The Call of Duty franchise has been around the block a few times. Fifteen times, to be exact. Treyarch's fifth installment in the series (and the fourth in the Black Ops saga itself) does what Call of Duty tends to do: it takes a little bit of the old and a little bit of the new and mixes them up. The end result is something that made me feel like I was reuniting with an old friend. A surge of memories paired with the promise of new experiences pulled me into Black Ops 4, as it had with so many previous iterations of the series.
So let's talk about the new. The most notable change with Black Ops 4 was the decision to depart from a traditional single-player campaign in favor of another multiplayer mode. Given the recent popularity of the battle royale genre, it was not unexpected that Treyarch would dip their toes into the water of the ever-growing genre. Given that basically everything these days ships with a battle royale, Treyarch unabashedly slots one right into Black Ops 4 as if it had been the plan all along, and it does not disappoint.
Blackout, the official name of the battle royale mode, is, of course, like almost every other battle royale out there. One hundred people load up and drop out onto a giant map, where they then search for supplies and weapons in order to fight (or hide) their way into first place. Despite the similarities in the concept, the execution feels completely different. Treyarch does a really great job of extending the traditional multiplayer mechanics into the world of Blackout. Sight lines are much longer in Blackout, and the new projectile model for weapons feels good and intuitive. Basically, every weapon and piece of equipment available in the multiplayer comes across as loot in Blackout, so players are able to more easily identify weapons they enjoy and translate that into the new mode. In my opinion, the juxtaposition of Multiplayer and Blackout is one of the most underrated features of the game. Playing a battle royale game is one of the most frustrating experiences in the early stages because it's generally really challenging to learn the game when every drop can lead to instantaneous elimination if you don't understand how to loot effectively. Being able to familiarize yourself with the weapons and equipment through the "safer" and more structured multiplayer is a fantastic way to ease yourself into the Blackout mindset. Blackout is one of the first battle royale implementations we've seen from a AAA game company, especially one with such a long history as Treyarch, and in playing it I felt like they succeeded in creating a game mode that feels like a perfect blend of new content and that traditional Call of Duty feel.
Now let me be clear, this isn't to say that Blackout is perfect. It's not. It's fun to play and can keep you dropping with squad mates for hours and hours, but there are clearly some balancing issues that need to be addressed. In just the first few weeks of the game, it seems to me that the armor system needs to be revamped, and certain equipment, weapons, and perks need to be tuned in order to facilitate a more balanced experience. Some perks, such as Dead Silence (which makes the player's movements near silent), feel like they may need to be removed altogether as they don't mesh well with the core tenets of the battle royale genre. It's hard to say a game is ever perfect, but all of these issues I have with Blackout are surface level. The foundation underneath is strong and durable, and with a consistent feedback loop and smart balancing efforts from Treyarch, Blackout is in a perfect position to establish battle royale as the newest staple of the Call of Duty ecosystem.
Circling back to earlier, it's important to reiterate that the game has no single-player campaign. There is a single player component brought in with Specialist Training, but it seems like it's little more than an introduction to each Specialist, with some opportunities to dig into their lore a little more. Still, I found the lack of a campaign disappointing. I, like many others, know that Call of Duty campaigns have been hit or miss over the years, but some of the games have delivered truly impressive campaigns, and it's a shame to see it fall by the wayside this time. The first Black Ops game had a downright incredible campaign, and I personally believe that Infinite Warfare has one of the greatest video game campaigns of all time, just in terms of telling one heck of a great story in an awesome setting. All I really have to say is that I hope this doesn't mark the end of the campaigns in Call of Duty for all time.
But anyway, let's keep it going. Multiplayer's up next, and this is where I personally spent most of my time. I have a lot of history with the Call of Duty games, so I'm naturally drawn to the arena style of the multiplayer. As much as I enjoyed Blackout, the multiplayer is where I'll end up for those 6+ hour gaming sessions.
So like Black Ops 3, the concept of specialists returns with Black Ops 4. In every game mode, the player picks a specialist, which gives them access to the specialist's equipment and special ability. The equipment takes the place of the grenade slot in prior games, and the special ability is generally a slow charging ability that acts kind of like an ultimate. There's a huge amount of diversity between the specialists, with a healthy mix of offensive, defensive, and support archetypes. For example, Ajax wields the 9-bang as his equipment, which acts as a supercharged flashbang that he can charge up for more blinding results. His ultimate allows him to pull out a large riot shield which he can fire behind using an automatic pistol. It's fantastic for pushing objectives and just leading the charge in general. On the flip side, the specialist Crash is able to deploy a bag which refills his teammate's ammo and grants them a buff called golden ammo, earning them more points towards scorestreaks for every kill. His ultimate is global, giving his teammates extra health for a short period of time. Each specialist's kit focuses on a specific tactic or strategy, allowing players to choose a specialist more tailored to their playstyle. Plus, the specialist choice is completely disassociated from the weapon loadout you choose to run, leaving plenty of room to get creative when playing.
Gunplay-wise, the game feels really good. I bounce between weapons a lot so I got a taste of a little bit of everything, and I really didn't find much that I didn't find somewhat viable. Shotguns have been moved to the secondary slot in Black Ops 4, but they aren't as destructive as they've been in previous games. Time to kill is a bit higher than most recent Call of Duty games, but I felt like it was more in line with how the first Black Ops felt. In fact, I think a lot of comparisons could be drawn between Black Ops 1 and Black Ops 4, which in my mind is a really good thing.
Unfortunately, the maps of Black Ops 4 aren't anything special. There are a good number of new maps, and Treyarch also included some remakes of some of the greatest hits in the initial release of the game. The remade maps include Summit, Firing Range, and Jungle. Most of the new maps are good, but a number of them don't seem to be as well designed as older Call of Duty maps.
One of the biggest changes to the multiplayer system is healing, which doesn't happen on its own anymore. Now when you take damage, you have use equipment to kick off the healing process. This healing ability is available to you all the time, but after using it there is a short cooldown before you're able to use it again. The healing mechanic is by far one of the most unique and interesting mechanics in the game. It opens up a whole different world of play and counter-play because it adds extra layers to each prolonged fight. It's something I loved and hope it returns in future Call of Duty games.
Overall, the multiplayer is a gold star from me. It feels like the Call of Duty I remember and it runs smooth as butter on PC. The collective melting pot of design that Call of Duty has utilized over the years seems to have churned out a winning recipe in this year's edition. There are, of course, some minor issues with gear that feels somewhat imbalanced, but even in the first few weeks, it's clear the developers are maintaining a tight and fast feedback loop, so hopefully good change will keep trickling in.
The final piece of the Black Ops 4 puzzle is probably my least favorite part: Zombies. As much as I appreciate zombies as a game mode and love that there's a community out there continuing to support it, zombies as a game mode is really not my style. I'm a very goal oriented person, which is why I am so drawn to multiplayer. I love having things to chase, such as the challenges and camos in multiplayer, plus the feedback of my own statistics drives me to improve. Zombies, despite being fun for a bit, doesn't really have anything I care enough to chase to keep me invested. I'm going to give as honest of a review as possible of zombies, but remember to take it with a grain of salt considering where I stand with reference to the mode itself.
OK, so with all that being said, I actually loved Zombies. Releasing with three maps gave an insane amount of variety to the initial playthroughs. I spent most of my time with IX, the map which takes place in the Coliseum. One of my favorite things was how much better each match flows. It's still round based, but a steady spawn of 'special' zombies and minibosses kept me on my toes, providing enough variety to break up the monotony of just running groups of zombies around in circles. Add on to that some class building outside of the match, with the ability to choose starting weapons and perk sets, and you've really piqued my interest. I still don't think that the mode would hold me forever, but it feels like Treyarch is trying hard to challenge and improve the framework of zombies that they themselves built out years ago.
So let's wrap this up. I talked about a lot but there were a lot of facets to this game. Not every part of Call of Duty is meant for everyone, but I felt like Treyarch delivered enough content in each of the three parts of the game (Blackout, Multiplayer, and Zombies) to give anyone enough to stick around and get their money's worth. For my two cents, put Black Ops 4 up there with the other great Call of Duty games.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.