Black Ops 4 doesn’t play like a traditional Call Of Duty game; are you ready to embrace it?
Hands-on WITH THE private BETA reveals Big changes Are incoming
“IF THE RECENT CLOSED BETA HAS PROVED ANYTHING, IT’S THAT THERE IS MORE EMPHASIS THAN EVER BEFORE ON SMART INTERPLAY BETWEEN SQUADS”
The time has come for us all to reconcile with the fact that Call Of Duty has changed. The series is no longer leading the shooter market, instead it is finally settling into a position in which it is merely following the trends within it. Call Of Duty is fighting to reclaim its relevancy amidst the first genuine redistribution of power that we’ve seen in this sector in over a decade. Battle Royale is dominating with respect to sever population; the hero shooters are consuming community conversation; and shared-world experiences are redefining how we catalogue and consume the adventures we have with our fellow players. You can see much of this reflected in the way Black Ops 4 carries itself both on and off the battlefield. Treyarch has made none of these decisions in bad faith, nor do they necessarily come with any overt consequences to the core fun and appeal of Call Of Duty’s tight multiplayer action – though reconciliation is key if you want any hope in hell of enjoying this year’s instalment. Free your mind of the burden of expectation, for a pretty good time awaits those that do.
In many respects, Black Ops 4 is the best Call Of Duty has been in a very long time. Treyarch has achieved this by rebuking nostalgic elements of the multiplayer design, many of which have kept Call Of
Duty grounded in the past – even as other developers took the series to the skies and the stars. That all said, your mileage with this October’s release will likely hinge entirely on whether you love or loathe the returning Specialists: ten unique characters that bring specific skills, abilities and unique flavours to the firefights to be had across Treyarch’s impeccably designed three-lane biomes of frustration and adulation.
Activision’s three lead studios have been toying with changing this formula for years now, attempting to evolve (if not outright replace) the class creation and Perks system that’s been so integral to Call Of
Duty’s success; Create-a-soldier in Ghosts, Specialists’ introduction in Black Ops III, refined under the guise of Operators in Infinite Warfare and, of course, Divisions in WWII. All of this iteration has led us to this moment, to Call Of Duty’s expected embrace of the hero shooter model. Having less agency over the construction of your soldier is a culture shock for sure, although Black Ops 4 instead asks you to embrace the idea that you are playing as a distinctive character – complete with backstory, lore and pre-defined strengths and weaknesses – as part of a larger squad. There are constantly a variety of offensive, defensive and support abilities in play; understanding and tracking squad composition is now key, as too is maintaining your health levels, keeping stock of ability cooldowns that run across your respawns (a fine replacement for Scorestreaks), and the ever-shifting location of the frontline. All of this is key to understanding and appreciating Black Ops 4’s new-found rhythm to play.
If the recent closed beta has proved anything, it’s that there is more emphasis than ever before on smart interplay between squads, navigating objective requirements and tactical execution of abilities. This isn’t to say that Black Ops 4 necessarily feels all that much like Overwatch or Rainbow Six: Siege, but it has clearly taken heed of their successes and moulded them into a shape that better fits the twitchy combat of Call Of Duty. It means that the Lone Wolf mantra that came to define Call Of Duty is essentially dead. There can only ever be one of each Specialist active in the field at any one time, and they have all been keenly designed to play off of one another – going it alone isn’t just ill advised, it’s the fastest way to find frustration.
Combine all of this with a manual health system and a shift in the way that guns function across the board (each now uses predictive recoil patterns, allowing you to constantly make micro-adjustments to your aiming and shooting lines) and you’re looking at a new breed of Call Of Duty in Black Ops 4. The time-to-kill has been increased, edging out speedy encounters in favour of tactical pursuit of enemies – gunfights now feel like tense duals, with each player having to rely on positioning and tracking as much as they do aggression and sharp reactions.
Black Ops 4 is slower, for sure, than any of its predecessors, though that isn’t necessarily a negative. The series has been due a refresh – Modern Warfare is over a decade old, after all – and we’re happy to see that Treyarch is approaching such a task with bold initiative. Black Ops 4 feels like it has been tightly designed around competitive action with a basis in moment-to-moment cooperation, built to bring groups of friends together and to better support the lucrative esports market. It means that come this October you’ll need to be ready to adjust to a mentality shift in the way you approach and engage with Call Of Duty; it’s a gamble, for sure, but it’s one we are excited to see Treyarch making all the same.
Above: While the Specialists come with pre-defined abilities and skills, you’ll still be able to customise your loadouts, equip new weapons and play with a wide variety of attachments. Right: The beta has proven to be instrumental, giving Treyarch plenty to chew over as it looks to refine its systems ahead of launch. Frame-rate concerns have been noted, as too have issues of balance surrounding individual gear options such as the Stim packs and Body Armour.