Black Ops 4 Beta Impressions – Stepping into the Future
Call of Duty is one of the longest running annual series in gaming. Every year you can expect a new title from one of the 3 dev teams that are assigned exclusively to the franchise. But with each passing iteration many fans have felt that the franchise has begun to stagnate. Many critics of the series say that each game is practically the same with a different coat of paint, a by-the numbers shooter that has not grown since the Modern Warfare heydays. While I’ve never been one to buy that sentiment I know CoD isn’t the deepest franchise on the market. It’s the junk food of gaming, a fun, shallow treat that I play every so often. Having played most of the series I have seen the subtle evolution of the games, from the more casual implementation of score streaks to the focus on operator classes and microtransactions. But with Black Ops 4 Call of Duty is seeing a rebirth, changing itself to a new beast, for better or worse. The real offender of Black Ops is the decision to cut the campaign from the game, but at the moment that is neither here nor there. Recently I was given the chance to try the private beta for the game and seeing the changes made was interesting. So let’s dive into what this new game is all about.
The biggest change to Black Ops 4 is the heavy emphasis on operators. What once was essentially a character skin and ultimate ability has now evolved into full characters with different equipment loadouts that reflect their archetypes. Battery for instance is a demolitions expert, her operator ability (separate from her ultimate) is a cluster grenade, which is a mix between a semtex grenade and a cluster bomb. Ruin is a rush based hero with a grappling hook that is his operator ability, allowing him to traverse the field quicker than any other operator. As you can tell some of these abilities are more tactical than offensive, giving players support roles to help the team, even if they aren’t the best shot. The cooldowns on operator abilities also differs, Ruin’s hook only takes a few seconds to recharge while Battery’s cluster grenade takes around a full 45 seconds. This gives the battlefield an interesting ebb and flow that is definitely different to the usual CoD fare. Ultimate abilities are back with some modifications, such as returning operators having different ultimates. Nomad for example has a dog that runs around attacking enemies. Others have small changes to their old abilities, Ruin’s ground slam takes a little longer and is slightly different visually, while Battery’s War Machine no longer has the cluster effect. With the heavy emphasis on operators and the ability to change operators mid-game Black Ops 4 feels more like Overwatch than Call of Duty. The only major difference is that player can still make loadouts with different guns, meaning CoD hasn’t fully committed to the hero shooter frame. This hero shooter influence extends to the mode choices as well. While there is still staples like TDM and Kill Confirmed the focus is more on objective-based gameplay. Modes like S&D and new mode Heist are team focused, where communication is king. Heist is an interesting game mode, it practically throws out all the standard CoD convention to play more like a cross between Fortnite and Counterstrike. It is a round based mode where the objective is to get a large sum of money and drop it off at a randomize extraction zone. Each player only has one life per round, so once your dead it’s a spectators role for you. But getting downed isn’t the end, every player will be incapacitated when their health hits zero. Once incapacitated you can crawl to a teammate to hopefully be picked up. But an enemy can put you down with a bullet or two in this state. Before a new round starts you can purchase equipment such as new guns, pre-selected attachments, or perks. So it very much plays like CSGO with Fortnite elements. All in all these modes feel mismashed, like there’s no real cohesion to the game. It feels like imitation rather than innovation. CoD is better than this.
Gunplay wise there have been significant changes as well. Spray patterns are now more realistic, so long-range hip firing is no longer an option. But with one step forward comes two steps back. The mechanics behind the sniper rifles in the game essentially encourage quick scoping, meaning some asshole can barely pull up his sight and kill you in one shot. Secondly time to kill is sitting in a weird area. Pistols can feel too quick while SMG’s and Assault Rifles can take forever to down someone. Guns feel really under-powered thanks to the new health system which has ditched the auto healing of the past. Instead the player manually heals with a stimpack that has a 4 second cooldown. This slowly puts you back to full health but will stop healing you if you are hurt again. This breaks the flow of the game significantly as you need to pull away from a fight to heal. Movement wants to be fast and fluid but with the removal of boost jets and wall-running the pace feels mushy, taking into consideration that the slide still works like the boost slide of Black Ops 3. The game just isn’t satisfying to play. During one match I got a triple kill with my cluster grenade but I wasn’t celebrating I was wondering why this game had so many bad, bullshit systems in it. If this is the state the game is going to release in then it is doomed, unless the inclusion of these elements was meant to strengthen the Blackout Battle Royale mode that Activision plans to implement. Blackout was not available for this beta but will be available to try in September. I may do a piece on that mode but I’m not incredibly hopeful about it.
Black Ops 4 is a mess. If Activision thinks this is an acceptable state for this game then they are sorely mistaken. While I do like some of the gameplay changes, namely the spray tweaks, operator abilities, and better team focus, the game has too many missteps to be a step forward. With them shoehorning in a mode no one wanted, cutting singleplayer, and fumbling the core multiplayer the game is going to have to fight for space on player’s systems, especially with Battlefield and Red Dead releasing around the same time. Call of Duty does need evolution but this isn’t it.