My history with Call of Duty (CoD) began strong with the first iteration of the series, but fell apart after Modern Warfare 2. I lost interest with the franchise thereafter, before coming back for the much-lauded single-player campaign of WWII. I dabbled in the multiplayer but soon lost interest after that.
It is from this perspective that I approached this review. The Blackout mode had me curious about the franchise again, but what I got with this game was far more than I bargained for.
The omission of the single player campaign
The breaking of tradition with the exclusion of a single player campaign in Black Ops 4 was a controversial one at first. Perhaps Treyarch, the game studio behind this latest instalment to the franchise, banked on Blackout being a big enough pull. Or perhaps they didn’t want to split their focus between single player and multiplayer.
Either way, the lack of single player is somewhat accounted for with the “Specialist” game mode. Essentially, Specialist mode is a tutorial that showcases each of the ten Black Ops 4 characters and their special abilities, along with the various multiplayer game modes.
From Recon, who has the ability to see through walls, to Battery who can fire a grenade launcher to Prophet who wields a rifle that fires electric bolts which can strike multiple, each Specialist comes with their own abilities and ultimate moves.
Specialists bring a depth to the game that definitely wasn’t there in the previous iteration, WWII. You don’t have to be the quickest draw to stay alive. You can potentially outplay the better gunman every now and then, by being smart with your Specialist’s moves.
Having said that, some of the ultimate moves are relatively thoughtless and require next to no skill to execute well. Ajax has a riot shield that makes him impossible to kill from the front and a machine gun pistol to mow down the enemy whilst Nomad has an AI-controlled dog that is unbelievably difficult to kill and has already caught the ire of many a redditor on the Black Ops 4 subreddit.
On the other hand, there are abilities to that will enhance an already skilled player such as Seraph’s one shot, one kill revolver or Torque’s radiating barricade that when placed in an intelligent manner, slows down the enemy from getting to a key area. The beauty of the Specialists is that there is a playstyle for everyone.
A polished multiplayer experience (non-Blackout)
The lack of single player meant that all the focus was put into the multiplayer experience and it shows. Black Ops 4’s multiplayer is one of the most polished first-person-shooter experiences I’ve experienced. For Destiny 2 players out there, it is arguably a more put together multiplayer experience than Gambit – and that is saying something.
Staples of the game such as Free For All as well as Team Deathmatch are fast-paced and relentless, but with the added tactics of Specialists, you don’t feel like you’re constantly being gunned down if you go up against strong players. Sometimes.
The most interesting and enjoyable mode for me by far was Control. For one it felt like the most popular game mode on local servers – You never have to wait for more than a couple of minutes for a lobby to fill up no matter the time of day. The same could not be said for some other game modes, where wait times could be a concern depending on when you were playing.
The real depth that Specialists brought to the game shined the most in Control. The mode required pairing the right Specialists together on the same team which was influenced by which map you were playing. Maps with choke points would be ideal for a Specialist like Torque who excelled at restricting enemy movements. Larger maps would favour a Specialist like Ruin who had a grappling gun which allows him to cover large grounds in rapid fashion.
How your team approached the match was also vital. Knowing when to play search and destroy to disrupt the enemy versus knowing when to group up for a strong push or to repel an enemy wave. All these considerations created an in-depth, highly engaging game mode that really puts Black Ops 4 up there in terms of FPS games and detracts from its reputation of being a mindless run-and-gun game.
Regardless of the game mode you pick, you’re going to have a great time. You can tell that Treyarch paid attention to aspects that other games did well. For example, they replaced the “last kill” replay that usually followed the end of a match with the “best play” instead, an obvious inspiration from Overwatch’s “Play of the Game”.
In terms of maps, the locations are all beautifully crafted and well balanced. From jungles to urban warfare to tundra, you’ll be gunning down foes in a myriad of beautiful environments that all feel unique. The only map that felt slightly unbalanced was Icebreak in the Control mode. The chokepoints favoured the defenders far too much, but with solid teamplay, even this could be overcome.
Progression in multiplayer is intuitive and slots into the gameplay seamlessly. You unlock weapons by levelling up your account – It’s an organic way to progress through the game and feels just right. Your weapon upgrades are unlocked the more you play with the weapon – again, an intuitive progression system that encourages you to master a weapon as you unlock its full capabilities.
Completing Challenges is an interesting affair as Challenges are locked to specific game modes. That means the Challenges you have to complete in multiplayer modes are different to those you complete in Zombies and Blackout. The positive to this is that you are incentivised to try out the different game modes and explore more of Black Ops 4, but of course, if you have no interest in the other game modes this could be frustrating for you.
Weapons in the game are varied and each feel unique and encourage their own playstyles. Some of the ballsiest players I came up against would be popping off with sniper rifles and shotguns no matter the map or game mode. It was amazing to see such skilled players forgo the versatility of assault rifles and SMGs and still steal the show. Personally, I felt that the SMGs are slightly overpowered and do everything an assault rifle can do but better, without the expected con of high fall-off damage.
Fighting the undead horde in Zombies
Zombies is a fun game mode and seems to attract its own set of players that maybe would veer away from the other multiplayer modes. In the early days of the game, I saw a Zombie player that had already raced to well over level 30, meanwhile everyone else was generally sitting under level 5.
Mystery boxes in the game will randomly generate a gun at a higher cost (you earn spendable points for killing zombies) but with the chance of you earning a high powered weapon that will be essential in later rounds of the game.
It’s a fun mode that feels significantly different from the rest of the game. That’s the beauty of Black Ops 4, it feels as if you have 3 separate games all packaged into one – it’s a lot of bang for your buck.
Just as with the challenges, weapon unlocks and account levelling are separate to multiplayer and Blackout. For those that love CoD for its zombies, you won’t be disappointed and will happily lose countless hours battling the undead horde.
Blackout – a breath of fresh air
This is the mode that had many people, myself included, more interested than usual in the latest addition to the CoD franchise. You would think that battle royale fatigue would have set in by now, but Black Ops 4 brings a breath of fresh air to the genre.
Firstly, the map is enormous. It is built by joining various maps from across the extensive history of the franchise together to create a super map of sorts. Playing with friends who had played many of the previous CoDs, I would often hear them exclaim in delight as they recognised an area we were walking through. The Blackout map almost feels like a tribute to the franchise, a monument to its long and decorated history.
Blackout feels like the style of battle royale that PUBG wanted to be but failed dismally to execute. As with Zombies, Blackout feels like a significantly different game to multiplayer. For one thing, the pace is different as you skulk around collecting weapons and items. It is far slower than I expected it to be.
I assumed players would bring their multiplayer mentality here but instead people are careful and considered in their actions. For the most part, anyway. Not all aspects of the game are slow-paced however. Coming from playing Fortnite, the speed of landing is faster and thus you get stuck into the action considerably faster than its colourful counterpart.
The ability to heal on the move adds another dimension that speeds up play relative to its competitors in the genre. The inclusion of vehicles provides for some interesting gameplay. You have to weigh up the speed of using a vehicle versus the visibility and loud sound generated from its use which makes you an easy target.
The vehicles also make for some great stories. Whilst playing squad mode with 2 other friends, we had overstayed our welcome and the storm was fast approaching. We happened upon a quad bike that could only fit two people so I transported my one squad member to safety before speeding around and fetching my other teammate. In the end, we only just avoided the storm and could proceed on our way.
On that note, arguably the most frustrating aspect of Black Ops 4 is the vehicle control. You accelerate & brake with the one joystick but have to use your camera movement joystick to turn the wheels. Whilst this style of vehicle control has been utilised before, personally it feels really unintuitive and clunky.
Despite this minor annoyance, Blackout knocks it out the park and I’d say it exceeds my expectations of the game mode. Black Ops 4 adds its own twist to the genre by having certain areas spawn zombies and it is done so well, if you find yourself in a zombie infested area you’ll be so preoccupied with trying to stay alive you’ll forget about the dangers of the storm. If you’re worried about getting battle royale fatigue, Blackout will be the shot of reinvigoration you need.
A well-crafted masterpiece
For those of you who, like me, gave up on the CoD franchise, Black Ops 4 is the best possible time to come back. The sheer volume of content packed into the game is astounding, particularly in an era of gaming where content is saved for DLCs and hidden behind paywalls. You never feel as if Treyarch is holding back on the base version of this game.
The amount of love and care put into this game is abundantly clear in how polished and crafted everything is. Treyarch has raised the bar for the franchise and it’ll be interesting to see how the next studio attempts to surmount that.
The game is not without its flaws, including server issues, but those pale in comparison to the amount of fun and enjoyment the game will provide you with. Many will want Blackout to be sold separately but the entire game is an incredible experience and will be well worth the purchase, no matter which game mode you’re prioritising. This is the iteration of Call of Duty that could bring back those lost fans, as it did with me.
Last Updated: October 18, 2018