Let us get the giant hulking elephant out of the room first, Black Ops 4 does not have a single-player campaign. It’s the first time in the franchise’s history that this happened and it’s a noteworthy change from traditions that have been around for decades. People like myself were shocked at the news since part of the Call of Duty experience was running through an action-packed campaign even if the narrative was derived straight from a Jason Bourne movie that had a mediocre performance at the box office. It was a big deal when the initial news of this dropped and people were respectably up in arms about the whole affair, especially considering the game substituted the campaign with a Battle Royale mode.
However, I’d posit the argument that this was the natural evolution of the Call of Duty franchise. It’s a diversion from what we’ve come to expect is the norm, but it’s a focus of what the franchise has become known for over its bountiful duration. Fewer and fewer people were playing the campaigns and even those that reached the top prestige ranks in multiplayer would never touch that button on the main menu that took them on a narrative journey. Instead, we’re given a package consisting of three vastly different multiplayer experiences and possibly the Call of Duty experience that gives you the most bang for your buck. It’s important to distinguish the three offerings as much as possible to paint the clearest picture, so let us do exactly that.
Things started to get a little silly in the multiplayer modes for futuristic Call of Duty games. There were gadgets everywhere and you could bunny hop from buildings and run along walls like some crazed mercenary on speed. What Black Ops 4 does is dial it back just enough for the experience to feel grounded again. There’s a list of specialists to choose from and each of them caters to a different playstyle. There are offensive specialists that allow you to deal the most damage as possible, defensive specialists that keep the battlefield littered with traps and support specialists that can provide the team with different advantages. There are more options than ever to play how you like to play and not feel restricted to one type of build that everyone is using.
Specialists have two main abilities namely their specialist tool and their ultimate ability. Both of these abilities are on a cooldown timer with the ultimate ability able to turn the tides of the match if used correctly with the caveat that it takes quite a while to charge up. The specialist tool can be used much more frequently, but not frequently enough for it to be overpowered. You can even substitute these tools for more traditional things like frag grenades and trophy systems, but these choices are all up to you.
The modes that are available are your standard package of Call of Duty multiplayer with a couple of new modes thrown in. Nothing revolutionary has been done on this front and you’ll feel that you’re on familiar grounds when you first hop into the multiplayer experience. The Pick 10 system has returned to offer you customisation as simple as possible and crafting a build that suits you has never been simpler. Pick a gun, pick some perks and go on your way. You can get fancy with the wildcards, but it’s mostly a straightforward experience which is an apt description of the multiplayer experience as a whole.
They went for refinement instead of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks and I have to respect that.
The balance of the multiplayer is where things get interesting. Things feel like they have a lot more weight to them. Your actions are more methodical and calculated rather than blindly rushing in and shooting everything. A tactically-minded approach feels more valid than ever before and this comes through pretty clearly on the objective-based modes. Those that blindly rush into the fray are usually the first ones to go. It also feels a lot more fair with old cheesy methods of the past like quickscoping and camping being made significantly harder to do due to how the whole mode is structured. Whether you’re a decorated Call of Duty vet or a casual player, you’ll find some sort of enjoyment here.
What would be a common theme for the rest of the game, there isn’t much new here to be found. Conversely, a lot of features have been stripped in order to make everything more streamlined. However, the experience of it is still extremely solid and I haven’t found myself enjoying a Call of Duty‘s multiplayer mode so much since the early days of the franchise. They went for refinement instead of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks and I have to respect that.
Possibly the marquee mode for the whole experience is this new Battle Royale mode. The genre has been dominated by the two big games that have achieved wild success, but this is the first time a major AAA game has implemented the mode. When you first drop in, you’ll feel the familiar pull of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, with the big difference being that everything is much more refined. The map is sprawling with a dizzying amount of distinct and detailed locations to loot for better gear on a cohesive plane with many tactical spots and potential hiding places. The controls are that of the multiplayer which means that it feels buttery smooth and responsive.
The biggest surprise is, also surprisingly, the inventory and pick-up system. It might seem like an insignificant part, but this is what you’ll primarily do on the battleground before the final bouts of combat or the surprise skirmishes. It’s so well-done that I’d be hard-pressed to find anything to improve upon. Attachments can be added to guns on the fly, med-kits and equipment have their own designated buttons that make their usage a breeze even during the fevered pitch of battle and clever use of the D-Pad for quick inventory management makes this such a smooth experience. Entering a domicile and looting everything on the ground has never been simpler.
Blackout still adheres to the Battle Royale formulas that we’re used to. The closing circle that funnels everyone into a small space on the map, dropping from helicopters and parachuting into any location you want and, of course, a whole map full of opponents that are all fighting for the top spot. Continuing the theme, there isn’t much new to be found here that we haven’t seen before. However, playing something so polished and meticulous is certainly a breath of fresh air. There were no real bugs to be found, everything ran like a well-oiled machine and the environments look gorgeous to the point where I spent a lot of wasted time just looking around the place instead of finding that sweet loot.
This is a refinement of the Battle Royale genre, to put it as simply as possible. It’s the result of something with a budget and years of experience behind it. While it doesn’t blow the doors off in terms of innovation, it brings the house down with regards to quality.
While Black Ops 4 doesn’t have a singleplayer campaign, I’d make the bold statement that the Zombie mode picks up that mantle in its own quirky way. The Zombie modes in the franchise have evolved from a simple horde-based shooting extravaganza to an epic, layered experience filled with secrets and insane supernatural powers. Black Ops 4 doesn’t deviate from this path and cranks everything up to eleven. There are three campaigns to play with each of them being vastly different than the last. One takes place on the Titanic just as it struck the iceberg where you’ll be shooting zombified Victorian-era debutantes and their help from the lower decks. One takes place in ancient Egypt where you start in a giant fighting pit and facing the wrath of Egyptian gods while you mow down zombies with machine guns. The last one takes place on Alcatraz in the legendary prison’s hallowed walls with inmates trying to eat your brains and an electrified warden trying to murder you.
It’s all quite silly, but that’s the brand that the Zombies mode goes for and it certainly helps to keep your attention in the right place. When you first head into the fracas, it can be quite overwhelming. There are doors everywhere that lead deeper into your chosen pit of hell with all sorts of stuff to interact with and pick up that you have no clue how to use. Some places have barriers that you need to surpass in order to progress and there are perks that you can buy, elixirs you can drink to give bonuses and mystery boxes with all kinds of powerful weapons to be found. The easiest way to go about this mode is using your old pal Google and finding all the right paths and secrets that you need in order to succeed, but if you choose to find things out for yourself, it can be such a rewarding experience.
There is a narrative in all of these maps with a team of four unlikely heroes trying to accomplish some kind of crazy objective and you’ll find them bickering with each other between waves of monstrous zombies. It’s not a fully fledged campaign, mind you, but you have your endearing characters that have their own motivations and an overarching objective which is basically the next best thing. There’s also a deep class creator on offer that allows you to customise your loadout in a dizzying amount of ways. Elixirs offer unique effects that can give you an edge and there are four spots on your D-Pad to fill with elixirs of your choice. The only downside being that in order to get more elixirs, you need to roll a loot box, but you’ll be pleased to hear that it’s not too egregious. You also have super weapons that you can assign that you can periodically use to lay ruin on the zombie hordes. Perk customisation is also there in order to let you further customise to cater your playstyle.
If what you’re worried about is getting the best bang for your buck, then this is a nuclear explosion.
If you decide to invest yourself in the Zombie mode, you’ll find hours upon hours of content. Finding all the secrets, Easter eggs and ways forward will take quite a while to figure out and you also have the added bonus of wave-based destruction. But, to continue the theme once again, we’ve seen this before. It’s certainly the most bombastic package of the eclectic mode yet, but not much has changed in the grand scheme of things. This is way less severe than I make it out to be and it’s still a quality experience spread across many different avenues that is well worth your time.
Snap back to reality
We’ve spent quite a lot of time recounting each of the three modes on offer and as you can see, this is quite the package. These are three extremely distinct modes that we’re talking about and you can easily make the argument that each of them could have been their own standalone experience. You have the bonding agent in the form of the traditional Call of Duty gunplay, but exactly where your shooting happens can differ drastically. On the mad dash of online multiplayer with a bevvy of specialists and refinement, the wide-open fields trying to be the last survivor or in ancient Egypt shotgunning a zombie warrior in the face. This is, without a doubt, the best Call of Duty package that has ever existed and throughout my whole experience, I never once missed a singleplayer campaign. There was just so much to do and conquer that adding more on top of it all would be a mad feat.
However, you’ve seen the running theme throughout the review. There’s a lack of true innovation in every one of these modes and the popular phrase of “nothing new to see here” can be accurately applied. But to break it down like that feels like a disservice to the sheer amount that you’re getting out of this game. Take it as refinement instead of innovation and the offering feels much more tantalising. If what you’re worried about is getting the best bang for your buck, then this is a nuclear explosion.