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Call of Duty: Black Ops - multiplayer details revealed

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<img src="http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2010/9/2/1283415874722/Cracked_Streetfight.gif" border="0" alt="Cracked Streetfight" title="Cracked Streetfight" align="right" hspace="16">Call of Duty: Black Ops - multiplayer details revealed

New in-game currency unveiled as well as Combat Training and fresh customisation elements...

Call of Duty: Black Ops – 'Cracked' is one of the new multiplayer maps, based in a wrecked town filled with burned out vehicles and rooftop sniping positions. Last night, in a vast auditorium on the Los Angeles Exposition Park, Activision revealed all the details of the Black Ops multiplayer mode. For the latest title in the multi-million-selling Call of Duty series, developer Treyarch is mixing familiar elements of the Modern Warfare multiplayer set-up – ie. killstreaks, character progression, challenges, perks and classes – with some intriguing fresh additions.

But sadly, there was no mention of zombies...

The first newcomer to be announced was a multiplayer tutorial option entitled Combat Training. "We created the mode after we found out that some 30-40% of people who player single-player, never play multiplayer," says multiplayer design director David Vonderhaar, "Combat training is a complete stand alone experience with an independent ranking system. You can play it alone or with friends, you can use it to practise maps, or certain weapons or advanced tactics, and when you're ready you can enter a player match and test your skills against real opponents. It's our goal to introduce multiplayer to an entirely new audience who we feel are missing out."

According to online director, Dan Bunting, Combat Training wasn't intended as design feature – it was originally a development tool. The team created a basic AI drone they named Larry who would just stand around on the map; when he was shot, the user got stats on the damage done, and his distance from the player – all useful information for balancing weapons and maps. However, the design team started to add more and more AI functionality to the character, finally spawning multiple versions on each map to add extra challenge. It was from here that Combat Training evolved.

It's a basic tutorial concept then, but a nice way to get to grips with new maps and unfamiliar weapons without being continually shot in the face by a 12-year-old with a P90. Interestingly, it seems this mode will replace deathstreaks, the controversial power-ups awarded to struggling players in Modern Warfare 2, now removed from Black Ops.

More significant, perhaps, is the addition of a new in-game currency, named CoD Points. These can be used to buy any weapons and equipment within your budget, regardless of what rank you're at. As Vonderhaar explains, "Every time you play, you earn CoD Points; and what you used to only unlock by levelling up, you can now buy. Black Ops is your game and you'll play it the way you want to."

Treyarch has also introduced a range of new tasks allowing players to earn CoD Points more quickly. There are Contracts, which are time-limited challenges, based around key game skills. Mercenary contracts reward you for kills and killstreaks; Operation contracts are for effective team play; and Specialist contracts are, as Vonderhaar puts it, "unique or unusual tasks that require unique and unusual play styles." Some Contract challenges are available from the outset, others have to be bought with CoD Points. Interestingly, once completed, they will pay out in CoD Points, XP points or a mixture of both allowing players to fine-tune their own progression model.

Another way of earning cash is through the potentially more tense and risky Wagers. These are self-contained multiplayer modes, in which all participants bet on their ability to finish a stage in the top three. There are four Wager options to pick from. In 'One in the Chamber' each player has a pistol with one bullet; if you shoot at someone and miss, you're down to melee combat. It's sort of a modern take on Goldeneye's Slaps-only mode. With 'Sticks and Stones', combatants get a crossbow and a tomahawk – if you manage to bury one of those bad boys in an opponent's back you bankrupt them. Then there's 'Gun Game' in which all the players start with pistols, but then progress to the next weapons level with each kill. There are 20 to work through, but it you manage to kill yourself, or get wiped out in any other humiliating way, you go back down a level. Finally, in 'Sharp Shooter', all the players start with the same randomly selected weapon, which they must use for a random amount of time, before they're all switched to another model. These look like fun little diversions, and may well get more players to start using different weapons and techniques in a way that the traditional challenges didn't.

<img src="http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2010/9/2/1283415760038/Summit_Invasion.gif" border="0" alt="Summit Invasion" title="Summit Invasion" align="left" hspace="16">Elsewhere, the game now features three categories of gear – lethal (grenades, claymores, etc), tactical (smoke bombs and other diversionary items) and equipment. The latter is all the items that you plant in the world at a static location. Black Ops features a range of options including the Camera Spike, which provides a remote camera view of the place you plant it – handy to shove near a detonation device, or to use as a security camera while you're camping. There's also a motion sensor, which acts like a personal UAV, giving you red dots to reveal any enemies lurking in your immediate vicinity.

As for killstreaks, we'll now get to enjoy nepalm Strikes, gunship attacks and exploding remote-controlled cars. You'll also be able to call in mortar teams to provide devastating longer range firepower, as well as place SAM turrets to bring down enemy aircraft. "When we were designing the game we decided we really like the idea of Killstreaks being more interactive. We wanted players to have more impact in how effective they are whether they're killing other players or acting more defensively," says Vonderhaar.

Black Ops is also introducing a range of limited edition special weapons that'll turn up rather infrequently in care packages. The two they revealed yesterday were the Death Machine, which looks like a hefty multi-barrel mini-gun; and the Grim Reaper, a particularly messy rocket launcher. As for perks, there are lots of extra options, including the ability to convert enemy weapons, gear and equipment and use them as your own, and to sabotage enemy care packages. Some familiar classics have gone, however, inlcuding Stopping Power and Juggernaut.

The 'Create a Class' mode has also been tuned. Now each 'tier one' perk, which sets the player's gameplay-style, has its own unique look in the game world. For example, the Scavenger, who's able to pick up ammo and equipment from fallen enemies, has a lot of visible gear and pockets, the Ghost (who's invisible to enemy radar in killstreaks) wears a big gillie suit, and the explosives expert has a flak jacket. It's a handy way of identifying absolutely everyone in the field of combat. As hinted at in the past, Treyarch has also added lots of visual customisation elements – players can choose from a vast range of camo patterns for their guns, as well as altering the red dot reticule with different shapes and colours. There's even a simple emblem editor, allowing you to recreate your clan logo, then stamp it all over your arsenal.

And for wannabe film makers there's the Theatre option, which allows players to record, edit and repackage clips of in-game action. The idea is that fans will create their own machinima, highlight reels or just tactical studies of key multiplayer face-offs. A niche component, perhaps, but it should lead to some amusing YouTube videos.

So that's it for Black Ops multiplayer. It's the solid CoD foundation we expect, with some additions, a couple of subtractions and a whole new way to attain cool gear. Amid the major new features, there were plenty of decent little tweaks, like a grid reference on the mini-map, which means you'll be able to, say, call out the precise coordinates of an enemy sniper to your team mates, and a few interactive map components, which will add new tactical dimensions – but more on them in our hands-on preview, tomorrow…

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I like the interactive map. Call out enemy locations accurately instead of " to your left!!!!'

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