Gamescom 2012: Call of Duty: Black Ops II Hands-On Multiplayer Preview – The Future of E-Sports
Written Tuesday, August 14, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Every man and his dog knows that Call of Duty games pretty much live or die by their multiplayer, unless said man and dog have been ensconced in a cave on Pluto, playing Pong for the last thirty years. While the campaign and other modes and accoutrements are all part and parcel of the CoD experience, it's multiplayer that the hardcore players are all clambering for, and this year's online offerings with Call of Duty: Black Ops II might give those very players – and indeed jaded multiplayer cynics and newcomers alike – something to get excited about.
Coming off the back of spending the best part of an entire evening in a humid room full of white hot networked consoles, playing Black Ops II's multiplayer across several modes and maps, we can honestly say (even as nonchalant part-time fans of the series) that it's shaping up remarkably well. Treyarch could have quite easily repackaged Black Ops' multiplayer modes with CoD points intact and a few new token features, but instead the developer has gone to town, bringing sweeping changes to CoD's online party, without losing the essence of what makes the game so insanely popular.
Chief among these new changes are the 'Pick 10' loadouts in Create A Class, the replacement of Killstreaks with Scorestreaks, and League Play, which aims to cater to the Call of Duty hardcore and newbies alike with E-sports livestreaming and ShoutCasting, here known as 'CODCasting'. For the major CoD players and the curious newcomers, it's a potentially huge feature that promises to enhance the experience with the ability to take part in livestream broadcasts that cover League Play competitions for a variety of players of any skill level. Whether you're a novice or a hardened CoD vet, there's a smart skill-matching system at work that'll pit you against players that attain similar placing in matches, win ratios and rank, ensuring you're in the correct tier when taking on opponents. You need be the multiplayer whipping boy no more!
CODCasts will have live commentary, picture in picture and overhead tactical maps, all of which you'll be able to stream on any computer or tablet (we were shown a live CODCast running on an iPad). Think along the lines of an EVO tournament with CoD, and you're almost there. And anyone can host their own CODCasts should they want to. It's all part of Black Ops II's all-encompassing 'come one, come all' approach that embraces both the hardened pros and the noobs. “The team was inspired by the world of E-sports”, says Treyarch Studio Head, Mark Lamia. “We've integrated tools into Black Ops II to bring E-sports to the masses.” That's League Play and CODCasting in a nutshell right there.
“This team is doing its best work, and we're crafting the best Call of Duty multiplayer yet,” adds Lamia. Given the quality of what we played during our hands-on session, it's hard to disagree with the Treyarch boss. Right off the bat, the new Create A Class with its seemingly simple yet deceptively deep 'Pick 10' concept that was built using a basic board game layout with paper and card, before being fleshed out in the game itself, makes perfect sense. It's self-explanatory stuff that initially sounds like a dumbed down way of selecting your loadout, when in fact it's a clever way of encouraging experimentation with Black Ops II's dozens of weapons, attachments, gadgets and perks without any of the needless complexity.
As the name 'Pick 10' suggests, in the Create A Class multiplayer menu you can choose any combination of items to place in your loadout grid, whether it's two weapons, three attachments, three perks, a tactical gadget and a lethal grenade or any permutation of the above. You can complicate things with a Wildcard that enables you to add extra perks, weapon attachments or equipment, but each Wildcard you use costs you one allocation point, so using them wisely is vital. You can assign up to three Wildcards in their corresponding slots, but that leaves you with seven allocation points left to play with. Decisions, decisions. No doubt settling on the perfect loadout will take some time, but there's masses of scope to get it just right in accordance with your own personal preferences. If you want one gun, loads of perks and loads of equipment, you can go with it. It's up to you what you choose from the toy box and take into the action.
Once you're happy with your created class, it's out on to the battlefield to discover the proof of Black Ops II's pudding, kicking off with a classic game of Team Deathmatch on the Downtown Los Angeles set 'Aftermath' map, amid the ruins of a destroyed City of Angels following a drone attack in 2025. “We wanted to challenge all of our assumptions about what was really sacred [in Call of Duty multiplayer],” notes Game Design Director, David Vonderhaar. “And we have fresh takes on all of our gameplay systems.”
While the meat and veg of Team Deathmatch is largely untouched, the Scorestreak system and addition of medals (that also grant extra XP) rewarded for “desirable gameplay” makes for a more satisfying and less frustrating multiplayer experience. Even CoD simpletons like ourselves managed to obtain a Hellstorm missile from a care package, launch a UAV attack and drive a remote-controlled explosive car more than a few times, which bodes well for the overall balancing of the game. Of course, whether that balance makes the transition from the controlled environment of a press event to the wider public intact remains to be seen, but we can remain optimistic for now, right?
Later multiplayer sessions take us to the Turbine map for a bout of Multi-Team mayhem, where we reign supreme among the debris of toppled wind turbines, rocks and cacti in a sandy desert canyon. It's a map comprised of tight areas for hair-trigger close range battles and more expansive exteriors for the snipers and sharpshooters, with tunnels and bottlenecks perfect for setting traps. Something for everyone then, and there's plenty of room for all six factions (SEALS, SDC, FBI, Mercs, ISA and Militia) to duke it out. Likewise, the Cargo map is full of nooks and crannies to exploit, while the diligent dock workers moving shipping crates around ensure that cover is shifting and changing throughout the fight. The Yemen map meanwhile, plays host to the 'HardPoint' mode (no, that's not a sexual innuendo), where two teams tussle to gain control of the eponymous hardpoint that moves randomly around the environment. It's all incredibly fast-paced stuff as you'd expect from any CoD game, but it somehow feels more refined, more tuned and leaner than its forebears.
New gadgets like the Shock Charge and unmanned Guardian heat turret add extra strategical options for protecting valuable targets (like the hardpoint zone) or for stunning enemies, while the 2025 setting enables you to play with all manner of future tech from the quad-rotor Dragonfire drone to the ground-based AGR, which is armed to the teeth with miniguns and missiles (“it's an absolute beast”, Vonderhaar enthuses). You can assume control of the Dragonfire or AGR on the fly too, switching between AI and human controls at the touch of a button. It's another example of Black Ops II's gameplay variation, and you'll find more than 20 of these Scorestreak rewards to utilise, as well as numerous gadgets and funky weapon attachments like the handy Millimeter Scanner for picking out stationary targets. Campers beware!
We never thought we'd say this, but Call of Duty: Black Ops II's multiplayer actually feels relatively fresh and exciting. Yes, it's still Call of Duty at the end of the day, but it's clear that Treyarch is actually trying to shake things up a bit with Black Ops II. There may be some instances where the game is still seemingly playing it safe, but as far as we're concerned, what we've seen and played is a confident and assured step in the right direction.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II is out on November 13th, 2012.