Call of Duty: Black Ops Multiplayer Review
22nd Nov 2010
Call of Duty: Black Ops reviewed on Xbox 360 by Adam Hall. Game supplied for review by Activision. You can read our review of the single player campaign right here
Considering this is Treyarch's first real foray into the modern arm of the Call of Duty series, it has a lot to live up to when faced with the mighty Modern Warfare. With regards to multiplayer, Infinity Ward's baby has made a habit of breaking records and charming gamers by the bucket load, so how do you improve upon such a ludicrously successful formula without running the risk of breaking it?
What it comes down to is finding a balance between keeping the experience familiar so veterans are comfortable in the transition and improving upon it so the migration itself is justifiable. Easier written than done, I'm sure you'll agree, but just how I came to establish such a statement is not because of any great insight or experience, but purely because Black Ops' multiplayer has done it.
One of the most important and distinct changes to occur in Black Ops' multiplayer is the control of unlocks, upgrades and customisation now falling on an in-game currency called COD Points. Although experience points earned from kills and objectives still bridge the gaps between rank levels and item availability, before anything can be used or modified it must be purchased from within the Create a Class menus.
Besides the usual weapons and attachments, players can spend their wages on everything from skins to face paint to personalised Playercards, right the way down to sight reticle and lens styles - which offer some rather interesting alternatives to a dot if, for example, you're partial to aiming through an incandescent skull. In fact, an emphasis on customisation underpins a huge part of the player's experience, and although it populates servers with prime-coloured soldiers, killing the sense of realism somewhat, it does afford the player a greater investment in their game.
Quite literally, in fact: most interesting of all is how the currency system has been integrated into specific game modes. Obviously there's the usual deathmatch with team variants, Domination, Capture the Flag and the popular Search and Destroy, to name but a few, but where things get interesting and novel for the series is Wager Matches, a completely separate subset of modes in which players gamble their COD Points on the outcomes of special games.
All of them are worthy of at least a brief look, but the two most appealing and likely to prosper as time goes by are Gun Game and One in the Chamber. Those familiar with Counter-Strike will undoubtedly have come across Gun Game and its fast-paced, sprint-to-the-finish-line mantra before. Each kill grants the player a weapon upgrade, starting with a pistol, and the first to score with them all, evading knife attacks which drop you a level, is crowned the winner. It's simple and usually over in a flash when played with experienced players, but for the average group a reasonable struggle unfolds thanks to the order of weaponry being less than forgiving.
One in the Chamber is more reserved, providing the player with a handgun and the standard knife but only one bullet at a time, instant kills and only three lives per player. There's a lot of taunting and circle-strafing when both parties miss their mark, even with the game's noticeable but conservative aim-assist, but for the most part it's a remarkably intense and refreshingly tactical experience brought on by the panic of super vulnerability and insanely limited resources.
These modes alone make a huge difference in Black Ops' multiplayer. Before, COD has always been the more arcade shooter to the average gamer, but with Wager Matches the game modes themselves add an element of casual tactics to the proceedings. Players have their stats and hard-earned virtual money riding on the games so it inspires a sincerity in conduct that is, with no illusions, practically unheard of in the COD series outside of arranged clan play.
And pushing it further is the map design. Irrespective of which mode you're playing the layouts promote constant movement by ensuring any one point is attackable from multiple angles. Camping still occurs, but it's short-lived when other players are rarely more than a few walls away. Generally this forces teams into being a little creative in their approach to gain the advantage, establishing choke points and diversions and so on, and winning with cohesion as opposed to blind luck. Such design has downsides though, like limiting the opportunities for the sniper class and making certain capture points in Domination difficult to attain, but these are relatively easy to overcome with a little teamwork, and the game undoubtedly benefits from proactive player movement.
Speaking of which, it's worth mentioning the newly-introduced dive to prone feature that allows players to hurl themselves to the floor when crouch is pushed during a sprint. For such a theoretically simple addition it has a substantial pay-off on the battlefield, granting rapid entry into a sturdy aim and visually decreasing your body, and thus target size in the process. The most prolific use of the ability appears in Domination whereby players will hit the deck at a capture point and instantly be ready to defend, but its application can be witnessed in just about any situation that would benefit with a surprise attack or just because it's fun. It's useful. That's what is important.
And still, as if that wasn't enough, even the killstreaks have received an overhaul to angle them more toward the co-operative, or at least the helpful. Rewards like the spy plane that displays enemy locations on the mini-map or the placeable SAM turret that shoots down enemy aircraft allow the entire team to benefit from a single player's achievement. It may not be ostensible, but there is a cohesion between even the most random of teams, and it makes for a much richer experience from game to game. Unfortunately the gunship makes a return after 11 straight kills, and it's as overpowered and frustrating as ever, but the right amount of moaning from the community might change that at some point down the road, and I'll be damned if the Internet isn't a vessel.
There's really very little else to complain about, though. Taking on Infinity Ward is not an easy task by any means, but the extents to which Black Ops' multiplayer has been broadened in comparison to Modern Warfare 2's, both in content and features, whilst retaining the traditional image and feel is a testament to Treyarch's craftsmanship. The team has simply worked wonders.
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