Call of Duty has been treading water since Modern Warfare – and now Black Ops 6 is here to "define the future" of the franchise

Black Ops 6 What's Hot Summer preview
(Image credit: Activision)

Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 paints a vivid picture of power and politics in the aftermath of the Cold War. The ruling class of Washington DC – campaign contributors, weary journalists, and members of congress – pack into a decadently dressed theater, awaiting the arrival of Bill Clinton. His 1992 presidential campaign is underway, and the governor of Arkansas is hoping that his speech will hold the attention of these Democratic party powerbrokers. Beneath the podium, concealed beneath layers of concrete, is Central Station – a secret CIA black site, and it's your mission is to infiltrate it. "We are trying to deliver the ultimate spy fantasy," says Natalie Morskie, lead producer of Black Ops 6. 

How you get down there, and safely extract a detained Russel Addler, is up to you. "We want you to have a variety of options for how you can complete objectives," says creative director John Zuk. Planning begins at a safehouse – a space to explore uneasy alliances formed in the midst of a global conspiracy, upgrade equipment requisitioned outside of official channels, and assess mission options from a caseboard. "There's multiple ways in using social stealth,' says Morskie. "Blackmailing a senator's wife, going undercover as a journalist, or hacking into a silent auction." But even the best laid plans can go awry, and that's where Black Ops 6 trades stealth for spectacle with the safety switched off – and where this new production from Treyarch and Raven Software demonstrates a propulsive force that Call of Duty lost long ago. 


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A matter of movement

Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 screenshot

(Image credit: Activision)

Backlash to the advanced movement mechanics found in Advanced Warfare (2014) and Infinite Warfare (2016) pushed the Activision network of development studios to root boots firmly onto the ground. It slowed the speed of encounters, and in essence the pace of innovation too. With this limitation in place, Modern Warfare was born, a weighted shooter that centered its action in military realism to great success; but so too were Black Ops Cold War and Vanguard, two experiences which felt so stilted that they struggled to establish their own distinct identity. Black Ops 6 is daring to try something new.  

"If you do something in Black Ops 6, we want it to have a reaction," says Matt Scronce, associate design director, "and it starts with the ability to sprint in any direction." Without getting your hands on a controller, it's difficult to appreciate just how formative this change is. The new movement system has been dubbed 'Omnimovement' by Treyarch which I think, collectively, we just have to agree is an outrageous word and move on from it. This new system ensures that you're able to sprint, dive, and slide in any direction, which combines with the capacity to rotate 360 degrees while prone to allow for spectacular results – the studio says this sells the "Black Ops power fantasy" of being an elite agent, but I think it's more akin to the John Wick power fantasy of being able to respond to any threat in real time. 

Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 screenshot

(Image credit: Activision)

For the past two decades, you've only been able to sprint forwards in Call of Duty. Isn't that ridiculous? Black Ops 6 is leveraging a wider degree of movement and the results are stark. It means you're able to quickly shift from side to side, bringing a dynamism to encounters, or leap into the air like Max Payne and turn on a dime – firing at enemies approaching you from behind as your body crashes over points of cover. "If a player wants to be able to do something, they should be able to do that – we want it so that your intentions always translate into your actions," says Scronce. 

It's a change that sounds small but offers a wide degree of tactical, organic flexibility. "I've tried to get exact numbers of how many animations it has taken to support this system, but it's in the thousands – most of which are mocap," Scronce adds. The result doesn't necessarily mean that Black Ops 6 is faster than any previous titles in the series, but it is more reactive. The developers want you to be able to lock into a flowstate of movement, where violent jabs of the thumbsticks are directly, fluidly, translated into action. "We want to make sure that Black Ops 6 does all feel grounded, but we are pushing on that action hero side a bit."

Around the world

Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 screenshot

(Image credit: Activision)

"We want everything that we've added to feel natural, so that it almost gets to the point where, when you're playing Black Ops 6, that you think you've always had these things – that they've always been there," says Mike Gordon, studio director at Treyarch. "And when you first experience it, you really can never go back. Black Ops returns to define the future of Call of Duty."

One part of defining the future of Call of Duty comes through in the way Raven (who is leading development of the campaign, with Treyarch focusing its attention on movement, multiplayer, and zombies) is trying to break traditional mission templates – the sorts which have haunted the franchise since Call of Duty 4. "We're focusing on the variety of experiences," says Yale Miller, senior director of production. "How do we give that very military 'rolling in on a jeep' mission all the way through to the spectacle of Mission: Impossible, to the intrigue of James Bond, to the espionage of Bridge of Spies. There's a whole spectrum in here." 

"We want each level to stand uniquely on its own," says Zuk. "We of course have big combat moments set during the Gulf War, but there's also a daring heist in an opulent casino, we have a stealthy behind enemy lines mission, and of course, with this being Black Ops, we have a few surprises up our sleeve." Those surprises are something Treyarch and Raven aren't willing to divulge, but keep a close eye on the first Black Ops 6 trailers and you'll likely spot a lot of red doors and mannequins springing to life… the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 screenshot

(Image credit: Activision)

Black Ops 6 will launch with 16 multiplayer maps, including 12 core 6v6 maps and four strike-specific maps. Treyarch is also bringing back features like Classic Prestige and Theater mode. 

Raven is keen to draw attention to the scope of the globe trotting – missions in the harsh Russian Tundra to the deserts of Iraq and into Southern Europe. But I want to take you back to Central Station, and how 'Omnimovement' brings combat to life once you finally make your way beneath the political gala and into the depths of the CIA blacksite. Sirens blaring, red lights flashing, billowing plumes of smoke from flickering orange fires: Black Ops 6 is pushing visual fidelity to new heights in the proprietary Call of Duty game engine, beyond what we saw last year in Modern Warfare 3, and the results are truly stunning. How this game will function on PS4 and Xbox One is honestly beyond me. 

It isn't long before the sirens are swallowed by the sound of gunfire, bullets peppering the interiors as Jane Harrow and Troy Marshall – the two CIA operatives "forced to go rogue to follow the trail of The Pantheon, an organization which has infiltrated the highest levels of the government, and prevent them from deploying an apocalyptic weapon," teases Morskie – sprint, slide, and dive at rapid speed between cover with Addler close behind. 

To accommodate your new suite of movement, Raven has pushed for advanced enemy AI which relentlessly pursues you through combat arenas. If they get too close, there's dynamic melee functionality – perhaps you grab one and use them as a shield for incoming bullets, or slip a grenade into their pocket and shove them back towards the baying crowd. It's pure spectacle, in the best possible sense. 

// Pure spectacle

Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 screenshot

(Image credit: Activision)

Speaking of spectacle, Central Station soon shifts its action to the ballroom – the gunfights becoming increasingly hurried as the combat arena widens. Eventually, you saddle onto a motorcycle bearing an American flag, being driven by a sunglasses-wearing Addler, and ride right out of the building and into the streets of Washington DC. The real-time battle through traffic that follows is outrageous, evoking the sort of thrills typically reserved for the Mission: Impossible movies. 

"With a lot of this, it's just fun, right?" says Miller. "At the heart of it, this is a game and it should be fun. That perspective led us to focus on the fantasy of making you an elite, larger-than-life action hero." I'll tell you what, I'm super here for it – Call of Duty is back, and it's looking fresher than it has for years. Roll on October 25, 2024. 

Josh West
Editor-in-Chief, GamesRadar+

Josh West is the Editor-in-Chief of GamesRadar+. He has over 15 years experience in online and print journalism, and holds a BA (Hons) in Journalism and Feature Writing. Prior to starting his current position, Josh has served as GR+'s Features Editor and Deputy Editor of games™ magazine, and has freelanced for numerous publications including 3D Artist, Edge magazine, iCreate, Metal Hammer, Play, Retro Gamer, and SFX. Additionally, he has appeared on the BBC and ITV to provide expert comment, written for Scholastic books, edited a book for Hachette, and worked as the Assistant Producer of the Future Games Show. In his spare time, Josh likes to play bass guitar and video games. Years ago, he was in a few movies and TV shows that you've definitely seen but will never be able to spot him in.