Call of Duty: Black ops 4

We sit down with Tre­yarch to un­der­stand its lat­est take on high-oc­tane, on­line mul­ti­player FPS ac­tion

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There are two ma­jor things that you need to know about Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. First, the sin­gle player cam­paign is out. In fact, there’s noth­ing at all that could be de­scribed as typ­i­cal nar­ra­tive con­tent. You’re out of luck if that was your rea­son for play­ing Call Of Duty.

Sec­ond, a bat­tle royale mode in the vein of that of­fered by the likes of Fortnite and Playerun­k­nown’s Battlegrounds is in. Devel­oper Tre­yarch’s take on the game mode that has taken the world by storm prom­ises to de­liver big by in­clud­ing land, air and sea ve­hi­cles and a huge map (over 1,500 times the size of Black Ops’

Nuke­town map) but there re­main more ques­tions than an­swers at this point. More on that later.

So, Black Ops 4 is a mul­ti­player fo­cused ex­pe­ri­ence down to its core. Three game modes are due to ship on ini­tial re­lease: Blackout, Zom­bies and the tra­di­tional suite of mul­ti­player modes such as Team Death­match, Dom­i­na­tion, Hard­point, etc.

Fran­chises that have reached the pop­u­lar­ity and sta­tus of Call Of Duty tend not to make many bold moves for fear of up­set­ting their enor­mous fan bases, and so this swing of di­rec­tion is both sur­pris­ing and dar­ing. Clearly, in the face of shift­ing tastes among shooter fans – demon­strated not least by the global phe­nom­e­non that is Fortnite

– some­thing had to change. As such, no mat­ter the out­come, Tre­yarch and pub­lisher Ac­tivi­sion de­serve some credit for mak­ing a move.

Whether or not the move will be pos­i­tive from a game de­sign and wider game bal­ance per­spec­tive still re­mains to be seen, how­ever, the re­moval of a cam­paign is un­likely to weaken the fran­chise’s ap­peal given that the ma­jor­ity of its play­ers have been flock­ing pri­mar­ily to its mul­ti­player of­fer­ings for years.

“Games are get­ting more so­cial and are go­ing to con­tinue go­ing that way,” says Black Ops 4 game de­signer Matt Scronce when asked for the rea­son­ing be­hind his game’s change of course.

“Even with Black Ops 3’s cam­paign we didn’t do things in a nor­mal way,” Matt ex­plains. “You could play it com­pletely out of or­der and ap­proach it in dif­fer­ent ways and play through in co-op. We didn’t care too much if you were fo­cus­ing on the nar­ra­tive or not, we wanted you to be able to jump in and out of it when­ever you wanted, whether with friends or solo.”

Re­cent Call Of Duty cam­paigns have of­fered lit­tle orig­i­nal­ity and so the de­ci­sion to get rid of it al­to­gether has the po­ten­tial to al­ter the en­tire fran­chise for the bet­ter. By no longer hav­ing part of the team fo­cused on pro­duc­ing some­thing that must abide by a set of de­sign rules that have be­come in­grained over the se­ries’ his­tory there should ex­ist greater free­dom to think more cre­atively about how to move the triple-a, first­per­son shooter to the next level.

The in­tro­duc­tion of a bat­tle royale mode might seem like the most ob­vi­ous and cre­atively stunted ad­di­tion, but, nev­er­the­less, there ex­ists huge flex­i­bil­ity in the core con­cept and the full gamut of po­ten­tial has by no means been reached. Tre­yarch prom­ises that Blackout will play and feel like a unique ex­pe­ri­ence.

“We wouldn’t even be try­ing to do [bat­tle royale] if we couldn’t add some­thing fresh and unique to the genre,” Yale Miller, se­nior pro­ducer, tells us. “Bat­tle royale is a great game mode and one that we’ve been look­ing at for a long time and, clearly, is one that a lot of peo­ple want to play.

“What we love about bat­tle royale is that no two matches are the same. Add to that the great gun­play, gritty re­al­ism and high-fidelity graph­ics from Black Ops games and you’ve got some­thing that’s re­ally fun and some­thing you can’t get anywhere else from bat­tle royale.”

Tre­yarch is keep­ing the player count un­der wraps, as well as the ex­act me­chan­ics that we’ll be able to em­ploy. Ve­hi­cles are con­firmed, as is the fact that a num­ber of gad­gets from the whole Black Ops se­ries (like the ex­plod­ing ra­dio­con­trolled car) will be ap­pear­ing.

Char­ac­ters from across Black Ops’ cam­paigns and Zom­bies will be avail­able as skins, al­though how they’re un­locked is a mys­tery. Nei­ther Miller or Scronce would agree to an­swer any ques­tions at all re­lat­ing to Blackout’s pro­gres­sion sys­tem.

What they have promised is a map that

“WE’RE RE­ALLY TRY­ING TO DO ALL WE CAN TO MAKE SURE ALL DIF­FER­ENT KINDS OF PLAY­ERS CAN BE SUC­CESS­FUL"

in­cludes fa­mil­iar lo­ca­tions from pre­vi­ous

Black Ops games. It’s un­likely that these ar­eas will be brought in whole­sale and sim­ply stitched to­gether to cre­ate a larger map, but long-term fans are sure to recog­nise some of the en­vi­ron­ment and be able to point to the orig­i­nal in­spi­ra­tion.

Go­ing back and imag­in­ing fresh ways to ex­plore pre­vi­ous de­signs is one of the rea­sons Tre­yarch is so keen to in­clude a bat­tle royale mode in Black Ops 4.

“Part of Blackout is about bring­ing back things that we want to see again,” ex­plains Scronce. “Some­times I think, ‘I want to play as Riggs again and I want to see this game me­chanic in a new way’.

“A lot of the ideas have come from those, ‘Wouldn’t it be awe­some if...?’ con­ver­sa­tions. Think­ing about it like that has given us a lot of free­dom to be able to try a lot of dif­fer­ent things. This game mode gives you so much free­dom be­cause you’re not bound by the usual rules of mul­ti­player or the rules re­quired to be taken se­ri­ously on the es­ports side.”

That’s not to say the rules else­where haven’t changed. The di­vi­sive thrust jump­ing and wall-run­ning abil­i­ties in­tro­duced in Black Ops 3

are out, thank­fully, re­placed by a con­cen­tra­tion on fight­ing on the ground along­side your team­mates.

In each mul­ti­player match – whether that’s Dom­i­na­tion, Team Death­match or other­wise – you must select one of ten ‘Spe­cial­ists’ to use in bat­tle, their abil­i­ties com­bin­ing with your weapon and gear se­lec­tions to add an­other layer of load­out cus­tomi­sa­tion.

Ajax is a front­line force, able to stun en­e­mies with pow­er­ful flash grenades and pro­vide cover for al­lies with a large, move­able shield. Dif­fer­ent al­to­gether is Re­con, an in­tel gath­erer who is com­par­a­tively un­suited to direct en­gage­ments. His Sen­sor Dart re­veals en­e­mies on the map, while Vi­sion Pulse means you can see their move­ment through walls.

Else­where, Ruin has the Grap­ple Gun that can be used to move quickly hor­i­zon­tally and ver­ti­cally and a Grav Slam at­tack that sends shock­waves across an small area. Torque is de­fen­sively minded and can de­ploy Ra­zor Wire to block off door­ways or cor­ri­dors and a Bar­ri­cade skill that locks down tight spa­ces even more read­ily.

“Spe­cial­ists give more im­por­tance to tac­ti­cal de­ci­sions and that’s a great ben­e­fit for play­ers like me, who aren’t the best in mov­ing around the map at top speed,” laughs Scronce. “In­stead,

I’m win­ning by think­ing about si­t­u­a­tions clearly, de­cid­ing whether to stick with my team or not and cre­atively com­bin­ing the abil­i­ties of my Spe­cial­ist with every­one else.”

Spe­cial­ist abil­i­ties are on a cooldown timer, pre­vent­ing matches dis­solv­ing into each team spam­ming the new moves con­stantly. Their rel­a­tive rar­ity means that mas­ter­ing the core

Call Of Duty skills – move­ment, ac­cu­racy and tim­ing – re­main the best way to win. Such abil­i­ties, how­ever, mean that there are more ways to ap­proach how you play.

“It’s not all about di­rectly killing your en­emy any­more,” Miller adds. “If Ruin bursts into the room and gets some kills, then any­one who has boosted Ruin be­fore that is go­ing to get a higher score, too – whether that’s through heal­ing, or re­veal­ing en­e­mies or what­ever.

“We’re try­ing to take away some of the em­pha­sis on kill/death ra­tio and fo­cus on your wider im­pact on a match. Now we take bet­ter ac­count of how you’re us­ing your equip­ment. Even if you never fire your gun you can be adding to your score and help­ing your team.”

Work­ing as a team is the best way to go and not only be­cause of the many ways Spe­cial­ists can syn­chro­nise their skills. The mini-map now only shows en­e­mies' move­ment in your im­me­di­ate vicin­ity, mean­ing you have to rely on Spe­cial­ist skills to help mon­i­tor your op­po­si­tion. Fur­ther, heal­ing is no longer au­to­matic and in­stead you must heal your­self us­ing a new medikit sys­tem or stick with a heal­ing spe­cial­ist.

The changes to the heath sys­tem are par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing in that you now have more op­tions and there­fore more de­ci­sions to make. Do you con­tinue push­ing for­ward when in­jured and try to take ad­van­tage of a good op­por­tu­nity, or do you pull back to heal and ac­cept that the en­emy might ei­ther rush you or heal them­selves?

In com­par­i­son to the pre­vi­ous sys­tem of wait­ing around for the auto-heal to en­gage, what’s pre­sented here puts the onus on you to make quick judg­ments un­der pres­sure. We’ve played mul­ti­player for only an hour, but we came away feel­ing pretty im­pressed with how a seem­ingly small change can al­ter the tone quite con­sid­er­ably. It’s been a main­stay of the se­ries for so long that it makes a mas­sive dif­fer­ence to this new in­stall­ment.

These more de­tailed changes com­bine with larger ones, such as the re­moval of the cam­paign and the in­tro­duc­tion of Blackout to make Black

Ops 4 the most in­ter­est­ing Call Of Duty in years. Whether or not that in­ter­est now is re­paid in qual­ity upon re­lease re­mains to be seen, but it’s nice to be able to look for­ward to some orig­i­nal­ity from a se­ries that has played it safe for too long.

Call OF duty: black OPS 4 is com­ing out of Tre­yarch Games af­ter three years of wait­ing. Find out more here: callof­duty.com

Ser­aph can de­ploy a bea­con onto which team­mates can respawn, al­low­ing for a greater va­ri­ety of tac­ti­cal op­tions.

Spe­cial­ist Ajax is the tank of the group, sport­ing a mo­bile, bul­letab­sorb­ing shield and a pow­er­ful flash grenade.

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