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Black Squad: New Free-to-Play FPS Game
Black Squad was released on Steam Early Access on July 28th with a message saying it was a military shooter with the BattleEye anti-cheat system, dedicated servers, and a lag-free net code; something shooter players were yearning for in new releases. The game showed off some impressive, fast-paced gameplay trailers with 2 rival factions battling with heavily-modified weapons; planting C4s, calling in special strikes; all supported by agile, impactful gunplay.
Developed by NS Studio and published by Neowiz Games of South Korea; who published Crossfire, another popular free-to-play online shooter which drew influence from CS 1.6. Black Squad, however, draws elements from CoD Modern Warfare 2 as well as CS 1.6 in ways that there are kill/score streaks, ranks, and strong competitive aspects; showing potential for e-sports play.
Finally, as far as the premise goes, its a standard fare for online shooters; a basic plot set in the present which gives the player a reason for the virtual war to partake in; 2 rival factions where one is a team of global special forces operators and other are international terrorists/mercenaries. The story is mentioned only on the game's official website.
Impressions - Game Modes, Gameplay
Made with the Unreal 3 Engine, the game looks very realistic where the guns look very metallic while player models and feedback; blood splatters, explosions and shooting looks and sounds impactful and meaty as most good games developed in this engine tend to do. (E.g Borderlands 2, the first Gears of War) Every gunshot to the body has a satisfying thump and splatter; making every kill meaningful.
Upon entering the game, all players had a head start with free DLCs weapon packages available for use; evening out the playing field and emphasizing skill rather than gear; like all good online shooters do. Since the game is free-to-play, it has a cash shop; which is not necessary since there are no competitive advantages to buy while all the weapons are available for in-game credits that add up reasonably fast; I was able to buy an assault rifle after just 3 matches.
This being a military-themed shooter, it has the tactical elements to the combat; weapon attachments (that come with the weapon) such as laser sights, ACOG scopes, silencers, and foregrips. Aiming down sights/ADS quickly is a useful skill but not as mandatory as it was in the CoD Modern Warfare titles. There comes a situation when I am in close quarters in a tight hallway where I can't afford to ADS therefore, forcing into using my crosshair; no less effective than the former.
While I am not the type of gamer who cares about map variety; so long as there are no exploitable, game-breaking camping or sniper spots (e.g. Aftermath from CoD Black Ops 2; possibly one of the worst maps ever; in my opinion) or if the map is not too big to the point of requiring 10 minutes of walking to combat; I think it's worth mentioning that the maps in the game are well done; having a multi-lane approach to firefights. I have played on a map that is a cruise ship (akin to Hijacked in Black Ops 2) a steel mill and a destroyed city street; all of these maps have a nonlinear structure where the player can tactically choose how he wants to enter. There is a zone where the firefight is intense, there is another zone where a covert approach is possible and there is a middle ground.
A good map has logic behind it, this logic removes cheap kills and glitchy spots from games. The more recent CoD entries were guilty of poor object placement which had no rhyme or reason; a random box in the middle of a hallway where a player can camp and score easy kills because he is out of sight and protected; even from grenades. The map Grind from Black Ops 2 is an example of this. Black Squad however, doesn't have clutter items on the floor and instead; focuses on what really belongs in such an area; depending on the theme.
Since the game is currently in Early Access, it has more content coming up and its current state, while sufficient for a fun time, has lots of room for more. There are only a handful of modes; classics such as team deathmatch and search and destroy (the demolition mode from CS 1.6) being the most played. There is, however, a unique mode which I enjoy the most in Black Squad; the "Battle" mode. Here, both teams must destroy each other's supply crates. What makes this mode unique is the MOBA-style levelling within the match where each level gains a special ability within the classes.
There are 4 classes the player selects mid-match which carry over till the end; the class lineup is the staple of most class-based shooters (Battlefield 4 most notably) Assault, Support, Command, and Recon. Every kill, assist and objective damage adds points to your rank, working similarly to score streaks in CoD. Playing assault, my rewards were all based on heavy damage and explosives with a 6-shot grenade launcher being one of the first streaks I used to destroy an objective; calling in a drone strike mid-game.
The recon class, on the other hand, focuses on scouting and spying on the enemy; beginning with UAV drones and ending with a 50. cal sniper rifle. Support and Command classes offer buffs and ammo refills. The classes offer more depth to this mode where every match can be unpredictable; turning the tide with a well-placed air strike or giving your team an edge with what the enemy doesn't see.
Potential going Forward
Overall, Black Squad looks like the comeback that military shooters need with straightforward ground combat with just enough realism to provide a challenge while keeping a fast-paced arena-shooter feel to easily pick up and play. The game has been frequently updated since its release, which itself was competent with good optimizations and no crashes to be seen. Finding a game for all the modes on offer was fast; showing that the player population is high and active.
However, there is still more to expect from the team, who already proved they can make a fun game; there are still more things to add; weapon shop, for instance, has no sidearms (pistols) or melee weapons on offer, therefore, that is coming up in a future update along with possibly more mechanics to the main modes and as a staple of modern multiplayer shooters, a PvE horde mode. The possibilities are numerous as to where the game would go.
Finally, since the game has a story (albeit a bare-bones one) it can expand and flesh it out into a PvE game mode similar to what Warface (another free-to-play FPS) did; make co-op levels where players fight through a series of maps with objectives and scripted events based on the story; which is similar to Black Squad; 2 rival factions fight each other.