There’s a certain liberating feeling associated with continuing to enjoy Call of Duty in 2018. For years Activision’s annual first-person sensation has been the football team of the video game scene; media and gamers alike are openly derisive of the series while all the while it continues to sell like hotcakes each time a new entry releases. Personally, I’m kind of over that sort of bitterness, and I’m happy to admit that I look forward to each year’s release.
These are solid, well-made titles that innovate a fair amount more than you’d expect, and when we’re talking about Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 we really do need to look at that innovation.
See, we ought to address the elephant in the room before we go anywhere else: no, there’s not really any traditional single-player campaign here. Black Ops 4 has instead opted for multiplayer on a near-exclusive basis, so if you pick these games up annually for the campaign, well, it’s not going to happen anymore. This is Call of Duty for the age of Fortnite, PUBG, and what can feel like millions of battle royale clones where its easy for fans to simply connect online and blast each other into sweet, sweet oblivion.
I’d argue that belies the number of people who are playing Call of Duty for the campaign, but I’m not in the number-speculation business, so I’ll just say that it’s not here. You can play Zombies solo, there’s a handful of single-player missions, but there’s no campaign. Instead, you’ve got Zombies, a battle royale mode called Blackout and classic CoD multiplayer.
Of those, Blackout is by far the highlight of the title. If you’re into the battle royale subgenre, in fact, I’d say it’s superlative and justifies the cost of the game all its own. Much like every other me-too PUBG clone, you’re dropping into a hostile area, avoiding an ever-closing circle while searching for loot and working to take out other players with whatever you can dig up. Blackout, however, is made stronger by its pedigree, since you’ve got that finely-tuned CoD gunplay and movement making everything tick. Firearms and ammo are typical finds, so Blackout often boils down to situational awareness and solid fundamentals rather than getting lucky with looting, and combined with the AAA polish inherent to this franchise you’ve got a fantastic time on your hands.
Zombies, meanwhile, is more of what you’re used to: run around, grab guns where you can, spend money and learn the maps to get as far as possible. Oh, and don’t die. The latest take on the concept includes a Roman-inspired map called IX, a zombie-blasting adventure on the Titanic called Voyage of Despair and remakes of Black Ops 2’s Blood of the Dead and Black Ops’ Five. It’s more Zombies! Grab some friends, blast some zombos, work to understand each map’s intricacies and see just how many waves you can handle. It’s a formula that’s worked for years and it continues to work here.
Finally, you’ve got your standard multiplayer. You’ll pick a Specialist, each of whom has their own special ability such as a grappling hook or paralyzing rifle, then get to shooting in one of several modes. You’ve got a new Heist mode to check out as well as the usual team-based and solo combat; this brings some of the economy aspects of Zombies over to multiplayer, which is an interesting idea that works out pretty well. I ended up being fond of good ol’ TDM, but I can see Heist being a nice time-killer as well…assuming you don’t spend all your time playing Blackout, that is.
Black Ops 4 looks and sounds absolutely fantastic, surprising no one. It goes without saying that most of you will play this on console (which looks great on its own), though my playthrough was on PC using a fancy new GeForce RTX 2080 and had no issues whatever making the game sing. Results will vary, but you’re getting the cream of Activision’s crop here – so nobody should feel left out.
Blackout deserves special mention once again – it’s a little shocking to play a Battle Royale game that isn’t just Early Access, but so far out of Early Access that it manages to blow you away with its presentation. And they say AAA gaming is a problem. Pshaw.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 definitely isn’t the Call of Duty if you’re only just now jumping into the series – if that’s even possible. This is a game that knows its audience – long-term fans who want that refined multiplayer experience – and it does its best to provide just that. The lack of a single-player campaign is an annoyance rather than the crisis it was made out to be and the addictive qualities of Blackout more than make up for it. If you’re after some of the best FPS action in the industry and you don’t mind playing exclusively with others, well, Black Ops 4’s your huckleberry.