The weekend’s coming to a close, and so too does Treyarch’s Black Ops III Beta. Since Tuesday night, those who pre-ordered the game on PlayStation 4 have been gunning each other down, sprinting along walls, and raining fury upon their enemies through a mix of familiar and new Killstreaks (sorry, how 2009 of me – scorestreaks).
I have been among those ranks of augmented soldiers both spitting uncountable magazines and spilling guts all over the three (and since this weekend began, four) maps offered to players. And it’s been a hell of a time. I haven’t stayed up late, burning through round after round this much since, Christ, the original Black Ops came out five years back.
That’s not to say this is the Holy Reinvention of Call of Duty fans have been waiting for (in fairness, it’s really the series’ detractors that sneer at the annualized formula – the game’s unerring success seems to indicate its fans are happy enough with the status quo). No, it’s Call of Duty as we know it, but reskinned to match the theme of this year’s campaign – a distant future where human augmentation has changed the face of warfare. There’s no hint in the beta how Treyarch is dealing with the concept thematically, but it basically means they get to throw gatling-gun armed robo-men into the multiplayer, which I’m 100% fine with.
In spite of some expected technical hiccups (it is a beta), the game is gratifyingly fun. The Specialists, this year’s big iteration (read: gimmick), is shaping up to be the game’s biggest hook – maybe big enough to keep player lobbies full until Activision spends millions in marketing to migrate us to 2016′s installment.
Specialists: Character classes finally make their way to Call of Duty. It’s not surprising – the reason CoD became so devastatingly addicting in the first place was when it decided to borrow from RPGs. As you rank up, you’re given access to preset characters that harbor two talents, of which only one can be active during a match. The abilities are either offensive or defensive and all play on the conceit of technological mods.
During a round, a special meter fills up and, once charged, gives you access to your ability. Take the massively popular Outrider, for instance, who pulls out a bow that fires exploding arrows which can pop someone like a blood balloon or, at the very least, soak them in explosive damage if your aim isn’t true. I preferred Prophet’s lightning gun of doom that plants an opponent where they stand – dead, of course – and has the potential of electrocuting any of their team members careless enough to step into my pool of death.
Your special skills have a set amount of ammo and a timer winds down the moment you activate them, but they’re punishing. I’ve personally turned the tide of a match by going super at the right moment and majorly fucking up the other team’s day. Yeah, it’s exactly Destiny, but it’s no less fun and actually fits well with the twitch trigger chaos of Call of Duty. It’s a decent draw and by having more Specialists to look forward to unlocking, leveling is given renewed purpose.
It does, however, feel like a jump backward to have you running around as pre-made characters. There’s something world breaking about going against an entire team of Outrider clones. I’m hoping the full release leans on Advanced Warfare’s robust customization options even just an eensy bit.
Locomotion: Call of Duty, at a mechanical level, has a pitch perfect foundation. I still think the series’ tight controls and instantly rewarding play-feel is what keeps gamers flocking back. When the developers mess with that array of mechanics, it can get dicey (that stupid ass belly-flopping dive from the first Black Ops painfully comes to mind).
Black Ops III, like AW, drastically alters locomotion… and it’ll be hard to go back after you get the hang of it. You can boost jump, wall-run, vault, and thrust slide all over the damn map. And it’s oh, so smooth. I didn’t think of Advanced Warfare’s maneuvering as rigid until I starting playing this beta. You can’t dash from side to side anymore like the last game, but that actually makes bouts less frantic. Gone, also, is that floaty feeling from AW. Treyarch has made your avatar weightier; more grounded. But you’re quicker, and your movements are much more fluid.
Black Ops III controls fantastically. The most approximate comparison I can make is if Black Ops II and Advanced Warfare were blended together into a Future War smoothie (or am I thinking of a Terminator themed DQ Blizzard?).
It is surprising to note how much has carried over from Black Ops II, specifically the scorestreaks, but I suppose that’s Treyarch’s way of keeping the brand identity alive. It is sort of a treat to harness RC-XDs (that now hover!) and lightning strikes and guardians again. I used to be a stringent Modern Warfare supporter, but Treyarch’s grasp on the franchise has tightened as the years have gone on, and my affection for Black Ops has only grown. If I had needed to be coerced into giving a shit about Blops III before the beta, I certainly don’t need any coaxing now.