Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
Platform: PS4, XBOX ONE, PC
Reviewed by Evan Maroun
For me, the Call of Duty franchise were the games of my middle/high school days. Rushing home after school and jumping on with my friends for hours until my eyes begged me to stop. I partially blame Call of Duty‘s addictive gameplay for my progressively worsening eyesight. I also praise the series for giving me some of my fondest multiplayer experiences, so I’d say it was worth it!
The years went on though, and I kind of fell off the Call of Duty train. It was around Black Ops 2 I believe. I’m not entirely sure why. The series became like that good friend who you don’t see much anymore but still wish them “Happy Birthday!” on their Facebook wall. So as someone who hasn’t been following the series avidly, I was excited to jump back in with Black Ops 4 and see what has changed. With 3(1/2) major components to this game, let us start with the half measure:
The first glaring thing you might notice when you get to the game’s menu is the surprising lack of a Campaign. I bring this up because apparently a lot of gamers aren’t aware of this. To some, this may not be as surprising. I had many friends who have skipped the campaign in prior years, as Multiplayer has always been the big draw– competing to see who can prestige first and getting those sweet unlocks.
While players won’t be treated to any helicopter-crashing set pieces this iteration, they do get some “story” in the way of the Specialist HQ– a sort of character tutorial/backstory mode that serves as a way for players to get acquainted with each Specialist’s play style while also giving each of them a bit of depth. You may be familiar with some of the faces included here, if you played Black Ops 3. Now though, told through short fully rendered cinematics, you will get to know this crew of soldiers a little better.
Every specialist mission does a great job at showing players how best to utilize the unique abilities of said specialist, culminating in playing a game type that many core players will recognize (Team Deathmatch, Demolition, Kill Confirmed, etc). There are 10 specialists, so for some, this may seem just like 10 tutorials they don’t want to bother with. Does this replace a Campaign mode? By no means. However, if you have a class you’d like to learn about or you just wanna refresh yourself with their specific play style, this mode is for you.
As far as changes to the familiar Call of Duty multiplayer equation goes, the biggest change this time, is that Healing is no longer an automatic process. You can no longer just find a spot to wait, duck for cover, and watch your health regenerate. Now, you’ll find yourself manually healing with the press of a button. This is a change that may put some off at first, as many shooters use that regenerating style of healing. Weirdly enough, you may come to find that this is an improvement. If you can remember to hit the button, healing is much quicker than trying to wait for regeneration, making the gameplay even faster than before. After a while, this becomes second nature. You’ll find yourself in the middle of hectic firefights, trying to find that opportune moment to pop off that heal, after just disposing of two other players and being on the brink of death. It’s stressful but makes for some rewarding plays when executed strategically.
All your favorites modes are here, in both core and hardcore variants. Even favorites like Gun Game are here. There is a new mode called Heist, that functions are a sort of Payday meets Capture the Flag. The game begins with a buy screen and $500 for guns/perks. Two ways you can win: 1) by securing the bay of money on the map and successfully extracting it at a random extraction point or 2) by killing everyone on the other team. The latter happens more often, but extracting the money is satisfying. The winner of each round gets more money to upgrade their gear going into the next round. The rounds are quick, fun, and make a welcome addition to the round-up.
With 14 maps as of this writing, 10 of them being brand new, players have a wide variety of locales to duke it out in. Nothing is too drastically different from previous games, but are mostly pretty balanced. Personal favorites being Arsenal, a slick manufacturing facility, and the beachside Contraband.
One issue that seems to be a reoccurring one in the more recent entries of the series, at least to a couple players I’ve spoken too, is that no maps are open or big enough for players that like to use snipers. This is a completely valid complaint to me. Most of the maps consist of many close-quarters areas. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but most maps seem to favor those who use LMG, assault rifles, or submachine guns. With a new take on Nuketown coming free later this month, who knows, but I don’t see this changing much anytime soon.
We live in a Battle Royale gaming landscape at the moment. Everyone wants their own version of the massively popular style of gameplay. So that is exactly what Blackout is. It’s clear that Treyarch has put a lot of manpower and care into this mode, as it’s set right smack dab in the center of the main menu. If you have played Fortnite, PUBG or any of their countless cousins, you’ll know what you’re in for here–but it’s in the nuances that set it apart. If you’re like me, and you’re tired of the Fortnite combat cycle of spot enemy>hit enemy with one bullet>enemy proceeds to produce an absurdly giant tower around themselves in 3 seconds flat, then this mode is for you. No building to speak of.
As you dive from the starting plane down into the giant playground that Treyarch has constructed here, it immediately feels comfortable. You’ve probably done this before. One key difference makes the drop here considerably different, for me at least. Black ops 4 takes your velocity into account. So, if you dive straight down immediately, you’ll start to gain speed. So when you start to angle yourself toward your ideal landing location, you’ll notice yourself zipping by people who may have not realized this. It also makes getting to places further out from the plane trajectory much easier and not so much a slow, anxious wait. There are also vehicles in the game, namely four-wheelers and trucks, which allow for easy map traversal–just be careful because everyone will hear you coming a mile away.
Another thing that I thought was clever about Blackout was the process in how you find weapons. You’ll find weapons all over the map, in houses, barns, and other buildings–But you can also separately find attachments for those weapons. So as you go along, you actually feel like you’re upgrading and building up your arsenal for when the time comes. It’s a small thing but goes a long way in making the experience feel rewarding when you get that win.
When things get down to the last handful of people, depending on location, things can get frustrating. I had a few solo games that had the final zone end in an open field, so it just came down to everyone lying down and crawling, hoping to shoot the other snakes in the grass first. It felt anti-climatic. More small buildings/cover or just better zone placement may be able to fix this in future updates. That is what is going to decide the lifespan of Blackout: how much Treyarch is willing to update and adapt it. That is undoubtedly why Fortnite has been so successful. They are constantly changing, adding, and keeping things interesting for its fanbase.
Once you play it, it’s easy to see Blackout’s potential: the map is big although generic, the menu system works well for managing gear, and the buttery Call of Duty control scheme just feels right at home in the genre. I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s evolved 6 months from now.
By this point, you almost can’t have a COD without the inclusion of Zombies. It has become a beloved staple, and that’s why with BO4, Treyarch has really
doubled tripled down on the undead action by including 3 major maps from release.
My favorite of the maps, titled XI is a Gladiator Arena map with traps and demon-tigers abound. The chatty new characters exclaim how they managed to travel back in time as you slowly unlock rooms adjacent to the open arena. In line with the whole Romanesque theme of the map, each character also gets an ultimate ability that builds up over time in the form of Godly weaponry. While wielding them, you truly do feel all-powerful, if only for a short period of time as you decimate the endless hordes. Excellently designed, with the arena acting as a sort of central hub, I enjoyed playing this one the most, as it is the easiest to navigate and easily the most aesthetically playful of the 3.
Voyage of Despair is built on a really silly idea– What is the Titanic was sinking but also being overrun by Zombies? As if those passengers didn’t have enough to worry about. This map has you running from deck to deck as you try and navigate the luxury interior of the ship. This map is fun in its idea but has far more potential to get trapped, as spaces are tight. It’s also not as instinctually easy to traverse. This one may require a handful of playthroughs before you really learn how to get around. Tip: learn to use the portals for a quick getaway!
Rounding up the trio, we have Blood of the Dead. This one set’s itself apart, as it features the OG Zombie crew instead of the new Chaos crew in the other two. If you have played Black Ops 2, this map may seem a little familiar as it is a re-imagining of the old Mob of the Dead map. I found this map the hardest to understand in terms of progressing. There will be times when you have to turn on sources of power, and finally finding where (specifically the eastern power switch) was, took quite a while. I’m interested in hearing the perspective of someone who has played a lot of the old Mob of the Dead map and can say if this is an improvement over that or not. Let me know in the comments!
The only issue that kind of hurts this mode is the clunky and intimidating load-out menu. You’re now able to equip elixirs (equivalent to gobblegums in BO3) with buffs on your D-Pad, as well as spend points earned by playing to unlock talismans to help you out for the session. There’s just so much to potentially customize, it ends up feeling like a chore. Luckily, there are presets, which I relied on mainly. Ultimately, This menu could’ve been streamlined a lot better, and made it so you can get into the action a lot easier. As long as microtransactions are kept out of this mode, It will be fine in the long right.
Make no mistake though–this mode is where Black Ops 4 really shines. With 3 wildly different zombie maps and more customization than ever before, this is the best zombie experience that the series has ever delivered on one disc.
Play it! Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 doesn’t reinvent the wheel–but the thing is, it doesn’t really have to. It delivers more of the same smooth shooting mechanics and fast gunplay that has defined the series. With Blackout, Treyarch has noticed the trends and have made a mode catering to the large battle royale audience, and with a large degree of success at that. While the exclusion of a solo campaign could be equated to Apple removing the headphone jack; some may hate it and don’t understand it– others see it as a move toward the future of the product. If you love the series, this is more of what you want, especially if you’ve come for those decaying walkers. Even if you’re like me and haven’t been into the series in a few years, this is certainly not a bad place to re-join the fray.