Complacency is a word people have associated with Call of Duty for a long time.
Yet Black Ops 4, despite its setting, style, and setpieces, iterates more than it has in years and is a much more polished, refined, and enjoyable experience.
For someone who normally doesn’t play COD much beyond its opening weekend, I am absolutely hooked on Black Ops 4. At this point, I might have even played Blackout more than I ever have Fortnite.
So no story, no problems?
I’ll be the first to admit it. When I heard Treyarch were essentially stripping the game of a campaign I was ready to skip COD altogether. I’m clearly in the minority, but I really enjoy the stories. I’m all for Josh Duhamell kicking my ass in the trenches and Kit Harrington ruling over a galaxy.
And yet, here I am more engrossed in Black Ops 4 than any other COD, actually having to remind myself this is now a primarily multiplayer experience. I say primarily as Black Ops 4 does actually have a story through the Specialist HQ but it’s essentially tied into training missions. Which is a fascinating, bold, and dare I say, genius approach?
This time around, Black Ops 4 boasts 10 Specialists – better known as classes – and you’ll need to learn their skillsets by beating a bunch of AI in a series of skirmishes. Each Specialist has a backstory cutscene to view, but by beating their mission you’ll also unlock a piece of the story – set between BLOPS 2 and 3. This has been jumbled up into multiple out of place fragments which are gradually pieced together.
What’s more, each Specialist mission tasks you with beating it on Recruit, Regular, and Veteran, as well as fulfilling some set conditions in order to claim all the Intel. For instance, you’ll need to get 25 melee kills or 100 headshots to hear some more of the backstory, so this encourages you to dip in and out to unlock everything.
But yes, on the surface of it, Black Ops 4 is all out multiplayer. And that’s just fine because the standard of polish is everything you’d expect out of Treyarch. This is a studio who know how to build an online shooter to a high standard. Familiar modes are still here like Team Deathmatch, Hardpoint, and Domination, but they feel new with gameplay tweaks and other refinements.
The biggest, most notable change is that health no longer regenerates. You can’t just hide away from gunfire and shake off the bullet holes. Now you have to use an emergency medpack otherwise you’ll leave yourself vulnerable.
Specialists have also been overhauled since Black Ops 3 and each one offers something different, some specialists more effective than others. Torque can throw up some razor wire to slow down foes and place down a massive barricade which fires out radioactive waves. There’s a healing specialist who looks after his allies, as well as a recon specialist who shoots out sensor darts and even Nomad with his own doggo.
It’s down to you to figure out which specialist works best and that can vary on multiple different circumstances. Who you’re teaming with, what map you’re on, the skirmish itself.
The map variety is first class with everything from manufacturing facilities to uncharted islands, and Moroccan villages, each one providing you unique layouts of high ground, tight crawl spaces, and excellent cover.
Likewise, the weapon selection is a rampant spread of fire rate, range and accuracy, everything feeling distinctly Call of Duty. It’s a very authentic, natural experience for an experienced COD vet, but one that is fresher and more interesting than it has been the last few years.
Headlined, of course, by the brand new Blackout mode. Which is effectively Battle Royale but still a brand new addition for COD and one that might just be the best Battle Royale mode around. You can choose between teams of four, two, or go solo, and bid to become the last person/team standing after parachuting down into an epic-sized map.
This is a brand new challenge for COD players as one game you could be the first eliminated, the next you might find yourself in the top 5. It’s a dynamic that fits Call of Duty like a glove but is presented to a standard that not only stands shoulder to shoulder with the PUBGs and Fortnites, but raises the bar of quality even higher.
And then there’s Zombies with it’s two new stories – IX and Voyage of Despair – with the option to create classes, mix up talisman’s and elixirs in a laboratory and fight some ferocious new enemies like exploding tigers and armored cultists. These campaigns feel dynamic and exciting, especially with the customization possibilities with weapons with attachments and optics.
The experience has never felt more intense, yet enjoyable, as Treyarch have not only found their groove with the mode but actually refined it to near perfection. For me, this is as good as co-operative zombie slaying action has felt since Left 4 Dead.
On the Black Market
Any review now, of course, does need to consider the microtransactions which have been added into the game on COD’s Black Market post-launch. They’ve certainly stirred up some controversy.
Truth is, it’s another step from Treyarch to follow what’s working for Epic’s colossus and it’s a strange position we find ourselves in. Call of Duty has been the market leader for so many years that they’re used to everyone following their lead. Battlefield, notoriously, has spent years playing catch-up.
Now Call of Duty is following someone elses lead and it’s not a position it seems comfortable in. The Black Ops Pass, while still paid content, is doing something differently from previous CODs by not allowing players to pick and choose the map packs they own. Essentially, it’s one price buys all.
The huge difference is Fortnite is a Free to Play experience whereas players have already paid for COD. On top of that, they’re being asked to pay for the Black Ops Pass for all future DLC, and then there’s the Black Market tier system which rewards you with unique items. Fortnite also won’t be turned over by annual installments each year, whereas Activision are already deep in development on 2019’s COD title.
We know what to expect from Call of Duty at this point and it’s likely that this time next year, players will have mostly moved on from Black Ops 4 and onto the next shiny thing, presumably losing all that progress and money spent in the progress as they’ll be in a different setting from a different studio.
True, you can progress through the tiers without spending a penny, but you’ll be doing it at a snails pace. Activision’s intention is clear, they want players to spend even more money on a game they may have, in theory, already spent $100 on to get all the content. And on the surface, it seems more exploitative than beneficial.
This system is almost certain to change down the line as it’s not been received well and it’s only been rolled out on PS4 so far. It’s also quite possible this is the beginning of the end of the premium Call of Duty model as we know it. Because in order to keep up, the game will need to evolve and continue to follow the lead of others who have the lion’s share of today’s market.
Despite it all, though, Black Ops 4 is one of the best and enjoyable all-in multiplayer experiences out there right now and arguably the best COD has been in a good many years.
+ Blackout mode is fantastic
+ Multiplayer modes feel more polished than ever
+ Zombies has never been better
+ Smart way of blending training with story
+ Specialist system keeps gameplay fresh
– Exploitative microtransaction system comes across as greedy
– Some specialists weaker than others
– Not iterating massively compared to itcompetitorsrs
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
8.5 out of 10
Tested on PS4
Code received from publisher