First impressions on the Black Ops III Beta.

Explosions! Big vehicles! Ridiculous outfits! Must be Call of Duty time!

Explosions! Big vehicles! Ridiculous outfits! Must be Call of Duty time!

It’s almost time for the next iteration in the Call of Duty franchise and this year Treyarch is up to bat. I wasn’t sure I’d get into the beta because on the consoles you had to preorder the game to get in so I assumed the same would be true for the PC and I don’t preorder because I’ve been getting review copies for the past several years. As it turns out, Treyarch decided to open the PS4 beta up to everyone before it came to an end and on the PC if you had bought any of the last three CoD titles then you qualified for the beta on that platform. In short, getting into the beta for Black Ops III was way easier than anyone expected. The beta was released on Tuesday evening (I considered it a birthday present) so I downloaded it and got a couple of games in before bed. Then I spent a good chunk of last night playing it and now I think I have a pretty good feeling of what it’ll be like even though it’s currently a beta.

At first the game was surprisingly ugly until I figured out that it had set all of the graphics options to their lowest levels by default. I don’t know if it does this for everyone or it was just that unimpressed with my gaming rig, but a few adjustments here and there and I got it looking halfway decent while still maintaining a 50 – 75 frames per second performance. The default keybindings move some of the more important ones (such as weapon switching) to new spots leading to some confusion when you try to bring up your secondary by pressing the 1 key and nothing happens because it’s now the X key. So I had to spend some time remapping some of the keys. Once you get things a little closer to what you’re used to you’ll find that, yep, it feels like another Call of Duty game. That is to say, despite some new trappings and some new abilities, the basic gameplay feels about the same as what you’re used to if you’re a fan of the series.

Which isn’t to say that nothing’s changed. Like Sledgehammer Games’ Advanced Warfare, BO3 has revamped the movement system in the game bringing unlimited sprint, boost assisted jumps, swimming, and wall-running ala Titanfall. It’s also now possible to fire your gun at all times whether you’re in the water, mantling a wall, or wall-running. I won’t get into my opinions on this just yet — that’ll come later when I review the release version — but it definitely makes the game more run and gun than it used to be.

The one opinion I will share right now is that the thing I was most worried about, the addition of “specialists” with a bonus ability/weapon they can activate every so often, doesn’t seem to be as disruptive as I thought it was going to be. Yes, the abilities/weapons are very powerful, but so far they seem to only be available two to four times in any given match. Here’s some gameplay footage I captured of one my my better rounds to give you an idea of what it’s like:

At the moment I’m definitely intrigued. It helps that the folks at Treyarch are much more responsive to fans who play on the PC than Sledgehammer Games was. Not only are they doing a beta on the PC, but the lead developer is on Twitter soliciting feedback and answering questions. I couldn’t get anyone from SG to answer any questions before or after AW was released. The PC version of AW was plagued with problems and SG did little to address them and as a result the player count dropped dramatically within the first two weeks of the game’s release. I still play it occasionally, but it’s one of the few CoD titles that hasn’t held my interest. I’m actually playing more Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops 1 than I am Advanced Warfare these days. I don’t know yet that BO3 will be my new favorite, but it’s already doing better than AW.

 

I’ve got about five hours in with GTA IV…

… and so far I’m really enjoying it. I’ve not done a whole lot yet, a handful of the missions, two dates with Michelle where we bowled (once) and played billiards (twice), gone to the titty bar with my cousin twice, watched a whole episode of Republican Space Rangers on TV (which was easily worth the price of admission alone), and died three times. I spent a good hour last night just driving around checking out the sights and then I decided to see how big of a car pileup I could cause in one of the traffic circles. Just cause, you know, I could and all.

What I’m most impressed with is the level of detail on what you can do. Things like being able to sit down and watch episodes of shows on TV (albeit very short episodes) is very cool. I’ve not seen it yet, but there’s apparently some cabaret shows and stand up comedians you can go watch perform as well. Or the fact that you can pick up small objects, such as a brick, which you can then throw, such as through a window, for smaller scale mayhem. I’ve not gotten a gun yet, but that hasn’t stopped me from knocking a guy through a window to his death. I’ve already had one moral choice to make (whether or not to kill someone I was sent to kill) which will probably come back to play a role later in the game and offer a bit of replay in the form of making the opposite choice next time. I’ve spent a fair amount of time just walking the streets and taking in the details. It really is impressive.

One thing I’m disappointed with so far is finding the stunt jumps. Because the city is so realistic it’s hard to pick out what would have obviously been a stunt jump in the other games. I think I’ve found one so far, but when I hit it I didn’t get the usual cinematic and my car didn’t land upright so I didn’t successfully complete it. That is, if it was an actual stunt jump. Launching my car off the stunt jumps is what I enjoy the most about this series of games and it seems like the ramps have gotten increasingly harder to find with each release. Hopefully they’ll become easier to spot once I find a couple and have an idea of what they look like.

Overall I’d have to say the game lives up pretty well to the reviews it’s been getting. I don’t know that I’d go as far as to say it’s revolutionary, but it’s definitely a big step up in the evolution of the series. Well worth the price so far.

OK, this is too funny not to include the video so here it is. WARNING: Lots of strong language so probably NSFW: