Black Ops Multiplayer: Is It Finally Time To Reload?

The latest Call Of Duty game has been out for just over five days now and we’ve had a good chance to throw ourselves deep into the new and vast sea of the Black Ops multiplayer experience. As Matt has done such a fine job of reviewing the single player aspect, I don’t feel I can add much more to his comments as he has mentioned nearly every note worthy element to the Black Ops campaign. I will just quickly say that it is a surprisingly well told and clever plot, with eye popping set pieces and perfectly paced gameplay. So if you would like to read more about the offline campaign then quickly zip over to Matt’s first review, then head back over here for my verdict on the multiplayer specifically.

As I have highlighted in previous articles, a certain percentage of CoD fans still had Black Ops figured as something like “Modern Warfare 3” in their brains, and while Black Ops is certainly a more than worthy successor to MW2 it is important we make this point early on; it is not even trying to be MW3 and you shouldn’t expect it to be.

Multiplayer on Black Ops works much more closely to Treyarch’s previous title World at War (2008) for obvious reasons, but it has also been carefully observing the community who’ve been playing Modern Warfare 2 for the past year. Firstly, despite the weapons being drawn from an older historical period (in most) you will barely notice after several hours of play. They are equally as crisp and punchy, offering such an immediate satisfaction when you fire them you will scarcely process that it is actually older weaponry. That’s a useful detail to bear in mind for those who are struggling to desert their beloved gun classes on MW2.

The Black Ops arsenal ranges from; pistols (dual and single), sniper Rifles, grenade launchers, to giant chain guns and napalm strikes. Depending on your style of play, certain types will rapidly become favourites, mine at the moment personally being the dual HS-10 shotguns (“ being punched by a brick wall”) and the AK74U, which accommodates the snappy reactions most CoD players will develop.

Map design has been taken up a notch in my opinion, with some of the levels feeling so gigantic and looking so detailed I have frequently received several headshots because I was gawping at the lighting splashing through an open window, or standing still trying to figure out which way I need to go. Each map has its own distinct feel to it, and players will perform better or worse on certain maps simply because they are so different from one another, and require a very different pacing or tactic to play.

For example the smallest map currently available (watch this space for a rush of DLC soon) ‘Nuketown’, is roughly the size of say…a shoebox…or in CoD terms; it serves as the new ‘Rust’. Where on MW2, Rust was hastily over-voted in most game lobbies because it was literally ridiculous to play on, Nuketown is already massively popular for rapid bouts of FFA or team deathmatch. Now if we compare this to a far larger map like ‘Cracked’. Cracked demands that you run around its crumbling streets flicking your gun towards any shimmer of movement in one of the many windows or alleyways leading onto the main road, it’s exhilarating and visually stunning. Over the 14 currently available maps we can confidently say that there is a map or an area within in each map that will lend itself nicely towards whatever style of play you desire, and in all likelihood you will be very impressed by quite a few of them.

The multiplayer menu has had some refreshing and pleasing changes, like the voting system for the next map gives you one of three options “previous, next, or random” which is infinitely more user friendly than simply “voting to skip”. If you happen to accidentally hit the wrong button and vote for something you didn’t intend to then you can cast your vote again, which also means you can use your vote tactically to optimal effect. For the first time ever, you can play split screen online and test your skills against the world with a buddy/girlfriend/boyfriend/wife…ok in all likely hood just a buddy. Your local player will be able to use any of your weapon classes and perks whilst playing with you, but at the moment it is only on the Xbox 360 version that player 2 can sign into their Xbox Live tag which is a bit of a bummer. However the split screen is a hugely commendable addition to the franchise as there are only a handful of games that actually think to include it, so kudos to Treyarch here.

Another big change is the introduction of CoD points or ‘currency’ as Treyarch like to call it. You earn currency alongside your regular payment of XP with each match you complete and then spend it on any number of things. You must first unlock the option to purchase something before you can actually buy it though, so you need both forms of points for almost everything.

Customization is the keyword in today’s competitive multiplayer games, and Black Ops doesn’t fail to meet the demands. Once you reach a certain rank you will be able to create a player card (the strip your name sits on in a lobby) by buying templates and creating logos. You can also apply the regular  camo paint jobs on all of your guns, and you can now even choose your gun reticle shape and colour (circle’s, crosses, lines,  green, red, yellow), and then engrave your well thought out (*suppresses chuckle*) clan tag onto the side of any weapon.  Oh and you can slap your player logo onto them as well… so yes like I said customization is a big deal here but why why why you ask? Well partly because the clever little devils that Treyarch are know you love to personalize erm everything, and partly because of the newly introduced theatre mode.

Theatre mode records and stores evvvvvvery match you play for up to 7 days, you can watch back a game from any players perspective either in a first person perspective, third person view, or a free flying camera. You can slow down and speed up segments, record them yourself and edit them into mini homemade videos to be uploaded to the gargantuan servers then rated by the Black Ops community. Whilst serving a tactical purpose for hardcore players, theatre mode lets us plonk together all our kills into one super show off video like one of Rambo’s wet dreams. You’ll love it. Treyarch have also been using it to quickly identify glitchers and cheats, and then quickly take appropriate action so don’t give them any reason to watch that FFA where you got a 30 killstreak…

A new range of challenges wait to be completed as you gradually level up, and you can place small bets on ‘contracts’ with specific criteria and a time limit to do it in (e.g. get 15 kills in 40 minutes). Each contract becomes available again after a set time). Speaking of gambling, it’s probably a logical time to mention the new (yes another new feature) Wager match lobby.

Wager matches, according to Treyarch, came directly from the community’s ideas. The modes split up into four distinct FFA-modded match types, each with their own unique twist on the classic FFA playlist. The foundation of Wager mode is rooted in those gamers who like to take big risks, and laugh manically when they pound other players in to a ‘disconnect’,  thus Treyarch are letting them put their money where their fuzzy-microphoned-mouth is.

At the start of each match you place a bet that you will finish in the top three players…in Wager match lingo it is called being “in the money”. The few matches I managed to muster the courage to play were absolutely terrifying and spine tingling-ly awesome. The rush you get when you are playing these modes cannot be found in many other games, “One in the chamber” being my favourite (players get one bullet each…watch some videos on Youtube…you’ll see).

Mentioning the various game modes and lobbies, I should also say that navigating between them has been made easier thanks to a quick switch button. The first waiting screen when you sign on shows you a map of the world with little white lights, showing the distribution of player population around the planet, making you aware of just how big Black Ops is and making you feel part of something epic. Private matches can actually now be made erm private, with a long awaited option to change the privacy filter to your lobby and/or party. No more crazy stalkers with voice changers freaking you out then.

Did we mention that Black Ops is as addictive if not more addictive than any other CoD game in history? The multiplayer is so well crafted that most gamers will put hours at a time in to it without even realizing, and the subtle additions, modifications, and tweaks turn it into a truly competitive masterpiece. Small things like the quirky CoD stats displayed in the banner at the bottom of the screen saying stuff like “6,980,332 players stabbed in the back”, no more quickscoping to contend with, no commando pro, the new ability to dive to prone, all help shape the game into something very special. Just while we’re here; diving to prone is a major addition simply because it introduces an entire new mechanic to be experimented with in game. The buzz you get when you narrowly avoid a grenade blast, by throwing yourself on to the floor, is ace. Oh and if you haven’t already heard; the kills you earn with a killstreak…don’t count towards your next killstreak. So in other words you have to get each and every kill the ‘proper’ way, those of you who are delighted to hear this won’t need an explanation why this can only be good news.

The other elephant in this review is the…*wait for it*…*drum roll*….Zombie mode. Yep, the phenomenally popular game mode from World At War makes a spectacular return with bigger maps and heaps more undead dismemberment. I’ll assume you don’t know the foggiest thing about WAW’s Zombie mode and outline it briefly: Players must survive increasingly intense waves of malnourished and starving zombies by fighting them off/blowing them to bits……duuuuh. XP is gained for each kill and barrier you repair (e.g. boarding up windows to slow them down) and you can use the points to unlock doors to larger areas with different weapons and basically somewhere to run when you start to get overwhelmed. You typically team up with three other players to see how long you can survive (connecting just online or using the split screen), where communication and tactics are key. In Black Ops though Treyarch have upped the intensity, and designed it so players need to help each other out if they want to get past the next wave (things like reviving and watching other peoples backs).

Zombie mode is as crazy as ever, after the first few rounds of relatively easy hordes things start to get far more tricky as they start pouring into the maps and swarming all the corridors and staircases, as you pump bullets into them, then shriek in terror as you realize you need to reload. It’s top notch stuff and a total recommendation for anyone who hasn’t tried it yet.

I’ve tried to outline the main features of the multiplayer, but there is so much more you will discovered if you buy this game. Reports are saying Blacks Ops is the biggest selling entertainment launch of all time, everyone is playing this, and I must say; it deserves the fuss.

Overall the experience will dwarf all but the most hardcore gamer, and the scale and depth of the core features are incredible. You could spend days playing Black Ops online and not even scratch the surface of what it has to offer (remember it has 3 totally separate multiplayer menu’s…). Gameplay is tight as usual, with very little down time on most game modes, and full of gun slinging adrenaline.

However there is unfortunately some bad news; there are a number of bug and glitch issues online which are causing problems and much annoyance to gamers. To name the main ones: headsets are randomly getting muted, players in your party can get kicked out of a room for no reason, the leaders boards are completely faulty. It is only fair that I mention these problems because as it stands they have not been fully resolved. Treyarch are working hard on fixing these according to their forums so with any luck they won’t exist in a week’s time *fingers crossed*.

The only other faults I can loosely scrape together are that new CoD players will probably get completely annihilated online for quite some time until they get used to everything (but newcomers can try out the combat training mode to learn the basics), just because everyone else has had so much practise…so actually that point counters itself really…umm….I’m struggling to think of anything, just buy it already.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops multiplayer gets a 10/10 from me. It offers rich and immediately satisfying gameplay with a wide variety of modes to cater to any type of player. It’s all very nicely organized and places a great emphasis on community. This is the multiplayer game of the year.

Want more discussion on Black Ops? Then click over to our forums or have a peek at my article  The Call Of Duty Question.