The first Call of Duty: Black Ops was released in 2010, and with it came a campaign filled with enough conspiracies and twists, it was as if Tom Clancy himself had a hand in the story. When Black Ops 3 came around, the writers went all-out with the possibilities of the series’ near-future setting, making it a confusing mess that was entertaining, but for the uninitiated, painful to fully understand. Now Black Ops 4 has arrived with no campaign - a first for the franchise. I guess you could say we were saved from a story that would most likely confuse players again, though many were concerned with how such a move would pan out. But after playing around 40 hours across all three of the main game modes, I can say that this is easily one of developer Treyarch’s best shooters.
Multiplayer of Old
I jumped into multiplayer first - the prime game mode in every Call of Duty title. Black Ops 4 is more grounded - literally. If you compare it to Black Ops 3 and Advanced Warfare, players were given inhuman movement options, such as wall-running and double jumps. It was an unusual time, but thankfully, they’ve scrapped all those abilities in order to stick to the basics.
The most notable change is Treyarch’s replacing the auto-heal mechanic with manual healing, which is a big improvement that complements Black Ops 4’s fast-paced nature. It’s now clear how much relying on cover and waiting for the auto-heal to kick in would slow down the game’s momentum. Assigning the ability to heal to a button fixes that, as it gives players more control over the outcome in every skirmish. Should I reload or move forward while stabbing myself in the arm to heal? These are the decisions you’ll face, and the new healing mechanics work so well for the game’s multiplayer that I fell to wondering why it took Treyarch so long to make this change.
Traditional game modes such as Free-For-All, Team Deathmatch, etc, all return, with Call of Duty favorites such as Domination, Search and Destroy, and Kill Confirmed also available, and so far there’s been a healthy pool of players in each mode. Heist, one of Black Ops 4’s new game modes, is Treyarch’s take on Counter-Strike’s allowing players to buy equipment with the money they've accumulated in previous rounds. While it's too soon to tell if Heist will become a popular game mode among the Call of Duty community, it's great to see Treyarch releasing new modes at launch to freshen the playlist.
Player progression remains largely unchanged in Black Ops 4. Leveling-up unlocks new weapons and Scorestreaks, while leveling up weapons unlocks attachments for them. Black Ops 4 brings back the Pick 10 loadout system, which tasks you with equipping up to 10 items for your loadout. Any attachment, even a perk, takes up one slot. It’s been a staple for the series since Black Ops 2 and is, overall, still my favorite loadout system. Pick 10 gives players enough freedom in creating their preferred loadout while providing enough limitations to prevent overpowered combinations.
There are 12 multiplayer maps at launch, which is a lot by Call of Duty standards. Map rotation feels healthy with this many maps, even if four of the maps are returning from the previous Black Ops games.
As expected, all the maps are designed for close-quarters combat, with side paths that encourage flanking. A team getting funneled into one entrance is only possible if players force it to happen, as I see multiple entry points in each room. Objective-based game modes make use of different areas of the map, making certain lines of sight or tactics mostly fit for specific maps and game modes.
I’ve spent hours upon hours going through multiple game modes, and the map rotation hasn’t gone stale. Thanks to the number of maps in rotation, you might never even see a certain map making an appearance during the a gaming session. And when the map finally does show up after so long, it’s refreshing to go somewhere you haven’t played in a while, which is how it should be in shooters as addictive as Call of Duty.
Zombies storylines are still weird and confusing - Change my mind
As for the third major quintessentially Black Ops game mode, the Zombies make their return. This is the first iteration of Zombies that launches with three new maps - two revolve around the new Chaos story arc, and one that continues the fan-favorite Aether story line. If you’re familiar with past Zombies maps, then you have nothing to worry about here, as everything is kept intact. It’s fun to see how many rounds you can last against waves of zombies, with or without a team.
The Zombie progression does unlock new items that may help you survive longer; these are needed, as each Zombies map in Black Ops 4 - just like previous maps before it - contains an Easter Egg event that requires teamwork to complete. Each Easter Egg results in a boss fight, and then a cutscene that provides more context to the Zombies storyline. It’s one of the reasons why there is now a massive Zombies community following the convoluted plot.
Even if you are not keen at finding ways to survive, or at figuring out the puzzles needed to complete the map, killing zombies cooperatively with friends or randos is still a good break after racking up your Scorestreaks for hours. Treyarch also applied the option to include competent bots for solo players that need an extra hand.
A solid entry to a trending game mode
If you want a change of pace that doesn’t involve waves of zombies, Blackout is the new major game mode in Black Ops 4, replacing the traditional campaign we’re used to seeing in Call of Duty.
This is Treyarch’s take on the ‘Battle Royale’ genre that has taken the gaming community by storm. For the uninformed - in Blackout, 88 - 100 players are airdropped to the biggest map ever created for a Call of Duty game, and all aim to be the last player/team standing. You enter a Blackout game with nothing but your guns (fists) and will have to scavenge for weapons and equipment to stay alive against other players.
If you’re an avid player of games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, then you’ll feel right at home. Vehicles like helicopters, trucks, and even boats are available to make it easier to travel this massive map, which is comprised of older maps in the Black Ops series - a good touch by Treyarch. As much as this is Activision and Treyarch utilizing the latest trend in gaming, Battle Royale and Call of Duty gunplay mesh together so well that Blackout is easily one of the best offerings in the genre out there today.
There is a bit of a story in Black Ops 4, but it’s not what we all hoped for. The game’s Specialist HQ provides short videos and tutorials to get you acquainted with each Specialist, their backstory, and the game’s multiplayer modes. These short videos and cutscenes that play after each Specialist are the only kind of storytelling we’ll get from Black Ops 4, and they offer a glimpse of what could have been.
The lack of a campaign is a blow to those that appreciate a new Call of Duty story every year, but the multiplayer is at its best in Black Ops 4, which could be compared to fan favorites such as Modern Warfare 2 or even World at War. Zombies is still a great co-op feature, with Easter Egg puzzles that will really challenge a team of four, and Blackout is a solid take on the Battle Royale genre, worthy of being considered best in class.
Even without the post-release content that will most likely cost a pretty penny, the base game available at launch boasts enough variety to keep players busy for months after release. Considering how solid Black Ops 4 is right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if Activision and Treyarch support the game well after its first year, because it’s that good. If Call of Duty: WWII was the game to bring the Call of Duty series back to its roots, then Black Ops 4 returns to the series’ tradition of making bold changes, and this time, it’s paying off splendidly.
Specialist HQ provides short videos to give context and background to the Specialists and the untold story.
Multiplayer’s manual healing improves the feel of combat
Stable lineup of multiplayer maps
Zombies is still fun and finally comes with more than one map at launch
Blackout is proof that a Battle Royale can work with Call of Duty gameplay
Purely an online game: requires patch in order for the game to launch
What I’ve Played
40 hours of multiplayer, Blackout, and Zombies combined
A few levels shy from my first prestige in multiplayer
Played through all three Zombies maps
Went through the Specialist training found at the Specialist HQ - the only story available in the game