People are pretty divided over Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Some seem to like the newly refined multiplayer mode, the more expansive zombies mode and the inclusion of the very popular battle royale mode. Other people think that the new changes are just cynical, trend-chasing cash grabs, and they lament the loss of the surprisingly popular single-player mode. Regardless of how you feel about the game itself, it’s not difficult to tell that Black Ops 4 marks a massive change in one of gaming’s most popular series.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is the Treyarch entry into the triple-headed Activision series. If you’re not aware (and if not, what rock have you been living under?), the Call of Duty series is produced by 3 developers who take it in turns to release a main series game. Obviously, the arrangement is a little unusual, but it has allowed the Call of Duty games to have yearly entries into a blockbuster series with such insane scope and budget that it has become a talking point in the industry.
The biggest change in Black Ops 4 is probably the loss of the single-player campaign, something which many, many people have been worried about since it was announced. Understandably, this has bothered a lot of people. Despite what you might think, a lot of people played and enjoyed the story campaigns, and their removal from this entry will have turned a lot of players away who were less interested in the story-less multiplayer.
Fortunately for Black Ops 4 and its single-player fans, there is actually a way of playing the game through single-player, and it has a story mode to boot…sort of. The zombies mode has been expanded greatly and has obviously been an object of increased focus since dispensing with the single-player. It now features 3 maps by default, each with their own slightly obtuse stories.
The three included maps are all huge enough to have been the entire mode in some previous games, and they all have very distinct styles and stories. The first map, ‘IX’, is set in a Roman colosseum; the second map, ‘Voyage of Despair’, takes place on a post-iceberg Titanic, and the final one, ‘Blood of the Dead’, follows the classic cast of characters from previous Black Ops zombie modes.
The stories of Voyage of Despair and IX follow a new group of characters for Black Ops 4. The so-called ‘chaos’ storyline deals with ancient cults, zombie plagues and trying to steal things from the Titanic while somehow fooling yourself into thinking that you’re not a thief. As with pretty much all previous zombie campaigns, finishing the stories is pretty challenging as you have to perform a bunch of random actions while avoiding a huge zombie horde. If you manage to perform the super secret bunch of stuff, then you get presented with an ending cutscene to go along with your intro cutscene.
Whilst getting these ending cutscenes is challenging, they are worth going for, at least if you enjoy the feeling of completing a pretty intense challenge. The cutscenes themselves are okay but nothing too special, at least with regards to the new ‘chaos’ storyline. The Voyage of Despair story is pretty interesting, but the IX story leaves quite a lot to be desired. It sort of feels like the two levels were thought up first and then the story was connected around them both; it honestly would have been better to just have two standalone stories rather than to staple them pointlessly together.
The story for ‘Blood of the Dead’ is way more interesting, but this is primarily because there is some investment with the characters who are returning form previous zombie modes. There is, unfortunately, another issue here in that one of the main elements of the story is locked off behind the Black Ops 4 season pass. The ‘classified’ map is only available via said season pass, so if you actually want to complete the story, you’ll need to buy one of the special editions for now.
Okay, so story aside, the Black Ops 4 zombies mode at least plays insanely well, although that’s probably not too surprising. The gunplay is stunning, and there have been a few changes made to the mode to spice things up a little. There are now classes to choose from, which changes not only which four power-ups you can gain but also your starting weapon and special attacks. Your special attacks are usually one of a variety of different attacks that are basically designed to get you out of a tight corner, but the choices you have do give the different possible classes some purposes, like the special that promotes reviving and is a useful support skill versus the several straight attack ones.
Another interesting new factor are the tonics. Along with the other class-specific traits, you can also pick tonics, 4 rechargeable beverages you can use at any time for a variety of effects. These range from support skills, like teleporting to a downed player, to some defensive ones, like bursting into flames whenever you take a hit. These tonics add even more variety to the classes, and once you’ve figured out your playstyle, you can select tonics that fit well with how you play the game.
The multiplayer portion of the game has also undergone a fair few pretty interesting changes in the form of having another class-based shake up. Instead of the standard ‘create-a-class’, pick ten is back from Black Ops 3 and you’re now required to choose one of the new pool of specialists. Each specialist has two special abilities which charge up as matches proceed. Getting kills or achieving objectives makes your abilities charge faster, one ability charges faster than the other. The one that charges the quickest, is your main ability, these vary depending on which specialist you choose and may help you gain more kills, set traps or even assist your team. Recon’s sensor dart can detect the enemy around it, Ajax has a 9-bang flash grenade that blinds opponents and Ruin can use his grapple gun to quickly escape tough situations or gain a new vantage point are but a few of the main specialist abilities. Then there are the specialists Special Issue abilities, these take a long time to charge and are quite powerful if used correctly. Nomad has his K-9 companion which can follow him providing support or he can be instructed to hunt, Prophet has his Tempest rifle that not only electrocutes the enemy but the bolt chains to anyone nearby and Seraph has her Annihilator revolver which are certain one shot kills and can pierce any surface. These different specialist abilities make for a welcome change, and combined with the top-notch gunplay that COD has going for it, it’s a winning combination. There has been some concern for the past few years that the COD multiplayer was getting a little stale, and no matter where the inspiration for these changes comes from, it still manages to throw a little fuel on the Black Ops 4 fire.
The final mode is the new ‘Blackout’ mode, which is a battle royale mode in the style of Fortnite or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. You and a busload (or in this case a “helicopter-load”) of soldiers are dropped onto a huge map with no weapons or equipment, and you have to scavenge your way to victory against the other 90-odd people. These game modes do have a certain appeal to them, they’re at their best when you’re slowly stalking through the woods, creeping from house to house trying to find weapons, and on top of that, the last two to three people alive don’t just devolve into two soldiers furiously building towers around each other. Specialist abilities and perks come in the form of pickups in Blackout and can give you the advantage over your opponent that may well be outside the building you’re cowardly camping in. Vehicles exist in Blackout. Two land vehicles (the quad and truck), a sea vehicle (the dinghy) and, new to any battle royale game, an air vehicle (helicopter) are scattered around the impressively huge map which key locations are taken from older Black Ops multiplayer maps. Nuketown Island, the Asylum and Fracking Site may be familiar to veteran players and on top of all that, supply drops are guarded by a zombie horde which also roam the Asylum.
Whilst the Blackout mode is a solid enough entry into the battle royale genre, it does carry some of the negatives that come with those modes. While it’s all fun and games to be creeping through the woods until you find a gun, it can get annoying to jump into a game, die immediately and then have to wait through a bunch of random loading screens. This can be sort of mitigated by playing in a squad, but it’s only really advisable if you’re playing with friends. Squads with random players usually end up with you either all landing a huge distance from each other, or with one of your players jumping into a vehicle and ruining it for everyone.
Regardless of all of the peripheral stuff that has been affecting a lot of people’s opinions of the game, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is a solid entry into the Call of Duty series. It features the amazingly fine-tuned gunplay that the series has been known for throughout its different modes. Losing the campaign has been a big blow to some, but it has really allowed the developers to have a tighter focus on the other modes, and that tighter focus shows.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 12th October 2018