So, that’s it. The dust has settled on the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 beta and it’s time for all of us to reflect on what we experienced.
With that said, I’m going to have to admit – I like it.
We didn’t play it too much as we didn’t want to spoil our experience when the full game is released, but we played it enough to form our early opinions on it. It’s different, but it’s the same. I mean, it is the same, but it’s also different, you know? No?
A longer time to kill means that engagements are now not only about reaction time but also about aim and decision making
Okay, let me explain. This still feels like a Call of Duty game at its core, with familiar map design, great aiming mechanics and game modes that we’ve grown to know and love, but subtle changes have made this years edition feel like it could be a breath of fresh air for the series. The first of these changes is that the time to kill has been increased; this is a change that has the internet split, with a lot of people furious and a lot of people delighted, and I’m on the side of the delighted clan. For too many years Call of Duty has been largely about who has the fastest reactions, it has been the very definition of a twitch shooter, but that is no longer the case. A longer time to kill means that engagements are now not only about reaction time but also about aim and decision making; it has made the game a more tactical affair, which I found to be a change for the better.
Coupled with the time to kill increase is the addition of a new healing mechanic. Rather than finding a quiet corner somewhere to sit and watch your health slowly regen over time, players can now—with a simple tap of LB (on Xbox One; other consoles and buttons are available)—stab themselves with a needle to heal themselves. This action is attached to a cooldown and takes a couple of seconds to complete, meaning that players must pick an opportune time to do so or risk getting caught with their pants down and their needle out. Ahem.
These are two simple changes, but they definitely work for the better. It has made the game slower, more tactical and in my opinion more about skill than reactions.
The next change that has made a difference is the absence of any ridiculous wall running or jetpack mechanics. Players will now keep their boots on the ground while engaging in combat which, again, has slowed the game down and given it a more tactical approach. I don’t want to keep using the phrase “change for the better” but i’m happy dammit, so screw it, this is another change for the better.
Returning from Black Ops 3 are “Specialists”, which have been tweaked from the aforementioned game. Each “Specialist” has their own unique set of abilities that give them a certain role on the battlefield; for example, Torque can deploy a barricade that can act as a defensive aid for your team, while Recon can use his ‘Vision Pulse’ ability to reveal all enemies positions for a certain period of time. Each Specialist has two of these abilities (one normal ability and one main, ultimate ability) and all of them are attached to cooldown timers; while some specialists abilities are stronger than others, their cooldown timers will be longer, meaning that they won’t be able to use their abilities as often. From our time with the beta we didn’t find any abilities to be overpowered, and the cooldown timers seem to have the game in a good place, with standard abilities being used a few times a game and main abilities once a game. This Specialist system gives the game, yet again, a more tactical approach and is a system similar in principle to the hero system seen in games such as Overwatch.
Frag grenades aren’t unlocked until, staggeringly, level 29
There are new game modes on offer too. Control sees one team attacking to try and capture objectives while the other team defends them, with each team also having limited respawns; running around like a maniac will only get you killed in this game mode – a slower, more cautious approach is the way forward. Another new game mode, Heist, strongly reminds me of Counter-Strike; both teams start with just pistols and must fight to steal a bag of cash before their opponents in a round-based mode with no respawns, as the game progresses players earn cash which can be used at the start of each round to buy new weapons and equipment. Sound familiar? Yeah, Counter-Strike. Okay, so this doesn’t shout “originality”, but it’s another change to the standard Call of Duty formula to give the game a different feel.
If you don’t want new then there is plenty of old here too. Classic game modes return; Team Deathmatch, Domination, Search & Destroy and Hardpoint are all present but still manage to feel refreshing with the new gameplay mechanics that Treyarch have introduced, and Scorestreaks are here too and remain pretty much the same as always but with new names.
Another minor-yet-major change is to grenades. I noticed early on that, not only did I not have any, but there were none going off. That familiar Call of Duty grenade spam wasn’t present. When I investigated further, I found that the likes of frag grenades aren’t unlocked until, staggeringly, level 29, and they’ll also have a cooldown, which means players will have to think more before using them. This has drastically reduced the amount of grenade use in the game, which means no more randomly thrown grenades straight from spawn or being stuck in a room or choke point with an endless number of grenades coming your way. It’s a great change and feels like yet another breath of fresh air for the series.
All of these changes are slight, but they’re all things that Call of Duty has been crying out for since Modern Warfare 2 (in my opinion) and they make the game feel fresh and exciting. Each year a new Call of Duty releases, and each year it feels like the same game with a new skin over it, but that isn’t the case here. You’ll have to work more on your aim, consider your decisions before committing to healing or using your grenades and learn how to use each Specialist correctly and in the right situations. The game feels slower and more tactical than the run-and-gun twitch shooter that Call of Duty normally is. This is the closest Call of Duty has ever been to the likes of Rainbow Six or Overwatch.
Having been a massive fan back in the days of Modern Warfare 1 & 2, I have to admit that in recent years I’ve fallen out of love with this series, with each yearly release being “just another Call of Duty”, and having absolutely hated Black Ops 3 I was very skeptical about Black Ops 4, but after spending some time with the beta I am—for the first time in a long time—genuinely excited about Call of Duty again, and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on the full release.