I found myself checking my watch well into the small hours during the final day of the PS4 Black Ops 3 public beta. Why? I was thinking I could get just one more match in before either Treyarch pulled the plug or I had to go to bed because it was a work night. That really isn't like me. Of course I've played CoD before – everyone's played CoD before - but there's something about this one that grabbed me like no other. And I think it's this one map. The others are good, sure, but Hunted? It's a masterpiece.
For starters, the sunny, warm-toned environmental art is beautiful. I'm reminded of Riven (the sequel to Myst, don'tcha know?) every time I walk to the edge of a cliff and look down upon azure waters stretching away to the horizon. Only difference here, of course, is that this sunlit, tropical paradise is yours to explore in real-time. And, frequently, I found myself startled by how pretty it is.
OK, so you've got a pretty playground in which to shoot your gargantuan guns. So far, so predictable. But what a playground it is. For starters, you've got outdoor areas distinctly characterized by key features, like an aviary (sadly devoid of birds – I often stopped to look inside, fully ready to take a bullet to the back of the head if it at least meant I could see a toucan or something), a bridge and a massive waterfall, along with a villa and a small hut.
The bridge is a classic choke point, with boxes and vehicles for cover allowing for Wild West-style, duck-and-cover shootouts, plus two large windows overlooking it at opposing ends. There's always somewhere to look for a target in that area, and plenty of open-ground kills to be had if you're new to the game. But the advanced mechanics are incorporated too - if your team's on one end and the bridge itself is occupied by the enemy, you can wall-run along the side of it, invisibly.
But then there's the indoor area, with a few rooms and a water feature (admittedly it looks a little like a constantly-flushing urinal, but there's no accounting for taste, right?). And my goodness, how I exclaimed out loud when I realised what the water feature did. I honestly thought my game had lagged out when I thought I'd seen a player fall through the floor. They hadn't – it's actually deep water which runs right under the house and out into a pool. It's full of freakin' fish and everything. Better still, your guns still work underwater, which means you can shoot people in the face while your character holds his/her breath and fish swim around you. Did I mention the fish? Love it. The crystal clear water looks like some fancy leisure pool holiday park.
But all of this – all of it – pales in comparison to the map's finest section: the tunnel that runs behind the main waterfall. It's easily accessible at either end, right from the spawn point at the start of the round, which means it becomes the scene of many opening stand-offs. I love getting there first, sprinting towards it and crouch-boosting to get ahead of team-mates, before entering the tunnel and aiming down my thermal sights, just waiting for the first red head to pop around the corner at the other end. Pop!
As if that wasn't satisfying enough, this tunnel holds far deeper delights. It may have open ends and rocky walls, but the middle of the tunnel is a walkway suspended about a foot above water, with the big waterfall mere yards away. The waterfall provides a blank wall that you can't see through, but can still easily be traversed with a simple jump. The pool beyond links up with the water feature in the house, which is insane new-gen freedom when you think about it (corridor to swimming to classic 'what's behind the waterfall' secret to Boom! Headshot).
This single tunnel area became the scene of countless examples of clever play over my time with the beta and I am amazed at how many different tactics were employed to maximise its potential. Admittedly mostly via the deathcam replays (go on, 'noob' away), I've seen someone hide in the water under the walkway, wait for me to pass and then pop up and shoot me in the back. I've seen people leap in through the waterfall and kill before they've even landed. I've seen people go prone, or crouch a little way up the rocky wall.
I've fired ricochet shots off the curved wall to hit someone in cover. I've scored kills through the waterfall itself by blind-firing in the direction of map blips. I've seen people crouch dash into view at one end and get a sniper shot away before I've had a chance to readjust my aim. It's the classic 'room with three exits' CoD map design, but that wall of water and murky depths under your feet make it perilous place to hang around. And yet I can't help it. I got so many kills in that tunnel. So. Many. Kills.
Perhaps the thing that clinches it, however, is that the entire map design is absolutely resolute in what you are and are not allowed to do. There's one too-obvious sniping spot on a raised hill, but all of the other sandy mounds that make up the outdoor corridors cannot be used as platforms. You can stuff your 'verticality' that everyone loves to talk about in Advanced Warfare – the Hunted map's greatest win is that it's all kept on the horizontal. Check left, check right, check behind you. Occasionally check the floor behind a handrail. All the threats are right there, and always just a little more than you can comfortably deal with. There's no need to open it up to the sky too. Well… there are occasional airstrikes. But again, plenty of doorways to covered areas, and you're safe indoors. And you could always just go and play in the tunnel. I love that tunnel. Best tunnel ever.