A more thoughtful tactical experience — Black Ops IIII multiplayer preview

Treyarch is back with another entry in their Black Ops series, and we got to find out what makes this installment so special at the Community Multiplayer Reveal event. While the presentation offered a more comprehensive tease of the various components of the game, including three Zombies experiences and the rumored battle royale mode they’ve dubbed ‘Blackout’, hands-on time was strictly limited to the more familiar multiplayer on PC and console.

Two things you won’t see in Black Ops IIII- thrust jumps and wall runs. It is, as was proudly proclaimed, “100% boots on the ground”. This time around, Treyarch is trading some of that speed for a more thoughtful tactical experience, leaning even more heavily into the concept of specialists to make for more interesting team play.

Specialists stir in a bit of Overwatch style squad mechanics to the Call of Duty mix- 8 different characters each with their own set of abilities and equipment that are unique to them. I spent a lot of time with Recon, the ‘Intel operator’, firing off his sensor dart at key choke points near to where we were attacking or defending, revealing enemies within a small radius, and facilitating some of my team’s best streaks after activating his vision pulse. The one to really watch out for, however, is Firebreak, who can open up a nuclear reactor core on the field to reduce the other team’s maximum health for a period of time.

Don’t worry, though, customization is still a very big part of Black Ops, and you can give each of your specialists’ custom loadouts. Each weapon has its own set of upgrades, some of which are wholly unique to that one weapon. In fact, you can almost think of them as RPG characters, each with their own upgrade tree. Throw in perks and gear and you’ve got a wealth of options to fine-tune your specialists to your style of play. Apparently each specialist comes with their own short single player experience as well, giving players the opportunity to experiment and learn on their own. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any of that at the event.

Another key change this year revolves around health, namely, it doesn’t automatically regenerate this time. Instead, you’ll activate a health pack (which replaces one of the grenade slots from previous games), which itself regenerates after an interval of time. This marks another shift towards the tactical, as I found myself ducking around a corner after an intense exchange to pause and get myself back up to fighting form fairly often, a pleasant change from the typical “run->die->repeat” that I have to go through as I get my bearings on a new COD game. Adding these pauses in the flow of combat encourages more thoughtful strategies. There are a few other mechanics focused on health management as well, not the least of which is a support specialist with the ability to heal and boost his team.

The three game types we tried out focused on 5 v 5 team combat, and the devs we spoke to were being cagey about whether or not that would increase before the game is released. Chances are they don’t even know yet, but as it stands, things were very balanced and tight for a pre-alpha. I’d definitely like to spend some more time exploring the three maps we played on, as I kept on discovering new opportunities for verticality and environmental advantages. One of them even had a network of underwater tunnels that found me pleasantly surprised to find out I could swim while also getting into a firefight with another player

All in all, the Black Ops IIII multiplayer experience shows a considerable amount of promise, and the focus on tactics feels like a solid core gameplay evolution that the series has needed for a long time. As for the game as a whole, the only thing that really concerns me is Treyarch’s now established pattern of cherry picking the current trendy ideas from other games and giving them a COD spin, such as wall running or battle royale type gameplay. As we saw with Black Ops III, that didn’t go over that well. What we’ve heard about Blackout so far sounds great, but until we can get hands-on it’ll be tough for them to shake the perception of jumping on the bandwagon. Hopefully we’ll find out more about Blackout at E3 in a few weeks, but until then it’s reassuring to see how strong multiplayer is already. From past experience, it’s safe to say that Treyarch and Activision have a lot of exciting stuff yet to show us before the game comes out in October.

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