Contributors: Charlie Barratt, Nathan Irvine, Joe McNeilly
We've had our first hands-on time with Black Ops, the Cold War-spanning opus that finds Treyarch mining new eras for face-blasting inspiration. While this is the developer's most Modern Warfare-esque offering to date, Black Ops manages to distinguish itself, most notably with the introduction of Wager Modes, in which players can put their money where their trash talking mouths are. From the rampant customization options to the unique new Killstreaks, Black Ops is shaping up to be a worthy entry in the Call of Duty canon.
While we were hoping to get a taste of the rumored Commie Zombies, there was more than enough competitive multiplayer to keep us occupied for a few drunken hours. Here's what we managed to write afterwards.
The most interesting announcement of the night. You'll earn money ("CoD Points") in Black Ops, which you can gamble in special Wager Modes, each of which has its own set of creative and challenging rules. These are the four we've tested so far.
What is it? Start with a knife and gradually work your way up to a mini-gun (or as it's known in the game, "Death Machine") by scoring kills.
What we thought: Brilliant. In fact, it’s possibly the best of the wager modes. It all starts on a level playing field with every person on the map is equipped with a knife. Slam your blade into an enemy and you’ll be awarded a pistol. Plug another man and you’ll get a more powerful weapon like an MP5K, but to keep things fresh the armory is mixed up each time you play Gun Game. Oh, and like the blue shell in Mario Kart, if you whack a guy with a thrown tomahawk, they’ll lose all their weapons and regress back to the knife. Ouch. There’s a real sense of panic and satisfaction as you try to quickly gain the bigger weapons before your foes, and it’s always kept to a frantic pace.
What is it? All players start with the same randomized weapon. 45 seconds later, everyone is automatically switched to a different randomized weapon. Guess what happens 45 seconds after that?
What we thought: The concept seems stupidly simple, yet the results are surprisingly rewarding for two reasons. First, nearly every minute of the match is a totally different, totally unique experience. The first 45 seconds might be a traditional M5 showdown, but the next could be a ballistic knives-only game of cat-and-mouse. As soon as you've grown accustomed to the blue-scope, heat-map assault rifle, everything changes and you're running amok with dual pistols.
Second, the Sharpshooter mode – contrary to its hardcore sounding name – evens the playing field for players who aren't elite experts. The most painful part of Modern Warfare multiplayer is being thrown into a match with opponents who, because they play so much more than you do, are equipped with a much better arsenal… and a much better chance of continuing to dominate. Here, no one can pick their preferred loadout, and no one can predict which loadout will be next.
What is it? You have one bullet, one knife and three lives. Each kill earns you a single extra bullet. Last man standing wins.
What we thought: This mode is intense – imagine a mixture of the "golden gun" and "pistols only" mode from N64's classic GoldenEye, with a few important twists. You've got a knife in addition to your gun, for example. One shot kills, but since you start with only one bullet, that one shot is doubly crucial. Make that triply crucial since, if you miss, your intended target receives that bullet as a reward. Actually, go ahead and make that quadruply (that's a word, right?) crucial, since merely surviving – regardless if you've scored a kill – eventually results in match points and CoD Points. The potential downside? Hiding and camping are intrinsically encouraged.
What is it? Everyone in the match is equipped with a crossbow, ballistic knife and tomahawks. Chaotic carnage ensues.
What we thought: This wager mode is basically an excuse to play with all of the gorier new weapons in Call of Duty: Black Ops… at the exact same time. The crossbow is the default. Upon first firing it, however, you'll wonder if you've actually done anything. Then a couple seconds later, the explosive arrow detonates and, if your aim was accurate, you score your kill. Dodging away and waiting for that +100 to show up – or not – was a wonderfully climactic moment each time. Getting "stuck" equals inevitable death, but the game gives you a warning and the chance to kamikaze your soon-to-be killer. We just wish you could also hit a button to pull the arrow out of your flesh and toss it aside before the bang. Ballistic knife and tomahawks are both slight variations on the basic throwing knife, but fast enough to make you feel like much more of a modern badass.
Sticks and Stones was a crazy, entertaining mess at the press event. What we're most worried about, in fact, is that this feeling will be lost once the general public learns to wield the crossbow, ballistic knife and tomahawk with expert ease.