The best Call of Duty in years.
Title: Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
Platform: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)
Developer: Treyarch, Beenox, Raven Software
Price: PC £50/$60 PS4/Xbox £60/$70
Release date: Out Now
TL;DR: Multiplayer shooter with Battle Royale and Zombies.
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Well, here we are again – another annual instalment of the Call of Duty franchise. This year it’s the alternating turn of Treyarch to develop the game (along with Beenox and Raven Software) and this time around they have opted for dropping the obligatory story campaign in favour of focusing on three multiplayer/online experiences with more depth and refinement than previous iterations.
Now I’ve had a couple of weeks since release to fully immerse myself with all the modes on offer, and try and sum up what’s a hit or miss with Black Ops 4. For me, the lack of a story campaign sounded a little ‘iffy’ at first as I’m so used to trawling through the campaigns to get some achievements as well as a feel for the weaponry and character movements, rather than just jumping boots-first into the frantic play of the multiplayer arena.
But, and this is again just my opinion, the stories have just been a little ‘meh’ on some of the recent outings. I really enjoyed Black Ops 1, Black Ops 2 seemed average, and then Black Ops 3 – I actually struggled to even finish the campaign. In fact, Black Ops 3 was primarily purchased for the Zombies mode in my case, and it’s a good job that mode was awesome, as I disliked all the exo-suit enhanced wall-riding and super jumps all over the maps. Sure it’s great for some, but it felt like it took the emphasis away from the ‘run and gun’ aspect of CoD multiplayer and replaced it with fiddly agility mechanics when all I wanted to do was shoot those enemy grunts.
Lack of campaign aside, this hasn’t stopped Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 from selling very well and being one of Activision’s more successful releases in the franchise; I can only hope that somewhere in Activision is an accountant called Mason and that somebody is asking him “What are the numbers, Mason?”
Lovers of the narrative do not despair, as there is an underlying story present in Black Ops 4, you just have to dig a little to expose it all. Playing through the Specialist HQ, and practising on the varied specialist soldiers will give you some cutscenes introducing you to each of these characters and also teasing the overarching plot that ties all these warriors together, albeit some predictable story tropes are involved.
To start things off I would recommend starting out with the Specialist HQ, where an old Black Ops stalwart Seargent Frank Woods, introduces you to the varied Specialist crew. Taking the piss out of some of the naming conventions Sgt. Woods made me chuckle when poor old Ajax was called out for having a bit of a shit name – but what this mode does do, is introduce you to the pseudo-classes that are a kind of carry-on from Black Ops 3’s Multiplayer, but adding some new specialist gadgets and toys.
Not quite fully fledged classes the specialists offer gadgets and utility to multiplayer matches. Some specialists make more of a difference than others in the varying match modes, for example, Torque can help to block or hamper enemy egress to a control point with his Razor Wire or Radiation Barrier on modes like Control, or Domination. It’s little things like this that help to add a little depth and strategy to make for more interesting gameplay, although you have to be quick-on-the-draw if you want to grab a particular favourite at the start of a round, as you’re only allowed one unique specialist each on your team. My personal favourite is Nomad, who with the aid of his trip wires and trusty pooch help to get me some cheesy-kills even if I’m playing badly or being dominated by the opposition.
Multiplayer has the usual mix of modes including Free-For-All, Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Search & Destroy, Domination, Hardpoint, and two new modes Control and Heist. Control is similar to Hardpoint and Domination, in that you have to capture and hold a point until it is yours, with teams alternating between attacking and defending. To spice things up there are limited numbers of lives per team, and if you run out you lose the round. This has turned out to be my favourite mode of the bunch, although there are some issues with team members leaving the match if the first round is lost, then it snowballs into a complete loss as the game will not replace the missing player.
Heist is also a fresh new mode that makes me think of Counter-Strike when purchasing my equipment, but it’s great how it gives you the choice of whether to save or spend, go for the money, or go for the kills. The objective of the mode is to grab the cash and get to the extraction point or eliminate the opposition to win the round. At the beginning of each round, you can use what money you’ve earned to purchase weapons or perks. Again, it’s nice to have some fresh game modes present to keep things interesting.
Overall Multiplayer in Black Ops 4 is the best I’ve experienced in years. The weapons on offer feel superb, with the sound effects/audio making bullet impact feel really meaty and effectual. There’s a lot of customisation options for the weapons, and we see the return of the 10-perk class system, which was one of the favourite load-out types in CoD. Not since Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops 1 have I enjoyed the Multiplayer so much. There are still the same little niggles, but I wouldn’t even know where to start with how to fix them; spawn points can be targeted by players who know what they’re doing, and the lag-compensation – used to aggregate all the different latency pings from players – can have you wondering how you got shot through cover, or why that dude you unloaded a full clip into isn’t toast. Niggles aside, it’s fast, furious, arcade fun that is the backbone of the franchise.
Blackout is the Call of Duty entry into the Battle-Royale space, and boy does it do it well. Closer to PUBG than Fortnite, Blackout has a huge world map, with lots of familiar places that are taken from some of the iconic multiplayer maps from franchise history. You will recognise Nuketown and Firing Range instantly as you stroll through picking up equipment whilst keeping an eye out for sneaky enemies. You can choose to play Solo, go Duo or Squad of four, it’s up to you and how many pals you have online, but the game will still group you up with others if you want to play squads.
The play runs very smoothly which is a far cry from the instability of PUBG, and this is what you would be hoping for from a AAA development team. The framerates are stable and graphics are ok, although I do feel they aren’t as crisp as they could be – perhaps so that framerates can be kept higher. On my standard PS4 some of the assets look a little blurry with textures taking a second to load in some cases, but overall it looks and runs decently well.
There is a good variety to locations on the map bar the desert region which is the blandest looking area, sparsely populated with a few houses. The addition of a few vehicles here and there can help to move you about the zone, but the drawback is you can be heard a mile off, and personally, if I hear incoming traffic I’m straight out with the sniper looking for an easy kill. The storm-shield shrink is on a nice short timer and moves quickly, which keeps the pace of the round at a nice level.
I think my biggest negative with Blackout is the fiddly UI (User Interface). The inventory is a bit of a pain to use and sorting out the mods on your weapon, or using perks is not something that can be easily done on-the-fly. Picking up objects is not as easy as in other Battle-Royale games either, but there is an option to change this which can be accessed in the options menu, but be warned it shares the same button as reload and will prioritise picking up an item over reloading your weapon. Call of Duty’s take on the Battle-Royale genre is definitely my favourite so far, topping the likes of H1Z1, and PUBG, but with Battlefield V on the horizon, the top spot may not last for long.
Zombies… ah, my good old undead friends. This time we’re treated to three zombies maps from the get-go, and a fourth map if you purchase the season pass – a clever if not despicable way of getting me to part with my hard-earned bucks. Maps include Voyage of Despair which is set on a sinking Titanic, a gladiatorial arena map called IX which is a horde-type mode, Blood of the Dead which sees us return to Alcatraz, and Classified which is back once again to the vaults below the Pentagon.
The puzzles, super weapons, and story arcs are brilliant, and slowly remembering the routes and relying on your teammates to unlock the doors and give covering fire are what makes zombies such a great experience. Full of Easter eggs to find and collect, the zombie’s maps have such longevity it’s the reason zombies has been my favourite Call of Duty mode, and this year’s entry is possibly the best yet; it even comes with a new ‘Rush’ mode that offers free weapons from the crates and challenges you to see how high a score you can get from collecting multiplier tokens and not get hit by the meandering corpses.
Gone is the ‘GobbleGum,’ replaced by crafted elixirs and new statues of gods that you can customise to have your favourite perks, once you’ve unlocked them of course. Pack-a-punch is still there to upgrade your weapons for extra zom-slaying prowess, and god-like super weapons that charge-up from your kills to be unleashed in those difficult moments when you may find yourself trapped in a corner, or to clear the path for a teammate to resurrect a fallen ally.
Now I know some people say it’s the marketing campaign, but Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 really does feel like three separate games on the disk, rather than Multiplayer bolt-ons to the Campaign. They are more polished and slicker in scope than previous versions, and that’s at launch before any of the promised DLC hits us. I think this is one of the best CoD’s yet and definitely a return to glory for the franchise. There is so much to do that it’s sometimes a really hard choice on what mode I want to play, although I do have a massive frustration with having to level up the weapons for every single mode, it’s that same aspect that gives you the progression reward.
- Polished Multiplayer experience.
- Great amount of content over the three game types.
- Blackout is a better than expected entry into the Battle-Royale genre.
- Some may miss the lack of a Campaign Story Mode.
- Lots and lots of levelling to unlock everything.
- Graphics not as crisp as expected.
ESRB: M for Mature. PEGI: 18.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 contains extreme military violence and swearing to boot. This is not a game suitable for impressionable young minds.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail copy of the game purchased for the purpose of this review.