‘Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’ review

'Black Ops 4' outshines the games it copies with that Call of Duty polish

'Black Ops 4' delivers the best Call of Duty multiplayer battles in years.
'Black Ops 4' delivers the best Call of Duty multiplayer battles in years.
'Black Ops 4' delivers the best Call of Duty multiplayer battles in years.

Highs

  • Engaging gunplay
  • Substantial unlocks
  • Blackout is incredibly fun
  • Great variety in Zombies

Lows

  • Included “story” is needless
  • Zombies bots are too strong and not that smart

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is the most ambitious first-person shooter we’ve seen from Treyarch in years. This is because for the first time in a mainline Call of Duty game, Black Ops 4 abandons its campaign in favor of an all-new, massive mode.. Normally, this would be a deal breaker as the single-player stories are a large part of what makes Call of Duty so much fun. But with multiplayer, Zombies, and Blackout firing on all cylinders, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is worth the price of admission.

A true return to form

In place of the mission-based story mode, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 attempts to tie the multiplayer lore together with a series of tutorial missions. These missions introduce us to the Specialists used in competitive mode and provide a little backstory on their activities.

While the missions are terrible at providing context to the other modes, and Frank Woods’ dialogue is grating, they do a fine job of getting you accustomed to the specialized equipment and abilities at each soldier’s disposal. The simplicity of the tutorial missions did have us longing for a full-fledged campaign mode. Luckily, you can skip this part of the game as long as you’re willing to get shot up while learning Specialist abilities in multiplayer, but you’ll be starting off with one of the best parts of the game.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s competitive multiplayer might be the best the series has seen since Advanced Warfare. It manages to include high-tech gadgets and special abilities without sacrificing the moment-to-moment gunplay that made the series so engaging in the first place.

From assault rifles to sniper rifles, the weapons you fire have a sense of weight and kick that we’ve only seen from a handful of other first-person shooters (Titanfall 2 and Destiny 2 immediately come to mind), and every kill in a match feels earned. Black Ops 4 takes a page out of the Overwatch playbook, counting assists as kills for your personal tally, and it makes you  feel like you’re contributing even if you don’t fire the final shot.

Progression never feels overwhelming in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4.

The biggest change to multiplayer is the healing system. You can’t heal from damage by taking cover for a few seconds. Instead, there’s a button devoted to healing yourself with an injection that recovers your health over time. It only takes a second to start the process and a few more to get back to full health.

Picking the right moment to stop aiming down your sights and heal is definitely its own skill and you’ll want to do it properly. Healing at the right moment can give you just enough of an edge to come out on top in a gunfight but waiting too long or doing it too early can lead to a quick death.

You’re never truly defenseless in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 since you can fire your weapon during nearly any action. Whether you’re climbing a small ledge or even swimming, you can still protect yourself and it makes most firefights feel fair. It also encourages continued movement and keeps camping in check which is a problem that’s been prevalent in the series.

Progression never feels overwhelming in Black Ops 4, even with the number of Specialists, perks and modifications available. Having all these options actually works to your benefit as the Pick 10 system lets you create your ideal class before pairing it with a Specialist in multiplayer.

The rate at which you unlock new weapons and attachments feels great and you hardly go more than a match or two without getting a new scope or grip for your rifle. Most weapons feel like a viable option so unlocks don’t lose their appeal. We did find that a few guns need some balancing, particularly  the pump-action shotgun. The rate at which it loads the next shell is agonizingly slow, making it nearly useless in close combat scenarios.

Unlike PUBG or Fortnite, in Black Ops 4’s Blackout mode, you’ll spend most of your time actually shooting other players.

However, your class is hardly ever to blame for poor performance. Whether you’re playing Team Deathmatch or more specialized modes like Hardpoint or Heist, the weapons and abilities you use have a place. Designated marksmen can take shots with tactical rifles from afar while sneakier players almost always have a way to get behind enemies with a submachine gun.

Blackout dims the lights on the competition

If you’re looking for something a bit bigger, then Blackout mode is for you. In the same vein as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – and with a remarkably similar aesthetic – Blackout’s simplicity doesn’t overshadow how much fun it is to play. After leaping out of a helicopter in a wingsuit, you’ll search buildings, build up your arsenal, and prepare for the forcefield slowly encroaching on your position.

If it sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Anyone with battle royale experience will immediately understand how to play. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t have anything new to bring to the table. Blackout’s excellent map design combined with Call of Duty’s superior controls easily blow the competition away.

Unlike PUBG or Fortnite, you’ll spend most of your time actually shooting other players and that’s a welcomed distinction. Buildings are designed with plenty of windows and doors, giving players an opportunity to take out defenders before being killed themselves, but you’ll have to be careful since even the slightest footstep can alert an enemy of your position.

Despite the enormous size and maze-like structure of some of the Zombies maps, they don’t feel cryptic.

Every kill you get feels deserved, and in groups games in Blackout, this is even more true. Non-verbal communication tools allow you to work with your teammates before entering a new area. As in PUBG, you can each put a marker on the map to suggest the next destination, and the ability to call for your teammates to group up allows you to stay together without needing a headset.

It’s a B movie Zombies party

Zombies returns in Black Ops 4 but this time it brings some campy goofiness in place of the horror-focused mode in Call of Duty: WWII. With two separate storylines split across three missions and three maps that all feel drastically different from each other, there’s a lot for fans to enjoy.

“Voyage of Despair” takes place on the doomed Titanic during a heist gone wrong. You and your teammates will have to go into the depths of the ship, swim through icy water, and fend off hordes of the undead.

The bizarre “IX” mixes zombies with Roman warriors wielding enormous axes. Set in a coliseum, it’s certainly more out there than other Zombies modes, but its multi-level structure and unique architecture make it a welcome addition.

You might want to knock the difficulty up a notch if you don’t have real friends to play Zombies with.

Our favorite of the missions is “Blood of the Dead,” which takes place in Alcatraz. It includes sprawling indoor and outdoor areas loaded with traditional zombies, larger monsters, and explosive dogs. Despite Alcatraz being a familiar setting in horror, the mix of cell blocks, larger areas, and an electric gondola give it a sense of scope we aren’t used to from Call of Duty.

Despite the enormous size and maze-like structure of some of the Zombies maps, they don’t feel cryptic. With enough exploration, you can find all the buttons and items you need to open them up to access better weapons and gear. The perks and special abilities give you just enough of an advantage to weasel your way out of most danger. Dealing with a massive horde of undead? Pull out your magical hammer and swing away. If that doesn’t work, use an elixir that transports you to a completely different area of the map.

You’re free to play Zombies with up to three other players, completely alone, or with computer-controlled bot teammates. We actually found the most success with the latter option. On the normal difficulty setting, your companions can survive for much longer than you can and it’s almost comedic. That said, you might want to knock the difficulty up a notch if you don’t have real friends to play with.

Otherwise, you’ll be watching most of the later rounds through the eyes of a companion or from the floor as you wait for someone to revive you. AI can still be a little dumb, too. We set up a trap to kill zombies with spinning blades only to watch our friends walk in and knock themselves out with it numerous times.

DT Gameplay

17 minutes of raw unfiltered Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 multiplayer gameplay.

Our Take

We wish Treyarch delivered a stellar campaign mode but it’s hard to deny that Black Ops 4 is still a success without it. The competitive multiplayer and Zombies modes are as engaging as they’ve ever been, and Blackout manages to deliver a battle royale experience we want to play way more than PUBG or Fortnite. The game certainly chased some trends this year, but its sheer polish is more than enough to make Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 the winner.

Is there a better alternative?

No. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 delivers fantastic online competitive and cooperative gameplay.

How long will it last?

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is sure to have an audience until the next annual release.

Should you buy it?

Yes, Blackout in combination with its multiplayer and Zombies mode make Black Ops 4 worth it. Even without the campaign.

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