First impressions are hard to shake. They’re what you usually judge something on and unless you’re willing to push through any irritations, they’re the lasting impression a game will make. It’s a shame then that the first Black Ops 4 beta weekend was such a technical mess. Frame rate issues, stuttering, dodgy hit detection and match ending disconnections meant that I didn’t play a single match that wasn’t buggy in some way. I could have written a piece last week raking it over the coals for these issues but I realised that unlike so many other “Beta’s” that are released these days, this is *actually* a Beta. It’s not some flawless, timed demo trotted out to build hype like so many other public “Beta’s” are these days. It’s a work in progress and Treyarch implemented a lot of changes for the second Beta which balanced play and improved stability. They worked wonders aside from at the busiest times when that stuttering ocassionaly returned.
For the second weekend beta then, Black Ops 4 started to show some of that classic game play that has become synonymous with Call of Duty over the years. The gun play, as fluid and as visceral as it was in Advanced Warfare and Black Ops 3, makes a welcome return having been replaced by a slower, measured feeling in WW2. Treyarch have continued the “boots/paws on the ground” mentality of WW2 to a degree, keeping the play grounded but with multiple vertices to play from whether that be swimming up to objectives or vaulting out of a church steeple. The maps included in the beta, designed to tailor to all types of player from the rushing shotgun wielder to the patient sniper, are excellently balanced with runs and overlooks wherever you look. For the first time in a while, I didn’t feel advantaged or disadvantaged starting from either side of a map (aside from maybe in the Hacienda map but that was because it was released late in the beta and I didn’t get as much time to learn its intricacies yet). The unlock system is what we’ve come to expect from Call of Duty with those willing to put in more time being allowed to tailor their experience with the game to the nth degree from perk types to weapon attachments. All in all, the core play of Black Ops 4 is shaping up to be as competitive and as enjoyable as you would expect.
There’s a wider consideration to be had with Black Ops 4 Beta though and that’s to do with personality. From the general feeling in the beta, it’s obvious that the changing face of online shooters has had a profound influence on what Black Ops 4 will become.
The various “Operators”, not a new thing for Black Ops by any margin, now have a more profound effect on the game play. Who you choose to play as effects how you’re most effective, more so than in Black Ops 3. Ruin, with his grappling hook, can get you to those objectives faster than any other character, taking a point before a shot is even fired. Seraph, when played well, can completely alter the tide of a game with a well-placed spawn point (AKA the Tac Deploy decon) in a strategic spot. Nomad’s K9 Unit can decimate an enemy squad hold up in a hardpoint without you ever needing to show your face. Battery, on the other hand, is as bold as her hairstyle with cluster grenades and a War Machine explosive launcher that are handy when you’re facing off against a number of opposition players. Sure, you’re still welcome to run around with a sub, kicking names and taking ass, but not utilising those benefits from your Operator will leave you and your team at a disadvantage. It’s obvious that Activision has taken note of the continued success of the “Hero shooter” and has tasked Treyarch to give their next release a bigger slice of that type of play style.
Then there’s the game play mode. Old CoD favourites like TDM, Search and Destroy and Kill Confirmed return but they’re joined by new modes that feel awfully familiar already. One of the new modes, Control, has an attacking team trying to take and hold 2 objectives on the map with a limited amount of time and respawns while the defenders try to hold them off. The kicker here is that you don’t need to hold both objectives at the same time and once your team has captured one objective, you can leave that area to focus on the other. This game mode feels directly inspired by the Turf War mode from LawBreakers which had the exact same set up but without limited respawns.
The other new mode, Heist, involves capturing a bag of cash from a central point of the map and taking it to an extraction point but with no respawns (but with revives) and a weapons load out that has to be purchased from cash earned in previous rounds. This is part search and destroy and part a classic capture the flag mode that’s got quite a lot of originality too it. I do have some concerns about how this mode snowballs if a team wins 3 consecutive rounds and you’re unable to keep up with the better weapons/upgrades they’re able to afford, making it all the more difficult to come back into it, but it’s a tense mode nonetheless.
These new mode additions, coupled with the greater impact that choice of Operator has on the game play, make Black Ops 4 feel unlike any Call of Duty game to date. Instead, this beta felt like a combination of Black Ops 3, Overwatch and, weirdly, the ill-fated LawBreakers into a Cronenberg mutation that’s part all of them and noncommittal to any of them. This’ll likely feel even more prominent when the Blackout (the Call of Duty Battle Royale Mode) beta launches in September.
What’s most impressive about this mash of shooter subgenres and inspirations is that it works really well. This is the first time since the remastered Call of Duty 4 have I wanted to spend more time in the multiplayer aspect of a CoD title because of its own innovation as well as the best aspects of other shooters that it has borrowed.
Plus, that dog. That dog is the best boi.