There’s a phrase we hear a lot during Treyarch’s Black Ops 3 multiplayer presentation: “Wind the loop.” It’s design director David Vonderhaar’s term for tightening the game’s combat loop by reducing the time between exchanges, while simultaneously maximising the opportunities that players have to hurl lead at leach other.
To achieve the first of these goals, the franchise's movement system has been expanded into what the studio calls a “momentum-based, precision-focused, chained-movement system” which allows players to fluidly move through maps quickly. “We wanted players to feel powerful,” says game director Dan Bunting. “We wanted players to feel like they weren’t encumbered by the environment, [but instead] could use the environment as a tool.”
That desire for player freedom has seen boost-assisted movement reappear with thrust jumps, which Treyarch is at pains to distinguish from Advanced Warfare’s exo boost system. “Mechanically it works very differently,” says design director David Vonderhaar. “For us it wasn’t about verticality, it’s more about traversal – going over obstacles.” There are also power slides but these are noticeably longer than those of last year’s title, they can be queued up while you’re in the air, and you can change direction while sliding. Both movement types are governed by a single meter that recharges every couple of seconds.
Swimming and a limited wall-running ability are also present, spirit is unlimited, and you can traverse obstacles in any direction. Moreover, it’s possible to fire your weapon while executing any of the above, and there are no longer any perks that alter movement rules. You can do things like sprint forward, thrust jump, turn 180 degrees in the air, and land into a reverse slide – all while shooting at enemy combatants. Dive to prone is gone, though – it didn’t fit with the game’s design philosophy. “We feel this is Black Ops 2 evolved,” says Bunting.
While the Black Ops 3 has introduced personalised player characters into the campaign, the multiplayer has done the opposite with the new Specialist system. Specialists are elite soldiers you can take into multiplayer battles who each have their own look, personality, voice, weapons, and abilities. The catch is they can only take their special weapon or ability into a match, not both.
For example, callsign Ruin can go into battle wielding area of effect weapons called Gravity Spikes (on top of a normal loadout), or instead chose an overdrive ability that gives him a brief surge of super speed. Elsewhere, Seraph must choose between a high-caliber revolver or a Combat Focus ability which grants a bonus multiplier towards Scorestreaks, Outrider has a bow with explosive bolts or a radar-like Vision Pulse, and Reaper is a combat robot with a high power Mini-Gun or the ability to rewind to the position he was at roughly six seconds earlier. Another five Specialists will be revealed later.
Each special weapon may be temporarily activated after a timer has counted down from four minutes, although getting points through kills or other actions reduces this time to an average of roughly two minutes for most players. Abilities are also restricted by a similar countdown timer, only the wait for those is only two minutes (or an average of one for most players).
Treyarch hopes that the Specialists system will give players who don’t manage to get scorestreak rewards a chance to use abilities and cool weapons anyway, but inserting them into the game took a lot of trial and error. “As polished as the specialist system is right now, it’s not like it magically came into being,” says design director David Vonderhaar. “We’ve been trying to chase after this since the beginning – trying different combinations of mechanics and content to strike that right balance.”
The last big new addition to multiplayer is an all-new weapon customisation system called Gunsmith, which gives players more powerful tools than ever to build and personalise the perfect gun. Up to five attachments and an optic can be added to a base – double the number of attachments allowed in Black Ops 2. Each attachment has a cosmetic variant as well, and the new Paintshop feature allows homemade art of up to 64 layers to be placed on up to three sides of each gun, in addition to the usual camo paint jobs. The final game is also expected to support different materials like carbon fibre.
Our enjoyable stint hands-on with the PlayStation 4 version of the game confirmed that the Specialists have been well-integrated into the game. We played six-on-six matches across three maps and three modes (Kill Confirmed, Domination, Team Deathmatch), with the icy Swiss map Stronghold with its mix of close and ranged opportunities a personal favourite. More opportunities to experiment with the new movement systems were present in Combine, a small and tight facility whose left hand path could only be traversed with a risky wall-run over a large drop that I died too frequently trying to cross. Finally, the jungle map Hunted provided mainly mid- to long-range engagements, as well as a look at the game’s swimming mechanics thanks to a waterfall in the middle. It’s worth noting that splitscreen multiplayer will be possible. The slide was very handy when it came to collecting enemy dog-tags in Kill Confirmed.
Little was said about Treyarch’s signature Zombies mode, except that it will have its own full player experience-based progression system, and that a social system will sit atop all three modes of Black Ops 3 to allow easier transitions between each with friends. More details will be divulged at E3 and Gamescom on the game’s Create-a-Class system, scorestreaks, pick 10, Specialist levelling, social features, eSports, and more. The multiplayer will be playable at E3, and again during a closed beta for those who pre-order the game. “We’re not done yet – not even close,” says David Vonderhaar.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is slated for a November 6 release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC.
◆ Matt traveled to LA to see Black Ops 3 courtesy of Activision.