Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

R889
8.5

Score

8.5/10

Pros

  • Excellent take on the Battle Royale genre
  • Fast loading and zero performance issues
  • Specialists are a welcome addition to multiplayer
  • Quick matchmaking
  • Specialist HQ makes up for the lack of a traditional campaign

Cons

  • Blackout has player count issues due to region locking
  • [Nitpick] No standard single-player campaign

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 joins a decade-spanning franchise known for its excellent multiplayer, zombies mode, and strong single-player campaigns. This time around, however, developer Treyarch decided to cut the single-player portion completely out of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Choosing to rather focus on its multiplayer aspects. Naturally, this change means that the newest title in the franchise now directly competes with the likes of Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and even PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

Cutting an entire aspect out of a game, from a series that is known for its single-player campaigns, may sound like a huge change. However, the very nature of the Call of Duty fanbase, fortunately, caters toward this. Sure, there are some (such as myself) who liked the campaigns featured in previous titles, but in the end they had nothing on the overwhelming pull of the multiplayer aspect of those very same games. Black Ops 4 takes that to heart, and it succeeds in pretty much every single way. I never expected to enjoy the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 experience as much as I did.

What happened to you? [Story]

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 may no longer have a single-player campaign in the traditional sense of the word, but Treyarch did incorporate some kind of a story – albeit only just! If you are unaware, multiplayer classes have totally been replaced by specialists, a returning feature from Call of Duty: Black Ops III. These specialists are not just blank slates with unique abilities, mind you. Rather, they come with their own backstories and an interlinking story arch that explains why they join up for random skirmishes.

Of the ten specialists, Black Ops 4 features six returning characters. Ruin, Prophet, Battery, Seraph, Nomad, and Firebreak join new specialists Recon, Ajax, Torque, and Crash. Together, all ten specialists feature in a new single-player game mode called Specialist HQ. Here, players can view videos on the backstories of all specialists, get introductory cutscenes on their unique abilities, and even load into short sequences where you are introduced to the specialist you have chosen. I did this in order, starting with Ajax – did you know that he hails from South Africa? That was a neat surprise!

As you complete each Specialist’s training and earn a bronze star (at minimum), you can move on to the next Specialist and begin the process over. The nice thing here is that every specialist features a unique map, where a virtual Sgt. Woods introduces you to the character, quips about their backstory, and tutors you on the specialist’s abilities. After this, you enter a training match with bots. Every specialist features their own game mode, pulled directly from the various multiplayer maps and types.

Completing the Specialist HQ unlocks video snippets of “what really happened” after Black Ops and Black Ops 2. Eventually players will unlock a full video that attempts to answer some questions left over from the previous games. It also finally reveals the full backstories of the ten specialists and why they now work to stop the Blackout from happening… or that is what I surmised from the vague video at the end. I think this is the beauty of it: it is essentially a quick, three-to-four hour single player campaign that ends up with a tease for the rest of the game. I liked it, a lot.

Of course, Zombies also makes a return in Black Ops 4, and as you might expect, features its own story arcs. As usual, each Zombies map features its own tale of science-fiction, a supernatural story best suited to some low-budget show on television… and it is honestly really great. It should be noted that I only had access to three of the four available experiences. A fourth Zombies map is locked entirely behind the paywall that is the “season pass” – while I think this is a particularly scummy move from both Treyarch and Activision, the three available maps were enough to keep me from thinking they deliberately cut content.

The main premise of Zombies is that players will eventually die. There is, of course, the everlasting hope that this will not happen. Interestingly, players can tackle two story timelines in the Zombies mode, which, for the first time, does not stick to a single era. In Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, players get to travel through time and space, where they are met with all kinds of unique situations.

For example, the mode takes you to ancient Rome, or something, and pits you with a bunch of ancient zombies in a gladiatorial arena, complete with its own tombs, labyrinths, and crypts. Voyage of Despair, on the other hand, takes the group to a sinking Titanic, where you have to fend off the hordes in the tight corridors of the massive “unsinkable” ship. Blood of the Dead takes players to Alcatraz and has its own set of nuances that, at the end of the day, felt like the most unique map of the lot – even with the Roman map thrown in there. Ultimately, the story in Zombies is pretty straightforward. What surprised me is how the original cast of characters, from World at War, appear to be at the centre of it all. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 seems to like going back to the roots, while also diverging pretty heavily – and the game is, honestly, all the better for it.

Standard CoD dish, with some extras on the side [Gameplay]

Gameplay in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is pretty much exactly as you would expect. There is nothing new, save for a new game mode or two. You shoot with the right trigger, aim with the left. You duck with X and jump with A, and the analogue sticks turn the camera and move the player. With that said, given that two other games came out between Black Ops III and Black Ops 4 – one of which was Call of Duty: World War II – I feel it necessary to go over the main differences.

The Zombies campaigns feature the same gameplay as all zombies modes before it. You enter a map (or in this case, a new period), pick up a weapon, and bash undead heads in. Like previous campaigns, zombies still drop special power-ups. These include abilities such as an instant ammo refill, or health boost. There are also mystery boxes that drop from certain zombies. These can be used to your own benefit, or be passed along to fellow teammates.

Teamwork is a huge aspect of Black Ops 4, whether it pertains to standard multiplayer modes such as Control or Blackout when you squad up with others. Teamwork plays an especially large role in Zombies as well. Every time I played, I joined up with three other random players. Where my experience with the Zombies campaign in World War II was a tumultuous one, where players never spoke, I found myself in a lot of conversations with these strangers in Black Ops 4. Similarly, I also found that they worked together much more easily than in previous titles. I think this mainly comes down to coincidence – I did play during the opening weekend, after all.

Specialists changed the way Call of Duty multiplayer worked in Black Ops III. In Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, specialists return in a much stronger sense of the word. Each specialist has different and unique abilities. The way they are presented makes them feel unique in a world where hero-shooters have become the norm for multiplayer games. You use the right bumper to execute a constantly refreshing unique ability (such as lobbing a stun grenade, setting down barbed wire, or activating a forward respawn beacon), while the left bumper acts as the dedicated heal button (which also constantly refreshes); and a big ultimate ability that has a huge cooldown of its own, which you execute by pressing both bumpers simultaneously.

The game also features the same game modes that fans of the series will know and love. These include Team Deathmatch, Domination, Kill Confirmed, Search and Destroy, and Hardpoint. New modes, however, include Heist and Control. Heist revolves around picking up cash and taking it to the extraction point ala capture the flag, while Control requires teams to either attack or defend certain spots on the map.

My favourite standard multiplayer modes ended up being kill confirmed (for that team deathmatch with a twist feel), and Control (for actually forcing you to work together, regardless of whether you joined matches with random players, or with friends). All-in-all, standard multiplayer was a fun experience. I found matches really quickly and found it easy to work with other players. Of course, it helps that the region locking kept throwing me with people that spoke either Afrikaans or English (the only two languages I speak). In terms of matchmaking, the same cannot be said for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s brand-new game mode.

Blackout is Treyarch’s take on the current multiplayer phenomenon, Battle Royale. It is very much a Call of Duty experience that sees upwards of a hundred players thrown into a single map, where they must duke it out to be the last man (or group) standing. The problem is that the region lock kept throwing me into lobbies that only contained a few other players. Although it is great that Activision are providing local South African servers, the issue is that they are not yet populated enough (on Xbox and PC) to provide a true Blackout experience. During my time, the highest player count I experienced was in the low forties. While not an issue in the late game, early games ended up feeling stagnant – often failing to start. Truth be told, I would much rather also be matched with players from EU regions, which is something both PUBG and Fortnite allow. Rather than only getting into games with less than a third of the required 100 needed for the experience.

The matchmaking issues aside, I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Blackout. I am a huge fan of battle royale titles. Since the genre’s launch on PC, I have enjoyed countless hours dying, surviving, and getting chicken dinners in PUBG. While not exactly my kind of game, Fortnite also has its charm – especially on Xbox and PlayStation. Black Ops 4 has now joined the ranks of these heavy hitters, and I can confidently say that it has found a comfortable spot as one of the best I have played. Blackout features the kind of polish that I wish PUBG would have had at launch… something it still needs.

Player counts in South Africa may not be the highest, but I constantly found my heart racing as it came down to me and ten other players skulking around, waiting for someone to make a move. I never won a single game, mind you, but I did come close once (if you count fifth as close).

As smooth as General Shepherd’s balding head [Performance & Visuals]

Beyond the pretty stellar gameplay, Black Ops 4 also performs amicably. Loading is fast and finding matches is really quick. I also like that you can turn off the initial boot-up video entirely from within the settings menu.

The user interface in Black Ops 4 is also nice and sleek. At first, it looks strange: the screen welcomes you with three huge blocks, each of which features a map or a game mode in the three main multiplayer categories. For most of my time playing, I was given the IX Zombies map, a pane which automatically threw me into Squads for Blackout, and a pane that matched me into a random team deathmatch within seconds.

Specialist HQ is situated at the top left, while options can be found below it. Underneath the three huge panes, you can enter into the game modes where you can choose which game type you want to play, or which map you would like to match on.

It may have been strange at first, but I quickly got used to the layout (which felt very much like it was created with PC in mind), really quickly. Once in a string of matches, however, I hardly found myself returning to this screen at all since game types and maps could be voted upon right from within the lobby of a match.

The only frame drops I experienced throughout the game happened in Blackout. I suppose it is mainly because of the fact that Blackout loads a huge map, versus the small maps and arenas featured in multiplayer, and zombies.

With that said, I can also say that everything about the game looks incredible. While not exactly up to snuff with many single-player titles out there, this is by far the best-looking Call of Duty I have ever seen. Textures never had to load in as I turned around, and foliage was spread far and wide across even the likes of Blackout. I think it has something to do with the dynamic resolution system the game features. There were times where you can see how grass becomes a tiny bit blurry, or how the player’s view starts to feature a little more motion blur than normal. This is evidence of dynamic resolutions, where the game dictates what resolution the console must render at, at any given time. With that said, the dynamic resolution system kept the game running smoothly – even on the original Xbox One.

A game Mason would be proud of [Conclusion]

From looking great to performing superbly, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 definitely takes a step in the right direction. Regardless of the lack of a proper single-player campaign, it is clear that Treyarch still put all their love and dedication into the game.

At the end of the day, the entire multiplayer experience in Call of Duty; Black Ops 4 surprised me immensely. As someone who lamented playing first-person titles on a console before World War II came along, I can safely say that Black Ops 4 cemented the fact that multiplayer on console is great… or maybe the game is just that darn good!


Hours Played 10+ hours
Difficulty N/A
Platform Xbox One
Acquisition Review copy courtesy of Activision

About Edward Swardt

From Superman to Ironman; Bill Rizer to Sam Fisher and everything in-between, Edward loves it all. He is a Bachelor of Arts student and English Major specialising in Language and Literature. He is an avid writer and casual social networker with a flare for all things tech related.

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