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Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Doesn’t Exactly Reinvent the Wheel, But Did We Really Want it to?

Screenshot courtesy of Activision

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is a first-person shooter developed by Treyarch and published by Activision. It marks the 15th game in the Call of Duty franchise and the fourth in the Black Ops-timeline (fifth if you count 2008’s World at War). It is the first game in the Call of Duty series to not include a traditional single-player campaign. This may have been a good decision, as at least in my opinion, single player has not been Call of Duty‘s strong suit in recent years. Black Ops 4 is also the first to include a battle royale mode, called Blackout. The game is set in between the events of Black Ops 2 and Black Ops 3, and follows the stories of the “Specialist” characters from the Black Ops 3 multiplayer, giving you a peek into how they got where they are, as well as some insight into the fate of some other characters from previous Black Ops games. Returning modes include core Call of Duty multiplayer as well as Zombies, although both modes have seen some serious changes. For the purposes of this review, I’ll look at each mode individually, as modes vary greatly, with significantly different mechanics, gameplay experiences, and even weapon balance.

 

Screenshot courtesy of Activision

Black Ops 4’s marquee multiplayer mode sees several returning features from Black Ops 3, with the biggest (and most controversial) being the return of Specialists. Specialists are characters with unique traits–voics/personality, weapons, etc.–instead of being generic characters. These specialists each also have their own special abilities, which range from a grappling hook to a cluster grenade, as well as slow charging “Specialist Weapons” which include a summonable K9 unit, a grenade launcher, and even a vision pulse that lets you see enemies through walls. Six of the ten Specialists available in Black Ops 4 at launch are returning characters from Black Ops 3, while the other four are newcomers, whose abilities are more supportive than offensive. The big change that has been made to Specialists is that, unlike Black Ops 3 where you had to choose to equip either a slow charging weapon or a more quickly charging utility ability, in Black Ops 4 you are equipped with both. For example, Specialist Ruin has a grappling hook as his secondary ability, and the ability to shoot out a kinetic shock wave called the Grav Slam as his slow charging weapon. We also see the return of the Pick 10 system for creating loadouts, which allots you ten points to add guns, attachments, equipment, and perks to your loadout. Score streaks, which reward you earn for getting a certain amount of points in a life, including attack helicopters and UAVs,  also return. The lethal scorestreaks in Black Ops 4 are incredibly powerful, and are hard to counter if you are the only person focusing on taking them down; which can make them annoying to encounter. While they’re supposed to be a powerful to justify the 15 to 20 person killstreak you went on to get them, even some of the lower-score streaks are incredibly powerful.

 

Screenshot courtesy of Activision

While Black Ops 4 multiplayer is very similar to previous Call of Duty games, there are some significant differences. The first  of these changes is an increase of player health from 100 to 150, a notable increase to the time-to-kill–which means that most weapons take one or two more bullets to kill opponent players. Most weapons also have slower rates of fire compared to similar guns from previous game, increasing the time-to-kill even more. This is a welcome change, as it means that you actually have gunfights with people, requiring you to strafe left and right, duck and dodge, and consistently have good aim–frequently leaving you with miniscule amounts of health when you’re through. The other big change is the introduction of manual healing, instead of the automatic health regeneration that has been a mainstay of the Call of Duty Series. The heal has a cooldown, though, so you can’t just spam it constantly and expect to stay alive. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 also introduces bullet ballistics, meaning that whereas bullets in previous Call of Duty games instantly hit what you were aiming at with no travel speed or arc, bullets now are physical objects with travel time.

 

Screenshot courtesy of Activision

Another new feature in Black Ops 4 is the addition of gear–essentially gear is selectable pieces of your loadout which augment your abilities. For instance, there is the COMSEC device, which lets you earn scorestreaks with less score, Body Armor, which lets you take more damage, and the aforementioned Stim Shot, which lets you heal faster and more often–and lets you do so without putting your gun down. Another new feature is the addition of “Operator Mods”which are special attachments that you can add to your gun that can either give it a powerful new ability, or significantly change the way the gun functions, at the cost of a large portion of your Pick 10 points. My favorite example of a this type of mod is the Crossbar for the Hades light machine gun. When you attach the Crossbar to the Hades, it removes your ability to aim down the sights of your gun, replacing it with a very tight hipfire cone, while also allowing you to move at full speed even when firing. I love the idea of Operator Mods, as they allow you to really change up a weapon, but not all Operator Mods are equal. Some are really creative, like the previously mentioned Crossbar, or the Beltfed mod for the Cordite submachinegun, which gives you a 600-round magazine you never need to reload. There are times when Operator Mods are underwhelming, though, such as when you get just a bayonet. Also, not all of the guns in the game have an Operator Mod, making it feel like they just ran out of ideas for them.

Screenshot courtesy of Activision

Black Ops 4’s battle royale mode is perhaps the biggest change to the series yet, and a move most see as games riding a popular trend. In terms of tone among the popular battle royale games, I’d say  it’s closer to PUBG, with the more realistic graphics and weapons. Although at the same time it has some less-than-realistic features, like the inclusion of zombies. You can kill zombies to obtain weapons not usually found in other modes, like the Ray Gun. Other features include the ability to play as the Specialists from multiplayer (without their abilities) as well as characters from previous Black Ops games, like Mason and Woods from the original Black Ops. Blackout also gives you access to several types of vehicles, like ATVs, trucks, helicopters, and even an armored truck with a gun turret on top–which was recently added via patch. All of this happens on the largest map ever featured in a Call of Duty game, which also contains several classic maps from the Black Ops series like Nuketown and Hijacked, which I think is a great touch. Other than that, it doesn’t particularly stand out from its battle royale inspirations, save for one significant factor: it is optimized SO much better. Whereas PUBG runs like like a slug on Xbox One, Blackout runs surprisingly well on my original Xbox One, although there is a somewhat noticeable graphical difference between multiplayer and Blackout. I think Blackout is a great addition to the Call of Duty series, although I still wonder how long the battle royale craze will last before players move on to the next fad.

 

Screenshot courtesy of Activision

Last, but certainly not least, we have the famous Zombies mode. Zombies mode is bigger and more complex than ever, and while I do personally prefer the simplicity of the Zombies mode from Black Ops and Black Ops 2, it is kind of amazing how this side mode, which originally had no story, seems to have a more complex timeline and story than any Call of Duty game’s singleplayer campaigns. There are new characters and a new story line, playable on new maps set on the Titanic and also in a Roman gladiator arena. We also see the return of the original characters-Nikolai, Dempsey, Takeo, and Richtofen-in a remaster of the classic Mob of the Dead map from Black Ops 2, now called Blood of the Dead. There are also customizable classes which you can take into Zombies, as opposed to always starting the a game with a dinky pistol and some grenades. In addition, players can create custom Zombies matches, with a boatload of mutators that can alter gameplay to a significant degree, like increasing Zombie speed and health. I love everything that’s been done with Zombies, and custom Zombies games have been something I have wanted since the original Black Ops came out eight years ago.

 

Screenshot courtesy of Activision

All in all, I think Black Ops 4 is a great addition to the Call of Duty series. Sure, it isn’t a groundbreaking entry–besides small changes, the biggest change was the introduction of the Blackout battle royale mode, which helps to keep Black Ops 4 relevant in the modern gaming sphere. If you’ve been a fan for Call of Duty since the get-go, then I’d suggest that you get it, as I think it’s the best Call of Duty to come out in a few years (looking at you, Infinite Warfare), and has enough different game modes, weapons, Operator Mods to test out, and skins to unlock that you’ll be playing Black Ops 4 for years to come.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is available now on Windows, XBoxOne and Playstation 4.

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