I had months ago resigned myself to not playing the Black Ops 3 multiplayer beta. It came with the pre-order, and I’m leery of pre-ordering anything these days. Sure Black Ops 2 ran pretty well on PC, but it had a rough start with multi-core systems, and besides, I couldn’t predict how my life would be come the summer, or November.
Then I learned that the beta was actually open to owners of Black Ops 2, and just today, it became open to anyone. Go try it if you have an inkling of curiosity (that would be curiosity as measured in units of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien). I tried it, and am inherently an unreliable narrator as to the experience, seeing that my PC is just under the minimum requirements (a 6850 when a 6870 is the lowest level), but I played it on the Potato settings. Everything low or off, resolution set to almost half the native, and the frame rate capped at 30 FPS.
These substantial compromises resulted in a nearly playable experience, barring the frame drops which everyone seems to be having, at the cost of an aesthetic akin to Impressionist painting on the mixed medium of recycled cardboard and rejected plaster samples. But this is multiplayer, it’s about the combat.
And the combat is what I wish to address. First and foremost, all of the problems I brought up in The Epistemology of Multiplayer are still very much alive. Go read that, and understand that there will be numerous hijinks, even if you don’t recognize them. But what I have to say here is rather short, and it has to do with the problem of developing games for both PC and consoles.
You shouldn’t do it. I guess I could go further, you shouldn’t do it for FPSes at least. We all know the issue of input devices, of a gamepad versus keyboard and mouse, but what is discussed less is that you can’t rebalance something based on the gamepad. We got a glimpse of this in Black Ops 2. The M8, a four round burst assault rifle, lost its headshot multiplier based on its dominance on the consoles. Why was it dominating? Because consoles have sticky aim, which is very beneficial for burst fire weapons. PCs don’t have this, so the weapon simply lost its headshot multiplier. I have never encountered the gun in a match, and I only see PC YouTubers using it, as they say, “for the banter”. Because it is now a bad gun.
Now with Black Ops 3, we see this again. Black Ops 3 introduces Specialists, basically everyone is a hero unit, progressing with time and points toward activating a special ability or weapon in game. Most of these weapons are one shot kills. Some of them are hit scan as well, and thus they are balanced by reduced, or absent, sticky aim. Which means they don’t receive balancing on PC. And though one can think of a variety of subtle changes to balance this weapon out, it isn’t possible to get it Quite Right, as one platform has a variable the others do not.
And so we have a divide, either the consoles experience imbalanced gameplay, or the PC does. Now theoretically you could cut sticky aim altogether, but you would need to adjust the gameplay for that as well, to keep things satisfying – which would likely make it feel overly generous on PC.
Black Ops 3 is fun, but it has committed itself clearly to a path that forces it to never rise above the ranks of at best Pretty Good. Not on all platforms it supports. Will I continue to play the beta? Yes, some. It is generally amusing, the wall running is a nice addition that doesn’t feel like a showy gimmick, but rather an expansion of the spatial awareness skill set, and it has a nice feeling pump action shotgun. I might even get it when it comes out, but I know I can’t expect more than Pretty Good. And that is the role it, and most of FPSes, have relegated themselves to.