The first-person shooter genre has been waning in recent years. There just haven’t been any meaningful additions or changes that really make it stand out among the other genres, many of which are constantly evolving leaving the FPS behind.

At the center of this long line of mediocrity and sameness is the Call of Duty franchise. What few fans (or non-fans) know, is the series actually began as a huge innovation to the genre, featuring multiple campaigns across different nations and many unique multiplayer modes and maps. One could argue it was the World War 2 equivalent of the Unreal Tournament series, arguably one of the most unique multiplayer shooter ever conceived, at the time. Today, the games are churned out like car models; yearly with a new coat of paint, add-ons available at premium prices, and maybe a keychain or two for your keyring.

However, with last year’s release of Advanced Warfare, it seemed like Activision was pushing for new innovations with its franchise. Sledgehammer Games’ fast-paced and somewhat unique take on the genre proved to be interesting enough for many who had lost faith in the series to give it another chance. Fast forward to today, and we’re now playing the Call of Duty Black Ops 3 beta. Have Activision and Treyarch continued pushing for innovation in their admittedly stale series?

Well, yeah. With the little taste we got in the beta, Black Ops 3 has proven itself to be one of the freshest takes in the series since the original Modern Warfare. This is almost entirely due to the awesome new Specialists system. Specialists are essentially hero characters the player can play as, each with their own unique weapon and ability unlocked through tokens you receive upon leveling up.

Each Specialist actually manages to play pretty differently if you take full advantage of their capabilities. For example, the Battery is played more aggressively than the Outrider thanks to her brief invulnerability proc and grenade launcher, while the Outrider herself plays more stealthily with her bow and enemy radar ability.

You are, of course, welcome to ignore the character traits by just building your own class and picking the character you think looks/sounds the coolest, which isn’t necessarily the wrong way to play either. But, you’d be missing out on what is easily the multiplayer’s best features.

In addition to the Specialists, there is a new movement system in place. The double jumping from Advanced Warfare has returned, however now you are able to run on walls, slide, and swim. It allows for some pretty creative ways to approach any situation in the game, though it’s a shame none of the maps featured in the beta really took advantage of these abilities. All of the available maps felt fairly generic, though they still allowed for at least minor exploration of these new traversal options.

There are a few balancing issues in the game, unfortunately. As of the beta, there is no way to play with people at or around your level. When first starting out, I found myself facing off against high level players with more perks, better guns, and stronger abilities, capable of leveling the playing field in seconds (literally in certain cases). It makes for a frustrating time. Even more frustrating, was when I managed to pick up a higher level shotgun off of a dead combatant, and destroyed my average of 2 – 3 kills per life by pulling off 8 kills before I died and lost the gun. While I would like to say I just “got good,” I attribute most of it to the fact that the shotgun tree of weapons in general is completely overpowered when you begin to unlock more upgrades for it.

While it didn’t bother me, a lot of players were also upset about the TTK, or how little health they had. You die very quickly in this game. Sometimes unfairly quick. Fortunately, the respawn rate is as quick as you can hit the button, so it never felt like I was sitting in the lobby for too long.

My biggest complaint is with the Specialists, though. Despite how cool they are, it ultimately ends up coming off as a Team Fortress lookalike contest, going as far to having similar weapons and roles. However, Unlike Team Fortress, I never felt the need or want to play all of the characters. Even after unlocking some of the higher tiered Specialists, I was perfectly content playing as Outrider. With only a single special weapon and ability per Specialist, they lose their muster pretty quickly if neither of those options interest you. While it may be nitpicking, it just seems like in the final game, it would be a lot nicer to have more options per Specialist to give the incentive to play as each of them, if only once.

The Call of Duty Black Ops 3 beta is easily the most fun I’ve had in a competitive FPS in a long time. Despite its balancing issues and lack of incentive to experiment, its core gameplay has proven to be a completely solid shooter experience and then some. Is Black Ops 3 going to be the most innovative shooter ever, redefining the genre as we know it? Probably not. But, even though it does borrow ideas from past shooters, it still manages to breathe fresh air into Call of Duty’s stagnant and lackluster recent performance. 

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