The world of free-to-play shooters has been in a bit of turmoil over the last few years.
After the genre’s highest profile title, Combat Arms, was bought out by a new parent company most players have been searching for the next game to fill the void. Luckily for them the new shooter Black Squad, which has already seen massive success in Korea, has entered early access in the west. After some time with the game, it’s shaping up as a great successor for F2P shooter fans.
It’s been a while since I have played a tactical shooter that felt as good as Black Squad does. The first immediate point of comparison is with Counter-Strike Global Offensive, yet fans of the genre might liken it more to games like CrossFire or Alliance of Valiant Arms. The customisation options aren’t as impressive and the weapons list isn’t as long, but if you’re on a budget and are looking for a worthy alternative, Black Squad makes quite a compelling case for itself.
For any shooter, whether you pay money for it or not, the biggest factor is it’s gunplay. Black Squad’s guns can range in specifics like recoil, rate of fire and weight, but almost all of them feel good to shoot. Perhaps even more important is that it feels great moving around in the game as you play. There’s a firm understanding of matching how a twitch-based shooter should both feel and play that seems deeply rooted in Black Squad’s design. It’s a game that knows what it’s doing.
Running on Unreal Engine 3, I expected the game to look a lot worse than it did. Once I logged in, however, the game holds up well when compared to many of its contemporaries. Gun models have a pristine shine to them, character models feel as if they could have been from only a few years ago, and most of the maps look far better than other Unreal 3 titles. On the whole, I was surprised, but it’s not winning any awards either. It’s good to walk into Black Squad understanding its limitations, so as to not set yourself up for disappointment. Most importantly, however, is how the game ran fairly well on my own budget rig PC at a solid 60fps.
However, it’s hard not to walk into the game without reservations. The genre has had to put up with a lot of inconveniences thanks to its difficult payment models and on most fronts, Black Squad does away with these usual frustrations. Dedicated servers for Europe, North America, South America and Asia all perform reliably, along with private matches, sophisticated net code, and the avoidance of “pay-to-win” models all do well in the game’s favour. While Black Squad does doll out many of its items on a time-limit, if these items are purchased outright with in-game currency, they’ll be kept permanently. Even better is that the game does a good job at making its real-world transactions focused around cosmetic items and keeps many of its weapons purchasable exclusively with other types of currencies.
Perhaps the best part of Black Squad is how it plans to keep players coming back every day – its events. Events are probably the fastest and easiest way to get the game’s main currency, gold. With attendance check events that gives you more gold as log in to the game for consecutive days as well as daily and weekly “missions”, it gives purpose to playing the game that fills in the void of it’s lack of a progression system. For my time spent with Black Squad, thanks mainly to the in-game events, I never felt the urge to purchase anything within the game itself.
The only persistent problems I had with Black Squad was its limited map variety. Most of the maps for team deathmatch could be taken advantage of by a pair of good snipers, making it nearly impossible to fight back against certain team-ups. Since the game is still in early access, I didn’t run into many teams of players. Of course, even if I had, I wouldn’t have been able to play with them again since the game’s matchmaking service automatically boots players back to the lobby after each game, probably in an attempt to keep players thinking of buying in-game items.
When it comes to F2P shooters, I’m not sure it gets any better than Black Squad at the moment. At least, not for tactical shooter fans. More importantly is that the game is supported by both an active player base and a dedicated stream of updates. For any shooter fan who’s on a tight budget, or maybe just want a game that’s less taxing than your average AAA title, Black Squad is an easy recommendation. I didn’t expect to enjoy the game much, mainly since I haven’t been interested in an online shooter for quite some time, but I can’t deny that I have the urge to continue playing. At least until I get beaten bad enough to quit it for good, which could be any day now if I’m being honest.