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Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 first look – 300GB of spies, zombies and Margaret Thatcher
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Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 first look – 300GB of spies, zombies and Margaret Thatcher

Microsoft wasn’t messing about with its Xbox showcase this year. After a raft of announcements about job losses and studio closures, the company looked to give gamers what they wanted in its Sunday night Summer Game Fest slot, ending with a full 40-minute preview of Call of Duty: Black Ops 6, a game so large it will require a 300GB download, as well as continual online access even for the single-player mode, due to the amount of textures it’s going to be streaming from remote servers. As expected, the Xbox version will be available day one on GamePass, but there will be no platform exclusivity – the PlayStation version will arrive the same day: 25 October.

The game itself is set during the geopolitical tumult of the early 1990s, taking in the fall of the Soviet Union, the Gulf war and the transition of the US presidency from George Bush to Bill Clinton. As ever, the Campaign story is an airport novel spy thriller taking in deniable CIA ops, clandestine power struggles and conspiracies that go to the very top, dammit. Series regular Frank Woods has been gravely injured and withdrawn from active duty, giving way to reckless spec ops squad leader Troy Marshall and smart CIA handler Jane Harrow. When a mission screws up, they’re forced to go rogue, recruiting a ragtag team of tech nerds and glamorous assassins. It is almost definitely going to be your ass on the line here, sir.

In keeping with most recent Call of Duty titles, Black Ops 6 is promising a little variety in how you can attempt Campaign missions. Most set-pieces, whether you’re in a glamorous casino in southern Europe or a northern Russian tundra, allow an all-guns-firing attack or stealth approach. There are even sequences where players can converse with NPCs to open new possibilities, such a bribing senators to allow access to forbidden areas. We’re going to see familiar faces from the era, including Saddam Hussein, George Bush and Margaret Thatcher, though perhaps thankfully, Activision has confirmed that the latter at least will not be a playable option.

Call of Duty titles are usually built over a tight two-year period, but for this one, co-developers Treyarch and Raven had twice that time. “We really were given the opportunity to redefine what a Black Ops game is,” says associate design director Matt Scronce. “We could be very intentional about every single decision that we made along the way. In the past, each game was kind of built off the last one, but with this one, it really was kind of ground floor build – a redefinition of Black Ops.”

One of the major changes in gamefeel is a new system named Omnidirection which lets players sprint and slide in every direction. “Fluidity of movement was a big thing that we talked about a bunch,” says Yale Miller, senior director of production at Treyarch. “That kind of led to the desire to see what we could do.”

Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 - multiplayer omnimovementView image in fullscreen

Scronce elaborates, “early on we tried a juke, a quick sidestep. But when we looked at movement for Black Ops 6, it was all about keeping players in this flow state, and the fluidity and the fidelity fed into that, and something like a juke just wasn’t hitting it for us on on that side. So we went back to the drawing board. For over 20 years, you’ve only ever been able to sprint forward in Call of Duty, so we looked at the best of the best in the real world: NFL players, NBA players, tennis players, they can all move very quickly in every direction.”

Now players have 360 degrees of movement in which to sprint, dive and slide, which should allow for a greater variety of evasive manoeuvres – you can go supine and roll under cover, or even recreate that classic movement from Hong Kong action movies of the era: sliding backwards on your behind while shooting forward. Naturally, the system required thousands of new frames of animation and mo-cap, which could only have happened with that extra development time.

According to the team, accessibility has also been an important element. A new intelligent movement system has been introduced, adding crouch, sprint and mantle assists, that can be toggled on and off. Players can opt to completely automate leaping over walls or sliding under low obstructions. The inspiration for this came from a range of different games. “I looked at the Forza series, with the traction control, anti-lock and turn assists,” says Scronce. “Also mobile games are a great example of, like, you have no physical buttons, so what are they doing there?” The HUD has also been made customisable so players are able to move around onscreen information such as mini-maps. It’s a feature made with Call of Duty streamers in mind, as they often want to add and in-game camera view of themselves, and struggle to decide where to put it without obscuring vital info.

The crucial multiplayer component has been tweaked considerably, dialling back on some recent alterations. There are 16 new maps, mostly adopting the traditional three-lane design, while the Prestige system, which allows skilled veteran players to show off their mastery with exclusive outfits, accessories and classified weapons, has returned to the style of previous Black Ops games. Treyarch is also promising a vast armoury of guns from the era, with dozens of attachments.

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Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 - Capitol StationView image in fullscreen

Elsewhere, the regular Call of Duty Zombies mode, which was first introduced by Treyarch in 2008’s World at War, is going back to its roots. The latest Modern Warfare titles introduced a new type of open-world zombie game, but Black Ops 6 is going back to the old round-based structure in which players work together to survive waves of incoming undead attacks while unlocking new weapons and exploring contained environments.

So the Call of Duty monster truck rolls on, bringing with it a convoy of concerns about the appropriation of recent historical events, the glamorisation of US foreign policy and the zeal for military-grade weaponry. But like the best blockbuster war films, it has its appeal, and Black Ops 6 looks to be bringing some interesting additions to the feel of the series – which perhaps show the benefit of giving studios a but more time. As Scronce puts it: “I think across the board, the extra time has allowed us to pay attention to details and push that extra bit to where we can all say, whether it’s character fidelity or movement, or animations, or audio or our multiplayer maps, this is the best we’ve ever done.”

Source: theguardian.com