Inside Call of Duty: Black Ops III’s Breakneck Multiplayer

With seven titles in the books since the series went futuristic with 2008’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, it can’t be easy for its three developers to innovate. Yet somehow, the franchise has predominantly managed to remain fresh for the past seven years. Although now arguably the premier Call of Duty developer, Treyarch has its work cut of for it with its third Black Ops entry. Last year’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was the biggest departure to the formula since Modern Warfare, putting Treyarch in the difficult position of ensuring they don’t take a step backwards whilst simultaneously staying true to the Black Ops formula fans know and love. We were able to get our hands on the first taste of multiplayer and sit down with the development team to get the full scoop on everything Black Ops III.

Refreshingly, the main focus of Black Ops III is combat and movement. While there are some extraneous features, almost everything new ties into the core mechanics. Treyarch wanted to reward player’s mastery over combat and shooting. After all, if you’re moving towards an object at speed, you want to go over it. You don’t want to lower your gun, wait for the prompt to come up and die as you’re watching the animation.

The main feature implemented to accomplish this and the base for all other abilities is Unlimited Sprint. This enables players to continue their sprint for as long as possible without reengaging or mantle over ledges without breaking movement. Most importantly, you’re free to take aim and fire while navigating over ledges. Side mantles and back mantles are also supported by full combat controls. Instead of being activated with perks like Marathon or Extreme Condition as in past iterations, Unlimited Sprint is constantly available. Traversing can be done forwards, sideways or backwards whilst still being able to fire weapons.

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One of the most refreshing additions to Advanced Warfare was the Exo Jump, which added a whole new level of verticality to the series. While Treyarch didn’t focus on the verticality aspect, they thankfully did integrate an thrust-assisted jump. The jump makes the player feel powerful by removing obstacles that slow them down from combat.

Thurst Jump is activated by double tapping the jump button. Thrust can be used in all directions and will also enable auto mantle if jumping towards a ledge. Thrust control will be an analog system that lets the player decide how much thrust to use at any given point. A meter appears in the middle of the screen that shows how much power remains. Continually tapping the jump button when airborne extends air time, while pressing and holding the jump button results in one long continuous boost. Changing directions while in mid air is also possible by engaging thrust in a different direction during the initial jump. Thrust Jump is a high risk maneuver as it makes the player a target bigger target, but can pay off dividends if correctly executed.

While dive to prone will surely be missed, the newly introduced Power Slide fits much better into the design goals of Black Ops III. When sliding feet first, you can keep your gun up and stay engaged in the fight. If you’re sprinting in a particular direction, tapping the crouch button triggers a slider mechanic in the direction. Slides can be queued up from mid air and initiated in any state. Power sliding is governed by the same power meter as Thurst Jump.

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One of the coolest new features from a visual standpoint is wall running. This feature was not a mere afterthought, taking months to develop maps around it. Instead of simply throwing it in to various locations in maps, core paths are presented as wall run opportunities. Walls runs are initiated by sprinting, moving the thumbstick towards the wall and pressing the jump button. In addition to having full use of weapon, you may also aim down sights while wall running. Wall runs can be chained together so you can jump from one wall to another wall. You can also reverse your direction by turning towards the wall to face the other direction and pressing the jump button to thrust back onto the wall.

Treyarch had been looking to incorporate water and swimming into Treyarch Call of Duty games for a long time and finally saw the opportunity in Black Ops III. Players can now swim in any direction with full control of movement, weapons and equipment while underwater. This allows multiplayer combat to be experienced in an entirely new environment. Your time underwater is limited, but you can thrust jump out to quickly catch your breath.

While undeniably cool on their own, all movements in Black Ops III are designed to be chained together for endless momentum. For example, you can sprint forward, thrust jump into the air and turn 180 degrees before landing into a reverse slide.

As much as the five aforementioned additions will change up combat, likely the most noticeable change will come from the Specialists, classes with a gameplay hook specific to them. Each features both a power weapon and a cybernetic ally enhanced ability extending the theme of that character’s gameplay. Each weapon and ability is designed to make its specialist a unique force in battle. It also gives players who don’t normally earn scorestreaks that feeling of power that increases the accessibility and satisfaction of the game. Specialists also provide a new way to level up, as each can be individually leveled up.

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Six Specialists have been revealed so far. Ruin is an infantry soldier through and through, boasting Gravity Spikes as his special weapon, allowing him to slam into the ground to generate a deadly blast wave that destroys all enemies in its radius. His special ability is called overdrive, temporarily enabling a speed-burst which is great for closing gaps, outflanking enemies or rushing objectives. Seraph carries a high caliber revolver called The Annihilator. The Annihilator has an unusual amount of bullet penetration that evaporates the bad guys. Her ability is called Combat Focus and lets her earn multiples towards scorestreaks.  Outrider has a special weapon called The Sparrow which is a compound bow that fires explosive bolts when drawn all the way. Her special ability is called Vision Pulse, which pings the environment around her to reveal all enemies in the area.

Rounding out the known specialists is the robot Reaper who has an arm that transforms into a mini-gun. Its ability is called psychosis and simulates three decoys of reaper. Prophet has a lighting gun that chains an arc to everybody in the same area, making it effective against campers. His Glitch ability allows prophet to relocate to his previous location.  Nomad has a special weapon of choice called The Hive. The Hive deploys pod traps that release nano drones when triggered that swarm over the enemy. His ability is called Repack, allowing him to recover from near death by injecting a nanoparticle serum.

Don’t think that you can simply run around the battlefield spamming these abilities, though. Both the weapon and the ability are on a charged time mechanic. This meter constantly fills up as the game is played and fills up faster as scoring is earned. This meter can be activated at the player’s discretion by pressing L1 and R1 simultaneously, so while it can be held onto, sitting on it means it can’t be regained. Once activated, the charge is burning and the meter can be seen depleting.

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While combat and movement is clearly the main focus, Treyarch didn’t stop there. Gunsmith allows players to customize and personalize their weapons. This allows up to five attachments to be put on a weapon with no mutual exclusivity; every attachment stacks with every other attachment. The Gunsmith is the base assembly line for variant versions of guns to be created for easy recall in Create-A-Class. Guns can be custom painted in up to 64 layers, allowing players to express their identity. Stats for variants are kept with that variant in Gunsmith.

Even in its current relative infancy, Black Ops III is looking to be the deepest and richest multiplayer experience Treyarch has ever created. The game takes everything players know and love from the previous two entries in the sub-series and adds some of the fastest-paced combat and movement ever seen in Call of Duty. While it make take time to adapt to, it could easily end up being an adrenaline-pumping experience when fully mastered. Add that to the intriguing Gunsmith and Specialists and Call of Duty may yet have another innovative entry in store for players come this November.