It was fifteen years ago, almost to the day, that the first Call of Duty game released for PC. At the time, it was a new combatant entering one of the industry’s most popular and lucrative genres, and one that was hopeful to go toe-to-toe with the incumbent Medal of Honor series. Who would’ve thought that the franchise would still be going strong a decade and a half later, and that it would’ve spawned approximately 26 titles in that time?
With this year’s entry, Activision decided to do something different. These plans, which were announced last spring to a mix of both fanfare and disappointment, involved drastically changing things up for the launch of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Their decision involved dropping the expected single player story campaign that had been a mainstay since 2013, at least in terms of the mainline titles. In its place, a brand new mode would exist, that being a more “of the times” experience which would go head-to-head against two of the most popular games in recent memory: Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite.
Before we go any further, I must admit something. That is, the fact that I always looked forward to the Call of Duty games’ campaigns. Say what you will about them, but I’ve played every one since the series’ debut, and have pretty much always had fun with them. As someone who grew up loving the Medal of Honor games, Call of Duty provided me with more of what I always enjoyed: World War II shooters at first, then war-themed shooters set in other eras and during different conflicts. Sure, they were over-the-top and a bit cheesy, but most of them were quite fun.
When Activision announced that Black Ops 4 would do away with the campaign, I was disappointed. While I like multiplayer and enjoy playing it from time to time, I’ve always preferred single player content and worried that the game’s focus on competitive and cooperative online action would alienate me. Of course, this isn’t to say that I started this review as someone who’s never gotten into Call of Duty‘s multiplayer, or dislikes that part of the series in any way. I was once glued to Call of Duty 2, and played it every chance I had, and the same things happened with Call of Duty 4 and other titles in the series. Hell, my friends and I would get together on weekends and even some weeknights, to drink a case of beer and take turns playing Modern Warfare 2‘s multiplayer.
I got pretty good at that one, and always enjoyed it.
That said, my interest in multiplayer has lessened over the years, and I find that it takes a lot for a multiplayer game to really hook me anymore. Some have succeeded, but many others haven’t. Call of Duty: WWII‘s multiplayer didn’t keep me invested for too, too long, and going into this game I hadn’t really enjoyed the series’ online arenas since Black Ops 3, which I thought was great. That game’s multiplayer was fast, frenetic, fun and addicting, and I especially liked its huntress specialist. Due to that, I was naturally curious about Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and remained hopeful that its free-for-alls, deathmatches and kill and confirmed experiences would sink their teeth into me like the last title’s had during its review event and afterwards.
With Black Ops 4, you get three main gameplay options: multiplayer, Blackout and Zombies. There is also a Specialists ‘story’ mode, but it’s nothing to write home or get excited about and we’ll get to it later.
The multiplayer is what you’d expect from a modern Call of Duty game, with lots of differently equipped specialists to choose from and many skill streaks to both unlock and use. The gameplay can be fast, and it can also be pretty frenetic, but a lot of that has to do with player skill and how well one is able to move around the maps using a mix of running, sliding, and walking. Gone is the ability to wall run, though swimming does remain in certain maps. The experience doesn’t feel as fast or as fluid as it did last time around, though, and I couldn’t help but feel out of place while playing it.
There’s a decent assortment of maps to be found, and they run the gamut of environments that you normally see in this type of game. The list is varied, and it includes some returning fan favourites, like Firing Range, Summit and Jungle. These fun and familiar layouts complement the newcomers: a Japanese city centre, a remote and uncharted island on the coast of Colombia, Panamanian slums, a coastal Spanish town, a Moroccon village and more. They’re all quite typical Call of Duty maps, and are pretty good at offering what fans want.
Of course, a plethora of different game types are available here, including a Payday or Kane & Lynch inspired scenario in which two teams battle to secure and then escape with a cache of money. That one can be fast and fun, with rounds that don’t typically last too long. It’s also joined by many returning fan favourites, including free-for-all, team deathmatch, domination, hardpoint, search & destroy and gun game. Thus, there’s something for just about everyone, provided that those people happen to enjoy first-person shooters. At least, there should be. None of it really clicked with or felt truly right to me.
Moving on, it’s important to highlight Zombies and how much of a focus that mode now is. Instead of just having one or two Zombies stories at launch, Treyarch has equipped Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 with three, as well as a fourth that is hidden behind the Black Ops Pass’ paywall. Each story offers a vastly different location, too, be it the Titanic right after it’s hit the iceberg (which feels kind of tasteless), an Egyptian colosseum where a creepy man uses undead rituals, or dark and creepy Alcatraz. If the latter one sounds familiar, it’s because it happens to be a re-imagined take on Black Ops II‘s Mob of the Dead, and now goes by the name of Blood of the Dead. The other two are called IX and Voyage of Despair.
Needless to say, there’s lots for fans of the mode to bite into. This is emphasized by how prominently Zombies has been advertised, and the fact that it now has a tutorial toting new additions. Said new additions include perk-selling altars (that can be customized before the start of each match), random weapon giving bone chests, and tonics that can have various effects. One may make your aim better, while another will teleport you “anywhere but here,” as a way to help escape an undead horde. Meanwhile, players can use the menus to create random tonics, customize their weapons, choose loadouts and all that good stuff.
There’s also a Zombies Rush game type, wherein players compete for the highest scores. It’s a faster-paced version of the mode, and feels a bit more arcade than the regular one does.
Zombies may have changed some, but it’s still pretty much what it’s always been. It’s a mode in which a player (and up to three friends or bots) attempts to survive wave after wave of increasingly difficult undead, while earning points that can be used to unlock new areas and purchase new perks and weapons. All the while, one must be vigilant about fixing barriers and watching their friends’ backs.
Those who are really good at Zombies, and who truly love it, should be happy with this offering. Some stuff has changed, but the gameplay still feels very indicative of what came before it. That said, I’ve never actually liked this mode, even back when it was introduced in World at War. While my friends enjoyed playing it together, I lost interest pretty quickly and always found myself annoyed at the poor hit detection, which is still somehow an issue today.
I truly wish that I enjoyed this mode as much as some seem to, because I feel like I’m missing out. It’s why I’ve always tried to get into it with each new Call of Duty title. Success has always been elusive, though.
Next up, we’ll talk about the Specialist story mode, before moving on to Blackout.
Back on their big reveal day, Treyarch promised that this game’s specialists (each of which has its own look, loadout and special unlockable weapon or ability) would all have his or her own backstories. These, they said, would be told through single player engagements. Little was said about how deep or involved these ‘missions’ would be, though, and due to that (as well as the fact that they mentioned there wouldn’t be a campaign) I expected little from them.
That was the right way to approach this part of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, because it’s a disappointment to say the least. So much so that it would surprise me if many people played them all. There’s really little on offer within this list, because while you do get a bit of a story about where each specialist came from and how they were enlisted, the gameplay is basically just more multiplayer. Hell, they’re basically glorified tutorials, and tedious ones at that.
When you select one of these missions, you’ll be greeted by a cutscene, and will then be dropped into a tutorial. One in which you’re taught how to use that specialist’s weapons and abilities, be it a shield or a specific type of grenade. Then, once you’ve slowly proven that you can follow directions and press a couple of buttons, you’ll have to beat a set of bots in what is essentially just a single player version of Black Ops 4 multiplayer.
I was hoping for more, and had been hopeful that these backstories would take away some of the sting of the dropped campaign. They didn’t come close, though.
Last up is Blackout, which is what people were most excited about. After all, it’s the mode that is taking over for the single player campaign, and that’s all because of the battle royale craze that has come forth through games like PUBG and Fortnite. There was a lot of talk before release about whether it’d even be the better option of the three.
Truth be told, Blackout has been my first foray into battle royale gameplay. While I’ve always meant to try the other two games, I just haven’t gotten around to it. Reviews keep me quite busy, as do the other titles I want to play that I don’t get writing opinion-based articles about. Doing this on top of real world duties also doesn’t leave as much time as one would always like.
Due to the above, I didn’t really know what to expect when I entered the fray. My first experience was kind of middling, too, because I had to wait a while before the action started and it didn’t last terribly long. The waiting was quite boring, and seemed to take forever, and it didn’t help that all I could do during that time was run around a fenced in barricks, shooting guns that didn’t do any damage to other players. Sure, I could pick things (like health and ammo) up, but there was only so much of that.
When I played Blackout next, it was quicker to get going and better. That said, even after spending more time with it, I still don’t really get the appeal of such a mode. It feels like something that would be for a niche audience, such as those who like to play slower-paced multiplayer games where opponents are few and the maps are massive. Games in which you have to find things to add to your inventory and arsenal, and in which you must hunt others as they hunt you.
Blackout truly is different from the rest of the multiplayer on offer here, because of those things. You’re dropped into a massive environment that is filled with greenery, secluded camps, industrial areas and even inlets of water, and must look after yourself. There’s no indicator as to where enemies may be, meaning no UAVs or that type of thing, and it’s up to you to try to hunt others and survive while doing so. This means healing when necessary, if it’s at all possible, and that’s something that one must also do in regular multiplayer because health doesn’t auto-regen. Weapons are limited, and so are other supplies and tools. Bullets also really hurt, and once you’re dead you’re out. Your only options then are to watch others or quit.
Blackout won’t be for everyone due to its nature, but it might appeal to those looking for a more realistic battle royale. Some will gravitate to it and really enjoy it, while others (like myself) will unfortunately feel alienated by the mode that has taken over for the single player campaigns of yesteryear. I truly do hope that it will grow on me, but I don’t necessarily see myself getting hooked.
There are also new microtransactions to talk about, and those were added after launch. In fact, they only went live just last week, if I’m not mistaken. They’re what you’d expect, too, offering new icons, specialist emotes and animations for real world currency.
Please don’t support that kind of thing.
Presentation-wise, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 succeeds. It’s a pretty nice looking game, with detailed environments, weapons and specialists. Blackout mode is probably the best looking of the bunch, but some of the maps in the core multiplayer mode also look quite nice. It also sounds as you’d expect a Call of Duty game to sound, with lots of boisterous gunshots, explosions and sound effects. As such, there’s little to really complain about, outside of the odd glitch, with the most notable one I saw coming in the form of white boxes that would randomly appear during gameplay. I only saw them during one match, but they kept appearing and would take up a chunk of the screen.
In conclusion, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is a different game than Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 was, or even those that came in-between. While it contains multiplayer that has the series’ familiar look and feel, it does away with some of the things that made its predecessor stand out. Its focus on Zombies and battle royale gameplay over campaign content also left me feeling alienated, and as if I may be growing out of a series that was once one of my absolute favourites and something that I bought every single year. As much as I hate to say it, and really didn’t want to have to, Black Ops 4 is somewhat of a disappointment for me and I don’t feel that it’s as fluid, as polished or as good as its predecessor.
**This review is based on the PS4 version of the game. We were provided with a review code.**
Black Ops 4 marks a big change for the venerable franchise, but this new Call of Duty won't be for everyone. It also doesn't feel as polished or as fun as its predecessor, which was a series standout.
The Good Stuff
More familiar Call of Duty multiplayer
There's more Zombies for those who love it
Lots of modes and options
The Not-So-Good Stuff
No single player campaign
Zombies' hit detection is still off
The Specialist back story missions are just tutorials and bot matches