Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 preview — Back in black

One of the first games I covered for GamingTrend was Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. You might say I liked it (review here). One of my quotes is featured in the accolades trailer, which reads, “Black Ops is back with a vengeance”. Now, four years later, Black Ops is back again, and after seeing it with my own eyes in a special trip to Treyarch, I can confidently say we’re headed back in that direction.

During our session, I was able to get a look at multiple trailers and slides of what Treyarch and Raven Software have been cooking. The first was one you’ll be seeing (or have just seen), at the Call of Duty portion of the Xbox Showcase, which is campaign focused. 1991 is the year, with a heavy 90’s emphasis all around. Throughout I see characters we’ve seen in the little teasers so far, President’s Clinton and Bush, along with General Colin Powell. We know Sadam Hussein is involved as well, but in what capacity is yet to be known.

While all of these are recognizable characters in our own world, others exist in the shadows, with Woods and Adler making their appearances. Off the bat you feel like there’s more to the story for Adler in particular, and I’m glad they’re going into a lot more detail at the Xbox show. This trailer alone doesn’t give you the whole picture.

Miles Leslie, the Associate Creative Director at Treyarch, stepped in to talk to us about what Treyarch’s vision was for Black Ops 6. With four years to work on this one, it was time to reevaluate what Black Ops is, and what it means to be a Black Ops game. The idea is simple in execution, and watching the trailer made that very clear.

The signature experience is watching an action heavy spy thriller, with plenty of grounded world building that immerses you into the Black Ops story. It’s not enough to be a possibility, Treyarch wants you to believe in what can happen. These teams need to work together through all obstacles in their way, while weathering the worst enemy in the series: their own government.

Here is the big difference in Black Ops 6, you’ll quickly find a cryptocracy lurking in the shadows. Woods is in a wheelchair, being the veteran that’s aiding a team of vagabonds who have been betrayed by the very agency that vetted them: the CIA. Of course, this is akin to Hydra of Marvel Comics fame, but here there are no superpowers, only you and whoever you can get to help you.

Speaking of help, Raven Software has been handling the construction of this campaign. Natalie Pohorski, Lead Producer at Raven, brought up some of the ideals the team holds. Aiming at memorable missions with unmatched gameplay is the target, and pairing that with a spy thriller where no one knows who to trust will bring it all together. Add in a dash of real history to ground everything in reality, and you have Black Ops 6.

Whereas Black Ops Cold War had a lot of familiar faces, the team wanted to branch out here. Sure, you’ll see plenty in Woods (by the way, this follows the canon of Mason and Hudson being dead from Black Ops 2), Adler, and even Helen Park eventually. That means new soldiers in Troy Marshall – Mr. Cover Art – and Jane Harrow are leading this fresh squad. Unfortunately, due to missions gone wrong in Kuwait and Adler showing back up, this unit will be disavowed and have to go rogue, searching for this invisible enemy. As for not knowing who to trust, they’ll have to bring in unfriendly faces, like Adler, but also new ones like Sev and Felix Newman. We don’t have a lot of details yet on them, but this wolfpack seems like it might eat each other if someone’s back is turned.

Moving into the gameplay, you can tell this is another key area from Treyarch and Raven. Jon Zuk – Associate Creative Director at Raven Software – mentioned how they wanted to give as much variety as possible, not just in weaponry, but in the equipment used and new mechanics in play. Dialogue trees return, and it even sounds like blackmail in a social stealth manner may be on the table. Leaning hard into this 1990’s conspiracy angle should add a lot of spice to the formula.

Here we got a good look at the gameplay, and boy, is it Black Ops. The visual fidelity is still mind blowing, with outstanding graphical achievement that Call of Duty never seems to get credit for. Watching the team break Adler out of a blacksite was a lot of fun, with plenty of familiar weapons in the XM4 and MP5 showing up, and a lot of the variety in equipment, which is managed by a weapon wheel. Some cool animations, like a gruesome moment where you poke a guard’s eye out or slapping a semtex on a soldier and pushing him into his friends were highpoints here, just more icing on the Black Ops cake.

You’ll be happy to know the gunfights also look to be par for the course. In almost every review I’ve written, there’s been no way to accurately praise how incredible gunplay is in Call of Duty, from the sound of gunfire to the snappy feel. Everything I saw looked right, and looked like what Black Ops should look like. The recoil also seemed tame, something Treyarch usually leans into with its more arcadey stylings.

This campaign snippet ended with a bombastic dirtbike ride in city streets, with all the grandeur you expect. I’m reminded of the trailer from Black Ops Cold War’s gameplay introduction, maybe on a smaller scale than the intense airport chase, but at least with similar vibes. You don’t have to drive either, instead holding onto Marshall’s back while firing at a few vehicles in pursuit. Again, this is Black Ops, showing Raven has done their homework.

There was also mention of more open missions, although I didn’t get a lot of context on these. Some explanation was given, along with another gameplay snippet, but I don’t think I’ll understand the scale until it’s in hand. While I’m a little worried given how rough the Spec Ops-esque missions were in last year’s Modern Warfare III, I’ll go in with an open mind considering these seem to have more narrative focus. If the side objectives can make sense and not feel pointless, there is at least potential in this design.

After the campaign talk, Associate Director, Design at Treyarch Matt Scronce took the floor to show us how the mechanics have been changed and upgraded. This was a highlight of the visit, because what Treyarch has come up with can change Call of Duty for years to come.

This change is Omnimovement. This new feature came from the team having the discussion of, “Why can’t we sprint and move… everywhere?” Turns out, the only thing holding that back was not designing it. After putting mocap actors and design team through thousands of animations, now we are literally sprinting forwards, backwards, and sideways. It’s not only with running, as now your sprint and dive changes to add those directions as well. These are the best of the best, the top soldiers and athletes on the planet. Being an action hero is possible, and watching a guy dive to the left, fire a shotgun shell while doing it, roll onto his back and fire another to the enemy chasing him is mind blowing. It may be tough to master, but this adds limitless possibility to movement-oriented players.

Building onto this, intelligent movement and world connectivity add the approachability of Black Ops 6. With mantle, crouch, and sprint assists, you don’t have to worry about your inputs, instead pressing your stick or the WASD keys in whatever direction you’re headed with those interactions automatically engaging; like automatically mantling over a ledge. World connectivity makes the game even more fluid, with diving animations when you jump into water, or bashing your shoulder into a door as you bull through it. The most useful of all of these in my opinion is the lean in ADS with your operator automatically slicing corners as you move around them for the best viewpoint. These aren’t just being added because they’re cool or add realism, it looks natural in every snippet I saw.

There will also be a bit of fun in death via a new dynamic deathcam and new hit locations. In the deathcam, you’ll have the camera follow you rather than stopping as you drop, giving a more cinematic feel to your demise. Hit locations moved from the four in previous games to nine in Black Ops 6, meaning you’ll get a lot more death animations based on where you’re hitting them. These aren’t necessary additions to the game, but they add a freshness and flair that’s appreciated.

After hearing about all of these cool features, Miles returned to speak on the intentional design work the team is implementing. I already called out the visual fidelity, but some of the closeups we saw were truly stellar. Characters you know will resemble what you remember, just with a little age added and a higher level of quality in their models. The same extends to the weaponry, although you’ll have twelve new guns you’ve never seen in a Call of Duty game to visualize for the first time.

One of the cooler ideas the team has been able to play with is what your gear looks like after being on the run. You don’t often think about it, but our previous Black Ops teams have been well supplied over the years, and suddenly Uncle Sam isn’t there to refresh their kit. Seeing things like the RC-XD look like an actual toy RC car, or four claymores zip tied together to build a spring mine make a lot of sense for soldiers making the most out of nothing.

We did get a little multiplayer info while at the presentation, hearing from Lawrence Metten (Associate Director, Design), David Duckworth (UI/UX Director), and Brittany Pirello (Senior Producer) with more input from Matt Scronce. First off, Prestige is back, baby. Progression will continue to level 55 as it always has been, but going back to the old Prestige reset for you to do all over again. After you get through it ten times, there’s a Prestige Master level of 1000. It’s going to take a moment to finish, but the promised rewards sound intriguing even if we don’t have exacts yet. It’s all there on day one, and there won’t be any caps or seasonal prestige levels.

David took us through the UI and UX design, and here less feels like more. It reminds me a lot of Black Ops Cold War, and I’m totally fine with that. They want a fast and responsive lobby that gets you to the game quickly, and that’s exactly what you want as a player. The quick join feature is back as well, giving you a fast friends list to hop into (which my squad is going to love).

The experience inside the game is just as important, and again, less is more. Black Ops Cold War’s fingerprints are all over your HUD, but with extra features. The best thing I saw was the ability to push your HUD around the screen, like moving your mini-map, or the ammo widget, and more. For someone who streams this is a good thing, but I like it for people who have a hard time peeking at their mini-map in the top corner.

Also back: Best Play and the Winner’s Circle. The accolades at the end of the match are important; we all love being recognized for our feats in battle. While I do remember several plays in previous titles that the algorithm did a bit horribly, I like this better than a cheesy final play. Winners Circle is a welcomed addition, a nice incentive to win and work your way into the top three. I’m glad to see this approach, and it’ll freshen things up a bit after a lot of sameness in the last few titles.

When it comes to your loadouts, this is also decidedly familiar. Black Ops Cold War is clearly the template, and adding to what works was paramount to Treyarch. This means your normal loadout is standard, but Wildcards are back to give you things like more attachments or another perk and more. A dedicated melee weapon is an interesting addition, one I’m curious how it handles on controller. There is also a perk bonus that we didn’t get to see in action, where choosing all three perks from the same category grants you an extra boost. I like this, and it’ll give incentive to mess around with different perk packages to score the best bonuses. Gunsmith is back, but the attachment limit has been shrunk to five, and all eight if you use the right Wildcard. Thank you Treyarch for that.

Looking over the upcoming map set, you can’t help but get giddy. Black Ops 6 will launch with twelve maps, with a focus on the medium to short range over larger maps. They’re also bringing in locations from the campaign, which all look vibrant and fresh in this Gulf War timeline. Things like a broken down radar array, a deserted train in the Appalachian Mountains, or a 90s shopping center all just have that Black Ops aura to them. There are also four strike maps, so don’t worry- Gunfight and Face Off will be in the game.

This deserves its own paragraph: THEATER MODE IS BACK! Reliving your highlights from each map you play is finally here without you having to record the last hour on your platform. Even better, different angles and swapping to other teammates are back as well. Content and review is going to be awesome.

Kevin Drew, Associate Director, Design, also came out to talk a little bit about Zombies. There’s not a lot to say here, but we will get two maps at launch, and the story will continue the Dark Aether storyline, picking up at the cliffhanger from Black Ops Cold War. You’ll still be able to play as any operator, but choosing the main crew (Weaver, Grey, Carver, and new recruit Maya Aguinaldo) will give you special voice lines that will offer a more in-depth narrative.

The two maps are certainly as opposing settings as you could ask for. The bright Liberty Falls map is set in an Appalachian town taking place during the day, with an Aether incursion to stop. Terminus is a dark prison island where you’re sent by Dr. Peck to free the crew from Black Ops Cold War. Again, I didn’t see a lot, but it looks cool as heck. Oh, and did I mention ROUND-BASED ZOMBIES IS BACK?!

To finish up, Yale Miller and Stephanie Snowden came out to talk about the future. They didn’t get into detail, but the teams are hard at work to bring a bunch of great content in the live service structure. Everything is working on Call of Duty’s unified engine, so don’t worry, the improvements we saw and new seasonal content will find their way into Call of Duty’s other big rocks, Warzone and Warzone Mobile. We’ll all have to stay tuned for the next broadcast though to find out more, as the teams aren’t ready to divulge those juicy details yet.

Overall, it’s hard not to read over my own notes and not get excited. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III has done a fantastic job of rising above its own development and shortcomings. With four years under their belt, however, Treyarch has the opportunity to really blow us out of the water in Call of Duty: Black Ops 6. If what I saw is just the tip of the iceberg, Black Ops is one hundred percent back.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 will release on Xbox Series consoles, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC on October 25th. Day One on Xbox Game Pass.

Lead Video Game Editor | [email protected]

David Burdette is a gamer/writer/content creator from TN and Lead Editor for Gaming Trend. He loves Playstation, Star Wars, Marvel, and many other fandoms. He also plays way too much Call Of Duty. You can chat with him on Twitter @SplitEnd89.

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