Published on August 14th, 2018 | by Sean Warhurst
Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII Beta Impressions
The Call of Duty series is in kind of a weird place right now – With the fanbase-splitting decision to remove the single player campaign from at least this year’s instalment and a seemingly desperate attempt to piggyback onto the success of the Battle Royale genre, many were doubting whether or not Treyarch’s latest effort could stand up to the quality of their past output.
The Black Ops IIII Beta went live over the past two weekends and gamers were given the chance to not only get a hands-on look at some of the modes and maps that’ll be on offer but also offer feedback to help the developers tweak certain aspects of the game; this became more noticeable upon playing through the Beta’s second weekend, in which certain elements, such as the TTK of particular weapons and the duration of the slide, had been nerfed in an attempt to tighten up the balance.
Getting around in Black Ops IIII really feels like an amalgamation of the movement styles found in Blacks Ops III and the more grounded titles like the recent WWII or even MW3; it’s fast and fluid, much like in Treyarch’s previous title, but the heavy focus on advanced movement mechanics has been toned down considerably.
Certain elements, such as a protracted slide, clearly harken back to those earlier games but gone are the jetpacks and wall running, making for a deconstructed hybrid movement style that initially takes some time to get accustomed to but soon feels natural and fluent.
This change in the way you move also has a heavy bearing on both how you approach conflict and the way Treyarch has designed the maps, with much of the increased verticality of the previous games not really on display here, at least in the handful of maps we were given access to; curiously, I’m pretty certain I spotted a few entry points that remained in the maps that would have required a double jump of some sort to reach, which were obviously inaccessible due to the current movement system but also suggests that the rumours of the troubled development and drastic change from Treyarch’s initial vision may bear some credence if artefacts from previous versions of the maps seemingly remain.
This identity crisis kind of permeates through the entire game, if we’re being honest. The speedy, frenetic gameplay and emphasis on class customisation has more than a dash of Overwatch to it and the increased TTK doesn’t slow things down as much as you’d expect.
I mean, sure, you can tell that the time to kill an opponent is slightly longer than in previous iterations, but once players start levelling up and gaining access to better armour and weapon loadouts, things often inevitably boil down to one shot sniper rifle kills.
The health shots kind of shake things up for the better, in my opinion, allowing you to dart out and face an onslaught of bullets and still, feasibly, live to fight another day, making for some pretty epic full frontal assaults. However, automatic health recovery has been removed, meaning that you have to balance manually fixing yourself up with staving off enemy attacks.
What feels like another major shift with this entry is an increased focus upon teamwork, even if that kind of contradicts my previous point; while an all out assault is technically viable, you have to bear in mind that everybody has access to the stim shots, so any edge the health boost grants you is also afforded to your opponents.
In order to mitigate that, I found that many players grouped up and methodically worked together, which is a pretty big shift from the lone wolf He-Man approach that most players take in the other games.
The modes on offer were pretty much what you’d expect, with the biggest question mark over the future of the franchise, Blackout Mode, understandably being held back until a later date. While this means that we still have no idea just how exactly the more traditional aspects of CoD’s gameplay model is going to make the transition over to the Battle Royale genre, it at least appears that the classic multiplayer modes are still going to operate in much the same way that fans expect.
There was the prerequisite Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed and Control modes, as well as Hardpoint, Domination and Search and Destroy, with only new mode Heist offering up something a little different. Heist sees two teams go up against each other with no respawns, with victory going to the team that either eliminates all of their opponents or makes off with the money – It is a heist, after all.
Each round begins with players getting a small amount of money and a pistol, with successful heists adding to the pool of cash and allowing players to buy more expensive upgrades and better weapons and perks. It’s not an overly complicated deviation from the established norm but it does offer up an even more concentrated take on squad mechanics and the lack of respawns forces a deliberate approach to combat that falls more in line with something like Rainbow Six: Siege than what you’d expect to find in a Call of Duty game.
Not to harp on the whole teamwork thing but another shift is in how the Specialist classes work this time around, complementing each other and rewarding effective team combinations. The handful of maps on display were a bit of a mixed bag, with most adhering to the same old three lane model that most games of this ilk fall back on but with some offering a ton of cover than essentially renders airborne scorestreaks useless.
From a graphical standpoint, Black Ops IIII adds some welcome colour to proceedings but, on the whole, somehow seems to look worse than even Black Ops III?
I know that there’s still some time to clean things up before the game ships but there’s just a general fuzziness to the graphics and textures that really doesn’t hold up in the visual stakes when compared to previous games.
Although I took a little bit to warm to it, the movement and gunplay in Black Ops IIII feels as tight and as refined as ever, even if I did prefer the pre-nerfed version of the slide. The problem is that I’m not sure whether or not there will be enough here to keep fans invested in the same capacity that other entries in the series have managed.
Sure, there’s a relatively solid multiplayer framework here, even if it could definitely do with some more attention, but are the Zombie Modes and Blackout really going to compensate for not having a fully fleshed out narrative? Is there really even a point in titling this as a Black Ops game when there’s no continuation of the plot and themes explored in Treyarch’s previous games to be seen anywhere?
Is this the year that Call of Duty finally jumps the shark? For a series that was an industry leader for so long, it’s a bit jarring to see them suddenly eschewing any real innovation in order to capitalise on a flavour of the month game mode and, as a result, struggle with their identity to such a degree.
While the ultimate fate of the CoD franchise remains to be seen, it can’t be denied that I did have fun with the Black Ops IIII Beta, even if I’m slightly dubious on the longevity of the series after such drastic changes; there’s a lot of work that needs to be done if Black Ops IIII is going to sway the sceptical segment of its fanbase but it’s heartening at least to see Treyarch interacting with players and actively listening to their feedback, implementing noticeable changes over these two past weekends based on fanbase input.
We know that they want to give us a good game… Fingers crossed that they can pull it off.