Since permanently changing competitive online multiplayer with 2007's Modern Warfare, the Call of Duty games have largely settled into refining their established ideas, making small but significant improvements with each new instalment. So while Treyarch may not be revolutionising CoD's online modes with Black Ops II, it is looking to evolve them in substantial ways.
Adding new modes - including 'Hardpoint', which is 'King of the Hill' but with one hill that moves around every few minutes - as well as new maps such as Cargo (a loading dock in Singapore), Turbine (a slightly damaged wind farm), Aftermath (a heavily damaged downtown Los Angeles), and Yemen (a small town with many nooks and crannies) should satisfy returning CoD battlers with some shiny newness. And unlike the campaign, which includes regular flashbacks to the '70s and '80s, multiplayer all takes place in the near-future date of 2025.
Because of this, multiplayer loadouts and skirmishes in Black Ops II take on a slightly futuristic riff on weapons and equipment (as well as a very similar vibe to Modern Warfare). Besides advanced targeting sights and other attachments, doing well in a match can earn you an auto turret that, unlike those in Modern Warfare 3, can also be commanded manually.
What it means to 'do well' in a CoD multiplayer match is also being tweaked. This time out, Killstreaks are being replaced with Scorestreaks. Instead of getting that coveted auto turret for killing five people without dying, you'll now unlock it with points you'll earn from completing objectives (i.e. capturing a flag, diffusing a bomb), being skilful (nailing a headshot, avenging your death), and, well, killing people (just like in previous games) without dying yourself.
Helping you prep for battle is the newly revamped loadout section. While you still have a choice of weapons and perks, each costs you a point (of which you only have ten). You can still have a classic CoD loadout - a primary weapon with two attachments, a secondary weapon, three perks, and two grenades only uses nine points - but you also get Wildcards. These use a point each, but let you break the rules.
For instance, 'Perk 1 Greed' lets you simultaneously use two perks from the same group, as opposed to just one. Other Wildcards let you use two primary weapons, or carry twice as many grenades. Treyarch has also eliminated gun-modifying perks. So if, for instance, you like to reload faster, you now have to use the faster reloading attachment instead. Assuming, of course, your chosen gun can use that attachment.
All of this new customisation should come in handy with the new multi-team options being added to most modes. This means that instead of just 9v9, Team Deathmatch can also be played 6v6v6 or 3v3v3v3v3v3 or some uneven combination as well. "Most people playing Team Deathmatch may as well be rogue agents running around like chickens with their heads cut off," says design director David Vonderhaar. "If you play multi-team, and you get three guys who know each other and are working together, you're like 'holy shit, this is exactly how it should be.'
"In the first or second game of multi-team we ever played, I watched these guys encase themselves in this building in Turbine. One guy put up claymores, the other guy put up Taser spikes, the other guy put a Guardian down and they said 'this building belongs to us and you're not getting in here under any circumstance whatsoever.' Everybody was pissed that they couldn't take this building so the whole match was spent with teams assaulting these guys. And it just opened my eyes to the potential."