For fans of the series, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 needs to be good since the last two entries in the series were stale and lacked innovation. Call of Duty is somewhat like a popular TV show on its 15th season that has been relying on nostalgia and on its brand name. Call of Duty: WW II and Infinite Warfare felt like rushed and boring titles with lackluster map design and with little to no innovation for such a major franchise.
The jetpack/wall-running experiment is over and we are once again back with a boots-on-the-ground experience with Black Ops 4. Treyarch has long been a favorite developer of the community and they have taken a gamble by focusing on a new Battle Royale mode dubbed “Blackout,” and they have even removed the single player campaign. Black Ops 4 now has three main modes: Zombies, Blackout, and the classic Multiplayer. Has Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 done enough to secure its franchise future?
The Next Black Ops
Black Ops 4 is essentially a spiritual clone of the previous Treyarch game, Black Ops 3. The specialists, vibrant character customization options, and more are all back sans-jetpacks. Black Ops 4’s large campaign void is filled with a few expository cut scenes and specialist tutorials.
The “Specialist HQ” mode comes with some introductory cut scenes and is a 4 to 5 hour-long single player tutorial for each of the different specialists in the game. It’s great for newcomers to the game, but most experienced players will probably skip it. This felt more like a lackluster attempt to tie the experience of Black Ops 4 together but they just made us remember that there is no true single-player campaign here.
The lore and the characters are already set up and we might have got a better take on the series. Call of Duty: Black Ops for instance, has an iconic Cold-War era campaign that was one the best in the entire franchise. There is still room in modern gaming for strong campaigns and this lack is hopefully just a one-time thing for the Call of Duty franchise.
Onward without a Campaign
Treyarch’s staple elements and changes to the core gameplay from Black Ops 3 make Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 the most exciting and engaging experience in years. Gone are the days of futuristic jetpacking around a map. Instead Black Op 4 focuses on tight controls, great maps with vivid and fun locations, and a refined and engrossing specialist system. The entire core multiplayer experience is a highly refined COD experience, especially for those that have always loved the gunplay.
Black Ops 4’s multiplayer engagements have now been dramatically changed. Instead of auto-healing, you must now manually inject yourself after any damage is taken in order to heal. The decision to reload or heal after every gunfight is now a big choice that can mean life or death in fast paced modes. You also have the ability to choose a Specialist – essentially “heroes” or classes – that each have their own unique abilities that can alter the outcome when used correctly.
Abilities like grappling hooks, large shields, cluster grenades, and movement sensors make every person on your team important instead of being just another player with a gun. Each specialist also has an “ultimate” ability that can include a War Machine grenade launcher, or pulse-wave generator that shows enemy locations. Treyarch has shaken up the formula enough to refine what has worked in the past to create a multiplayer mode that is pure fun to play.
A New Era, A New Call of Duty
The evolution of the Black Ops 4 from Modern Warfare 2 to the current core multiplayer modes are quite interesting. Games like Destiny 2 and Overwatch, are indicative of how modern gaming developers are creating vast experiences that keep you coming back for more with good variety and unique experiences.
Treyarch has also created a fun and engaging progression system in Black Ops 4. Character unlocks, prestige levels, gun camouflages, and more are all back. There is plenty to do and unlock within multiplayer and they did a good job of making progression meaningful. The multiplayer mode also has 14 maps, 4 of which are remakes of classic maps. The “pick-10” system has returned for create-a-class along with scorestreaks.
Here is brief look at the create-a-class screen:
Some may find the slightly manic experience of Black Ops 4’s multiplayer annoying and off-putting from those slower time-to-kill games like Destiny 2 especially since a good team on the other side can already abuse an often terrible spawn system in multiplayer. Typically, Call of Duty’s game modes like Domination were more of a game of attrition and those who can make the bigger plays will often win the game. Often while playing these modes, entire team will be pushed back into a spawn area only to be immediately gunned down.
Of course, a good professional team practices this exact scenario to win matches. This “pushing spawns” strategy has always been counteracted when “spawns flip” and the enemy stop spawning directly under fire but instead move to the opposite side of the map so the losing team can regroup. Too often an entire team will be swarmed and die over and over with no spawn flip. For example here is a professional player caught right in the middle of an opposing teams spawn:
What Do I Gotta Do pic.twitter.com/B5iGS9Um1p
— Seth Abner (@OpTic_Scumper) October 13, 2018
Multiplayer also needs some tweaking to armor and to some weakly performing guns. Armor in particular is a big issue currently as each player already has a higher TTK (time-to-kill) than normal with 150 health. Some guns need almost half a clip to down a single enemy. Now add armor for every class and you now have 200 health to use a crutch to extend this TTK even further. Additions to the game like this are always highly debated and they definitely change the experience for the worse here and will probably be abused.
Controls are tight and feel great if you are on either console or PC, and it easy for anyone to pick up. However, PC has aim-assist disabled for controllers. This is due to previous games in the franchise being exploited to allow keyboard and mouse players to abuse the aim-assist by also plugging in a controller. Those hoping to use their controller of choice other than a standard keyboard and mouse on PC will have a lot of trouble online, especially in the new mode Blackout where you have one life to live.
Back in Blackout
Since the most recent Beta, Blackout has created the most hype and excitement for the series unlike anything we have seen in some time. It’s a gamble hot on the heels of a year dominated by Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), Overwatch, and of course Fortnite.
Treyarch evidently scrapped plans for a campaign but instead focused a major effort into a new Call of Duty Battle Royale mode. Blackout is a mode that feels like a highly polished version of PUBG but with its own unique flair and take on the genre.
Blackout is not the best-looking in the world, but it’s move the developers choose to go with in order to maintain a high frame rate and stability since it is often chaotic and demanding. There are helicopters, snipers, trucks, 4-wheelers, armor, and more to avoid while you try to keep your single life.
The pace of the map is perfect. I never had a dull moment where I felt like I was walking a mile in a barren wasteland. There was always an encounter just around the corner or over the next hill. Guns feel powerful, and securing victory feels like a real accomplishment. Level 3 armor still needs some tweaking. Players, especially ones with slow internet, often feel like huge bullet sponges when they have it equipped. Still the guns feel great and the looting system is fast and clean that anyone can pick up.
A game like Fortnite has kept such a high level of engagement for so long because of its “Seasons” of updates bringing new guns, map changes, emotes, and so on. The competing PUBG fell on the wayside with most gamers growing tired of the poorly optimized experienced and a lack of new content.
Treyarch’s Blackout mode is a 100 player, loot to win survival mode almost identical to PUBG with a vast map with nondescript houses and various areas that players can drop into. Blackout is obviously the much more polished and stable experience we wish that PUBG could have been.
PUBG started dying the moment Fortnite launched because they took much too long to introduce even minor things like more clothing, maps, guns and so on. Blackout is definitely not the first or the last Battle Royale mode to be released, so it needs to excel in many areas to keep players interested.
Players want the chase along with a unique flair- a new weapon to try in a gunfight, or a new point of interest on the map. A staple of Call of Duty’s multiplayer is progression and unlocks for core multiplayer. Sadly, Blackout does little to translate that experience and often fails to impress because of poor progression. There is nothing much to chase after in the long-term except for some character unlocks.
Don’t get us wrong, Blackout is highly enjoyable and the probably the best mode in the entire package. There is no way to describe the feeling of being the last man alive and beating out 99 other people as the victor. However, it is still clear that Treyarch not only needs to match the pace of Epic Games’ Fortnite game updates, they need to beat it if they want to remain relevant.
Zombies, Chaos, Aether
Zombies is back in Black Ops 4 with the largest experience the mode has ever seen on launch day. The mode has 3 maps, or 4 if you get the season pass, and they are all fantastic. The maps either continue the “Aether” storyline from previous games, a 1930s cusp-of-WW II era story, or serve as an introduction to a new “Chaos” storyline.
The lore in Zombies, easter eggs, and increasingly difficult waves have always been staples of the Zombies mode. Nothing is left on the table here. It is hard to describe the Zombie mode without spoiling it. There is a lot to do and even a solo player can turn on some bot allies and progress well as bot AI is surprisingly competent and helpful.
Maps set on the Titanic and on other locations all have plenty to do besides killing as many zombies as possible. There is quite a lot to explore here and each map has its own unique flair and mechanics. Overall, Zombies is the best it has ever been with enough depth to keep the hardcore crowd happy.
The Years to come
Call of Duty’s yearly game release schedule has stumbled recently, and has definitely led to fatigue for a lot of gamers. In 2018, this Call of Duty package feels more like 3 very separate packages that feel detached without a campaign. They all feel like standalone but awesome experiences. Overall, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is the most engaging and fun entry in years.
It all comes down to personal preference, but if you have not liked the Call of Duty offerings in the past, it may not do enough to win over those dead set on hating the franchise. Those with an open mind will find the package is well worth the price, and performance is amazing on PC. I have experienced a crash here or there, but nothing too major to cause concern.
Black Ops 4 is not the best-looking even on PC in a lot of areas of the game, and especially Blackout. Blackout’s map can often look washed out and generic in multiple areas but 4K is still a smooth performer even on our GTX 980 Ti as we are averaging over 60+ FPS with most settings maxed when playing multiplayer. We had little to no performance hiccups other than when the game initially launched and the servers were under the most stress.
This is the new Call of Duty. The new main menu feels more like a launcher for the game mode of choice, and it could be a big indicator for the future of the series. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has three extraordinary and distinct modes that each stand on thier own and they are all packaged as a great value for FPS fans. Even in this crowded landscape, it becomes clear that this may be a great year for Call of Duty. See you online!