I’ll be honest, the announcement that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 would be arriving without a single-player campaign was one that didn’t sit right with me.
Having played every Call of Duty title since Big Red One, it has always been the campaign that has had me eagerly anticipating the release. That is mostly down to fine storytelling, high quality visuals and non-stop blockbusting set-pieces that are showcased from start to finish. With Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 allowing players to jump in on all that action, for a co-op experience together, it’s surprising to see developer Treyarch cut it from the game completely.
That said, multiplayer is proving more and more popular with each release, and it’s not unexpected to finally see it covering the show floor. Throw in a new mode looking to fill the gap, and it is still exciting to see what Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 can deliver, so I jumped in to see if an all-multiplayer affair could still bring those same levels of excitement and explosive action seen in previous entries in the series.
From the off there are four modes to worry about – Multiplayer, Zombies, Blackout (the all-new Battle Royale styled mode), and Specialist HQ. For any Call of Duty fan, or gamer in general, Multiplayer and Zombies are pretty self-explanatory, whilst it doesn’t take a genius to realise the newly-found Battle Royale genre is really at the peak of popularity and Blackout covers that base. What started out as a battle between Fortnite and PUBG has now evolved into something mammoth, with every developer and his dog wanting a slice of the action. Treyarch are no different.
Fortunately, Blackout isn’t just another copy-cat clone, at least not exactly, and after spending a good few hours trying to battle my way to last-man-standing, I was surprised to see just how well the Battle Royale formula works when mixed with the fast-paced run and gun action of Call of Duty.
Dropping in to Blackout, players can choose to go it alone or team up in Duo or a squad of up to four players in Quads. Those who go in as either a one or two-man team in Solo and Duo will find themselves embroiled in a battle with 88 players jumping into the elimination style match type, whilst Quads will see 100 players arriving from the many helicopters to battle it out on the biggest map we’ve ever seen in a Call of Duty title. The map itself is comprised of 13 very different locations that are spread across the play area, with some popular locations from the zombies and multiplayer maps of previous titles making a return; Nuketown and Asylum to name a few.
Something that makes a big difference to the Blackout experience from that of a typical Battle Royale game is the fact that weapons aren’t exactly scarce and whilst you won’t be landing with a fully equipped weapon in hand, chances are it’ll only mean knocking on one or two doors before you’ll find various weapons and attachments laying around for the taking. This makes a nice change from the usual headless chicken searches we’ve all come accustomed to and actually allows players to focus more on the gameplay and surviving, rather than being left to hunt down supplies that are capable of giving a fighting chance.
What’s more is that Blackout on the whole is a really enjoyable mode to play; games are quick and usually over in 15 minutes at the very most, it’s fluid and handles well and there’s a real competitive nature to it. This ensures that it feels a lot more accurate – and certainly fairer – than the core multiplayer experience often does, leading to some really interesting matches. It should be mentioned that Treyarch have even hidden a few secrets in Blackout too, such as the inclusion of zombies in certain areas that really help make the whole thing feel fresh and unique to Call of Duty, rather than a bolt-on experience that’s been thrown in to catch on with the Battle Royale hype.
Away from that though and there is also a proper multiplayer outing; for years this has been the key reason Call of Duty remains in the minds of players. Long after the stories have been completed, there have always been players battling it out to reach max prestige, the top of a leaderboard and generally just trying to get one over on each other. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is no different.
Sadly, that is meant in the most literal way, and if you’ve played any previous iteration of Call of Duty multiplayer, then chances are you’re not going to find too much that is fresh or original here. There are a few new modes to note, with Heist and Control now joining the usual line-up that consists of Kill Confirmed, Search & Destroy, Team Deathmatch, Domination and so on, but neither mode really offers anything overly fresh. In fact, Heist comes out as a Search & Destroy-style mode that requires players to either grab and return a bag of cash, or eliminate the enemy team, whilst earning money through kills, revives and assists to buy new weapons for your loadout on the next round, whilst Control is yet another objective focused mode in which teams take it in turns to capture or defend two pre-set objectives.
Of course, more of the same isn’t necessarily a problem, especially if you’ve enjoyed previous entries, but for those who have been calling for a fresh shakeup to the Call of Duty series in recent years, Black Ops 4 certainly won’t go down well. No matter where you look, everything from the movement and the gunplay, to the visuals and the map design, there’s nothing that feels like it’s been built from the ground up for this year’s Call of Duty. What’s even more disappointing still is that more than a quarter of the 14 maps that are currently present in multiplayer are simply re-used offerings from previous titles. When you’ve spent hours on end with Call of Duty in the past, this feels like a kick in the teeth when we’re simply seeing the same routes time and time again.
But then we have Zombies and whilst you won’t find me singing any praises for the multiplayer side of things in Black Ops 4, Zombies is certainly rather brilliant this time around – provided you’re willing to die time and time again to learn how each map works.
There are four maps available at launch with Voyage of Despair, IX and Blood of the Dead available for base game owners and Classified the extra option for those delving into the Call of Duty Black Ops Pass. Each of the maps brings its own story to the table, letting players follow in typical Zombies fashion. You will need to prove you have the skills to find each quest item in order to go forth with the story, and no matter whether you have mates, or just find a group of randoms willing to carry you through, it’s fair to say that each one proves a fantastic addition to the classic Zombies storyline. The maps themselves are brilliant too with IX aimed at newer players and Voyage of Despair and Blood of the Dead intended for the more hardcore Zombies players.
There’s more than one way to play Zombies this time too; Classic and Rush. The first of these brings more of what players have grown to love and will be the way many will want to play – trying to survive round after round against progressively harder zombies, all whilst earning points to buy weapons, perks, upgrades and doors that open up new areas of the maps.
Rush mode on the other hand is an entirely new option being brought to the Zombies experience and this brings a much faster-pace to the game, seeing players battle it out for the highest score. To raise your score though you have to kill zombies which will also raise your multiplier… but take damage and you’ll watch your multiplier and your health suffer. Being a score and gameplay focused version of Zombies, Rush removes all quest and story items along with all options for crafting and instead gives players access to weaponry, ammo and perks for free. This means you can jump straight in and grab whatever loadout you see best for the fight and it’s certainly a great way to play if you’re going in without a squad of friends to help.
What’s more there are four difficulty modes included this time around with Casual available for those new to the experience as well as Normal, Hardcore and a new ultra-hard Realistic mode for those really wanting to test their skills. Hardcore is more than enough of a challenge though, with the Realistic option being just that.
One final Zombies feature that can’t be overlooked is the option to utilise Custom Mutations, also known as creating your own custom game mode for Zombies. This is where players can create their own custom rules such as which round to start on, the round cap – raised from 255 to 1,024 this time around – movement speed, headshots only and a ton of other options that can really tailor your game to how you see fit.
Other than Zombies, the multiplayer offering and Blackout, the final thing to mention for Black Ops 4 comes from the only remaining single-player option, something which can be found within Specialist HQ. Here players can play through a very basic mission with each of the Specialists before taking on a skirmish match-up to ensure they know how each one works. Unfortunately though, whilst this is supposed to bring an in-depth look into the background of each character, in reality all the missions really are are glorified tutorials of the characters you’ll be fighting to use in multiplayer. This is highly disappointing given the quality of the single player content we saw in last year’s Call of Duty title.
Whilst that covers all the action you’ll be able to get involved in, there are two other areas to pay attention to; the audio and visuals. After playing last year’s Call of Duty: WWII, I have to say the visual department does feel like a bit of a let-down. That’s not to say Black Ops 4 doesn’t look great as it certainly stands up to today’s visuals, but it’s hard to match the realistic visuals of WWII with the futuristic approach that surrounds this year’s entry. Yep, you’ll still see a highly polished finish to the way things look, however it doesn’t quite feel like it’s being bettered this time around. As for the audio though and that does have an exceptionally strong showing; from the thud of bullets hitting their target to the change in magazine as you reload mid-fight, there isn’t much you’ll find that doesn’t sound as it should. Further still, plug in a pair of stereo headphones and you’ll find your ears being bombarded from all sides, something which increases the realism of the sounds in battle.
Many will be happy to see the most popular side to Call of Duty given the main focus this time around, but the lack of anything new and intuitive makes it feel more like a rushed out cash grab than a genuine new entry into one of the world’s most popular franchises. The new Blackout mode certainly deserves applause, and the Zombies experience is better than ever, but at the same time eyes should be cast towards the fact that players are paying time and time again for the same experience that brings minimal change with each entry.