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expect a scrappy Gulf War shooter

June 9th, 2024

Since its inception in 2010, Call of Duty: Black Ops has been one of the strangest sub-series in the Call Of Duty franchise. The first game was a grounded Vietnam-era espionage thriller centered around a shady group of black ops soldiers, but following titles have bounced from the 1960’s to 2065 and back again. Their reception has been just as volatile – Black Ops 4 was a futuristic flop – but 2020’s Black Ops Cold War, set in the paranoid ‘80s, was a return to form. With Call Of Duty: Black Ops 6 next in line, NME caught up with developer Treyarch to learn why the team has dubbed it “the best Black Ops yet”.

Set during the Gulf War in the early ‘90s, Black Ops 6 will pick things back up with grizzled veteran Frank Woods and his globe-trotting band of war criminals. When one of their missions goes wrong in Kuwait, AWOL CIA agent Russel Adler returns to warn them that the US government has been compromised by a shadow group known as the Pantheon – and it’s their job to fight back.

The setting immediately catches our eye, and at several points in our preview Treyarch points out that Woods’ team won’t be able to call the US for help. In theory, this means we could be in for a scrappier, more tactical COD campaign. To demonstrate, we’re shown a makeshift Bouncing Betty-style mine sealed with cable ties, while Semtex looks like a grenade covered in goop.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 6. Credit: Activision Blizzard.

Speaking to NME, Black Ops 6 assistant design director Matt Scronce says “every single piece of content went through that lens,” and points to the Black Ops series’ signature RC-XD killstreak gadget, which is a regular RC car strapped with C4. We suggest that this would suit a more stealth-focused campaign, and Yale Miller, director of production at Treyarch, agrees that there are “absolutely more of those moments” compared to other COD games. The “rolling in weapons hot with the crew” approach isn’t as prevalent, though that doesn’t mean it’s gone entirely. “We wouldn’t be delivering what people want from a Call Of Duty game – which is about the spectrum,” says Yale.

During our time with Treyarch, we’re shown two in-game segments – a Bill Clinton campaign gala, and a mission in Iraq. The campaign gala can be approached in many different ways, with infiltration methods like posing as a journalist or blackmailing a senator’s wife available. Meanwhile, Iraq is described as a semi-open world map in which you can explore the area and pick up side events by exploring. The descriptions of these are very reminiscent of Hitman: World of Assassination and Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain – but in action, they looked like standard Call Of Duty shootouts with few tactics involved. As a result, it remains to be seen if the studio will reach its lofty goals to revitalise the campaign mode – something that is desperately needed after last year’s absolutely dire single-player offering in Modern Warfare 3.

The Iraq demo ends with protagonists deploying a missile to one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces, with a giant statue of the dictator toppled with imagery reminiscent of the destruction of the statue in Firdos Square during the US invasion of Iraq. Black Ops has always slipped in references to real-world events and people of the eras they’re set in (who could forget the Richard Nixon zombies level in the original), but the Gulf War and Saddam Hussein are both very recent, and for many fans this will likely be the first time COD directly tackles events that took place during their lifetime.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 6. Credit: Activision Blizzard.
Call Of Duty: Black Ops 6. Credit: Activision Blizzard.

With Saddam in particular, we asked Miller how Treyarch has approached what will likely be a sensitive topic for many, and if special considerations have been made to avoid depicting anything in bad taste. We were told that the campaign’s story will not tell “an actual event that occurred,” which seemingly dismisses recent rumours of the game featuring a depiction of 9/11. “We ask ourselves the questions and put ourselves in different peoples shoes,” says Miller, pointing specifically to multiplayer. “We [Treyarch] are a really diverse crowd of people from all over the world working on this game, so getting those perspectives has also been really helpful”.

Another major part of the presentation focuses on a new “Omnimovement” system. Movement has always been a strong topic in the community, especially after the likes of Black Ops 3‘s over-the-top nature. But Omnimovement looks to be a solid middle ground between classic boots-on-the-ground Call Of Duty and the fast-paced, futuristic games. Players can now sprint in all directions, have access to slides and dives at the touch of a button, and can rotate while prone, which allows for supine aiming. As fans of arena shooters and Titanfall, we personally really liked what was shown movement-wise, but our hands on wasn’t enough to make a final verdict.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 6. Credit: Activision Blizzard.
Call Of Duty: Black Ops 6. Credit: Activision Blizzard.

However, changing movement is a tricky balancing act – just look at the community’s uproar during COD’s (underrated) Advanced Warfare to Infinite Warfare era. Recalling a conversation with studio head Mark Gordon, Scronce representers discussing what would happen if you “deconstructed” Black Ops 3’s “advanced” movement and translated it to a more boots-on-the-ground game – but stressed that the goal is to tweak the system to accommodate everyone, rather than creating something speedy for the sake of it.

Omnimovement is also complimented by a new animation system, which was one of the more impressive aspects of the game shown off during the presentation. There are now more hitboxes for characters, allowing them to act more appropriately based on where they are struck. If you shoot someone in their right leg, for example, they’ll buckle over on it – a change that does far more for the game’s feel than standard visual fidelity improvements.

Call Of Duty can absolutely be seen as a known quantity at this point, that much is obvious. Yet what we’ve seen has left us intrigued for Black Ops 6 thanks to a mixture of an interesting and under-explored setting, its small team versus government premise, and refreshing changes to movement. It remains to be seen how things will play out – especially after seeing the usual corridor shooting demos – but if the mission variety and depth being described to us truly is there, this could be a much-needed shot in the arm for a series that hasn’t had a great campaign in almost a decade.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 6 launches for Xbox, PlayStation and PC on October 25

This content was originally sourced and posted at NME »
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