Despite its high production values and gimmicky, Michael Bay-like action sequences, many drop-shotters never dive into the campaign portion of Activision’s yearly Call of Duty entries. For some, it’s all about the multiplayer. Sledgehammer’s Advanced Warfare upped the tempo of the series with its exo-suit, 3D movement mechanics, allowing players to boost high onto platforms and strafe midair, and drove the franchise deeper into the realm of the Hollywood action flick with its futuristic Edge of Tomorrow-meets-Army of Two design elements. Treyarch, developers of 2012’s acclaimed Black Ops II, follow Sledgehammer’s pace in their upcoming Black Ops III, giving players control of super-soldiers with similar yet distinct technologically amplified physical faculties.
Just last week, thousands of PS4, Xbox One, and PC gamers, including myself, jumped on the chance to test drive this year’s CoD early after Treyarch lifted the velvet rope to its BETA: BO3‘s online multiplayer BETA has previously been exclusive to preorder customers; but after a few successful days of testing, the developer opened the flood gate by going full open BETA. While there may still be some work to do before its November 6th release, the BETA gave us a good glimpse at what may turn out to be a great CoD entry.
Black Ops III keeps the tempo set by last year’s Advanced Warfare, maintaining a not-so-distant future setting – 2065 in this case – and technologically enhanced movement capabilities. The tone of the BETA embraced the over-the-top flare CoD has grown into, boasting a heavy metal, techno action hero attitude from the get go. Online, players can unlock up to eight “specialists;” these playable heroes all come outfitted with techno punk outfits and radical special weapons that supplement the standard arsenal. Among my favorites were Outrider, a hooded archer loaded with arrows that not only one-shot victims but explode just after contact, goring enemies totally needlessly but oh-so awesomely; Battery, a would-be Tank Girl armed with a bouncing grenade launcher; and Spectre, armed with two blades for fast-moving close-quarters encounters. Specialist weapons each possess a cool-down timer that can be reduced by taking down enemy players.
Jet boosters allow for stunt-oriented, 3-dimensional movement in what developers call a “chain-based fluid movement system;” players can double-jump, change the direction of their vertical boost, boost forward, left, and right, and wall-run. Whereas the exo-suits of AW allowed players to move across two axis, the boosters in BO3 allow for versatile degrees of maneuverability. BO3’s level design is vertically capped at 2-levels, reducing the number of high-rise sniper nests and encouraging aggressive play-styles and more movement. While similar in concept to Titanfall’s parkour, BO3’s jet boost movement plays and feels distinct: appropriately slower, a little weightier, and less frantic.
BO3 sees the return of BO2’s 10-point create-a-class system wherein players can gear up their soldier, customizing their weapon, load out, and perks. Custom classes are interchangeable mid-match; however, specialists can only be changed through a selection menu before or after matches. The new Paintshop allows players to cake their weapons in layers of decals, designs, and color, a CoD feature I personally feel was long overdue. Gun Smith is a weapon creation mode that allows for weapons to be customized and altered, both visually and mechanically. While neither mode was accessible in the BETA, both promise space for creativity and more involved player expression than previous CoD’s allowed for.
The arsenal available in BETA featured the common fare of weapons classes – submachine tunes, assault rifles, shotguns, snipers, and machine guns – with a few visual design innovations. While specialist weapons were cool and playfully designed, the standard weapons closet wasn’t quite as eccentric; however, every weapon played great and none really felt overpowered. Kill Streaks no longer occupy perk slots within the point customization system, as they did in AW, and range from the familiar UAV to spiky mines that roll toward nearby enemies. The BETA included access to three maps playable across nine gameplay modes: Team Deathmatch, Domination, Demolition, Kill Confirmed, Hardpoint, Capture the Flag, Search and Destroy, Uplink, and Safeguard. While there was a lot to cover during the five days of Open BETA, let’s not forget that Treyarch will have more in store for us when the full title drops.
The BETA ran at a solid 1080p and 60fps on my PS4 without a single hitch. Overall, I felt that BO3 looked neither better nor worse than AW. Animations were smooth and environments detailed though occasionally a tad plain. My favorite visual aspect of BO3 was its vibrant palette; artists seem to have steered clear of a brown and grey wash and really embraced use of vibrant, contrasting colors in maps and equipment.
Once opened up to the public, servers got heavy and nearly every match I played became far too lagged out to continue playing – probably what developers were looking for to complete stress tests. I had a blast with BO3 BETA for the short time I had it. Gameplay was fun and distinct enough from the previous CoD to freshen up the series. New aspects such as Paintshop and Gun Smith along with the new Specialists all go a long way toward adding a personality to the often context-less fighting of online multiplayer. Let’s hope that Treyarch got the numbers it needed from the BETA so that we might see a successful launch version of Call of Duty: Black Ops III this November.