Faster, smoother, and seemingly designed around keeping your gun up for the maximum amount of time possible, the latest entry in the Call of Duty series is coming together very nicely if the new multiplayer Beta is anything to go by.
I've put in a good few hours of gaming so far, and I'm having a tremendous amount of fun. Based around a roster of new specialist characters, each with his or her own limited-time special abilities – I chose Outrider with her compound bow and explosive-tipped arrows – Black Ops III is quick-playing, silky smooth and quite violent. Sure, we've seen CoD avatars go full-on exploding rag-doll before, but this time around, when a special move or grenade hits a target, limbs can fly, heads roll and blood spurts like Old Faithful in a way that would do even Mortal Kombat proud.
Yes, this is a very visceral Call of Duty, but also a very, very dynamic one. What becomes apparent very quickly is that the new traversal system is exceptionally well buttoned-down. It feels incredibly smooth and fluid, and the system seems to be designed around maximizing your gun-up time. Auto-mantling is highly intelligent, and combined with new slide, power boost and wall-running maneuvers, deliver something that feels like a true parkour-type experience. If you've played any recent Call of Duty game, or indeed Titanfall, you'll transition to Black Ops III very quickly and start to learn the intricacies of its traversal system.
It's basically just very smartly designed to feel intuitive and natural. As you start getting used to the system, if you think you can do something, it's very likely you can. Want to run along a wall, jump off, and transition into a slide while turning so you can shoot around a corner? Yeah, you can do that. It might take a little practice to get the nuances of timing the chain of moves smoothly, but it's possible. Ultimately, Black Ops III feels highly dynamic, and its movement system doesn't really get in the way. So far, I haven't yet felt stuck on an object, or have felt stymied in any way – other than by my own occasional mis-timed jumps and slides. The controls just feel natural and liberating –perhaps the best I've encountered in an FPS so far.
There's also a new thrust jump that lets you control the distance you leap by holding down the button. Keep it depressed and you do a long jump. Tap it, and then continue to tap and you do a shorter jump that is then extended by a short series of hops. Of course, you're a sitting duck when you do this, as you're essentially following a fairly predictable arc that can easily be tracked by an enterprising enemy, but again, while you're doing this you have your gun up, and if you look before you leap, you should be able to shoot your foe before they shoot you.
Although there are only a handful of environments in the game so far – additional ones will be added during Beta – what's apparent is that they've been very thoughtfully crafted to help make the most out of the new traversal system. They present plenty of opportunities for dynamic movement, and even offer a little bit of cover here and there so that you can run from one spot to another. The overall effect is that the environments feel exciting to be in, with a really good mix of tight spaces, medium-sized rooms with multiple entrances and windows, and open areas where snipers can prove dangerous. However, so far I've not really found any spaces that promote camping – the battle arenas are generally open and if you stay still for very long, it's inevitable that someone will have a clear shot at you. In that sense, it's classic Call of Duty design, and it works very well.
The new specialists are all interesting, and their abilities help give each one a little character. As I said, I've been using Outrider, who has a bow with explosive-tipped arrows, which can be quite devastating when you nail someone. The other three characters available at the start are Ruin, who has an AoE slam-type effect which destroys anyone within range, Prophet, who shoots an electric charge that stuns its victims before exploding them, which can also chain into any other players standing next to the character who's shot, and Battery, who can lob three bouncing grenades that explode when they hit a player.
I like the different styles of special weapons, and they certainly augment different playstyles well, from the at-range devastation of Prophet, to the close-up melee moves of Ruin. Battery is great for room clearance, and I find Outrider is generally good for devastating medium-range shots.
There are seven modes to play in Beta, although so far I've only been able to play Team Deathmatch (due to Beta starting proper tomorrow, and there only being a limited number of players currently online). I'm looking forward to playing Hardpoint – one of my favorite modes, and one that tends to yield the fastest experience out of all the modes, which also include Domination, Demolition, Kill Confirmed, Capture the Flag, and Search and Destroy.
So far, the game has worked flawlessly, without any crashes or bugs, and seems to be very tight on the whole. We'll continue to put in the hours and report on anything interesting, but what's clear is so far, so pretty damn good!