Over the last couple of years, the shooter world in gaming has seen some seismic shifts. Once upon a time the big hitters could pump out annual iterations that, while sporting a couple of tweaks, were streamlined to offer an experience anyone could pick up and play.
The game has changed
First asymmetrical shooter Overwatch blew the competition out of the water with a colourful array of avatars that acted and played completely differently. The game was balanced to a lethal degree and even gave rise to the proliferation of loot crates in shooters. Rainbow Six: Siege did a similar thing, and although its rise was slower, its once-cult-like audience is now massive.
Then Fornite and PlayerUnkown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) arrived, Battle Royale games in which players are placed in an ever-shrinking map and tasked with fighting to the death. To begin with they were looked at as fads; now they dominate both the shooter space and news headlines about gaming.
Activision, the publisher behind the world-conquering Call Of Duty franchise, has sat up and taken notice. Call Of Duty: Black Ops IIII, the latest entry set for release in early October, has taken pointers from the Fortnites and Overwatches of this world in a bid to lure audience numbers back to the series. The game will come with its own Battle Royale mode, ‘Blackout’, and the multiplayer mode brings back the ‘Specialists’ – soldiers with very different abilities and strengths – from Call Of Duty III. Zombie mode is also planned, but the Campaign Mode –a staple of this series – has been junked.
Old beast, new teeth
Over the last weekend, fans were able to get to grips with a taste of the forthcoming game’s multiplayer mode through the closed beta. (Players who pre-order the game have access to it, although it landed on PS4 first. Xbox One PC owners can get cracking this weekend.) While there were some features returning players will recognise, the overall experience is quite different.
Wall-running is gone with developer Treyarch opting for a more ‘boots-on-the-ground’ approach, and the neck-snapping speed from Black Ops III has been scaled back significantly. Specialist abilities and weapons are given prominence over scorestreaks and the game’s new armour/health system is likely to delight as many players as it repels.
Players have access to three maps that don’t really break much new ground for series; they’re three-lane affairs with the centre having the most draw distance, and can accommodate any play style from long-range snipers to shotgun hotbox fans. Alongside regular COD match types like Domination, Hardpoint and Team Deathmatch (here renamed Chaos TDM), there’s Control, in which teams win by capturing zones from their opponents. Thanks to its limited respawns it forces players to think more tactically and choose their Specialists carefully, making sure each team is balanced.
On a PS4 the game runs pretty smoothly, although there have been complaints online about frame-popping and lengthy load times – neither of which I experienced. Still, that’s what a beta is for and it’s likely Treyarch will iron these out before launch. In the meantime it’s great to see Call Of Duty taking aim at its competitors, while not losing what made it special to begin with.