Treyarch, the LA-based studio behind the Call of Duty: Black Ops series, first revealed its plans for the third game in the series back in April.
At the time, the setup looked like an intriguing extension of the tech-focused Advanced Warfare, with its exoskeletons, directed energy weapons and jet pack manoeuvres. However, Treyarch was promising an even more fluid experience, complete with wall running, underwater fights, and the ability to string together moves into Tony Hawk-like environmental combos.
The studio also introduced the idea of Specialist classes, a selection of nine super-powered combat archetypes offering online players access to a range of devastating attacks as well as interesting defensive options. These effects can be earned during a match and then triggered at key moments – just like the eponymous mech suits in Titanfall.
But how does it all work in practise? Treyarch has just completed a PlayStation 4 beta test featuring four maps: Combine, Evac, Hunted and Stronghold. Participants also got to test the new chained movement mechanics and eight of the specialist classes.
Here’s what I learned as a professional Call of Duty player.
The key weapons have already emerged
One of the most important elements of any Call of Duty beta is to find out which weapons are the most effective. There are 18 Primary options in Black Ops 3 but I and many other professional players quickly settled on the Razorback submachine gun and the M8A7 assault rifle as our go-to choices.
The Razorback is the perfect SMG, with very little recoil, a clean iron sight so you can easily see enemies while aiming, and a steady fire rate. I quickly paired it with the Quickdraw, Stock, Long Barrel and Fast Mags attachments.
The M8A7 is a four-burst assault rifle that will be familiar to Black Ops 2 players as it’s very similar to that game’s M8A1. It’s incredibly accurate at range, and boasts one of the fastest time-to-kill rates in the game if you land all four shots on your opponent.
The wall runs and water routes are worth mastering
The key lesson from the four Beta maps was that Black Ops 3 seems to have reverted to a traditional three-lane system, where each layout essentially has three main channels to run through. This is in contrast to last year’s Advanced Warfare, which used a more freeform approach.
The consequence is that players have to continually decide whether to go left, straight or right, meaning there are a lot more head-to-head gunfights. It’s all about choosing the correct moment to flank, as well as using the wall run shortcuts that are built into all the maps. These could easily have been a pointless gimmick, but their implementation is smooth, and the controls are intuitive so that vertical running feels really natural within the flow of the game. Playing Team Domination on the Evac map for example, you can run on the outside of the main building all the way to behind the C domination flag, which could help you pick up some extra kills for your side before taking the objective.
Another new map feature is swimming – and with it, underwater combat. It’s another subtle but successful addition, which truly comes into effect on Hunted where you’re able to use the water to escape enemies when you’re losing a gun battle, or as an alternate route into the main building to take control of the hardpoint.
Specialists may become critical for big scorestreaks
It’s already clear that Specialists will greatly effect how players perform, providing game-changing moments that can easily turn a match.
After experimenting with all of the available options, it looks like two have emerged as favourites for skilled players. Those who prioritise scorestreaks are using Nomad’s Rejack ability, which provides a death-defying injection of nanoparticle serum: if an opponent manages to kill you, you can bring yourself back from the dead and continue your current streak. It’s perhaps going to prove a controversial option, but you won’t worry about that if you’re one kill away from unlocking the mothership.
The second Specialist I’d recommend for higher skilled and accurate players, especially those using an assault rifle, is Prophet’s Tempest. This charge shot weapon fires an arc of electricity, lethally shocking targets and chaining to nearby enemies. Although very difficult to use, it’s clearly one of the most devastating specialist options in the game, helping to rack up many additional kills.
There are already definite load-out necessities
Black Ops 3 uses the now familiar “pick ten” system, allowing players to opt for any combination of 10 weapons, items and perks. Throughout the beta, I tended to add as many gun attachments as possible by using the Primary Gunfighter wildcard. It means you can only use two perks, but having a more powerful weapon is worth it. I also used Overclock in my Perk One slot so I could get my devastating Specialist ability quicker. Elsewhere, Fast Hands already looks to be one of the game’s few compulsory perks.
The scorestreak system is back to its best
It’s early days, but it already looks like scorestreaks (the special attacks and items unlocked through gaining kills and objectives during a match) are a strong element in Black Ops 3. For players looking to assist their teammates, the non-lethal setup of UAV, Counter UAV and H.A.T.R is one of the strongest scorestreak combinations in the game, as it constantly reveals all enemy locations on the minimap. It’s very similar to the Blackbird and VSAT from previous titles.
For a more lethal approach, a combination of Hellstorm, Lightning Strike and Wraith proved devastating for me during the beta, especially on smaller maps, such as Combine. However, a piece of equipment called the Blackhat can be used to hijack enemy scorestreaks like the Wraith and H.A.T.R, redirecting their firepower against the user. An important lesson is to be very watchful of opponents using that one.
This article was written by Ben Perkin, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 26th August 2015 09.32 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010