Hands-On: Call of Duty: Black Ops III’s Beta Handled Like A Dream
Everyone has an opinion on Call of Duty. A large contingent of the gaming community has at some point played a Call of Duty game; such is the series that has escalated into somewhat of a cultural phenomenon in its 12 years as a series.
Name: Call of Duty: Black Ops III
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 6 November 2015
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is set to be the latest in the long-standing franchise. The game is a third iteration in Treyarch’s subseries of Call of Duty games, four if you count World at War, which exists in the same universe, and the developer is launching their work into a distant future, having previously dealt with World War II, the Cold War and a somewhat near future. The future of warfare is genetic modification and bodily enhancement, which dramatically changes how wars are fought and — more importantly — the soldiers who fight them.
These themes will undoubtedly be explored in more depth in the final launch, but the beta, which recently ran on PlayStation 4 and has begun on Xbox One and PC, has given us a taste of how these genetic modifications will affect the multiplayer. The short answer is that they’re going to give you lots of new ways to play the game — and that’s a great thing.
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The first thing you’re greeted with when opening the multiplayer menus is a list of Specialists. Specialists are different characters in Black Ops III who grant you access to different abilities during the course of a multiplayer match. These differ from a ping which reveals all nearby enemies and highlights them through walls to a grenade launcher which blows things up really well.
I chose Prophet with the Glitch ability originally, which allowed me to teleport back to an earlier position, even under fire. This allows you to avoid enemy fire and pull off some particularly scummy plays, but was a little tricky to pull off given the ability was mapped to the L1 and R1 buttons, which are hardly your first resort in a gunfight.
Later on, I switched to Outrider carrying Sparrow — a compound bow which fires explosive arrows. It was also mapped to the same buttons, but being a weapon, it was far easier to switch to it without being made a pretty pattern on the wall. Despite the odd button mapping though, the Specialist abilities and weapons blended excellently in the title and are bound to add a lot to objective modes.
Seeing them used in the beta was largely seeing players getting used to them, but seeing players using an Outrider’s Ping to see enemies camped around a Search and Destroy objective, or a Battery’s War Machine to lay down some explosive clearing fire on a point in Domination is almost certainly going to become a very influential part of the game come launch.
Seeing other players making use of the abilities to get the better of their opponents was good watching, and it added another edge to an otherwise well choreographed Call of Duty performance. The gunplay was remarkably smooth — not smooth in the sense that every gun shot unequivocally straight, but that nothing felt obtrusively clunky. Thematically this fits perfectly with the overarching idea of “the perfect weapon”, as it points to a sort of optimisation of the firearm, but in gameplay it flows excellently.
The movement follows this same sleek and unobtrusive trend. A new boost back replaces the double jump Exo Suits from Advanced Warfare, and can be listed as a marked improvement; where Advanced Warfare‘s Exo Suits were clunky and restricted in how they could move, Black Ops III‘s boost packs are far more versatile, allowing you to time boost uses to cover more distance or rather gain height. This also extends to more foot-based movement, with wall running and an enhanced slide featuring, while the ground dodges have been filtered out.
Despite the improvement of the aerial motion, however, Black Ops III is feeling far more ground based than its predecessor. Advanced Warfare’s gunfights had an almost Halo-esque tendency to devolve into a hopping contest, which the limited bounds of Black Ops III‘s boost seems to be restricting. Boost can still be used during gunfights, but its use needs to be more pointed than in Advanced Warfare — which again, is an improvement in my books, and certainly adds to the tactical element of the gunplay.
The maps make full use of the new movement abilities — especially the parkour, which players have plenty of opportunity to use. These don’t feel like gimmicky additions either, as they offer viably alternative routes for players to use to traverse the maps, which are remarkably well-balanced from the gameplay I’ve had access to, both in Team Deathmatch and objective modes.
There may still be a few kinks in the system, such as the occasional crash in an otherwise smoothly performing game and a few matchmaking errors, but these will likely be crushed before launch. I entirely expect the matchmaking issues, which threw me into a couple of international lobbies and dropped me out of local ones, will be sorted out before launch — especially since South Africa seems to be getting dedicated servers for the upcoming shooter.
Suspected Selling Points:
- It plays smoother than a surface in a Grade 10 physics question.
- It’s the Call of Duty series. That in itself will already send a horde of teenagers and shooter fans into a pre-order frenzy.
- The game is trying new things while retaining the same exquisite polish and expected quality the series is known for.
- Expect a R700-R900 Season Pass to cut the community in half by March.
- By Christmas there will be a fairly high skill barrier.
- Some of the abilities desperately need rebalancing before launch.
With the beta only lasting a little longer than a weekend, it’s difficult to say whether Black Ops III will be the same eSports hit that Black Ops II was, but if there’s one thing Treyarch deserves, it’s the benefit of the doubt — they clearly know what they’re doing.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III is looking incredibly promising: the gameplay is slick, smooth and at breakneck pace. The beta has been running excellently from a performance point of view, and from the gameplay I had the opportunity to experience, the balanced map design that Treyarch thrived on with Black Ops II seems to be making a resounding return. We’ll only see come launch, but for now at least, Call of Duty: Black Ops III seems like a return to form from the veteran Call of Duty developer.