Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Review: Come Back for This One
Many players, myself included, put the Call of Duty series on the backburner a number of years ago. Other games came to take much of the FPS community's attention. That doesn't include the myriad other genres vying for our collective time.
The list of worthy distractions would fill an article twice the size of this one, and when I saw my first few glimpses of Black Ops 4, I was skeptical.
I played the beta and stayed skeptical. It was fun, sure, but would it capture my attention like the older titles did? I was willing to give Treyarch one last shot of saving an aging giant, if only for the purposes of this review.
Then I played my first full release multiplayer match.
I was hooked. The claws were back, and I couldn't stay away.
If you've been hesitant about diving back into Call of Duty, now is the time to put those reservations to bed.
Black Ops 4 is worth the price of admission.
The combination of multiplayer, Zombies, and Blackout ensure hundreds of hours of fun, frustration, and if you can get a group together, friendship-powered destruction.
Multiplayer Review: The Bread and Exotic Butter
Of the three modes in Black Ops 4, multiplayer is probably the weakest part of the triple crown. There's nothing revolutionary about Black Ops 4's iteration on a classic, though the removal of regenerating health and an increased health pool does create the opportunity for hero plays we've not seen in a long time. At the end of the day, everything about multiplayer works, giving players everything they could want.
The gunplay is the same kind of crisp you'd expect from a Call of Duty title, and the recoil on most guns is minimal. The meta right now is mostly based around assault rifles, as their overall time to kill is shorter than almost every other weapon class at any range. They're easy to use, super consistent, and...well... there aren't many downsides, really.
I would be remiss not to mention sniper rifles because at least on PC, they seem to be the easiest to use. The one-shot kill hitbox is generous and the maps offer plenty of sightlines for players to hold down. The number of times I've lost a good streak to a sniper in a power position has a value I cannot properly name.
Submachine guns and shotguns got something of a shaft as of writing, as they take six hits to kill at close range and half of them don't shoot fast enough to make up for the damage discrepancy. It also felt like their hip fire, even with laser sights equipped, is still somehow outdone by a base AR.
There are a couple shotgun builds that make them at least passable, but in almost any situation you're better off using something that works at closer than point blank. The LMGs, by contrast, are all usable, and there aren't any bad options, kitted out or not.
The scorestreaks are all effective, fun to use, and while I think they take a little too much to earn in non-objective game modes, each of them has a noticeable effect on the flow of a match.
I found the new maps to lack the creativity and variety present in some of Treyarch's earlier work. They stick to the three-lane model too closely and don't present enough ways to move between lanes, leading to map flow that's predictable to the point of mundanity.
Many of them are pleasing to the eye, which is more than can be said for some of the other recent entries in the series, but beyond their aesthetic, I wouldn't call them genre-defining.
The remastered maps — Jungle, Firing Range, Summit, and Slums — are a welcome return, but they speak to the larger problem I have with the multiplayer portion of Black Ops 4: it's clear Treyarch had to drop everything to chase the Battle Royale craze and at the same time remove the advanced movement systems in favor of a more "boots on the ground" take on combat.
Class customization took a hit too. Weapon variety is fairly limited, with many classes having four or fewer options to choose from. Even though the assault rifles and SMGs boast five unique choices, that pales in comparison to the series' heyday where there were almost 10 you could equip, all of which had their own character and personality.
Then there are the Specialists, which you can read about in detail in my Specialist guide. To sum up, all of them have a use and each of them presents plenty of new and exciting ways to play, but so many of them are returning members of Black Ops 3's cast that it's easy to see where the corners cut are. The new specialists are perfectly usable and offer some of the most powerful options in the game, but it would be nice to see more new faces.
It's a tough nut to crack because I'm a multiplayer guy at heart and I hate to see my favorite mode relatively gutted in favor of the more timely options. I understand why they did it, and I think there' still plenty to love about the classic Call of Duty experience, so don't disregard it in favor of Zombies or Blackout.
Zombies: Complicated, Crazy Fun
The Zombies story is a tangled mess of plot threads long and short, the mechanics progressively more arcane, and the maps more multilayered and overthought with each iteration.
Black Ops 4's additions are no different, though there's only one truly "new" map to play: IX. The other three are re-imaginings of Zombies experiences from the three previous entries in the franchise, one of which is locked behind a paywall.
Even with all the new bells and whistles, the core conceit of Zombies remains. You want to find a good gun, probably off the wall, load up on perks, find Pack-a-Punch, and run in circles for hours shooting hordes of the undead. Everything else is just there to get in the way.
The maps themselves are twisting labyrinths with multiple levels, mechanics, and secrets to find, and I think IX is one of the most interesting takes on the mode since Shangri-La.
It's obvious the Zombies team put a lot of time and effort into making the Greek arena feel unique among the forest of high-quality maps. There's just enough variety to take the formula in a new direction, as the area is primarily claustrophobic hallways and strange sights and sounds punctuated by the grand facades of Ancient Greece.
The other three maps: Blood of the Dead, Voyage, and Classified (it's Five from Black Ops 1) have each received a facelift, and though the mechanics are familiar, there are enough changes to make each experience fresh for the first couple runs at least.
What stands out to me about Zombies, however, is not the maps or new their mechanics, but the sheer amount of options for how to approach character customization.
- Treyarch rewrote how weapons work, adding progression to each and every one of them.
- They rewrote perks — Juggernog is gone, for one — to correspond to a player's choice, designating each with a type rather than keying them to a map.
- Players have more health to compensate for Jug's absence.
- Even Pack-a-Punch got a makeover. Now you can increase the damage up of your weapon by reusing the machine a set number of times while you roll for the most advantageous new weapon perks.
Then there are the elixirs, some of them default and plenty of them rollable in a loot box system funded with an in-game currently that's likely to cost you real money. Elixirs provide powerful bonuses for a period of about five minutes or until their ability's expended, and the good ones can turn the tide of a bad round.
Probably the worst part about the whole Zombies side of Black Ops 4 is how Five (I'm not calling it Classified) is locked behind the Black Ops pass. Right now, it's the only thing that makes the pass worth even a quarter of its asking price, and we don't know what kind of support Blackout's going to be receiving via the Pass.
The little side gifts they give you don't even come close to justifying another $50 of your money, so unless you play the game and know you just have to have everything, I'd hold off.
Blackout: The King is Here
To start: yes, I believe Blackout is better than PUBG, and I don't think the comparison to Fortnite is worthwhile. The only things Blackout and Fortnight Battle Royale share are guns and the fact that you must shoot other players to win. Everything else, from aesthetics to mechanics to game flow and target audience is far enough apart to make them equally worthwhile experiences.
But if I had to crown a BR king, I would give Black Ops 4's take on the genre the big and fancy hat. Everything about it works.
- The gunplay is multiplayer smooth.
- Looting and loot spawn logic are almost exactly where they need to be.
- The map provides just enough cover and the zone rarely puts the final few engagements in a boring location.
- It even opens up long range engagements in an otherwise close range title.
- Best of all, the matchmaking functions as intended, keeping people in the match and parties of friends together so they can take on the world as a team.
There are a few wrinkles, of course.
Armor is incredibly powerful, and an absolute necessity for the late game. You will win — and lose — gunfights you shouldn't because one person has armor and the other doesn't. Sniper rifles remain the workhorse weapon class, and ARs are a distant second choice. Bad luck quickly snowballs into terrible luck, and I've lost more than one round based on a single wrong decision.
The biggest problem with Blackout right now is its stability. Crashes are far more frequent than they should be, and most don't seem to have any rhyme or reason to them.
There are a number of error codes ranging from a simple mode disconnect to full on fatal errors. I haven't heard anything about a full system lock up, but judging by the sheer number of problems I've heard reported, I wouldn't be surprised if they happened.
It's still early days for Blackout too. One of Fortnite's biggest strengths is in how it keeps people coming back through its Season content. The core game doesn't change, but everything around it does.
Mysteries, community involvement, plenty of skins and challenges to chase, and the sheer amount of ways you can play with just one new weapon in the pool make it a juggernaut even Call of Duty will have trouble taking head-on.
Blackout needs continuous support in the same way, but there are barriers. Adding new guns has a high probability of upsetting balance, and Treyarch might feel obligated to put new weapons into multiplayer. There are a couple Zombies weapons in Blackout that aren't in MP, sure, but they're rare enough to not really make a dent in the current meta.
Then there's the fact that BR content is locked behind the Black Ops Pass as well. People are far more willing to spend $10 on a Fortnite Season, even if they only play once or twice. It's just a 10-spot, after all. But 50 bucks? That's an investment without a guarantee of quality.
Plus, as far as we can tell, the Pass will be unlocking characters from previous Treyarch titles without much of the flair you'd find in something like Fortnite. And if there's one thing people want, it's the ability to show off. A generic character model in a different coat isn't going to ring any alarm bells no matter how many kills the player gets.
All that said, if you want one of the best, most polished Battle Royale entries ever produced, Blackout might be worth the price of admission into Black Ops 4 on its own. If Treyarch can keep it interesting with customization and new content, I don't' see the Blackout mode losing steam any time soon.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 provides players a content triple threat that's hard to beat in today's market. Hundreds of hours in classic multiplayer modes won't make you a Zombies expert, and being able to massacre the undead won't get you any Blackout wins. This is a game that could truly suck thousands of hours from everyone who picks it up, even those who've been on the fence about the series for years.
Without the proper care, the opposite could be true. There are enough rough edges to Black Ops 4 that one wrong turn could kill it before it really hits its stride, and though many people are happier with this entry than they've been in years, there's plenty for Treyarch to do to keep people hooked.
Multiplayer weapon balance and spawn logic needs adjusting. Crashes need fixing. There needs to be plenty of new, quality content. There are too many other big titles on the horizon for anything less than Treyarch's absolute best.
If they pull it off, we'll be seeing a new Call of Duty title every year for many, many years to come.