Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 private beta preview - 6 things we learned

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Call of Duty: WW2 may have restored the long-running franchise’s place among the biggest moneymakers, but taking away the boost jumps and heading back to a familiar setting wasn’t enough to hide the fact CoD was in dire need of an overhaul. So enter Black Ops 4, with its hero shooter changes to multiplayer, renewed focus on Zombies and a brand-new battle royale mode.

And while there are plenty of familiar elements at play online - customisable loadouts, myriad perks and UAVs a-plenty - the sheer number of changes makes this the most ambitious (and potentially most divisive) CoD in years. 

Having spent an ungodly amount of time in the game’s recent private beta, here’s exactly how Black Ops 4 is rewriting its own FPS destiny.

1. It’s semi-futuristic, but it’s still boots on the ground

This new entry in the series might look like Black Ops 3, but it plays more like something from the ‘old COD’ era of Modern Warfare. Movement speed across the 10 specialists on offer in the beta is noticeably slower than Advanced Warfare, Black Ops 3 and Infinite Warfare. In fact, it’s even a tad slower than WW2.

Mantling speeds are down, and jumps don’t quite have the same sense of super-powered momentum they once did. Add in the fact you can’t wall run or boost jump, and this instalment sticks solidly to the ‘boots on the ground’ mantra Activision started with last year’s instalment. It might sound disempowering, but in reality it places greater focus on the use of abilities and marksmanship rather than dropshots and vertical play.

2. Health doesn’t regenerate anymore

Easily one of the most significant changes - and arguably the one that’s going to take the longest to get used to, especially for newer players - is the removal of health generation. 

You’ll now need to use a health injector mapped to ‘LB’/’L1’ to restore your health (which is now represented on-screen by six white bars), so simply taking cover won’t affect your medical status.

This feature is unlimited, but it also has a short cool-down window, presenting a new dimension to consider when entering a gunfight. Do you risk pushing an objective with a few bars of health, or hang back and heal, potentially giving up territory to the enemy team? 

You also can’t reload and heal at the same time, so maintaining your health now becomes a logistical task as vital as restocking the bullets in your magazine. Respawns are also instantaneous, making any frustrating deaths far less painful in the long run.

3. TTK has also been vastly overhauled

TTK (or ‘time to kill’ as its known to more seasoned COD players) refers to the amount of damage it takes reduce a player’s health from 100% to zero in a single confrontation. That timeframe has steadily decreased in recent years - to the point where it was incredibly easy and quick to take out an enemy in WW2. 

As standard, all Specialists have a much higher threshold for damage - presumably adjusted to compensate for the lack of automatic health regeneration - and it makes every exchange of fire noticeably longer and kills far tougher to earn. 

Body Armour - which can be added to your loadout - drastically increases your resistance to damage, and we can see this item becoming an OP feature that Treyarch is likely to adjust before release in October.

4. Specialists' weapons have an Overwatch feel

While plenty of attention has been pointed in the direction of Black Ops 4’s new battle royale mode, Blackout, the game’s multiplayer component has been significantly influenced by another modern online staple - the hero shooter. 

And while you’re not restricted to one weapon type in the way you are with Overwatch or Paladins, each Specialist comes with a unique special weapon and special issue item.

Ajax’s Ballistic Shield can turn the tide when pressing a control point in Control, while Recon’s Vision Pulse can identify every enemy in a certain radius if used correctly. Crash is also incredibly powerful character, with his Tak-5 ability providing instant health buffs for the whole team and an Assault Pack for tactical ammo resupply. It’s reminiscent of Battlefield’s classes and pulls the onus away from everyone just running and gunning.

5. The Fog of War demands communication

That cross-pollination with the hero shooter doesn’t just bring the need to find balance in a team - where you’ll benefit from having a ‘healer’ and ‘tank’, etc - but the need to work together. That means communication, and with Black Ops 4’s new Fog of War feature, comms has never been more important.

FoW essentially reduces the amount of information your mini-map provides, so only the immediate area around you reveals the red spots of recent enemy fire and the moving arrows of nearby teammates. 

The idea is to make every gunfight more immediate and systemic, mainly be removing your ability to plan further ahead by reading the far reaches of your mini-map. 

Sound design has also been noticeably adjusted, making footsteps, gunfire and gadget sound effects sound near or far depending on their placement. It’s something more akin to the audio of Rainbow Six Siege, and Black Ops 4 is better for it (especially if you’re playing with a surround sound headset).

6. Control is hardpoint with a splash of battle royale

While there are plenty of old and familiar modes to get stuck into (including classic TDM, Kill Confirmed and Search and Destroy), new kid on the block Control promises to be the standout on the multiplayer scene. 

Two teams alternate between attacking and defending a static set of objectives, and with a limited number of respawns each and the fact that no duplicate Specialists can be used it’s not hard to see the impact Overwatch and its like have had on Black Ops 4.

When synced with the game’s new health system and TTK adjustments, the result is the most tactical experience CoD has offered in years. 

The territorial tug of war is more reminiscent of Battlefield 1 or Siege, and while these elements aren’t exactly new, they’re helping push the series in a new direction that’s not sacrificing hard-earned satisfaction in the name of cheap arcade gratification.