Taking the shuttle back to the airport the day after the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 community reveal was an interesting thing. About half of the passengers were outlet representatives, and half were regular travelers. The thing that made it strange is how open everyone was on their feelings for what we saw. Half of the outlets were upset about there not being a campaign in Black Ops 4, while the other half couldn’t have cared less. One thing was for sure though, and that this was a passionate group of gamers who were going to be honest about how they felt about the offering for this year’s Call of Duty. I fell into the latter half.
I generally don’t play the Call of Duty campaigns, instead opting to sink what little available time I do have into the competitive multiplayer modes where I spend most of my time anyway. Even last year, my Managing Editor covered the WWII campaign separately from the multiplayer coverage. With a lack of a campaign though, Treyarch really needed to set the bar high in terms of balance and fun. By bringing in a new Battle Royale mode on top of Zombies and Multiplayer, there really is a way to play for everyone, even if I am having a hard time juggling my time between the three modes.
So far, I’ve spent the most time in the competitive multiplayer modes. It’s easier to jump into that solo than it is waiting for my squad to get on and play Blackout. There are a handful of operators returning from Black Ops 3, along with a few newcomers. Each operator has a unique piece of equipment they can take into battle. Ruin has a grappling hook that can propel him in any direction quickly to reach cover. Others have tactical items, like Ajax’s 9-bang, a flash bang that can be charged to provide three distinct flash bursts. Equipment has to charge, much like each operator’s unique special ability, but the equipment charges a bit faster than their ultimate.
Certain maps seem tailored for different operators. Seaside sees more players using Torque in order to drop a ballistic shield on the stairs up to the high sniper perch. Ajax’s ballistic shield saw him clearing small rooms in several of the maps, and Firebreak’s reactor core was able to deal damage to hiding enemies without actually putting him into danger. I’ve said it before, but utilizing everyone’s special still feels key to a cohesive team and map control. I previously though this applied more to the objective game modes, but the more I play the more I realize how the operators come into play in every mode. I’ve been playing Black Ops 4 on Xbox One, and after playing Black Ops 3 exclusively on Playstation 4, I have noticed a higher caliber of players on Xbox. Don’t get me wrong, PS4 had plenty of great players, but when not playing with a group, I find my team managing to get spawn trapped or running down enemy monitored hallways to their death. More people are playing as a cohesive unit, and that’s a testament to how well Treyarch has crafted each of these operators to play as part of a team.
In addition to large specialist changes, Treyarch has changed the way players regenerate health. Instead of auto-regenerating, players have to manually heal. It’s a quick and easy button press, but requires a recharge before using again. Manually healing becomes second nature after a while, to the point where I try to heal after every encounter, even if I didn’t take any damage. It makes each encounter feel a bit more tactical, as it requires some extra thought if I’m going to push a corner or not to attack an enemy. Players that find themselves rushing into battle more often, like I do, may choose to equip extra equipment in the create a class menu that recharges the stim shot faster. Other equipment in that same menu exists as well, like body armor or a trophy system. There is a pretty massive amount of customization in the menu that suits most play styles, and even now after I’ve prestiged I don’t feel like I’ve found just the right fit for my classes.
During the beta, I felt like there were issues with balancing, and I still think they are present in the full release. During the two tests, I had issues with the time to kill against players wearing body armor. It feels better here, and going up against players with body armor equipped isn’t a death sentence anymore, even with the longer TTK. SMG’s during the tests, specifically the MX9 needed work, but now I think the assault rifles need work. The range of these weapons, combined with the low recoil on virtually every weapon in this class feels too high, and most of my deaths came from people turning on me with an assault rifle, despite me getting the first shot.
I’ve played a handful of modes in Black Ops 4, and most of them are the same as Black Ops 3. However, there are a few new modes included. Heist is probably the most notable, and it plays almost like a symmetrical hostage capture mode from Rainbow Six. Players start with a pistol and fight to bring a bag of money to the capture point. Throughout the match, players earn money that can be spent on guns, equipment, and even perks. It feels very “Counter-Strikey” with some unique twists on the game mode. Control is the other new mode, and features a ticket respawn system. Two control points are static as players fight to control them, and feels like a more tactical domination mode.
Those that are less skilled in Call of Duty’s multiplayer might have a harder time jumping into battle in this outing. The fights are more tactical, and the guns have some serious balancing issues that need worked out. Despite this, the more tactical gameplay really fits and without the jump boosting, helps slow things down in an already quick paced game. There are still many times when playing with an under-skilled team when we were getting worked up and down the map. Still, it’s a fun and satisfying multiplayer, with a strong progression system that starts unlocking new weapons and equipment, and doesn’t stop.
Blackout is the first foray in AAA battle royale modes. Treyarch has done a commendable job in literally translating multiplayer into a large format. I’m pretty convinced that weapon and vehicle spawns have been reduced since the beta, as it isn’t uncommon to run through three or four buildings without finding a weapon. My issues from the beta with party grouping have been resolved, as has the controller input glitch after pressing the Xbox guide button.
Treyarch took a gamble not including a campaign in this outing, and while some people still might not like the decision, I have personally already put more time into Blackout than I would have any single-player mode. The map design is pretty stellar, and features a handful of locations from other Treyarch multiplayer maps. Even though it is a large map, it isn’t too big that you’ll often drop in places alone. This can be good or bad, depending on if you find a weapon quickly or not, but I tend to lean toward having more people everywhere so the rounds don’t stall like they do in PUBG.
Even after the initial drop, going from location to location often yields battles with other players. The fights in Blackout feel much like the multiplayer, but weapon choice is more important in this mode. 5.56 weapons still feel like they reign king of the control and range balance, but most guns are pretty versatile for closer range encounters. I often found myself gravitating towards making sure I had any AR (or an MX9) and a sniper rifle. This combo made itself more useful than most other weapons I carried around. The thing that makes Blackout so much fun are the moments it can encapsulate. One battle had me and a buddy flying around in a helicopter when another helicopter took to the sky. My friend had a rocket launcher as his secondary, so he locked on and fired at the enemy team. The team bailed from the helicopter and glided to the ground at the same time we did, and we ended up having a battle in an open field while helicopters crashed around us. These are the moments that make Blackout so special.
Some specialist equipment makes an appearance in Blackout as well. Recon’s sensor dart can reveal a circular portion of the map around wherever the dart lands, and the mesh mine creates a deadly trap for unsuspecting enemies. There’s plenty of equipment to play around with, and while a lot of it seems really situational they all have their uses. There is plenty of equipment that I haven’t had time to fully adapt to yet. I’ve recently discovered that a well-placed sensor dart on a remote-controlled car can make a roving UAV, but I also haven’t tried putting it on any of the vehicles or shooting it at a zombie. Zombies make an appearance in certain areas, marked by a beam of light shooting into the sky. These areas contain a mystery box, which often contain powerful loot. Level 3 armor, the Zweihander, or the MP40 are some of the stronger items I’ve gotten out of these boxes. During the beta, it felt like the zombies in these areas took a bit too much damage, but in the full release they seem to have less HP, making these areas more manageable solo. In addition, the spawn rate of the level 3 armor has been reduced drastically. I’ve only found it two or three times outside of mystery boxes, and it seems to be easier to shoot off of people that already have it equipped.
While the problems I had with the inventory system during the beta persist here, I seem to be having less issues with them. It definitely doesn’t stem from any changes that they’ve made, but instead seems to be that I’m just getting used to it. It still needs some work, and I’d much rather have quick-swap buttons mapped to left and right on the D-pad than e-motes and text call outs. Having that would make swapping equipped inventory and medical supplies much easier to navigate than using the quick menu. There have been some changes to the quick menu that I think are for the better, but it doesn’t fix the overall issue of a slow to use inventory system.
The other main issue I had was with performance in quads mode. The first day and a half ran really smooth, while the last couple of days I’ve dealt with a ton of dropped frames. I’ve been reading that this has generally just affected Xbox One, and Playstation 4 players aren’t dealing with as severe an issue.
Honestly, Blackout feels like a superior version of PUBG, even if it is more arcadey. Movement is incredibly fluid, and the gunfights are fast paced and diverse. Having equipment and guns everywhere make going into every encounter a risk, even if you have level 3 armor and fully kitted guns. The one thing I will say works really well about the inventory system is how fluid it is to equip different attachments to guns. Looking at any attachment on the ground with whatever gun you have equipped will give you the option to do a quick-equip or just pick up the item. When dropping into locations with a handful of enemies, this became extremely important and should be standard in all battle royale titles.
I’ve spent the least amount of time with Zombies, but I can say that this is the most robust Zombies outing to date. With XI, Voyage of Despair, and Blood of the Dead, Zombies players have their work cut out for them. Each of these experiences could have been put in Black Ops 4 alone and players still would have sunk some serious time. As someone who doesn’t put much effort into Zombies mode past review time, just starting this mode was daunting. There are so many menus and customization options that it’s going to be overwhelming for anyone not super versed in the Zombies mythos. There is a tutorial, but it only covers a little bit of one of the maps, so I didn’t personally find it very helpful.
There are a few difficulty modes for players to set, and to be frank, I played on casual for the first few times. It helped me come to grips with some of the intricacies of Voyage of Despair. Voyage of Despair takes place on the Titanic, and tasks our Zombie heroes with reclaiming an artifact. XI puts them in a Roman coliseum, taking on waves after waves of Zombies, Zombie tigers, and champions. The Champions are extremely powerful, but all players have an ultimate ability they can use to do massive amounts of damage or use for another property like healing.
I’ll be updating this review once I get some more hands on time with Zombies, but for now, it’s an intriguing dance of death against the waves of the undead. Treyarch made a smart decision not to have easter eggs in the mode until launch so everyone would have an even playing field for discovering them. My biggest problem so far is with Voyage of Despair, as the ship is huge my group and I spent almost an hour looking for a single item. Once we get used to the layout of the ship and spawn points we’ll have a lot less trouble, but in our first few outings it was really frustrating.
Despite not having a campaign, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is one of the most complete packages to date. I’ve already sunk a day and a half of playtime into this year’s iteration, and there is plenty more to come. There are still some changes that need to be made for the sake of balance, but overall this is an extremely varied multiplayer foray and one sure to please newcomers and old fans alike.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is available now for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This review is based on an Xbox One copy provided by the publisher. Purchases are available here.