One of the major questions that always hounds a Call of Duty release is a fairly simple one: do you want to play more Call of Duty? In a series with such a rigid design philosophy (shoot dudes in the face, unlock guns) you’ve either come to like it by now, or not. While I don’t believe Black Ops III will do anything to win over the uninterested, the multiplayer beta had some cool elements that stalwart fans may appreciate.
The biggest back-of-the-box bullet point to Black Ops III is its movement. After Advanced Warfare last year, I was worried that future games in the series would feel slow and sluggish if they didn’t adopt a similar movement model. Treyarch seem to have taken a good look at the mobility options that players have come to expect from Call of Duty, but have given it their own unique spin. Where last year’s game was about verticality, Black Ops III is all about momentum.
All players have unlimited sprint, meaning that the general pace of ground combat is increased. To further aid in your mobility, you have thrusters that are controlled through a meter. Unlike the double jump system of last year, you can tap to give yourself periodic boosts. What this means is that you can burn through your entire meter to make one large vertical jump, or feather it in order to cover more ground. Early on I found myself missing gaps or ledges because I didn’t have a good feel for how far my jumps could actually take me, but I quickly became comfortable with the system.
Another thing that’s had some tuning is animation priority. In previous titles mantling over objects would lower your gun – leaving your vulnerable. Now you can fire from the hip while locked into the mantling animation, so you’re not throwing away defensive options for mobility’s sake.
Further, mantling is automated, as well as omnidirectional. This takes out a lot of the mechanical overhead on the player’s part, as you no longer have to manually hit a button while pointing in a direction. It did however lead to some weird scenarios where the game would initiate a mantle I didn’t want. I have to imagine that, apart from stress testing the servers, stuff like this was also being looked at during the beta.
Wall running is also a new movement mechanic, but its use seems highly situational. Jumping next to a wall and hitting the sprint button initiates a wall run. While it looks and feels cool, more often than not it just got me killed. You can aim down the sights of your gun during the run, as well as chain it into other wall runs or jumps, but the problem is that you’re locked into a set elevation – meaning that anyone committing to a wall run is always going to be at the same height for the duration of the sprint. This makes lining up shots against a wall runner incredibly easy.
Black Ops III also has a new class-like system, in the form of Specialists. When you first boot up multiplayer, you’ll be asked to choose a Specialist – each one with their own cosmetic differences, and personality. Each Specialist also has two abilities to choose from: a weapon, or a skill. Their use in-game is governed by a meter that fills up over the course of a match, but is also sped up by getting kills.
Where last year’s game was about verticality, Black Ops III is all about momentum.
While the majority of people veered towards the ninja lady with the bow, I stuck with Prophet, whose weapon ability was a laser cannon that arced to nearby opponents. His active skill however (named Glitch) was far more interesting. Upon activating, you instantaneously teleport to a location you were at a few seconds ago. It allowed for some genuinely cool moments, where I could turns the tables on an opponent that was getting the drop on me, or just escape from dangerous firefights.
Map design generally follows a three-lane structure. There are three potential paths that players can run down and clash in the middle, but each of these paths have points of ingress and egress weaving through them – acting as escape routes, or flanking setups. The maps are longer than they are wide, perhaps to reinforce the rapid lateral movement and momentum that the game is built around.
Customisation is a familiar affair, with the Pick Ten system making a return. For the uninitiated, you can build specific loadouts of weapons and perks (passive benefits) to carry into a match. Adding more weapon attachments, grenades, or extra perks costs additional points, meaning you can do things like sacrifice a sidearm to have a primary weapon with more attachments. Similarly, you could limit your weapon and attachment options, to have more perks.
Progress is tracked through multiple levels – one for your overall character, and then individual ones for weapons. Want to get a new scope for your assault rifle? Then you’ll have to keep using it. Your overall level gives you unlock tokens, which can be used to get new specialists, perks, equipment (like grenades), or weapons.
I came away from the multiplayer beta of Black Ops III interested in what the final product would feel like. While I missed Advanced Warfare’s omnidirectional dashes, Treyarch’s momentum based movement seems to be iterating intelligently on ideas that Sledgehammer Games brought to the series last year.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III is set to release in November, later this year.
Update: Corrected a typo in the title.