Zombies are back

Treyarch's Mark Lamia

Above: Treyarch’s Mark Lamia

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Black Ops III has a Zombies co-op mode, where up to four players can splatter hordes of undead in increasingly difficult rounds of combat. Treyarch didn’t show off any of the Zombies gameplay, but you’ll be able to access the same set of futuristic weapons and boost jumps in this mode. That means you’ll be far more lethal than you were in Black Ops II.

For the first time, you’ll be able to rank up in a ladder, similar to the statistics-obsessed multiplayer mode. Zombies will have its own full player XP progression system that will add a lot more replayability, Lamia said.

Treyarch added a Zombies mode to its Call of Duty: World at War game in 2008 as an Easter egg, and it has been adding the mode ever since because it’s fun. It has nothing to do with the fiction of Call of Duty, but fans love it, Lamia said, and now the team can’t make a game without it.

“It has become part of a signature brand,” he said. “We’ll have mind fuckery, and a unique storytelling system in Zombies,” he said.

Hands-on multiplayer experience

Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Above: Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Image Credit: Activision

I played multiple rounds of multiplayer, which is ready a lot earlier than it was in past games. That is one of the benefits of having a three-year cycle for the design. Treyarch and Activision will show off multiplayer combat at E3.

It was familiar to me in a lot of ways, and I picked it up fairly quickly. In my first round, I died 20 times and killed 14 enemies. But in the second round, I had 32 kills and 20 deaths.

But I can tell you that it felt far different from the Black Ops II combat of 2012. One of the biggest differences is you can play as one of four different specialists. Seraph is a stealthy character who has a giant pistol; Ruin is a brute who can kill a bunch of players by smashing “gravity spikes” into the ground; Reaper is a robot with a deadly minigun; and the Outrider carries a bow with explosive-tipped arrows.

Treyarch has now introduced a “guns up” movement system that allows you to fire while doing all sorts of movement tricks like thrust-jumping, running on walls, power-sliding, and even swimming underwater. I found it easy to pick up these moves, and I felt like I could do a lot better in combat than in Advanced Warfare or the Modern Warfare series.

You can chain these motions together and do some tricky maneuvers. And to keep it all fluid, Treyarch has paid careful attention to the link between combat, movement, and map design, Bunting said. You still pick 10 different customizations, but now you can have five attachments per gun instead of three.

The gameplay is fast, but it’s also slower in respects compared to the Modern Warfare series, and it still favors “scorestreaks” for actions that benefit a whole team, rather than just “killstreaks.” You’ll also have a “gunsmith” editor where you’ll be able to create your own emblems and show them off. You can layer on 64 different layers on an emblem and paint three sides of a gun.

It’s all designed to allow players to make “moment to moment” decisions in combat, said David Vonderhaar, the director of design at Treyarch.

I found it easy to stay alive and shoot from the abundant cover in maps to rack up the kills. But I also saw the value in constantly moving and chaining together movement tricks.

Treyarch’s baby

Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Above: Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Image Credit: Activision

With Black Ops III, Treyarch demonstrates once again that it can provide a different experience from Infinity Ward, which is working on its new Ghosts franchise; and Sledgehammer, which is at work on the next Advanced Warfare game. The three-year cycle is just what players needed to get more variety in the series, and it offers the best chance Activision has to keep Call of Duty sales from sagging.

I’m looking forward to hearing more about Black Ops III, including details such as its ship date, platform support, Zombies fiction, the single-player plot, the main characters, and the multiplayer progression system.

But Treyarch has already told us more information and given more hands-on play than we’ve ever had this early on. It’s clear that it’s a lot different from other games in the series, and that gives me confidence that this is going to be an outstanding game.