The gaming shooters of 2022 have included throwbacks to the past as well as creative new approaches to first-person shooting. We got the spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead in Back 4 Blood, the next chapter in the popular Far Cry series in Far Cry 6 – starring Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito notwithstanding – and Arkane Studios’ Deathloop in addition to Master Chief’s return in Halo Infinite after a year’s wait.
1. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
Even without a campaign, Black Ops 4 places the long-running series in significantly more fascinating territory. Treyarch is focusing on substantial multiplayer modes this year. Blackout, the superb battle royale addition, pays respect to everything in the Black Ops series. Black Ops 4 is a good entry in the series, with clever additions to both Zombies and multiplayer. However, lingering technical flaws and a number of already stale multiplayer maps prevent Black Ops 4 from becoming a more complete product.
Though each mode’s structure has changed significantly, the biggest difference is Black Ops 4’s lack of a classic campaign. While this may be disappointing to some, I find that Black Ops 4 works just fine without it. Zombies has a hefty debut with three good maps and new modes; additionally, Blackout and multiplayer have that appealing gameplay loop that keeps me drawn in.
The Specialist HQ, which serves as a good training environment for each of the multiplayer characters, provides some narrative direction to the multiplayer. There are story cutscenes in their opening missions.
The story told by Specialist HQ is a little difficult to follow because the Specialists aren’t in any particular order, but it’s still entertaining. Zombies also has two narratives, both of which are significantly more difficult to follow than a standard campaign because the story of each map is hidden behind Easter egg puzzles.
Unfortunately, each of Black Ops 4’s modes is plagued by a slew of technical and balance flaws. For example, in Blackout, collaborating with friends does not always work, and the Theater mode frequently crashes. Treyarch, on the other hand, has done an excellent job of staying on top of the problems, often updating their blog with information on what they’re currently investigating and addressing.
This communication is important for a multiplayer game with a long lifespan, especially when it first launches. I’m interested to see how customer concerns about 9-Bang gear, general Zombies flaws, and irregular spawn issues in multiplayer affect Black Ops 4 in the future.
Each of Black Ops 4’s modes builds on the series’ great gunplay to deliver distinct and exciting experiences, all of which seem like they could be tailored to your chosen playstyle. Though they all have their own problems that detract from the overall experience, Treyarch is occasionally aware of them. For example, Zombies came out with more maps and customization choices than ever before.
It’s designed to be not only the most accessible, but also the most tough version of Zombies. The new Rush mode challenges players to quickly rack up multipliers and zombie kills, making it a fun and innovative way to play Zombies.
Zombies in Black Ops 4 is an example of a confident team that has refined and improved the concept they devised. The addition of a tutorial, a more simplified single-player experience, and a variety of match customization demonstrates Treyarch wants everyone to enjoy what the studio has been working on for the past decade.
With the ten-year anniversary of Call of Duty Zombies approaching, there’s never been a better time to survive your friends, drink some elixir, and see how long you can last.
In the basic multiplayer mode, the exhilarating combat I’ve come to love in the Black Ops series returns with a more tactical edge. All of Black Ops 4’s multiplayer modes have a solid basis thanks to the Specialists, overall weapon balancing, and the removal of automatic health regeneration. It’s a shame that some of the game’s launch maps prevent it from becoming even better.
There’s an issue when your finest maps are remakes. The multiplayer in Black Ops 4 allows players to be more tactical without sacrificing the excitement of battles.
The revamped health system and Specialists provide excellent, fairly balanced tools for more innovative playstyles and cater to both strategic teams and lone wolves. Almost every weapon class in Black Ops 4 feels plausible, though automatic weapons are likely to be as popular as they have been in the past.
Despite these improvements, Black Ops 4 is held back by a number of the game’s more restricted maps, which become tiresome after a few playthroughs. Even problematic are the poor design decisions in spawn zones, which allow aggressive enemies to ambush players as they emerge.
When these defects don’t line up perfectly, Black Ops 4 keeps me coming back to earn the amazing Operator Mods for my favorite weapons and experiment with loadouts in the fun new Heist mode. Blackout, Black Ops 4’s greatest addition, isn’t for everyone – it’s tight, death means quick game over, and a lot of your game depends on the luck of your drop – but it’s a fantastic spin on the popular game mode.
The multiplayer in Black Ops 4 allows players to be more tactical without sacrificing the excitement of battles. The revamped health system and Specialists provide excellent, fairly balanced tools for more innovative playstyles and cater to both strategic teams and lone wolves. Almost every weapon class in Black Ops 4 feels plausible, though automatic weapons are likely to be as popular as they have been in the past.
Even with these improvements, Black Ops 4 is held back by a few of the game’s more limited maps, which become tiresome after a few runs. Even problematic are the poor design decisions in spawn zones, which allow aggressive enemies to ambush players as they emerge.
When these defects don’t line up perfectly, Black Ops 4 keeps me coming back to earn the amazing Operator Mods for my favorite weapons and experiment with loadouts in the fun new Heist mode.
2. Far Cry 6
The Far Cry series has had an identity dilemma for a long time. Is it a gritty survival story or a wacky physics playground complete with pet bears and flamethrowers?
The typical answer has been “a little bit of both,” which isn’t necessarily a negative thing. Far Cry 6 doesn’t buck that trend – the flamethrower isn’t going anywhere – but it does manage to smooth over a lot of the bumps that have cropped up in past games, and as a result becomes the best the series has been in years – but it also misses some steps, particularly with its updated inventory system, and this creates to some new issues.
Far Cry 6 traps you in a massive open world, this time on the fictional island nation of Yara, commanded by a charismatic psychopath. Even after all these games, the time of changing all the red dots on your map into blue ones is still good, whether by quietly silencing every enemy guard or going the less subtle path of firing bullets and Molotov cocktails at them until no one is left.
Yara is primarily based on Cuba, and it is ruled by fascistic dictator Anton Castillo, who is excellently represented by legendary TV bad guy Giancarlo Esposito; with this performance, he has easily taken over as my favorite Far Cry villain (with apologies to Mr. Mando).
Without its real-world South and Central American inspirations, his regime would be too absurdly awful to imagine at times. But it’s his unwavering devotion to his vision of a “perfect” Yara, as well as Esposito’s natural gravitas and the stoic charm he projects to his still-loyal subjects, that makes him a great foil to the chaotic diaspora of revolutionaries you’re attempting to unite as you attempt to topple El Presidente and his lieutenants’ regime.
Castillo’s subordinates aren’t exactly stellar, ranging from a “crazy navy Admiral” to a “psychotic air force Captain” to a “psychotic propaganda director.” Even the more intriguing additions, such as a North American pharma tycoon and Yara’s own friendly neighborhood mad scientist, feel like familiar entries in the Big Book of Video Game Bad Guys, especially when compared to Esposito’s Castillo.
Every scene in Esposito’s film is engrossing, especially his discussions with his son, Diego. He’s a young boy attempting to reconcile his view that the impact of our actions on others is more important than our own goals with his father’s adamant belief that noble objectives justify disgusting means, which creates some tremendous (though one-sided) tension throughout the film.
Though Castillo remains a compelling antagonist until the very end, it’s a shame that the story doesn’t provide a clearer resolution for the many problems presented throughout. While Esposito gets credit for much of the character’s popularity, the cinematic animation team deserves credit for transferring the minute aspects of his performance into digital character models.
The plot is very predictable, with all of the unexpected but unavoidable betrayals and terrible yet motivational character deaths you’d expect from a big-budget popcorn story. It does a better job than any other Far Cry game in recent memory of balancing its more serious main story with the more absurd features of its freeform gunplay – though I think it leans a little too heavily on the stereotype of “grizzled-yet-goofy” veteran fighters.
There are some fantastic character moments throughout the game, and the decision to return Far Cry to third-person cutscenes is a good one, especially if you play as Dani Rojas, the female version of the protagonist. Thatfeels thanks to actress Nisa Gunduz’s sincere performance, which doesn’t felt like she’s playing second fiddle to the big–name star on the box art.
The rest of the voice cast is also excellent, especially Shakira Barrera of Glow, whose distressed rancher–turned–rebel is arguably one of the best supporting characters you’ll encounter. Similarly, relative newbie Xavier Lopez impresses in a few key scenes, and it’s fantastic to see trans characters not only included but also played by a trans actor – even though nuance in Far Cry is still a bit tough.
FC6 aspires to be a more socially conscious game than its predecessors, and it does, to its credit, attempt to address some societal issues, even if the script occasionally stumbles over the reality of some of those moments. However, it feels stuck between providing a realistic portrayal of Latin American culture and a gonzo’d-up version aimed at popular Western consumers.
The setting feels to be a beautiful depiction of living in South and Central America, but the script heavily leans on caricature due to its reliance on unique colloquialisms. Or there’s the cockfighting minigame, which is essentially Mortal Kombat with chickens. Although it is theoretically legal in Cuba, yeesh.
This was the most vexing technical difficulty I ran through playing on an Xbox Series X, but it wasn’t the only one. Except for a couple of freezes or crashes during load screens over the course of 30 hours, the majority of the issues I ran were minor.
Some framerate stuttering during cutscenes or while driving through dense forest here, a couple of uneven or missing audio tracks there, and the extremely uncommon necessity to restart a checkpoint there.
Far Cry 6 is the most fun game in the series in over a decade. Its cast gives good performances in an appealing story, even if it is somewhat predictable and doesn’t always land the bolder swings it attempts. And, despite some shaky new inventory mechanisms and a few odd design choices, its inventive weapons means that destroying an outpost, ransacking a convoy, or simply riding with a friend has never felt so good.
3. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
Treyarch’s Black Ops games have always been Call of Duty’s oddballs, with different histories and weird weapons. After murdering mind-wolves with a swarm of nano-bees in the new campaign, I’m pleased to report that Black Ops 3 not only follows this trend, but also embraces its sci-fi quirks more than ever.
But it’s not the tone of Black Ops 3 that stands out; it’s the shear volume of content, which, at its best, is among the best I’ve seen in a Call of Duty game (note: the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions lack many of the features of the current-gen and PC version).
The multiplayer mode retains the richness that fans have come to expect, but the addition of unique Specialists elevates the importance of each important player. Similarly, the addition of four-player co-op and a new emphasis on playing as you want make the campaign and Zombies modes more rewarding and enjoyable to play than ever before.
The six-hour story is set in the not-too-distant future, and it includes its own techno-gibberish to get acclimated to, as does most similar sci-fi material. “Direct Neural Interface,” or DNI for short, is the name given to Black Ops 3’s neural interface. Humans can mentally connect with computers, weapons, and other people thanks to this pervasive technology.
It provides both fantastic new abilities and significant new constraints that have transformed my perspective on Call of Duty. Because enemies’ dropped weapons are registered to someone else’s brain, you can’t use them – hence Black Ops 3’s emphasis on interesting new combat powers.
Without giving anything away, I’ll say that Black Ops 3 didn’t spend enough time making me care about its characters before attempting to cash in on their emotions. It’s a shame, because Black Ops 3 starts to delve into some very intriguing and forbidden subjects: What happens when people lose control over their thoughts or don’t get the mental health care they require? The solution is to murder even more robots!
The new powers, which come in three flavors: bomb things up, beat things up, or control your enemies and have them blow things up for you, make killing more robots (and other enemies) a lot more fun. Each power tree encourages a specific style of play, and you can’t level up all three paths without sacrificing bonus perks, weapon upgrades, and other points.
Even yet, you can usually only employ one type every level, so choosing a path is important. Plus, you’ll have enough points left over to improve your go-to primary weapon, which now feels more important than it has in the past. The weapon you choose will most likely remain in your hands for the duration of the level.
My powers of choice improved my up-close-and-personal combat skills, which is a type of battle in Call of Duty that is mostly unexplored. My most-used power was a charge that sent me flying across the battlefield at amazing speeds, destroying weaker enemies and stuning the tougher ones.
Other favorites include a ground pound with an area-of-effect, which was especially satisfying to use after leaping from a great height. Invisibility was fun for creeping into better cover and giving me time to resurrect fallen teammates. This is the first time I’ve seen this kind of utility in a Call of Duty game, and it’s a fantastic addition.
When you add another player or three to the mix, these powers really shine. My co-op buddy in my game was the “blow everything up” man, a ranged damage dealer and disabler. With a wave of his palm, he could set enemies on fire, release a swarm of bees, and more.
His abilities came in handy when we required specific enemies killed as soon as possible. His bees also distracted enemies, allowing me to line up my charge ability (which can be difficult to control) and attack numerous enemies at once.
A more general strategy was for me to charge across the battlefield and flank the enemy from a position that I couldn’t reach at normal running speeds. Many of the stages allow for such strategies, and combining the settings, powers, and good ol’ collaboration satisfied me in a way that no previous Call of Duty campaign has.
Powers are on a cooldown, so they don’t make Black Ops 3’s superbly polished shooting. My powers often felt like they came off cooldown just when my firearms ran out of ammo, whether by design or happenstance.
This allowed me to continue fighting, find cover, or survive long enough for my allies to come to my fight. The enemies in Black Ops 3 are diverse and capable, but when I replayed a few campaign missions, they acted exactly the same as before.
There wouldn’t be much of a motivation to relive the story without the new abilities. If you want to even try to survive the new “Realistic” difficulty option, where one bullet is often enough to take you out, you’ll need to use your powers efficiently. I’m not up for the challenge, but if you want to fight for every inch of ground, Realistic mode will put you through the wringer.
Many of the amazing high-mobility aspects Treyarch announced for Black Ops 3’s multiplayer, such as firing while completing other actions or wall-running, appeared to be disabled in the campaign, which surprised and disappointed me.
After a deeper look, I discovered them tucked away in a strange area of the tech tree. On the one hand, it’s admirable that Treyarch wants to give players the option to disregard the new mobility skills and play Call of Duty in a more traditional manner – there’s even a tech upgrade that allows you to pick up any weapon you find, just like in the old days.
However, it would have been preferable if they weren’t so easy to miss that I didn’t obtain a double-jump for the entirety of my first game. Everyone, regardless of loadout, has a thruster pack in multiplayer, which is similar but different enough from last year’s Advanced Warfare that mastering it was a new challenge.
The new thruster pack actions are silky smooth, easy to control, and incredibly precise. They’re fantastic for following down or eluding enemies, completing missions swiftly, and navigating stages without missing your target. You don’t have to think twice about bouncing off walls like a caffeinated hamster because you can always fire your weapon.
You’re a big target when you’re out of cover, but at least you’re a target that can fight back. This results in quick battles that can make at any time and from any angle, owing to maps that have enough paths and shortcuts for you to employ your skills.
Running along a wall, firing at an enemy, and then hopping to a separate wall are difficult to master, but Black Ops 3 includes four fantastic American Gladiators-style Free Run courses to put your skills to the test outside of live multiplayer. It also keeps track of your best completion times, so this mode will last.
Deathloop is a game I’ve never played before. I’ve played a lot of games that are similar to it – Dishonored, Hitman, Outer Wilds, and even Dark Souls – but never something that brings together so many great elements to create something so fascinatingly distinct.
Its never-ending day, doomed to loop until you can break it by murdering eight targets, is a playground for tense multiplayer standoffs, intense investigation work, and satisfying experimentation.
Deathloop is an intricately designed clockwork mechanism that confidently roars rather than gently hums, thanks to developer Arkane Studios’ exact calibration of these elements. Your eight targets, known as Visionaries, have settled on Blackreef, a chilly and bleak island with a touch of 1960s fashion, architecture, and technology to make it appealingly vivid.
Your protagonist Colt, a continually entertaining and understandably sweary gunslinger whose amnesia prevents him from understanding how he came here or how long he’s been looping, wakes up every morning on its chilly coast. Surprisingly, there is no ticking clock at your heels as you try to terminate the cycle by taking out all of your targets before the day resets and they all resurrect.
Deathloop’s best decision was to divide its day into four time periods: morning, noon, afternoon, and night, each of which you can stay in for as long or as little as you choose. In each period, you can visit one of Blackreef’s four distinct districts, and you can take your time exploring and cracking some of Deathloop’s most elusive optional mysteries without worrying about running out of time.
But it isn’t to suggest there aren’t complications. Your targets are dispersed over several time periods and locales, making it difficult to eliminate them all before the day is up. As a result, you’ll need to herd them together in order to kill more than one at a time.
To do so, you must perform a 20-hour investigation into their lives and schedules, revealing Blackreef’s thrilling secrets, learning fascinating facts about your enemies, and finally crafting a satisfying conclusion that assures each and every one of them dies before midnight strikes.
Despite its “live, die, repeat” premise, Deathloop is more of a temporal metroidvania than anything remotely like a roguelike. Its primary medium of exchange is information: as you pursue objectives and uncover new leads, you’ll uncover clues that lead to doors and intriguing new opportunities in regions you’ve previously been, both in time and space.
Those regions are beautifully carved and packed with personality, as is Arkane custom. Karl’s Bay is home to an obsessive cult that devoutly follows one of the Visionaries, with its huge, rusted aircraft hangars suited for staging ambushes. The sleeker Fristad Rock, on the other hand, provides a wonderful challenge for your infiltration talents, with its rock ‘n’ roll club filled with tantalizing off-limits chambers.
The details of the four locations change based on when you visit them, which is exciting. As the day progresses, the island’s people get increasingly rowdy, smashing furniture, graffiti walls, and even crashing a car into a building.
A snowfall blankets Blackreef in a white blanket in the afternoon, while an energetic party takes over the Updaam region in the evening. Between the large visual changes, there are little, more relevant changes like enemy patrols altering, water freezing to create new routes, or a secret apartment window that only opens in the afternoon. These shifts contribute to Deathloop’s continual sense of discovery throughout the day.
After you’ve completed all four time periods, the day resets and you can begin again. Death will also return you to breakfast time, yet Colt’s magical talents allow him to survive death twice per time period, keeping things fair and allowing you to rapidly learn from your mistakes without becoming frustrated.
In either case, each day’s reset wipes your inventory clean of every weapon, power, and upgrade you’ve acquired, forcing you to start over. The Infusion system will save you from despair by allowing you to permanently attach goods to Colt so that they will survive the loop.
It necessitates the expenditure of Residuum, a resource found in Blackreef that is scarce enough to necessitate careful consideration, but plentiful enough to ensure that each new loop adds to your armory.
This system ingeniously pushes you to switch up your approach, allowing you to sample Deathloop’s numerous flavors before committing.
Each day entails acquiring a new set of firearms with varied bonuses from the adversaries you defeat, as well as upgrades known as Trinkets in large quantities. There are plenty of Trinkets that let you to make significant changes to both your weapons and Colt, like as the ability to reload in an instant or move silently.
The loop’s cycling buffet of alternatives allows you to try out new equipment, which will then influence your Infusion selections. My growing fascination in supernatural talents like the Force push-like Karnesis led me to invest in Trinkets that increased the amount of time I could utilize them for and even fed them my health if I ran out of strength.
You’ll amass a collection of your favorite items over time, from which you’ll select a loadout before moving on to the next destination.
A ‘Hunter Rank’ progression system encourages you to repeat invasions. Completing challenges will boost this, as each one will need you to murder Colt in a number of amusing ways. Success grants Julianna access to a quickly expanding inventory of weapons, powers, and Trinkets (she and Colt do not share an inventory), a new clothing for both playable characters, and further objectives to fulfill.
PvP isn’t necessary, but for anyone who is as enamored with Deathloop’s combat as I am, it’s effectively a rewards system for murdering in clever ways. Deathloop by Arkane Studios puts the story on the back burner in favor of the gameplay, turning what appears to be a mindless shooter into a complex murder investigation puzzle set within a masterfully crafted time loop.
5. Halo Infinite
The single-player campaign in Halo Infinite, like a new generation of Master Chief’s MJOLNIR armor, breathes new life into a 20-year-old franchise by returning to its roots while also paving new paths to follow. It delivers a level of combat flexibility not seen in any previous Halo game by switching to an open-world area while keeping the original gameplay on foot and in its iconic vehicles.
There’s enough to do in this sprawling playground, and fulfilling its never-ending list of activities rewards you with more combat options and, ultimately, more enjoyment. It doesn’t quite match the original trilogy’s environmental variety or compelling story, but it’s nevertheless an exciting return to form for one of gaming’s most popular franchises, as well as Master Chief himself.
The departure from Bungie’s 20-year-old concept of a linear set of combat arenas in favor of allowing years to freely explore the Zeta Halo ring where Infinite takes place is the first time developer 343 Industries has deviated from it. All of that open space is a logical fit for what has always been a sandbox-style shooter at heart, with unexpected events.
On a larger scale, the same is true in Infinite. Sure, if you’ve played games like Just Cause or Titanfall, you’ll recognize the Grappleshot, but it’s right at home in Halo. This incredible tool may be utilized to seize weapons from afar, flee dangerous combat engagements when your shields are low, or launch you straight into the bad guys for a finishing melee strike with your full weight behind it.
It’s a natural extension of the equipment concept introduced in Halo 3, and it’s one of the reasons why Infinite’s gameplay seems like a mix of Halo 1 and Halo 3, which is a good thing.
Meanwhile, bosses make up the majority of Infinite’s greatest encounters, with the exception of those that you create naturally in Zeta Halo’s sandbox. The first, against Tremonius, a Banished Brute lieutenant, features extra-difficult AI that will force you to have your wits about you rather than merely more bullets in your back pocket.
He has a jetpack and a lightning-fast ground-pound assault that will knock you out if you aren’t prepared. It’s the first hint that each boss fight will keep you on your toes, and Infinite has the best implementation of them yet.
Even if, like me, you’ve played every Halo campaign numerous times, the fact that it’s been six years since the last one, which was the most complicated Halo story yet, means that getting used to Infinite’s plot isn’t easy.
As with other long-running franchises (most notably, Microsoft’s own Psychonauts 2), the sixth Halo should have had a “Halo’s Story So Far” cinematic that plays before you start playing. Maybe 343 ran out of time, or maybe it never came up, but that was a missed opportunity.
Returning to the game, the FOBs are the key to unlocking everything in Infinite’s open world. Recapture them, and your map will be filled with many of the aforementioned activities, as well as other notable map symbols like Spartan Core sites, whose bounties allow you to customize your playstyle by upgrading your equipment.
At first, I put all of my points into the Shield Core, which made the Heroic difficulty’s bit of extra punishment feel doable. (If you’re going to take on Legendary, I strongly advise you to follow this plan.) Upgrade the Grappleshot for a paralyzing electric shock strike, enhance the Thruster for a brief time of invisibility while you dash, and max out the Drop Wall for your own personal electric fence.
Not only did the equipment give variation to how I dealt with the Banished, but many of the big boss fights cried out for one of them or another, so I prioritized them in that order, ending with everything maxed out but two lacking upgrades on the Drop Wall. (Thankfully, Infinite isn’t too pushy when it comes to recommending which one is best for which combat.)
Over the last 20 years, Halo has meant a lot to me. It’s one of the few series in gaming where every new major entry genuinely matters to me, from initially landing on the ring in Halo 1 to the surprise Arbiter arc in Halo 2 to being heartbroken by Halo 5’s horrible storyline.
After six years, it was reasonable to wonder if Halo still had a place in the “Best Shooter” debate. And would I still be interested in it? Halo Infinite emphatically answers both queries with a loud yes, which relieves and delights me.
Turning us loose to explore a massive open ring with almost complete freedom to approach combat with a wide range of iconic guns, vehicles, and toys has resurrected Halo’s single-player campaign as one of the best out there (to say nothing of the incredible multiplayer suite), and even though the story and lack of environmental variety let it down a little, Infinite picks it back up with style.