Multiplayer campaign and more
Whatever you think you know about the Call of Duty franchise is about to change. As a series that is often criticized for offering more of the same, Black Ops developer Treyarch has made every attempt to alter that mindset with its most ambitious project to date, Call of Duty: Black Ops III.
Last week, I visited with the developer at its Santa Monica headquarters as it unveiled a game that has been in development for three years, but has been a lifetime in the making.
Coming out of a successful Black Ops II, Treyarch was granted a rare, generous three-year development cycle by Activision. For most established franchises of this nature, it’s almost unheard of. But that opportunity was the catalyst for what Black Ops III is trying to do.
Treyarch has been able to completely scrap and rebuild what we have come to expect and want out of Call of Duty. It is attempting to give the most varied and in-depth experience to date. It’s ambitious. It’s bold. And as Treyarch puts it, it’s all about risk versus reward, a theme that permeates every facet of Black Ops III.
Single player is no longer for singles
As Call of Duty continues to march into the modern era of gaming, Black Ops III will introduce the option of online co-op in its single player campaign. The main campaign will now support up to four players working together. Jason Blundell, campaign director and senior executive producer, said it will redefine how Call of Duty is played.
Set in the near-future, Black Ops III is all about bio augmentation and robotics. Something that will not only affect your single-player experience, but also multiplayer (but we’ll get more into that later). Giving players the choice between male and female characters, the campaign will put you in the role of an enhanced cybernetic Black Ops soldier.
The intensity and theme of the game were on full display as Treyarch showed us one of the levels of the campaign, called Cairo. At first, it seemed like one of your standard Call of Duty experiences. But as the level progressed, the world awoke and the retooled battlefield was on full display.
With the main fighting occurring in an open space, the ambition of Black Ops III was immediately apparent. There was an amazing scope to the level and the action within it. The world felt very alive and tangible with action happening in just about every space within the player’s view. Planes flying overhead, bullets whizzing by, robots. It was hectic.
New devastating weapons, such as a spike launcher, were unveiled. Rolling balls of spikes looking to impale unsuspecting victims littered the battlefield. The reliance and added value of your co-op partners certainly played a part in a level where a new emergent AI was able to make intelligent decisions based on what your team was doing. According to Treyarch, the AI was a focus during development. The team added a new animation set and claim that the goal-oriented AI can now communicate and organize itself — which is key with the variety of options that the campaign now offers with the availability of co-op.
Blundell stressed some key points Treyarch is trying to drive home with Black Ops III‘s campaign. Buzzwords such as cinematic intensity, epic action, a gritty narrative, and replayability are what the single-player experience is trying to be.
Customization is key
Allowing players to express themselves in a unique way has been a staple of the franchise for a number of years now. Treyarch is looking to build upon this by allowing players not only more set-up options, but a player experience system within the single-player that will allow extensive upgrades not only to your character and his or her abilities, but also to the weapons themselves.
Cyber Cores and Cyber Rigs are cybernetic modifications that will allow added layers of player customization. Cyber Cores will let players do things from remote hacking to controlling drones to chaining melee strikes, while Cyber Rigs are passive upgrades that allow advanced movement and defensive capabilities.
With the addition of the Safe House, customization and socialization options will be available. This is the area players will go between levels. The Safe House will have your own customizable bunk and provide access to a wiki with information related to the game. There will be collectibles and opportunities to purchase tokens, which can be used in your upgrades.
PC will not be ignored
Treyarch studio head and president Mark Lamia said a greater emphasis was placed on the PC version of Black Ops III. While not getting into a great amount of detail (such as anything server-related), Lamia said Treyarch worked closely with hardware companies to bring a high-end experience for those who have upper-tier machines and have adopted 4K.
While catering to the high-end crowd, Lamia also said the team put a great deal of effort into optimization. The current recommended specs are as follows (but they are subject to change):
- Operating System: Windows 7 64-Bit / Windows 8 64-Bit / Windows 8.1 64-Bit
- Processor: Intel® Core™ i3-530 @ 2.93 GHz / AMD Phenom™ II X4 810 @ 2.60 GHz
- Memory: 6 GB RAM
- Graphics: NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 470 @ 1GB / ATI® Radeon™ HD 6970 @ 1GB
- DirectX: Version 11
- Network: Broadband Internet connection
- Sound Card: DirectX Compatible
But what about Zombies?
Treyarch remained silent on what exactly Black Ops III will offer for its fan-favorite zombie mode. What we were told, however, is that it will have its own player progression system, distinct storyline, more depth and will include all kinds of “mind-fuckery,” as Lamia put it.
As with the main game and multiplayer, the social aspects of Black Ops III are set to play a key role in zombies as well.
Who cares about single player, tell me about multiplayer
Even with the inclusion of online four-player co-op, there still will be a faction of Call of Duty fans who only care about one thing: multiplayer. I got my hands on multiplayer, which is covered in-depth in a separate article, but I want to tell you what you should expect.
As mentioned, Black Ops III has its focus on risk versus reward. Nowhere is this more apparent than with multiplayer and the complete reworking of not only gun-play, but movement as well. To do this, the team changed some of the rules. For instance, players will now be able to shoot while doing all movements in the game — this includes everything from jumping to wall running (yes, wall running) to climbing over ledges and, for the first time, swimming.
While still remaining true to three-lane map design philosophy with no buildings above two stories, the team has also added new movement abilities such as thrust jumping and power sliding, and as mentioned, wall running and swimming. Oh, and did I mention you can sprint for as long as you want? Treyarch said it wants to allow players to have full combat control with no pause in the action.
While players won’t be limited with their sprint, there will be limitations to the power slide and wall run. They aren’t significant limitations, but they are present. These changes are immediately noticeable with the varied results that thrust jump, wall running, and the power slide provide. There is a fluidity now to the action.
While it seems overwhelming at first glance, the general simplicity and ease of use associated with Call of Duty is still in place. Dan Bunting, game director, said the philosophy is guns up, not down. They want omni-directional movement options in what he says will, “feel like a BLOPS II evolution.” In all, it’s about endless momentum and making the gameplay faster and more engaging.
This is my rifle
Through the Gunsmith menu, players will be presented with what is being billed as a whole new level of weapon customization. Here, players will be able to name their weapons, preview attachments on actual in-game models and of course, access a paint job option that will allow for near-limitless personalization. You will be able to equip up to five attachments and an optic.
The emblem creator is back in a new way, this time called Paintshop. Not only will the images that players create be more visible on their weapon of choice, but they will now have access to 64 layers for three paintable sides.
There are also material options such as carbon fiber and the ability to design gun camo.
Looking for someone special
Another significant shift within Black Ops III‘s multiplayer is the usage of what are being called Specialists. There will be nine total, but we were only shown four. Each Specialist is essentially an archetype the player will choose from and develop over time. They have their own unique abilities and power weapons to choose from — and of course their own look, personality and voice. The goal, Treyarch said, is to give every player the opportunity to become powerful within the game.
If you were one of those people who have come to despise Call of Duty because of excessive and overpowered killstreaks or scorestreaks, Treyarch is attempting to balance the playing field with the inclusion of Specialists and their unique weapons and abilities. While the best players will still have advantages, the goal is to now let everyone get involved, not just the top tier. The first Specialist we were shown goes by the name Ruin (real name Donnie Walsh). This is a rusher/bruiser character that uses Gravity Spikes as his power weapon. He’s pretty much the Titan from Destiny. Once the Gravity Spikes are used, an area-of-effect blast deals damage and eliminates all enemies within the vicinity. It’s devastating, but must be timed and used smartly for best results.
Players will have to choose between Specialists’ unique power weapon or ability. Ruin’s ability, Overdrive, provides a burst of speed, making for a character that will thrive in Capture the Flag. The second specialist presented was Seraph (real name Zhen Zhen). She sports a hand cannon called the Annihilator that deals a single shot capable of taking out multiple enemies if lined up perfectly. Her ability, Combat Focus, will trigger a bonus multiplier to your score that will go toward your scorestreak for a short period of time.
The third specialist, and probably my favorite so far, is Outrider (real name Alessandra Castillo). She comes with the Sparrow, a compound bow that will explode enemies after sticking to them. But this isn’t why I liked her. I always suck with bows in games, so the real draw of Outrider for me was her ability, Vision Pulse. The ability will ping the surrounding area and tag the location of all enemies within range. With it, you will essentially be able to see enemies through walls for a short amount of time. Perfect for campers, such as myself.
The fourth, Reaper (real name Experimental War Robot), is a combat robot with an arm that can transform into a minigun, called the Scythe. While it does take time to spin up, the results of it in action can be devastating. Reaper’s ability is called Glitch. With it, Reaper can relocate about three seconds into the past to a previous position.
The Specialist power weapons and abilities are only available after a certain time or score threshold has been met. Charging over time, the refill rate is directly affected by your participation within the game. However, even if you sit and do nothing, you still will have at least one opportunity to use either option. As with everything else in Black Ops III, the power weapon and ability are a choice. You can’t have both. Depending on your play style, you will quickly find which is more effective for you. Just like your load outs, all of these options will be available pre-match.
To wrap it all up
The goal for Treyarch is to make the “deepest and richest Call of Duty ever,” Lamia said.
He said the intention is to make it easier for players to find each other, not just in multiplayer, but single player and zombies as well. While he wasn’t willing to go into specifics, he said he wants players to be aware of what others are playing and allow them to do whatever they want to do at any time. Lamia asserted that the social aspect of Black Ops III is what will distinguish it from others.
Near the end of the presentation, Lamia revealed a couple of special opportunities for players to get their hands on the game and see for themselves how it plays. At this year’s E3, Lamia said fans will have the chance to actually play multiplayer. But even if you aren’t able to attend E3, those who pre-order the game will have access to the game’s beta.
Black Ops III will be available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
Overall, the promise for Black Ops III is there. This is a series that has extremely high expectations. It’s obviously too early to say whether or not Black Ops III will come close to meeting those, but the foundation is there. The blueprint and makings of a great and varied experience that breaks the mold is evident.
For now, all we can do is wait.