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

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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.

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