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Previews

Will Treyarch take centre stage with Black Ops?

Treyarch prepare to storm Infinity Ward's HQ...

There's no getting away from it. One simple word will sum up your first impressions of Call of Duty: Black Ops' multiplayer. That word is: 'familiar'.

If you're after any other words and phrases to act as a garnish, then feel free to choose from a selection that includes 'comfortable', 'same-old' and 'crikey, but it still feels good to shoot you in the face'.

We've now hit the stage where the annual evolution of Call of Duty multiplayer is best compared to FIFA: where the way the game works is writ large in solid rock, but where new features, gameplay tweaks and polish are added to the mix as each year rolls past.

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This clearly isn't an Infinity Ward game, it's technically Treyarch's followon from World at War, yet with the more modern setting and that familiar level-up industrial guitar riff those still exchanging bullets in MW2 will feel instantly at home.

This isn't, however, to say that the game isn't packing some fascinating new ideas. The biggest change is a shake-up in the way you gain new perks, Killstreaks and weapons in the game: the introduction of an in-game cash system called CoD Points, or CP for short.

"You still unlock features by level - you still have to rank up," explains David Vonderhaar, the game's Multiplayer Design Director, when cornered at the recent LA unveil of his wares.

"The difference is that you will, say, reach a certain level and unlock Killstreaks.
At that point you unlock all the Killstreaks, but you have to buy whichever ones you want. The same is true of perks, for the most part, and any of the personalisation stuff."

You'll get an influx of CP whenever you level up, and the higher the level you're attaining the more money will roll in. There are also Contracts to complete - essentially self-set in-game challenges to fulfil in each round.

If you're convinced you can get a certain amount of kills or Killstreaks then you promise the game that number, or if you're a punk who's feeling lucky you can go in with a more demanding contract for greater reward.

CLEAR FAVOURITE
This particularly blood-spattered market, however, can go down as well as up. At least, it can do if you enter the murky waters of Black Ops' Wager mode - four different game types that let you gamble your hard-earned CP, the very real threat of losing your cash or winning big providing all-new levels of tension, elation and imminent despair.

First up is 'One in the Chamber', which gives every player a pistol, three lives and a single bullet. The last man standing wins the biggest prize fund (more if he double-downed his cash before entering the fray) and unfired bullets are stolen from your foes as you down them.

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What follows are unbearably tense scenes of cat and mouse where it's vital to secure one shot and one kill. This is a somewhat camp-friendly set-up, yes, but it plays as a brilliant counterpoint to the usual multi-perforation and multi-death nature of CoD multiplayer.

Another high spot is Gun Game, in which every kill is rewarded with a step up a ladder of 20 guns - yet every time you're killed with a knife, it knocks you back a tier.

Get a kill with gun 20 and you've won, but seeing as the two last weapons are the slow-reload and ultra precise explosive crossbow and ballistic knife, it can be a hairy experience pulling off that final military murder.

Sticks and Stones, meanwhile, sees players armed with said explosive crossbows and ballistic knives in a battle where every kill conjures up CP - yet a successful strike with a tomahawk will cruelly (or hilariously) bankrupt the afflicted.

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