Black Ops 3 Beta Review
A sizable chunk of the admittedly still massive Call of Duty population has grown bored of the yearly franchise. So, like me, many people haven’t picked up a Call of Duty game in a couple of years due to the fatigue of the tried and true gameplay. I went into Black Ops 3 with optimism, perhaps the new generation of consoles could inject some interest and creativity into the franchise. I went into the Beta hoping to be swayed to pick up the game come its November release, but I left feeling more unsure than anything. Of course there is still time for Treyarch to make some fixes and tweaks, but here is a quick rundown of my first impression.
Black Ops 3 aims to add increased mobility and unique specialists’ (Characters) abilities to the best-selling franchise of first person shooters. Developer Treyarch hopes the power of current generation systems will allow for more creativity, visuals and action that really pushes the adrenaline of their fans.
The complete jump to current generation consoles has help immensely in this aspect. The heads up display is easy to read and understand on the fly, not much has changed there. Each weapon shines with detail. If you take the time to look at your gun you’ll notice some painstaking detail to lines and curves that highlight the design of each weapon. Character models are better than they have ever been in the franchise. The switch to specialists allows for character models that stray away from the generic masked soldiers of older installments. Each Specialist has a unique look about them, giving each a unique silhouette that distinguished exactly what character every player is using. Of course the explosions look spectacular, whether a grenade or an airstrike you can see there was love put into every particle and pixel. The one thing that needs help visually is what is called responsive feedback. Whenever a jump jet is used or a wall run is done I couldn’t feel it. The jump jets for a double jump felt like a mystical breeze just pushed me higher, I want to feel the burst of the thrusters complete with a quicker noticeable motion blur.
Here we run into a hit-and-miss territory. For example, Specialists each have their own voices and call-outs at the beginning of a match that helps establish them as characters, but the problem is they only have one. That call out becomes annoying after a string of matches. When firing your weapon it gives a satisfying punch, as is expected. One of my larger complaints about the sound design of the Beta is that I couldn’t hear other people firing their weapons, even without suppressors. An enemy player could be standing ten feet away, firing in my direction and the only sound you hear is a light clicking, when they kill me and the game jumps to the kill-cam their gun sounds just as loud as my own. Increasing the audio of other player’s weapons will help players analyze their environment and actually give suppressors their intended purpose. Besides these missteps Black Ops 3 continues the Call of Duty standard of clearly announcing enemy kill-streaks, and friendly air support. There are some great new details like hydraulic squeaks when your character’s mechanized arms move, or the hovering blades of drone zoom around, helping add more character to the game itself.
The base gun-play of the game is exactly what is expected, solid, standard, Call of Duty. If you’ve played a Call of Duty game any time in the last eight years you will feel familiar with the basic controls and operation of the game. Now it’s the tweaks between installments that have allowed the franchise to survive for so long. Black Ops 3 adds specialists, which is a fancy word for characters. You pick your character then select one of two special abilities, one is a powerful weapon the other is a support/defensive ability. The idea was better than the execution. Some Specialists had offensive weapons that far outranked others, and defensive/support abilities were not viable options in the fast paced matches. Weapons like the Sparrow (Bow w/explosive arrows) and the Annihilator (One shot kill pistol) became overly popular because they allow players to easily rack up kills. The other options either required timing your guns charge to land a shot, or getting up close and personal. Defensive/support abilities don’t help with survival as much as they aim to, players die far too quickly to reliably use a defensive ability. In this game the best defense is offense.
The “improved” movement mechanics add fluidity but sacrifice utility. What do I mean by this? Well the movement itself is slick, jumping from one wall run to another only to perform a rocket powered slide behind cover. Wall running opens up new route for flanking. The problem here is that while the movement options are available, a lot of sections within maps are cut off by invisible walls. Spots that are highly visible and can be double jumped to are blocked off by invisible walls. Tops of buildings, rock formations are a few examples within the 3 maps available in the Beta. With the movement options the maps should be opened up, they feel even more cramped when you can run from one end to the other in ten seconds flat, open up vertical options to increase the size of the maps and the use of the double jump. This isn’t my only complaint about map designs. In an effort to showcase the new wall running mechanic Treyarch placed areas that require you to do so in order to traverse the map. Essentially they saw a location where, in previous titles, a walkway would suffice and decided, “No, the wall is the walkway”. The lack of the ability to pull yourself onto a ledge is frustrating when you already have the top half of your body over it. One last annoyance, Black Ops 3 inexplicably brings back fall damage, which just sounds absurd in the context that you play as a cybernetically enhanced soldier with a jump jet.
This the hardest one to gauge, some matches were a blast and others made me just completely shut off the game. One of the biggest contributors to this was what is called Time to Kill (TTK). Basically the average amount of time it takes to kill an enemy player. The TTK in the Black Ops 3 Beta was far too low for my taste. Most weapons drop you in 2-3 rounds, sniper rifles can one shot kill you. What results is essentially instant death, taking away much of the need to intelligently aim your shots. This also means that escape is nigh impossible. The overwhelming majority of the time you’re dead before you can react. In what seems to be an ongoing issue, player hitboxes, are enormous and suffer from latency issues. Whenever I watched a kill-cam many shots would hit invisible sections around my character, or I’d be hit despite already being around a corner. It is too easy to hit players, I scored a lot of kills by firing from the hip and constantly moving. Engagements with enemies last a mere second, with the first person to shoot usually winning. In matches one team can back the other into their spawn location and just tidal wave an insurmountable lead. Basically an entire team will respawn in one general area and the other team just waits and fires as the unsuspecting players are doomed to respawn back into the same area. On multiple occasions one death lead to a string of inescapable ones. Which led me to stop playing the game.
I know this is just a Beta and bugs, glitches and laggy servers are to be expected but some game play tweaks need to occur before I buy into the game. TTK makes the game incredibly difficult for players to establish any kind of rhythm or even familiarize themselves with the map. The game has turned into an “I saw you first, I win” match. The game needs to eliminate invisible walls and encourage creative movement. If a location looks like you can jump onto it, you should be able to jump onto it. I applaud Treyarch trimming down the fat of weapon selection, adding fluid movement mechanics, and playable characters but at the end of the day the game is about gun-play, not movement and special abilities.
Michael Gomez covers Gaming for MFST, you can follow him on Twitter @MichaelGom3
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