Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Review – A New Breed of Triple Threat

Mack Ashworth
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Info

genre

  • FPS

players

  • 1 - 100

Publisher

  • Activision

Developer

  • Treyarch

Release Date

  • 10/12/2018
  • Out Now

Platform

  • PC
  • PS4
  • Xbox One

rating

This Call of Duty Black Ops 4 review has been written post-launch, with a weekend dedicated to a mix of multiplayer, Blackout, and Zombies. After playing extensively on public servers, with a regular edition of the game on PS4 Pro, I’m finally ready to put fingers to keyboard and give this title a review that covers all bases.

Treyarch is my favorite Call of Duty developer and I’ve invested hundreds of hours into the Black Ops series. While these games have formed mostly happy memories, both with boots on the ground and exo-suit gameplay mechanics, there have also been some ugly moments, caused by microtransactions and poor matchmaking within DLC playlists. Does Black Ops 4 finally bring perfection to the Call of Duty name? Not quite… but it comes close.

Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Review – Multiplayer Mastery

The Black Ops 4 map and mode combo is one of the most compelling Call of Duty launch day line-ups that I’ve ever experienced. Usually, there’s a map or two that I will hate from day one or a mode that I’ll just outright avoid forever, but Treyarch has exceeded expectations here. New modes like Control and Heist are mixed in with the classic Domination and Kill Confirmed, making for an excellent pool of game types to choose from, and the new maps like Icebreaker and Arsenal are able to stand strong next to remastered classics like Firing Range and Slums. Some modes do drop the usual 6v6 teams down to 5v5, but I’ve honestly not noticed too big of an impact. The lack of Ground War, however, is noticeable. 

Specialists make their return from Black Ops 3, albeit with some changes to their ability sets. I’m a big fan of the way Treyarch has improved things here, presumably taking inspiration from Rainbow Six Siege’s Operators to make each character feel special and unique. Most game modes prevent players from picking duplicate Specialists, forcing more thought into tactics and teamwork. Treyarch’s push for more team-oriented gameplay is clear here, but unless I’m playing with a party of friends, the usual frustrations arise when grouped up with randoms. To try and solve this, it would have been nice to see Treyarch encourage objective captures by assigning a big chunk of XP to them. For example, capturing the flag could have awarded ten times the amount of experience compared to a kill, or maybe specific camo unlocks could have demanded X amount of objectives defended. 

Ignorant and selfish teammates isn’t a problem that’s exclusive to Call of Duty, however, and there are still modes for satisfying lone wolves like Team Deathmatch and Free-for-All. Gestures and quick responses offer instant communication to all teammates, with “Attacking A” and “Group Up” helping me earn the win in several Search and Destroy matches. Some players do actually come to their senses and stop roaming for kills when they see these messages pop up in the feed. The Fog of War mechanic, which allows players to quickly glance at their radar to view what their teammates are seeing, has been nerfed since the beta and is now much less powerful. I think it’s in a good enough place.

Time to kill is noticeably longer than in previous titles, and I feel it’s going to frustrate a lot of players, at least initially. The TTK is made even longer by the addition of Body Armor equipment and Specialist abilities that increase health. I found it pretty jarring at first, as my hundreds of hours of CoD experience has me trained in to quickly spray and move on. After getting used the slower TTK, and adapting to the brilliant manual healing feature, I’m a fan of the extended length of gunfights. It allows me an additional opportunity to quickly turn on campers and get a cheeky headshot, or to quickly slide into cover when taking fire at range. The need to land more shots also means that better accuracy is required from players, demanding more skill. Unfortunately, this also makes the flinching kick from getting shot even more annoying. With that said, I’m confident that Treyarch will be able to fine-tune this to a good place with future patches. 

Also in desperate need of a patch are the crashing, glitches, and bugs. While, yes, I have endured many error-ridden Call of Duty launch weekends in the past, and I appreciate that these issues are expected and hard to plan for with a launch on this scale, it would be remiss of me to ignore the weird animation glitches I’ve seen, not to mention the number of times that I’ve crashed. Here’s hoping the fixes come quickly!

Improvements to the “Best Play” highlight at the end of a round would also be appreciated, as they are often unexciting and don’t seem to include Specialist ability multi-kills or scorestreak wipes. Then there’s the additional free attachment that can be found within the Create-a-Class menu, as well as the huge issue of gestures allowing players to easily peek around corners!

Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Review – Battle Royale Conquered

I’ll admit that I was very skeptical when I first heard that Black Ops 4 was going to implement a battle royale mode. I had seen footage of the China-only Call of Duty Online BR mode a few months back, and that didn’t look too special. Fortunately, Black Ops 4’s Blackout mode is an improvement in every way, with Treyarch truly nailing the scale, intensity, and satisfaction that the best games in the genre boast.

My three hundred hours in PUBG came in useful here, as the need to maneuver around the enemy to hold the strongest positions and not get caught in the open with no cover, is a key part of winning in both games. Additional perks and equipment, as well as the addition of helicopters, open up more opportunities which keep Black Ops 4 feeling fresh and fun. The vehicles handle great, too, which has proven tricky to master for the other BR devs out there.

The things that make Blackout so damn cool to me, however, as a long time fan of the franchise, are the throwbacks to older games. The inclusion of Nuketown Island, Firing Range, and Estates are all fantastic nostalgia trips. Then there are the special weapons which include the ray gun, War Machine, and Annihilator. It almost feels like a fan-made mod, as it really does include everything that fans love about Call of Duty, plonked down on a massive island while still maintaining excellent visuals and performance. The fact that it works at all is a miracle to me! It’s truly an accomplishment that should be played by all shooter fans. 

The true test for Blackout will be post-launch support. Fortnite is the biggest battle royale game out there, and it has earned its success through constant updates and patches. While its free-to-play state definitely does it some favors, and already puts Blackout at a big disadvantage, it’s the weekly content drops and changes to the maps and modes which keep Fortnite in the minds of gamers everywhere. There is always something new to see and do, and Blackout needs to match this.

With skins and camos having such major impact on battle royale games lately, I was kind of hoping that Treyarch would use its standard multiplayer as a way of getting new unlocks within Blackout. Some synchronization of rewards, outside of the existing Calling Cards and Emblems, would have been awesome to see. Being able to equip cool MP camos to weapons within Blackout would have given reason to play across multiple parts of the game.

My only real frustration when playing Blackout was the looting process. Man, it takes a long time to cycle through a dead enemy’s inventory, made worse by the weird bug where D-pad button pushes go ignored. I understand that Treyarch doesn’t want players to automatically pick up ammo, but this alternative feels pretty horrible, at least on console. How about the developer allows players to automatically pick up a couple of magazines before they have to then manually pick it up? Or maybe Treyarch can introduce a perk/add to the Consumer perk and enable ammo to be picked up automatically for five minutes? There must be some other option as looting can be a very cheesy deathtrap. 

Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Review – Zombies for Everyone!

For the hardcore Zombies fans that are still enamored by endless waves of undead, you’ll find a lot to love in Black Ops 4 Zombies. And yes, this includes plenty of new hidden Easter eggs to uncover. More importantly, however, is the effort Treyarch has made to entertain the more casual zombies players, like myself. While I’ve poured hundreds and hundreds of hours into the Black Ops series’ competitive multiplayer, I’ve only really played each Zombies map a handful of times. My Easter egg obsession died down after the first game, and the wave-based mode often lost me after a handful of playthroughs. 

If you’re similar to me and really just want to get stuck in killing zombies with super powerful guns, there is now Rush. This mode basically gives you everything for free, with the goal of getting a high score. You compete against your teammates with a Personal Score, while also aiming for a high Team Score. A score multiplier pushes you to keep on killing, with Zombie Rush events leading you to defend a new area for a big bonus. The fact that it’s convinced me to replay the same map multiple times should emphasize the amount of fun I’ve had with this game type!

The Classic mode is where players can find more traditional Zombies action. There are two separate stories that follow two separate squads of characters. Aether continues the plot of the previous games and those existing characters, while Chaos introduces new playable characters. Classic is much slower than Rush, as you might imagine, but it will feel like home for those who enjoyed the pace in previous installments.

Helping boost longevity are Custom Mutations, which give players the power to tweak and customize different settings to make for a more unique round of Zombies. It’s possible to go pretty wild here, turning on the Mystery Box at all locations, enabling “Kills Give Health,” and forcing zombies to constantly be “super sprinting.” Progression sees players ranking up different guns and unlocking new Talismans and Elixirs which essentially act as Perks.

Though players will need the Black Ops Pass ($50) to unlock the “Classified” fourth Zombies map, as well as the other four post-launch experiences, I believe that the included three levels offer a good amount of fun, and are comparatively generous when you look at previous games.

Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Review – Teach Me How to Duty

The original Black Ops and Black Ops 2 boasted interesting story campaigns that I liked a lot, and I took the time to complete them both on their hardest difficulties. Black Ops 3’s change in direction lost me early on, and I was ultimately distracted by the exciting multiplayer. While I appreciate that some Call of Duty fans are in it for the story, I really don’t mind that Treyarch has traded it in for Blackout.

The thing is, there is still a story here. Dive into the Specialist HQ and you’ll learn about the history of each character, with some truly brutal and gory details. This part of the game again reminds me of Rainbow Six Siege, with tutorial missions helping you get to grips with each Specialist and their own set of skills. These tutorials incorporate fan-favorite character Frank Woods as an instructor, bringing a Deadpool-esque sense of humor to an otherwise dry set of lessons. Though most will probably avoid replaying the tutorial missions on harder difficulties, as the bots are pretty stupid and the tutorials take a little too long, they are still certainly appreciated. New Call of Duty players enter the scene every year, and tutorials like this (and in Zombies) will speed up their learning.

Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Review – Stuck in the Past

More and more games are moving away from paid-for multiplayer maps as DLC. Instead, they are offered completely for free. Unfortunately, Call of Duty has stubbornly refused to change. The Black Ops 4 Black Ops Pass costs an additional $50 and will permit access to 12 multiplayer maps, four exclusive Blackout characters, and four new zombies levels throughout the life of the game.

The problem here is not the demand for more money in addition to that initial $60, but rather the method in which it attempts to extract that cash. Splitting up the community with DLC packs means lowering the matchmaking quality. Even Call of Duty is subject to long waiting times and poor connections between players when paid-for maps are introduced. The fact that other games have made the effort to keep players together, abolishing paid map packs in favor of cosmetic unlocks, shines a gigantic spotlight on Black Ops 4. Even EA titles like Titanfall 2Star Wars Battlefront 2, and the upcoming Battlefield 5 have introduced free maps for all players.

What’s more, Call of Duty Points are still a thing, and we don’t yet know what they are going to be used for. Yep, even after launch day—and after all of the premature reviews have been published—we still don’t have any idea how Black Ops 4 plans to use those Call of Duty Points which were bundled with pre-orders and special edition versions of the game. At the time of writing, the store only contains the Black Ops Pass and charity unlock pack. If something does end up being added post-launch, when an enormous number of gamers have already put down their money, I think we can expect to see a fair number of torches and pitchforks. 

My greatest fear for this game is a repeat of what happened in Black Ops 3. I loved that title, grinding out the Dark Matter camo with pride. Then Treyarch started introducing fan-favorite guns from previous games, and other crazy weapons, as part of Supply Drop exclusives. These weren’t just same-damage cosmetic variants, but full-on exclusive guns with their own statistics. While Supply Drops could be grinding for, it took a good amount of time, and players with the cash were able to effectively buy power. I’d hate for that to return in Black Ops 4.

Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Review – In Treyarch We Trust

Ultimately, whether or not you buy Call of Duty Black Ops 4 comes down to trust and what you want to get for your money. While you might trust Treyarch as a developer, you must also remember that there is pressure from all sides to make more money. $60 gets you a lot of content at launch, and I believe it will keep you entertained for 100+ hours. Multiplayer, Blackout, and Zombies all come together in perfect harmony, and when the game isn’t crashing from the odd error, it’s Call of Duty at its very best. 

Assigning a review score to Black Ops 4 is tricky. At this stage, we don’t fully know what is happening with future content and how it will impact the game. Clearly, something is coming, but we don’t yet know what. We haven’t been presented with any kind of roadmap, which would have been nice to see prior to purchase. There is a “Supply Stream” system reported to be coming soon, which should apparently act in a similar way to Fortnite’s Battle Pass, but there isn’t any official information available yet. 

All I can do is review the game as I see it today, and what I see is a top-class Call of Duty experience that boasts three well-executed segments, with some minor hiccups in the bugs and glitches department. The missing single-player is ultimately made up for, I think, but the current omission of cosmetic unlocks really stands out after tens of hours. If the maps weren’t locked behind the Black Ops Pass, and if cosmetic-only Supply Drops were introduced from the get-go, with Treyarch/Activision having fully shown its hand, I’d be feeling much happier about the current state of the game and its future. With all things considered, Call of Duty Black Ops 4 achieves its score with room to improve… or plummet.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 review code provided by the publisher and played on a PS4 Pro. 

REVOLUTION REPORT CARD

4
Rating
Box art - Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
Multiplayer, Blackout, and Zombies are the ultimate triple threat
Blackout is a superb first-time effort at battle royale
Tutorials are fantastic to see
Absence of story mode is made up for
Post-launch roadmap is a mystery
Blackout needs to rapidly evolve
Black Ops Pass’ paid-for maps are stuck in the past
Lack of cosmetic unlocks for Operators
Bots suck most of the time
Plenty of bugs, glitches, and crashing issues need fixing