazookas.
Once players find themselves in a match they'll notice that Killstreaks are gone. Or rather, they've been renamed - they're now called Score Streaks - and they've been made easier to string together. Every Score Streak reward now has a numerical value attached to it, and players obtain them by reaching said score through their activities on the battlefield.
For example, if a player wants to call in a UAV, they need 300pts. In the past, they'd earn this device by simply shooting three opponents in a row. Now, they can obtain it by carrying out three actions that tally up to the value of 300 pts; say, pick up an enemy flag (100pts), shoot an enemy (100pts) and then plant the enemy flag back at their base (100pts).
The Score Streak rewards are a mixture of new and old. Dependables such as the UAV, Care Packages and Attack Dogs rub shoulders with re-skinned units such as a new miniature gunship, which functions the same way MW2's gunships did, although it's harder to hit. The new Score Streak rewards are a tantalising cocktail of real-world weapons and borderline sci-fi.
The Guardian, for example, is a riot control device currently in prototype stages. It's a turret that emits microwaves that frazzles enemies and slows them down, allowing players to pick them off easier. The HellStorm rocket, we're told, is based in reality; it works like the Predator Missiles from MW, except its head splits into six separate warheads that can spell doom for any team moving together in a close formation.
There is a tonne of deployable ordinance that depends on AI but in a neat twist, players can assume control of a lot of them. Once they've called in an AI-driven vehicle like say, the AGR, a four legged tank with twin-mounted canons, players can hit a button and they'll be able to pilot it from a first-person perspective. The switch-over is seamless, although piloting a vehicle leaves the player vulnerable to attack. If they die, the AI resumes control.
The new weapons in Black Ops 2 also ride the line between reality and hi-tech fantasy. Most of the guns look like gussied up weapons from the MW games, but there are some weapons among them that are unique to Black Ops 2. The Assault Shield, for example, is a steel riot shield that players can slam into the ground and use for cover in a firefight.
Shock Charges zap enemies and freeze them for a few seconds, while an EMP grenade will knock out any AI units that are pestering the players. Oh, and Campers? Your number's up. The Millimeter (sic) Wave Scanner allows players to look through walls and spot stationary targets so it turns you lot into sitting ducks.
There are even some nasty Uber Weapons available; the War Machine is a grenade launcher the size of a ham hock that pumps explosive rounds into the air, while the Death Machine is a handheld gatling gun that turns anything in front of it into paint.
While the new arsenal is tons of fun to muck about with, the basic COD gameplay is exactly the way you remember it. Firefights are close-quarter pressure cookers favouring a frenetic shotgun-first-ask-questions-later approach. The maps on show at the event complimented this style of play, although two of them, Cargo and Turbine, had certain quirks that made them more entertaining.
Cargo takes place in a container bay at the LA docks, and while players frag each other, cranes move containers about, creating pathways and removing cover as they do so. Turbine is set in and around a canyon with a wrecked plane in it, which players can run up to get a better vantage point on the ground below them. The remaining two maps, Aftermath and Yemen, were classic COD street battles in urban environments.
There was only one new match type we could play at the event, Hardpoint, in which players have to control a zone on the map that switches position at random. It's essentially a riff on the King of The Hill match type in Gears Of War 3. Far more impressive was the fact that the game now supports up to four teams hammering away at each other, although the maximum amount of players online in any given match is still set at 18.
The usual collection of medals, tags and emblems are available for the player to earn, and they rack up XP with every single match. This, in turn allows them to open up a whole list of items, weapons, perks, Score Streak rewards and so on. There are 55 levels in total and Treyarch say it's impossible for a player to have unlocked everything by maxing out their rank. This means that content is available for players who decide to Prestige - and there are a further 10 levels of that.
Unlockables aren't the only carrot that Treyarch are holding out for players to keep themselves glued to Black Ops 2. The online mode also comes with ranked matches in the form of League Play. As players frag each other in the multiplayer, the mode takes note of their skill level and when they're ready for the leap into League Play, it puts them in a league with players on their skill level.
Once they've started to obliterate the competition in their division on a regular basis, they're promoted up to the next league. It also monitors how they behave and punishes players who quit matches often and early. This means that players who are deliberately trying to land in a league beneath their skill level are in for short shrift.
Of course, the ranked matches in Black Ops 2's multiplayer are a way to marry the franchise with eSports, and Treyarch are keen to push this angle. To that end, they've also added an eSports sportscasting tool-set to the mode, so players can commentate - or CODcast - on games. While they provide play-by-play, CODcasters can switch between vantage points, swap to a map overview, toggle display options on the HUD and even drop in and out of the conversations between the different team players.
So armchair commentators take note: if you're rubbish at shooting games but good at adding vocal colour to videos, you may be a star in the COD community yet. Such is Treyarch's commitment to eSports that they've even announced a Live Streaming service is in development, which could be bringing COD matches to a tablet device near you soon.
Treyarch, amazingly, also have more to announce. While we didn't get to it at the first online mode reveal, the developer reeled off a lengthy list of features including a new Emblem Editor, Theatre Mode Enhancements, a new Core & Party Game Mode and new Combat Training mode, alongside which they promised deeper customisation and new challenges. If these promises are all fulfilled, Black Ops 2 will have content bursting through its seams - and this is before Treyarch's even mentioned the new and improved Zombie mode.
But what's evident at the time of this writing is that Treyarch clearly have a strategy for raking in audience members. The new eSports building blocks will introduce punters to a wider community and it offers up a reason to keep playing the online mode beyond unlockables and baubles.
The new Class customisation allows players to test and experiment, while the new Score Streaks make it a little easier to compete against more skilled opponents. The online mode is accessible, malleable and, yes, it's an incredible amount of fun. And it's tactically crafted to keep players glued to it long into the night...