Call of Duty has been struggling to reach the highs of its heyday for years. Call of Duty used to be an event. Every year fans were treated with an action-packed blockbuster campaign, an addictive competitive multiplayer mode, and some type of cooperative offering (usually zombies). This year’s entry forgoes the single-player aspect to double down on its multiplayer, and the change more than paid off, resulting a robust and varied suite of compelling game modes, each with their own progression systems and unlocks.
Multiplayer is Call of Duty’s bread and butter. Fast-paced twitch shooting has been a staple of the franchise since its conception, and Black Ops 4 is no different.
However, Black Ops 4 does make some small but welcome changes to the formula. Objective based game modes are now 5v5 instead of the usual 6v6, but some modes like team deathmatch still support 6v6. Healing is a manual action this time around, requiring a button press rather than just waiting behind cover. Players have more health and the time to kill is a bit longer than normal. While these tweaks aren’t anything major, they add up to create a more strategic, tactical experience than traditional brain dead run and gun shooting.
Similar to Black Ops III, each player is required to choose a Specialist, a preset character with unique abilities. While these characters were present in the previous entry, there’s much more of a focus on them this time around. There can only be one of each per team, and some of the new Specialists have support abilities like healing and respawn stations, so a team’s composition really matters. Each one feels unique and suited to a specific play style. Want to provide extra points for your team and play for scorestreaks? Choose Crash. Want to hunker down somewhere and hold down a part of the map? Choose Torque. The Specialists add a layer of depth to the game while not overcomplicating things.
The characters’ backstories are fleshed out in “Specialist Ops”, which are nothing more than glorified tutorial missions with short cutscenes attached to them. What could’ve been fairly interesting and a good introduction to the game’s multiplayer turned out to be underwhelming and tedious.
Black Ops 4 has 14 maps, 4 of which are remakes of classic Black Ops maps. The other 10 are serviceable with some standouts. Icebreaker has players engaging in medium to long distance firefights with little cover, but the wrecked ship in the middle of the map offers tight, close range battles and flanking routes. Morocco has a surprising amount of verticality, with most routes usually having a higher path nearby. Hacienda funnels players through hallways while still allowing them to rotate around the house to flank, or through the open courtyard if they’re feeling brave. Each map has its own identity, and they’re all fun to play on.
Heist and Control are the two new modes introduced. Heist is very obviously inspired by Counter Strike. You start with a pistol and have to earn money by either eliminating players or completing the objective. There are no respawns, and you buy weapons and gear at the start of each round. Heist is fun, but forgettable. Control, on the other hand, is a welcome addition to the franchise and quickly became one of my favorite modes. One team attacks two control points while the other defends. Each team only has 30 lives, though, and once those are gone, there are no respawns. Both teams go at it until one reaches 3 points. Control requires strategy and communication, but it’s still casual enough to fit in nicely with other Call of Duty game types. It’s all fun and games until it’s 5v5 with no respawns.
Speaking of spawns, spawning is incredibly broken. People will spawn right behind you. It’s infuriating. I’ve seen plays of the game where people have gotten a kill, died, respawned, and then immediately got two more kills, all within seconds. Treyarch is working to improve the spawns, but right now, it’s a mess.
Other than that, Black Ops 4’s multiplayer feels like classic Call of Duty with some modern twists. I hit first prestige over the launch weekend, and I’m looking forward to returning. Map variety, gun selection, and varied game modes make for a refreshing and fun experience.
Zombies is the second pillar of Black Ops 4’s multiplayer suite. On a fundamental level, Zombies is the same as it was back in World at War. Four players work together to survive endless waves of undead attackers, purchasing new weapons, opening doors, and uncovering secrets as they do. Black Ops 4’s Zombies mode is absolutely packed with content. There are three maps at launch (four if you have the season pass), and each offers a different experience than the other. IX takes place in an ancient Roman gladiator arena. Voyage of Despair places you and your team on the Titanic. Blood of the Dead is a reimagining of the classic Black Ops II map “Mob of the Dead”.
There is a huge focus on customization this time around. You can choose Classic mode, which lets you play just like the good old days, Rush mode, a much faster paced alternative, or create your own entirely custom game mode. The amount of freedom given to you in creating custom games is immense. There are also four difficulty levels to choose from. No matter your skill level or what you want out of Zombies, Treyarch has made sure you’ll be happy.
Zombies also features a robust create-a-class system allowing for specialization and different playstyles. You can choose four of the game’s 30+ elixirs, which are temporary perks that function similarly to Black Ops III’s Gobblegum. You can also choose a special weapon similar to a Specialist’s ultimate ability (the sword was a favorite of my group). Another aspect the game lets you customize are the perks that appear on the map. Rather than having every perk on the map at a specific location, there are now four perk machines, but you can choose which perk to put in each. All of these systems can be a little overwhelming at first, but there is a tutorial to help ease new players into the Zombies experience.
Black Ops 4 Zombies is a nice change of pace from its Multiplayer. It’s tense, it’s rewarding, and it’s just a good time overall. Naturally it’s better with friends, but there are always bots if you prefer the solo experience (the bots in this game are more skilled than some human players I know). Zombies is as good as it’s ever been here, and there’s a lot for players to uncover.
This is definitely the most interesting part of Black Ops 4. The series got rid of a campaign, replacing it with battle royale as the game’s third pillar, and man was it worth it.
Blackout is phenomenal.
You all know how it goes: 100 players drop onto the map and the last person or team standing is victorious. Blackout doesn’t exactly bend the rules of battle royale in any spectacular ways, but it’s incredibly well made. It runs well and looks good. The gunplay is tight and satisfying, as one would expect from a Call of Duty title. It just feels good to play.
The map is made up of classic Black Ops maps, but reworked to fit into a battle royale map. Nuketown is now its own island, aptly named “Nuketown Island”. Other fan favorites like Array and Firing Range make appearances as well. Zombies maps are included, too, but what good would Zombies maps be without, well, Zombies? Zombies are present in Blackout, and they are definitely a threat. They take more hits to go down than normal, and in a game like this where sound is key, engaging them can and will give away your position. If you do choose to brave the undead, you’ll be rewarded with the mystery box, which serves as a rare loot cache in Blackout.
Everything about Blackout just feels right. The movement is extremely fluid. Sliding and vaulting feel natural and useful. Vehicles handle wonderfully. ATVs are quick and nimble, while trucks are heavier but offer more protection. Perks provide helpful gameplay benefits like quieter footsteps or faster movement. You have things to work toward because the game gives you objectives to unlock new characters. There’s even splitscreen! Overall, it’s like a more polished and refined version of PUBG.
That’s not to say it’s perfect, though. Looting is a hassle. The UI is clunky and unresponsive. Sometimes the game bugs out and you can’t even scroll through items. It’s tedious to strip a gun of all its attachments to replace it with a better one you found. Ammo isn’t automatically picked up. It’s not a deal breaker, but it has resulted in some moments of frustration. Audio is another problem. Sound is imperative to locating your enemies and planning your next move. Sound in Blackout is a mess. You may think someone is shooting right outside of the building you’re in, but in actuality they’re across a field fighting someone else. It’s very difficult to gauge where people are based on footsteps and gunshots, and that can be incredibly frustrating in the top ten, when everyone is hiding and you need to deduce their locations.
Despite its shortcomings, Black Ops 4 feels like a return to form for the franchise in a way. It’s not perfect, but it gets a lot of things right. The removal of a campaign was a risky move, but it definitely paid off. Black Ops 4 has my friends and I staying up until the wee hours of the night, saying “one more round” more times than we can count, whether it’s a game of TDM, Blackout, or Zombies. Call of Duty Black Ops 4 is the premier multiplayer suite on the market right now, and it is definitely worth your time.
Final Score: 9