When Call of Duty: WWII released last November, the battle royale genre hadn’t yet exploded. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite had released months prior and were still a few months away, and the Sledgehammer Games produced Call of Duty was enjoying the limelight for reinvigorating a series that seemed destined to fade away. Flash forward a year, and everything is changed; battle royale games dominate the gaming industry, and Call of Duty – still a popular franchise – suddenly has to deal with a new competitor in its claim to the shooter throne.
Enter Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, the latest entry in the fan-favorite Black Ops franchise and newest game from Treyarch, a developer that has become known for producing some of the best Call of Duty titles the series has seen. While the Black Ops series is often notorious for its surprisingly solid campaigns, this year the folks at Treyarch have scrapped all of that, opting instead to focus entirely on multiplayer games and its battle royale mode, Blackout. At the time, it was seen as a risky decision, but it seems to have paid off. Black Ops 4 is another solid smash hit for Treyarch and another entry that proves that when Call of Duty is done right, there are not many shooters that can stand alongside it.
When you first start up Black Ops 4, you’ll notice that there’s no campaign for you to jump into. As stated above, Treyarch decided to dive fully into the multiplayer world this time around, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t something for single-player fans to enjoy. New to the game are Specialist HQ’s, which act as tutorial missions designed around the various multiplayer Specialists you’ll encounter throughout the game.
In these special missions, you’ll be taken through a general overview of each character’s abilities, take part in some fights in order to get a hang of them, and even be treated to some cutscenes that delve into the backstory for each member. While most players might be skipping these in order to get right into the multiplayer, it’s a nice touch for fans still longing for a campaign, and at around four or five hours long, it’s right in that sweet spot when it comes to enjoyable introductions.
Once you jump into the multiplayer, you’ll notice that things might seem different. Gone are the wall-running and rocket-boosting jetpacks of Black Ops III, replaced with full-on, boots-to-ground gameplay that fans have been begging for ever since the series made the jump into the future. Healing has also seen a bit of a tweak as well, as you no longer heal automatically after hiding, but instead heal yourself with a button. It’s a small addition to the game that manages to drastically change how things are played, as now you can continue running and gunning without really worrying about having to stop and regenerate health.
In that same vein, the maps in the multiplayer mode also feel designed with movement in mind, with each area having its own open area for fighting with plenty of tiny corridors and hidden spots available for players to navigate. Unfortunately, this often opens the door for some pretty iffy spawning scenarios, with players often spawning randomly due to everyone moving around the map. As far as Specialists go, players who remember Black Ops III won’t be too lost here, as most of them remain the same. For those who aren’t familiar, think of them like Call of Duty’s answer to the Overwatch classes. Instead of normal, nameless soldiers who can’t do anything, Specialists act as “classes,” each of which has their own secondary ability and “super” ability that can help change the tides in battle.
To help keep the multiplayer mode fresh, two new game modes – Control and Heist – have been added to the game. Control, an objective-based mode that seems plucked straight out of a competitive gaming tournament, has players attacking or defending two positions, with each team getting 25 lives. Heist, on the other hand, sees teams trying to collect money to use on perks or weapons in the next round, similar to how Counter-Strike: Global Offensive operates. All in all, the multiplayer mode is every bit as fun as it has been, and the return to more standard FPS ways has done wonders for the game.
By far the most intriguing and exciting game mode of Black Ops 4, Blackout is Treyarch’s take on the battle royale genre and is surprisingly solid for a company who has never put one out before. Like nearly every other battle royale game, Blackout has players – 88 for solo/duo and 100 for squads – dropping into a gigantic map and duking it out to see who can survive. Gameplay operates pretty standardly from there on out, as you’ll find yourself trying to kit up in an effort to outlast everyone in the game. Unlike other battle royale titles, though, Blackout has the distinct advantage of using Call of Duty assets to create a game mode that feels familiar and unique all at the same time.
All locations on the map are designed after notable maps from Call of Duty games, so players can expect to traverse through Nuketown and end up getting into a firefight on the Black Ops classic Firing Range. It was a bit of a gamble for Treyarch, but it paid off in nearly every way, and it genuinely feels good rummaging around maps you’re familiar with already versus getting used to one entirely new area. There are even areas on the map that feature zombies, giving players another challenge to overcome as they battle it out to be the last person or team standing.
Blackout also manages to separate itself from Fortnite and PUBG in how players can build themselves up. In other battle royale games, players either loot up or take down enemies to fight, and generally, each player ends up similar enough by the end of the game. That’s not so in Blackout, where Treyarch has added the ability to gain perks found in the multiplayer mode out in the field. Instead of just picking up guns, you can essentially build an entire multiplayer class as you explore, picking up perks that make you walk quieter, run faster, or help you shoot better. The inclusion of more vehicles such as helicopters also adds an element unseen in the two other battle royale games, giving Blackout enough of a different feeling to make it more than worthy of your time.
What started out as a fun and niche mode for fans to occupy their time with has evolved into its own world, and Black Ops 4’s take on Zombies is no different. This year, Treyarch has beefed up the story for Zombies in lieu of the game having no campaign, adding not only an original story but continuing one from past Zombies modes. The first story, Chaos, features an entirely new cast of characters all taking out zombies across two new maps, IX, and Voyage of the Despair. The next story, Aether, continues the fan favorite storyline on Blood of the Dead, a remake of the Mob of the Dead map from Black Ops II.
Whether you decide to explore the Chaos or Aether story first, you’ll be in for a treat no matter what. Both stories thrive on their characters, and all of them offer a pretty solid performance, with the newer story even offering a more lighthearted, almost black comedy take on the zombie apocalypse. Much like their tone, the Chaos story also features more environment rich maps, with IX taking you back in time to a gladiatorial arena and Voyage of the Damned literally placing players aboard the Titanic on its fateful first and final trip. The Aether storyline, on the other hand, features some fan-favorite characters making their triumphant return, so fans of the Zombies modes will feel right at home once they start taking down the undead hoard.
Unlike in years past, Black Ops 4 allows players to now tweak their Zombies experience, allowing you to customize everything from weapons and enemies, to how if friendly fire is on or not. Pretty much everything you can think of that happens in a Zombies match can now be customized, adding another layer onto an already deep mode. Also included this year is a “Rush” mode, which allows players to bypass any story elements and simply fight wave after wave of zombies. This mode operates more like a standard horde mode, and is great for players who just want to get in and out, or perhaps get a feel for a map may play out when you’re ready for the real thing.
While the campaign for Black Ops 4 may be gone, it’s hard to say it takes away from the overall product. In place, Treyarch has managed to deliver a stellar multiplayer mode, an incredible battle royale game that feels like it could be its own standalone game, and a deeper Zombies experience that should satisfy any player who misses out on a full-fledged story. The world of video games might have changed since the last Call of Duty release, but Black Ops 4 has not only adapted to the times but completely dominated them, offering one of the deepest products we’ve seen from any Call of Duty series. This is a must-buy for any fan of the series, and any fans of shooters period.
This review was based on a digital review copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 for the PlayStation 4 provided by Activision.