There was a time when the release of a new Call of Duty multiplayer was a guarded affair. You could almost set your watch to the initial solo campaign reveal at the start of Microsoft's E3 conference, followed by playable multiplayer for those who could afford a trip to Gamescom. Everyone else simply had to wait until the inevitable November release to get to grips with Activision's latest.
Which is a bit odd in hindsight, don't you think? I mean, these games are 60FPS twitch shooters, with pacing firmly set to "lit rocket in the arse". Such speed demands stability, and as any seasoned Call of Duty player will tell you, the series has definitely suffered from glitches, lag issues and questionable balancing over the years.
Many CoD players complain about lag and annually roll out the, "I shot him first, but he still killed me!" argument when, really, they were just shite. But as a regular attendee of Activision's franchise, I've definitely seen some questionable banter going on server side, as well as some truly bizarre glitches. Is that what we're paying £45-plus a pop for?
Well, I'm a huge fan of the series and I've always found Treyarch, active on the series since 2005, to be the most responsive, transparent and caring developer involved with the franchise – although to be fair, the newer team at Sledgehammer handled last year's Advanced Warfare with great care and respect, too. For first-timers in a lead role (they co-developed 2011's Modern Warfare 3) they really did put together a solid online package that kicked Infinity Ward's Call of Duty: Ghosts of 2013 to the kerb with ease.
But all said and done, David Vonderhaar and the Treyarch team in Santa Monica have consistently displayed limitless patience for listening to us complain about their labour of love, speak with us openly about bugs, roll out regularl patches and quickly weed out the guff. Last week's beta for their newest CoD game, the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops III, was confidently a triumph, and further evidence that the developer can get things done like no other.
The game itself needs little introduction, and to uninitiated probably looks like "just another Call of Duty". That snarky, snide crap needs to stop though, really. Millions of gamers play annual franchises and happily shell out more cash for incremental updates – and not because they're idiots who don't know what Everybody's Gone to the Rapture or Monument Valley is. They just like coming back because it's dependable, like when you watch another season of Game of Thrones. But wait, isn't it largely the same characters, in the same world? See? It's not hard to understand why people love this series, and in Black Ops III Treyarch has given them lots to get excited about.
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First up, the balancing. For a stripped-back beta, this was almost without fault. Headshots now reliably kill on one hit, depending on range; it takes two melee hits to kill enemies; and player health is generous enough to allow enough time to retreat before reacting. In short, it doesn't feel like your average CoD game – it feels like a Black Ops game. Treyarch's balancing has proven peerless in this (sub-)series, and the same is true here.
The only things the studio could stand to tweak are maybe the Outrider character's Sparrow weapon, an explosive bow that can only be used once her skill is charged. It kills on one hit regardless of where it lands, and doesn't require the precision of, say, Modern Warfare's throwing knife. As such, it's perhaps a bit too over-powered for now, but Treyarch will likely address that in time – same goes for the Reaper's Scythe minigun, which shreds foes in milliseconds. That needs to be nerfed a little.
My list of complaints isn't much longer than that, not counting Treyarch's server issues, but reports have suggested it was a PSN problem rather than one with the game, so we can let it slide for now. The game itself just exudes its studio's penchant for the ludicrous – including the introduction of wall running.
What I really loved about the kinetic moves was that wall running isn't a core element like it was in Respawn's 2014 title Titanfall, but a sublime risk-reward mechanic that can go horribly wrong. One example is on African map Hunted, which features a long bridge over a valley. Now, you could run over it and use the toppled truck in the centre as cover from all the enemy vantage points nearby, or you could wall run along the side of the bridge itself.
Not only does the bridge's structure keep you hidden, it's also a faster way to traverse to the other side. But one wrong move and your backside, and the rest of you, is falling down into that valley. You also leave yourself open to other people who have the same idea, because while you can shoot while wall running, it's less accurate than on solid ground. I love these parkour sections, because they remind me of shortcuts in racing games – faster yes, but with higher risk attached.
I even saw one guy, playing as a Reaper class, wall running pretty much the length of map Combine by leaping from wall to wall down what is commonly a long-range corridor of death. But off he went, running and hopping over the whole battle without a care in the world. These moments make Black Ops III feel like Quake III: Arena or Unreal Tournament – which is a brilliant thing, indeed.
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'Call of Duty: Black Ops III' multiplayer reveal trailer
The "Pick Ten" load-out system Treyarch invented is back, and it's as brilliant and balanced as ever. The guns feel chunky and sensibly powered, while none of the score-streaks punish players too severely. Nightmares of Modern Warfare 2's AC-130 are firmly put to bed here, so rest assured: you won't be hiding from score rewards on most of the maps in Black Ops III.
But enough about how the game feels to play – I was also very impressed with how often Treyarch updated the beta, while it was live. Initially, players could only access a few specialist classes and level up to 35, but then the extras started rolling out.
Each day of the beta, Treyarch would surprise participants with additions like perilous new snow map Stronghold, additional specialist classes like the grenade-launcher toting Battery, revolver-slinger Seraph and the fully mechanised Reaper. Then, the icing on the cake came when the beta opened up to every PS4 player – pre-order or no pre-order. That was awesome.
Rather than keep the meat of multiplayer from fans until launch, Treyarch gave the loyal millions who pay to play a new Call of Duty each year access to the toy box early. Not only did their beta help tide players over until the game's November launch, but the data collected will help the developer sort out any anomalies or imperfections before its release proper.
That's the service and forward-thinking Treyarch has been getting increasingly good at since 2008's World at War, and has recently been knocking out of the park. When Black Ops III releases, we can look forward to one of the most stable CoD multiplayer set-ups to date, and something truly worth laying down the cash for, again. All that's left to hope for is that nobody from Lizard Squad reads this.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III is released on November 6th for current- and previous-generation PlayStations and Xboxes, and PC. Jeff Goldblum is in its awesomely noir-looking Zombie mode, which is pretty rad, no?
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