'Call Of Duty: Black Ops' Multiplayer Hands-on Preview

Call of Duty: Black Ops

If you've ever logged on to a gaming forum and searched for "Call of Duty," you invariably discovered lengthy discussions over whether Treyarch or Infinity Ward have produced the quintessential game in the franchise. With much of the Infinity Ward team moving on to EA, Treyarch has been charged with sedating the series' base. After some hands-on time with "Call of Duty: Black Ops" last night at an event in Los Angeles, I can say that it appears as if the studio has found a balance – at least within multiplayer – that just might satisfy everyone.

Before the development team allowed us to get any hands-on time, Treyarch designers David Vonderhaar and Dan Bunting gave a presentation showcasing what players can expect from the latest game in the "Call of Duty" franchise.

The developers discussed the game's new multiplayer features using three pillars that Treyarch focused on during development: Compete, Customize, and Create. While many features were shown, here's a rundown of new features I feel will get "Call of Duty" fans most excited to jump back into multiplayer.

Compete: Multiplayer Training Modes

Dan Bunting opened this section by discussing an entirely new mode in "Black Ops" multiplayer, Combat Training. "Before there was combat training, there was a dumb drone we called Larry," said Bunting. What was once a development tool which allowed the Treyarch team to test issues within the game, has given way to an entirely new mode in "Black Ops." An interesting new concept within the "Call of Duty" franchise, Combat Training allows the player to experience multiplayer gameplay, but replaces the threat of real online players with AI-controlled bots. What's more, the player can invite a friend into the match, allowing for co-op.

COD Points - Unlock Weapons And Perks With Currency

Experience points have been an important component of multiplayer in recent "Call of Duty" titles. Previously, when a player attained a new XP level they gained additional weapons, perks, etc. "Black Ops" is taking a slightly different approach to earning those items – they can be purchased with currency, called COD Points. "What you used to only unlock by level is now for sale," said David Vonderhaar. What makes this interesting is that a lower level player can now effectively outfit their soldier with the specific gear that they want, without necessarily having to achieve a higher XP level.

More importantly, the game's new currency allows for an all new multiplayer mode, Wager Match, that quickly became my favorite new feature.

The Wager Match

Wager Match features four specialized game modes that allow players to gamble their earned currency within a multiplayer match. Take one of the top three spots at the session's end, and you're in the money. Finish out of the top three – say goodbye to a chunk of your hard-earned cash. Each mode within Wager Match features gameplay based on a particular weapon load-out.

The first Wager Match mode, "One in the Chamber," has each player starting the match with a pistol containing one round of ammo. Get a kill, and you'll take the opponents bullet. Die, however, and you'll have to rely on melee. In "Sticks and Stones," the player is given a crossbow, ballistic knife, and a tomahawk. It's difficult to achieve accuracy with the tomahawk, but sink one into an opponent and you'll completely drain all of their cash. The third mode, "Gun Game," features a truly interesting take on weapon proficiency. All players start with a pistol, and with each kill progress to the next best weapon. The first player to achieve all weapons wins. Lastly, "Sharpshooter" has each player starting with the same weapon. After a period of time, the weapons will randomly rotate to a new gun.

New Customization Levels

"Customization is all about us giving you the tools to make the game yours," stated Vonderhaar. Previous "Call of Duty" titles have allowed player customization in terms of emblems, clan tags, and equipment load-out. Treyarch is hoping that the community will take advantage of new options to make their soldiers stand out from the pack.

Revealed in the original multiplayer teaser trailer, players will now be able to customize their red dot sight. Actually, the dot doesn't have to be red any longer – there are seven color options in addition to forty different designs for the reticle. The reticle shapes include everything from a skull to a Predator-like three dots.

Also, players now have sixteen camo choices and the ability to add their clan tag to their weapon so that the poor guy on the receiving end of a bullet knows exactly who popped him when he checks the killcam.

Design Emblems, Record Replays

The final segment discussed by Vonderhaar and Bunting focused on giving players the ability to create content from within the game. Namely, through the use of a brand new emblem creator and the previously announced theater mode.

"We weren't satisfied with just giving you a bunch of images. We want to give you the ability to make your own [emblems]," said Vonderhaar in regards to the emblem editor. Players can now create their own custom emblems, using a variety of images, layers, and backgrounds. Want to make an emblem featuring a horse with pistols for hooves? You can do that (that's seriously what was shown during the video presentation.)

Theater mode will allow players to create custom videos from multiplayer matches. After some hands-on time with the editor, I can say that the mode seems to accomplish its intended purpose. The rewind/fast-forward controls are pressure sensitive, and capturing a clip of your buddy's headshot is essentially a one-button affair. The videos are easily accessed via a community portal in-game, and watching a friend's video seems to be fairly uncomplicated. During an interview with Treyarch studio head Mark Lamia, he informed me that there will be a ranking system for the videos. The system is still in the development phase, but here's hoping for a decent way to see the best videos rise to the top.

A Familiar Feel

When I jumped into "Black Ops" last night, I immediately felt comfortable with the game. It's not that "Black Ops" multiplayer feels like a mere add-on pack to "Modern Warfare 2." It's that the game feels like a natural progression of the franchise. The new features, in particular Wager Match and Combat Training, are Treyarch at their know-your-community best. Weapons like the ballistic knife are sure to offer some laugh out loud moments with friends. There's nothing wrong with creating a familiar multiplayer experience as long as the developer invests in original, engaging new features.

If the "Call of Duty: Black Ops" single player story is as much fun as the multiplayer, Treyarch has progressed in more than just the time period with their latest contribution to the franchise.