The Call of Duty franchise has been unstoppable for well over a decade now, dominating sales charts every year, it is seemingly immune to the effects of sometimes not-so-positive reviews.
You’ve heard all the usual complaints - that new releases come too often (every year), that the gameplay has become stale, that 11-year-olds always beat you thanks to their faster reflexes and that it’s all just a little too Michael Bay for the discerning, cultured gamer.
None of these complaints have convinced publisher Activision to change its approach to the series - and why, after all, would they? It's been fashionable for a very long time now to complain about Call of Duty, but come October/November every year, the latest CoD release inevitably beats into submission every other game on the sales charts. This success is partly due to the developers not being scared to move with the times and incorporate ideas made popular in other shooters, all while keeping things still distinctly CoD.
The latest entry in the series, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, follows this formula but also breaks with tradition in the most significant way yet in eschewing a single-player campaign to focus solely on multiplayer.
This past weekend's BO4 private beta gave players a chance to get a feel for what to expect when the full game is released on October 12. It is, of course, a glimpse of only one part of the multiplayer experience - the PUBG and Fortnite-inspired Blackout mode will only be revealed during a September beta.
Leaving that battle royale experience for later is a smart move, as it allows developer Treyarch to get good feedback on the core multiplayer experience first.
Last year's CoD: WWII was an attempt to get back to the series' roots, at least in terms of visuals and setting. But in gameplay terms, every CoD released after CoD 4: Modern Warfare is really a spiritual successor to that game. So, while WWII may have been a visual throwback to the original, Second World War CoD games, the gameplay was far removed from what we saw in, say, Call of Duty 2 back in 2005.
BO4 gets rid of the weird dissonance that afflicted WWII, where the slick action, ultra-fast kills and exciting kill streaks always just felt a little at odds with the serious, real-world setting. CoD gameplay just seems lot more suited to modern or slightly futuristic settings, such as the one on offer here.
Reaction time has always been king in a CoD game, and you get reminded of this as soon as you play your first game of Team Deathmatch. Being the first to see and react to an enemy remains at the heart of what makes a successful player, and if you don't have the reflexes of a cat that's had a few cups of coffee, then you're going to die - a lot.
Body armour complaints
But this is of course part of what makes CoD what it is, and fans of the game would want it no other way - one of the most consistent complaints during the beta was that it takes too long to kill players who opt to use body armour. With the uproar appearing to get louder by the hour, Treyarch announced that they would be making some tweaks. Even after this announcement, though, there were still plenty of calls for armour to be dropped completely instead of merely being modified.
The new Specialist classes provide a wealth of new abilities and the possibility of interesting tactical combinations. Their unique abilities are powerful enough to be useful without changing the core mechanics so much that it doesn't feel like you're playing Overwatch or another proper hero shooter.
The look, and the sound
BO4 looks and sounds great, especially on PS4 Pro. The second private console beta and first PC open beta this weekend will reveal how it performs on Xbox and PC hardware. It will be particularly interesting to see if the Xbox One X version takes advantage of that console's more powerful hardware.
So, our final thoughts?
Even this early, it's already clear that BO4 will give the faithful Call of Duty multiplayer what they crave. It may even lure back players who avoided the last two or three entries in the series. If this will make up for the number of people who won't buy it due to the lack of a campaign remains to be seen.
The biggest question, however, comes in the shape of Blackout. Will it convert millions of Fortnite fanatics to CoD? Or will it end up like WWII's War Mode, similarly inspired by another popular game but summarily dropped for the next series outing?
We’ll have to wait for next month to start getting some answers.