With “Black Ops 4” Beta, Treyarch showcases a reinvented Call of Duty

Inspiration from competitors will define Treyarch’s next Call of Duty title.

On Friday, developer Treyarch launched a weekend-long open multiplayer beta for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, the latest title in its titanic series. Sitting on a history of slight changes to an overall-stable FPS experience, Black Ops 4 takes a few more risks than usual. In an industry where “adapt or die” is a commonly-adhered to maxim, Treyarch takes extensive notes from at least three popular competitors, hoping to reestablish Call of Duty‘s industrial dominance.

Adaptations

While it’s traditional for the multiplayer modes of Call of Duty titles to put players in control of nameless soldiers without identity, Black Ops 4 follows its predecessor Black Ops III, bucking tradition in favor of developing a cast of several hero characters, each with a set of unique abilities. Called “Specialists” in-game, they range from the explosives-focused Battery and grappling, mobility-focused Ruin to Torque, a Scottish engineer who deploys razor wire and barricades to slow and deter enemy movements. Each Specialist’s special abilities are limited, but Treyarch’s decision to opt for characters with unique abilities (and, in particular, ultimate abilities that charge over time, activating with “Q”) act as evidence that the developer recognizes the industrial power of hero shooters such as Overwatch, at least enough to warrant the Specialists’ return.

Beneath the hood, the Specialists change the game enough to add an interesting twist, but their contributions to Call of Duty‘s flow are limited. The game’s class creation system is left intact, and players can opt into whichever weapon and perk loadout they like while playing as any of the game’s ten specialists.

Arguably the largest adaptation from outside the series to this year’s Call of Duty is the addition of Blackout, Treyarch’s answer to the Battle Royale trend launched by titles like Fortnite and Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. While it’s also the most undeniable of the game’s inspiration-driven additions, it’s one I can’t quite comment on just yet, having been left out of the multiplayer beta. A second open beta including the Blackout mode is slated for a September 10 launch on Playstation 4, coming later to PC and Xbox One.

Finally, Treyarch takes inspiration from another hero shooter, Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Siege. Similarly to adaptations arguably inspired by Overwatch, Black Ops 4‘s operators take a few mobility and reconnaissance tips from Siege‘s more seasoned characters. I also spent some time in the game’s Heist mode, where teams of five fight to eliminate each other and to deliver a cache of money to an extraction point. Whenever an enemy is eliminated, the game displays a large numerical announcement of the number of players left in the match (4 vs. 5, 3 vs. 1, etc.), a well-known mechanic in Siege. The Heist mode also takes a few hints from Counter Strike in that the money gathered can be used to buy new weapons and upgrades for subsequent rounds.

Thoughts

Black Ops 4 was my reintroduction to the Call of Duty series following a few years’ hiatus. Call of Duty 4 was one of the games that pulled me deep into gaming as a kid, and I’d played every game in the series from 4 to Black Ops II before dropping out and playing more intermittently. Advanced Warfare is the last Call of Duty title I really played through significantly.

Returning to the series, Black Ops 4 looks great and plays smoothly. I found myself marveling at how nice each of the beta’s maps looked and how well-polished Call of Duty continues to be. Where gameplay is concerned, Black Ops 4 retains the distinct, fast-fire Call of Duty feel, but atop it, there’s a lot to comprehend. Those who played Black Ops III may already be familiar to the game’s Specialists, but they presented a heightened learning curve to me. That’s not to say that gameplay additions or added complexity is necessarily bad, but in the first main-line Call of Duty title to completely eschew a campaign mode, new and old players alike may take a little longer to fully understand the game’s updated mechanics.

Again, beneath all the changes, Call of Duty is still Call of Duty. Under it all, Black Ops 4 is a fast-paced shooter with the perks and gameplay characteristics longtime fans have come to know and love, but with a few tips from today’s more modern behemoths added in. The game may look a little different, but fans of the series will feel right at home. Likewise, these new adaptations may be enough to entice Call of Duty skeptics, but opponents of its chaotic gameplay loop will find no solace here.

 

All videos posted above come from Call of Duty’s Youtube channel. I tried to take some screenshots during the beta, but they all came out empty.

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