What is Black Squad?
Black Squad is a free online first-person shooter (FPS) developed and published by NS Studio for PC. The game provides a good alternative to Counter Strike in the free2play (F2P) market, with more accessible gameplay and polishing the flawed traditions of Korean F2P shooters.
Black Squad contains 10 different game modes which include the FPS favourites Demolition and Team Deathmatch in casual and competitive environments. Players have 85 weapons to choose from which can be placed in 3 different load-outs. Impressively, Black Squad boasts over 460 weapon skins and effects to collect, a number which is always increasing.
Black Squad’s gameplay leans more towards the Counter Strike school of thinking, where movement is flat and reliant on tactical approaches and a precise aim rather than fast movement and theatrics.
Weapons typically offer very precise accuracy initially and recoil heavily with continuous gunfire. This rewards players with high accuracy and control but punishes those who “spray and pray”. That said, Black Squad does not punish the player for holding down the fire button as harshly as say, Counter Strike, making it a viable but less desirable option.
Along with the initial high accuracy, Black Squad offers a reasonably low Time To Kill (TTK) where opponents can be taken down in a short burst or 1-2 headshots depending on the weapon. Sniper rifles have very little bloom and no sway, but recoil with each shot. Black Squad has one-hit kill sniper rifles but the high accuracy and low TTK addresses this and prevents what is usually a bone of contention in shooters. This makes Black Squad very accessible but allows for a high skill ceiling and competitive play.
Players can only run if they equip the knife and the running pace is not all that fast meaning it only typically gets used at the start of the round to get yourself into position. Players can also walk slowly with the shift key, making their footsteps silent and accuracy slightly better with the disadvantage of being a slow-moving target. Just as in other games, this is a very useful feature for letting you move around the map without giving away your location with heavy footsteps. Crouch is also on offer for making you a smaller target and vastly increased accuracy.
While the movement and weapon handling feel good, one of Black Squad’s weakest areas is its level design. The design approach is clearly to get the player into the action as quickly as possible but often just ends up chaotic and lacking in options. No matter the mode, every map feels far too small to contain the number of players in the match. Particularly bad is Team Deathmatch where tiny maps typically contain 2-3 open routes from spawn. These routes try to cater for long-range sniping and close-quarters combat but the lack of range means most games are just people running out of spawn with a spawn shield, tossing a grenade towards the enemy spawn and charging forward with a lack of options on where to go. This being done in an 8v8 environment means TDM can often be described as chaotic rather than action-packed.
Visuals and Sound Effects
Black Squad offers decent graphics, which by no means rival any top of the range shooters, but do a good job of keeping system requirements low while still being visually appealing. Visual noise is kept to a minimum, letting players focus on the action without being distracted by debris, environmental effects or busy textures. Animations, however, are a mixed bag. Running with the knife out looks comedic as arms swing wildly for such a slow run pace but weapon animations are slick and often interesting to watch.
The sound effects in the shooter leave a lot to be desired, with footsteps sounding heavy and clunky, enemy weapon fire giving no indication as to where gunshots are coming from or which gun is being used, and kill notifications causing alarmingly loud sound effects to be used causing you to reach for the volume sliders.
Black Squad, again, lets itself down with a very dated and busy user interface. Deviating from the path of choosing which mode you want to play and auto-matchmaking can cause new players to immediately become lost as the menu screens lack clarity. Even after extensive playtime, moving between the matchmaker to the multiple shops on offer, to the custom games list proved to be a headache.
Network & Anti-Cheat
Black Squad utilises a peer to server (P2S) configuration for a reliable, consistently low-latency network experience which immediately puts it ahead of similar games in the market, which typically use a Peer to Peer (P2P) set up. The result is very responsive gameplay, with damage landing exactly as you expect with no delay.
BattlEye anti-cheat solution is used to keep the gameplay fair. Every game has cheats, especially popular ones, however, no obvious cheaters were found in playtesting nor even any suspicious behaviour. As with any game, the anti-cheat solution must work in conjunction with well put together game code in order to be effective; Black Squad appears to be doing well at providing cheat-free games for the players.
The shop is always a critically important place in any F2P online shooter for their success; they need to make money to keep the game going, but risk losing players if purchasing items gives a clear advantage i.e. being Pay to Win (P2W).
Black Squad allows players to buy guns, cosmetics, weapon skins and loot boxes with real money; however, weapons are not locked behind either paywalls or level walls meaning free players can buy the same guns using the in-game currency. This is a good advancement on other F2P shooters which have allowed players to buy the same guns with in-game currency but locked the guns behind level walls which gave the feeling of being P2W; Black Squad immediately lets you use which gun you want to avoid that misconception.
While Black Squad does well at avoiding being P2W, the shop design itself can be annoying. Four currencies are used to buy different items across two different shops – Bullets (the premium currency), Summer Points (at the time of writing), BS Tokens and the normal currency. Some items can only be bought using one of the above currencies, so there is a constant need for checking which currency you have the correct amount for and which items require which currency.
Loot boxes list what you can win but fail to declare the chances of winning. They typically offer time-limited skinned guns and items, and also some permanent ones too.
So, is it worth playing?
Oddly, yes. For all of the above complaints about things being dated and lack of quality in some areas, the fundamentals of Black Squad (namely the shooting mechanics and network) are so solid that the game is fun to play and is head and shoulder above a lot of games in the free online FPS market. While it lacks originality in a lot of areas and sticks to poor design decisions that have been used repeatedly for over a decade in F2P shooters, it can’t overwhelm what is an enjoyable shooter. If the map designs were better, Black Squad would be one hell of a game.