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Forget Levolution and Drivatars, Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 now has 'omnimovement'

Treyarch's Yale Miller and Matt Scronce give us an extended look at the new BLOPS.

Official Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 screenshot showing one player sliding and shooting at another diving sideways into a pool
Image credit: Activision

The 90s may be back, as Call of Duty: Black Ops 6's roster of provocative policial characters makes clear, but at Treyarch it might be a bit closer to 2013. Just as Battlefield 4 had Levolution and Forza had its Drivatars, Black Ops 6 is reviving the once-popular trend of making up silly words for neat, new, though not exactly groundbreaking ideas.

In COD's case, it's 'omnimovement', Black Ops 6's headline new feature that means instead of only being able to sprint when moving forwards, you can now sprint backwards, side to side, and any other direction in 360 degrees, with admittedly very nice animations to match. In a presentation given ahead of the big Call of Duty showcase on Xbox's stage this weekend, developers from Treyarch explained this was based on a combination of real "elite" military experts' abilities, a tonal approach for Black Ops 6 that focused on action movie-star moments, and an overall push for fidelity across the board.

Black Ops 6's narrative setup is decidedly Call of Duty. The Gulf War and global tensions of the early 90s are a "backdrop" to a concocted story of enjoyably outlandish espionage. The CIA has been infiltrated by a "shadowy organisation" right at the very top, and so you and a ragtag team - including Russel Adler, Black Ops 2's antagonistic haircut, who's also gone full Kurt Russell-in-Big-Trouble-in-Little-China parody action hero here - must go it alone, acting rogue and with full licence to break whatever rules you like. Thankfully, there are absolutely no global events whatsoever occurring right now that might make pitching a game on your ability to do war crimes at will a cause for concern.

Black Ops 6's reveal trailer.Watch on YouTube

In the presentation, Treyarch showed a couple of campaign missions with some lavish production value. The first was an infiltration of a US senator's fundraising gala, that senator being one Bill Clinton, seemingly, although he never appeared in the clip we saw. As part of COD's continuing, and slightly self-contradictory emphasis on "player choice" amongst its fundamentally linear, cinematic campaign, you begin this mission with a few options for gaining access and intel. One of those includes "blackmailing a senator's wife" - it's not clear which senator's wife, but given this is Bill Clinton's gala, there's a good chance that may well be Hillary Clinton you'll be threatening (no mention of her emails so far, mind).

Speaking to Eurogamer after the presentation, Yale Miller, Treyarch's senior director of production, put it like this: "It always starts with a story. What is the story? It's a fictional story at its heart, always. That's step one." As for making sure certain points are handled sensitively, Miller continued, "then it's just: literally everything we try to look at from different perspectives, like: someone wrote the story, have other people read it, [ask] 'is there something that we're missing?', whether it's character designs, whether it's weapons, everything. So I guess the first part is, we always want to tell a fun, fictional story."

Official Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 screenshot showing Adler jumping a dirt bike over a car in front of an American flag
Official Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 screenshot showing an enemy in tactical gear
Official Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 screenshot showing a guy playing poker
Image credit: Activision

As for the use of certain characters and settings, Miller emphasised that this was about having to "ground it in some era. So for Call of Duty, it's been fun - especially for me, 90s is cool, you know I'm a child of the 70s, and experienced that stuff as a teenager - and so those memories and those things I think are fun. But then also, my perspective is different than others'… It's a huge, huge team that's working on this thing, and there's lots of people from lots of different backgrounds and beyond, so [we] continue to just ask questions. That's the biggest thing, that's really the crux."

Back to the mission at hand where, in typical COD fashion, everything quickly kicks off, and we're into several gunfights amongst some luxuriously lit environments. Classic 'Bayhem' explosions look fantastic, as do multicoloured party lights filtering through clouds of smoke and gas, and the over-the-top, motion-captured flails of enemies getting blasted by grenades. The mission culminates in the appearance of Chekhov's USA flag-themed dirt bike, insofar as there is a USA flag-themed dirtbike and, when you need to escape, inevitably you get to ride said dirt bike, hopping over cop cars and into a final car chase to close it out.

The other mission we saw was much more open, at least in the literal sense of its map. An Iraq-based quest to destroy a mobile missile launcher - with one missile already in the air, another Call of Duty staple - you're offered a 'tactical map' complete with question mark points of interest and a variety of approaches, from storming into combat with vehicles to sneaking through caves undetected. These more open-ended maps marked some of the lowest points in last year's Modern Warfare 3 however, with many seemingly being reworked from areas of the Warzone map during a development that was reportedly very rushed. Does Treyarch have similar plans for these open areas to appear in Warzone?

"The short answer to that is 'no'," Miller said. "But I guess the long answer is: for us specifically it's a singular game. Black Ops 6 multiplayer takes place after the events of the campaign. So one of the great things about a campaign is it gives context to what you're doing in multiplayer, even though it's absolutely a fictional, live-die-repeat experience. It's like "Why am I here? Who are the people who are fighting?""

The Treyarch team will "literally have conversations with" Raven Software, co-developer on the campaign for Black Ops 6, Miller said, where they'll ask: "What are cool places we can go? Here's the story they want to tell - does that have to be there? Or could it be here, because we could do a really cool multiplayer map? It's not the same - multiplayer experiences are different - but hey, wouldn't it be fun to set something in this region, for example?" Miller emphasised there are both "bespoke experiences" and ones that are "very linear, and those kind of roller coaster set pieces," and that, above all, "it's about the variety of experiences" and then anchoring all that with the things players have come to expect - "the cutscenes and set pieces and all those things. So regardless of the style, if it's a puzzle-solving, kind of Zelda mission, or it's more open, you know, taking out SCUD sites, we want to have those big, campaign, 'grab you' payoffs."

Official Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 screenshot showing a female military character
Official Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 screenshot showing Adler shooting a gun while riding a motorbike
Image credit: Activision

Continuing on here in the Iraqi desert, there was an explosive throwing knife and a slow-motion camera tracking it through the air, which was all very on-brand. And after that a montage of different approaches to follow - SUV convoys, bikes, helicopters and fighter jets all flying into a desert compound of Saddam Hussein's, complete with giant statue - which was utterly outlandish but, I have to admit, with an extremely well-suspended sense of disbelief, also something that looked absurd enough to be genuinely very fun in action.

This really is the core of Call of Duty's campaigns, at their best and their worst. There is no world in which this would ever be a sensitive handling of the most sensitive of topics, and in interviews Treyarch's developers had absolutely no interest in discussing their approach with nuance or depth. When asked about the timing of releasing a game set during a war in the Middle East during the current climate, Miller stressed the "fiction" point again. "It's a work of fiction, that is the reality of it. Backdrop is the 90s, and that's how we kind of think about it, inherently."

The lack of any real engagement with the setting will never not be disappointing, but Black Ops in particular is a series where it's absurdity is, sometimes, just absurd enough to make these connections to the real world more enjoyably silly than they are crass, with its near-parodic level of one-liners, stunts, slow-motion tracking shots and psychedelic fantasy-nonsense twists. As Matt Scronce, Black Ops 6's associate design director, put it, "The fun part about Black Ops is that those are always just kind of the touch points - and then it's really about what's going on underground and behind the shadows, and the stuff nobody ever really heard about."

Whether you consider COD to be full-on military propaganda at this point, or just a jingoistic, but ultimately harmless, air-headed, brain-off action movie, likely comes down to just how much credit you're willing to give to those whose interests it's supposedly aiming to promote. Personally, I'm not sure I think they're smart enough to make propaganda this funny. At the same time, I also think it doesn't need to be intentional propaganda to work in just the same way.

Official Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 screenshot showing a multiplayer image of a player shooting a gun in front of a burning video tape rental store
Image credit: Activision

Over on the multiplayer side, there are a lot of disparate facts to rattle through, so let's do it. There are 16 new maps, 12 of them full-sized "core and key" three-lane ones, and four of them Strike maps designed for smaller six-versus-six games. They are lavish, with a palace - and a palatial casino - two visual standouts, alongside a striking modernist penthouse with some nice secret passages. Along with the 16 new maps are 12 new weapons, which is a massive number by Call of Duty standards. The ones we saw included the Marine SP shotgun, an XM4, a Kompact 92 SMG, an SVD sniper, and a tiny little 9mm PM handgun. There's also a spring mine improvised out of four claymores stuck together, and the return of the infamous RC-XD, a retro 90s remote-controlled car with a bomb on it. There are also a few new usable items like War Cry, which buffs your team, and a Signal Lure, which beeps the whole enemy team to let them know your location if you're feeling bold.

On the progression side, important for proper Call of Duty nerds, there's a return to "classic prestige", where you start at level 1, go all the way up to level 55, then have the choice of opting for prestige, where all your progress and unlocks are wiped and you go back to level 1 again, only you get a fancier icon to show off, just like the good old days. At prestige level 10, you unlock another 1000 levels, with a "classified" reward at the top one - there are no seasonal level caps or prestige systems to slow progress through the year, though Treyarch did mention more systems to be announced down the line. There's also a new system for your perks, inspired by Scronce's love of Diablo armour set buffs: perks are split into three columns, and picking three of the same gives you an additional bonus - it'll be interesting to see if that restricts or enhances your options in building loadouts when it comes to the final game.

More mechanically there are a few tweaks. With 'omnimovement' comes something called "supine prone", which just means that when you spin around your aim direction while lying down, you turn more naturally by rolling onto your back, rather than the character's entire body spinning around in a circle. The same goes for in-air turning, which has been designed to let you recreate action movie moments like jumping out windows away from grenades and turning around to shoot the guy who lobbed it at you. There's also an increase from four to nine areas where a hit can be registered on an enemy, with bespoke and appropriately over-the-top animations for each of them. On the animation front, there's also a push for something Treyarch dubbed "world connectivity", which effectively means little contextual animations for what you're doing in a game - the gun tilts as you go around corners for instance, your arms extend overhead when you dive into water, and your shoulder dips as you barge a door.

Official Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 screenshot showing one player sliding and shooting at another diving sideways into a pool
Image credit: Activision

One question that stuck out to me during all the emphasis on fluidity and ever-so-slightly unrealistic movement was that fan-favourite phrase from the Infinite Warfare era: "boots on the ground". Is Treyarch concerned at all about moving away from reality once more? "With the longer time we've had," said Scronce, referring to the unusual four-year development cycle for Black Ops 6, compared to the regular three, "we've really been able to focus on every single detail along the way - so we didn't just say: Turn on sprint, make everything faster. Because frankly, that would be awful for gameplay. What we have done is asked ourselves the hard questions of why can I only sprint forward, and then broken those rules that somebody said 20, 30 years ago."

The team then made a "very conscious decision on how fast this should be" for "every single piece of the combat loop". The team, he said, was "very mindful of: we don't want things to be too fast. That's not what we're going for, it was never about going for speed, it was always about hitting the fluidity and fidelity and keeping players in that flow state."

Much more importantly, of course, the UI has been improved! Or at least improved a bit. To my average punter's eyes it's still a web of nested menus and oddly-positioned calls to action, but there's undoubtedly been some simplifying and thinning-out in places. Treyarch was proud of the big orange button in the bottom-left for starting a game, for instance, when I'd personally put the important button in, say, the middle of the screen, rather than in one of four heavily populated corners. Much to the chagrin of regular players, the COD HQ launcher, which boots up when you start a game (as opposed to the game itself) doesn't seem to be going anywhere, but a Treyarch rep promised the studio was "committed to improving the experience of the launcher across the board." Those improvements will come with Black Ops 6's launch, and that includes a reduction in Call of Duty's currently outrageous install size and "footprint", and "optimising across the board".

When I asked for more detail there from Miller and Scronce, however, or just a response to those who suggest this kind of "optimisation" work is easy, they were somewhat evasive. "We'll talk about it more," Miller said. "I don't think you can do it with just optimisation. I think you need to make structural changes and do things to hopefully bring a better experience to players. And the reality is the players play lots of different things so, for us, having a way that players can move between different pieces of content really easily and actually share data and manage it all in one space, I think is helpful. But we'll talk about it in the future as well - expect a refresh with Black Ops 6."

Official Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 screenshot showing four main zombies characters
Image credit: Activision

Overall, yes it's been a decidedly granular showcase for a game that is fundamentally built for casual players above all, but there are some takeaways. For one, Call of Duty's continued march towards quite stunning visual fidelity, that started in earnest with the Modern Warfare remakes, very much continues here. Black Ops 6 is very, very nice to look at. It's also, as you can probably tell, an extremely silly video game (Zombies is back by the way, I should probably mention that, though it's of course little surprise. It's going back to round-based modes, there are some returning characters, and there's two different maps, one a Twin Peaks-y town and the other a rainy island at night). On the narrative front, it is no more or less Call of Duty than it's ever been before.

We learned a little more in our conversation with Scronce and Miller, including whether or not big Maggie Thatcher is playable, or if the developer would ever put 9/11 in a game.

This preview is based on a trip to Los Angeles shortly before Summer Game Fest. Activision covered flights and accomodation.

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