Over the last few years, the Call of Duty franchise has arguably lost some of the steam it had when the last console life cycle ended. As a perennial juggernaut, the brand had begun to wear out its welcome. It was clear the series needed some changes, and fans knew Treyarch was the studio to do it. With a couple of moves some considered controversial, they announced this year’s title would have no campaign, and perhaps more importantly in today’s climate, would feature a battle royale mode to combat the likes of Fortnite. The resulting release is a great product and a serious contender for 2018’s greatest multiplayer game.
In both the Zombie and Blackout modes, there are undead creatures shambling about you’ll have to kill or avoid. It goes a step further in the Zombie levels with demons to conquer and the ability to attain power-ups from altars to gods like Ra and Odin.
The violence and gore in Black Ops 4 are intense. Explosives can cause dismemberment, with limbs and heads becoming severed and blood spattering. This is hard R-rated blood and viscera.
There is strong adult language in Black Ops 4. The F-word is so common, some characters even say it when you pick them to begin a match. Do NOT let children play this game, and be aware of the content in it if you choose to do so.
Scarlett Rhodes, the lone femme fatale in the Zombies mode, has a couple of outfits that are capitalized on for sexual appeal. It is utilized in loading screen artwork as well.
You drink elixirs in the Zombies mode. They grant special boons or abilities, but none appear to be alcoholic in nature. There are no drug references.
Other Negative Themes
One character has a dog he can call in for backup. Enemies have to kill the dog to stop its rampage. It makes high pitched whines that made me uncomfortable. Though it’s a war situation, I couldn’t help but associate the sound with animal abuse.
With a wide swath of game types, Black Ops 4 encourages teamwork in everything but the solo Blackout mode.
I had reservations with the announcement that Treyarch would not include a singe player campaign in Black Ops 4. With news that they were adding Blackout, their own brand of battle royale, Treyarch won over hearts and minds with the focused direction of their upcoming game. Now, their foresight and execution have paid off, proving a Call of Duty game can thrive in spite of the missing campaign fans have come to expect (but rarely play).
Let’s start with the trademark staple of Call of Duty: the multiplayer. Several recent games in the franchise have tried to press things to be more frantic; to do that, Treyarch implemented high-speed mechanics like wall-running and jetpacks. Black Ops 4 has stepped back from that a bit, getting the game back to a boots-on-the-ground—to use WWII‘s marketing—approach while maintaining unique characters with special abilities. The result is an experience that maintains the pace without as much frustration and still offers an impressive variety in how to tackle situations.
Black Ops 4 launched with an impressive 14 maps, including 4 classics that are back. They offer an array of ways to play the game, from small arenas packed with action to long, open corridors any sniper can salivate over, to everything in-between. The settings range from frozen wastelands to temperate forests to bombed-out beaches, granting players some ocular diversity to keep things interesting.
As with all Call of Duty games, there is plenty of room for customization. Black Ops 4 employs the well-worn 10-point system, letting players adjust their kit with up to 10 weapons, attachments, equipment, and perks combined. Want a fully decked-out assault rifle? Spend all 10 points there. You could opt for a rifle, pistol, grenade, and a few perks for a more balanced approach. It’s this system that’s given Call of Duty its legs for so long and it’s as great as ever.
The one truly meaningful shift with Black Ops 4‘s multiplayer is in its health management systems. In other Call of Duty games, if you took damage, you could hide for a few seconds to recover. With Black Ops 4, they’ve introduced first aid kits. If you take fire, you’ll have to patch yourself up on the fly for a fighting chance. It recharges after a few seconds so you can afford to move from fight to fight, dishing out damage.
As fun as the multiplayer is, there are undoubtedly some issues that need to be addressed. Overall, the map designs are great but a few such as the Morocco map have spotty spawn issues that can set a respawned player directly in the line of sight for eager campers to exploit. In over 200 sessions, I’ve only seen it a handful of them, but it’s egregious enough to goad salty language from teammates or incite some ragequits. The game also seems to have some issues with hit detection at times. I’ve poured magazines into foes before to only have a couple register as hits. On the other side, I feel like I’m playing with big head mode activated, as about 1/3 of my deaths are by a headshot. Treyarch has already been actively working on many of these bugs, though, issuing multiple patches within release week, some of which even adjust how spawning works on certain maps. They’re listening to feedback, and it’s impressive to see.
The shiny new toy in Black Ops 4 this year is Blackout. If you enjoy battle royale games like PUBG, but feel like Call of Duty‘s gameplay is more your speed, Blackout will be exactly what you want. It literally feels like Treyarch took PUBG‘s basic design tenets and adapted them to the Duty model. Everyone jumps from a helicopter and, using a wingsuit, descends to a location of their choice on a gargantuan map full of iconic franchise locations. From that point, it’s a scramble to pick up weapons, attachments, armor, and equipment. As with other battle royales, the play zone will shrink every few minutes, driving players inward into conflict until only one player (or team) is left victorious. Players can take boats, ATVs, helicopters, and troop transports along the way, and only the strong (or lucky) emerge victorious in one of the most exhilarating experiences Duty has offered in years. Blackout feels like exactly what fans want. Controls are tight, the action is fluid, and shooting feels on-point…in most modes.
At the time of this review, solo and duo competition is fantastic, but games of quads (teams of four) are constantly labored by unbearable lag and hitching, at least on Xbox One. This is a real shame, particularly since I think Blackout has the potential to keep Black Ops 4 on the front page of every player for months to come. I also think the way they reward progression feels like it needs some tweaking. Players are awarded 10 points per kill and 50 points for a top finish. In solos, for example, if you make the top 15, you’ll be rewarded. This could lead to situations where players sneak by for a bit, reach top 16, get killed, and walk away without a single point for their half hour of play. At the end of the day, points are only good for new skins and clout, but it can be demoralizing to see absolutely no reward for your last half hour of work—particularly when the multiplayer mode dishes it out for virtually everything.
Finally, let’s discuss Black Ops 4‘s Zombies mode. Traditionally, I found Zombies to be frustrating and pointless. It was a good time killer, but why stick with it in the long run? Black Ops 4 has changed my mind, though. There are significant progression mechanics and loadouts you can build to take into each stage. Within levels, there is an impressive range of ways to approach your challenges. You can build your kit with elixirs that offer a wide range of effects and set up a custom perk set that will activate with shrines in each stage. There are even hidden items to assemble and characters with a running narrative that have sleuths engaged all across Reddit. On top of that, you pick an ultimate weapon and when you’ve killed enough zombies and get into a pinch, you can activate it for a massive killing boost. Hurl Mjolnir (the hammer of Thor) or use a whip sword to fell massive foes quickly. Each stage has puzzles to solve and challenges to overcome that will keep friends engaged for dozens of hours.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 takes some risks. Between eliminating the single-player campaign and adding a battle royale mode, there are gambles that could have bitten Treyarch, but they’ve paid off big. For fans looking to play something online, Black Ops 4 is the complete package. The traditional crowd will be happy with what Treyarch has done this time around—Blackout will keep players coming back for a crack at the crown for months, and friends looking for a cooperative experience will be engaged with zombies for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, Black Ops 4 has some technical bugs it needs to work through, but the team has already proven that they’re listening to feedback and actively working to make Black Ops 4 the best game it can be. If you’re itching for something to play with friends, Black Ops 4 is a great all-around game worthy of your time.
Review copy provided by Activision, PMK•BNC
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The Bottom Line
From classic competitive multiplayer to zombie slaughter to battle royale experiences, Black Ops 4 is the complete package for fans of online first-person shooters. The game has some bugs and design flaws, but Treyarch has already shown that they're listening to feedback and working hard to make the game as flawless as possible.