Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Review – Keeping Up With The Times

Booting up a new Call of Duty game often conjures up a feeling of deja vu. Part of me is teleported back in time to 2009, playing hours on end of Modern Warfare 2 on a warm school night, crafting makeshift aluminium Wi-Fi boosters to maintain a faster connection. Fortunately, a lot has changed. Gone are my internet difficulties and gone is the infamous ‘noob tube’.

Yes, Call of Duty has changed too. Black Ops 4 is arguably the most different a COD entry has been in a while. It’s perhaps a sign of the times; there’s no shortage of multiplayer games competing for your attention. The best-selling franchise has frequently been criticised for relying too heavily on a more-or-less unchanging formula. Any changes were often pegged as superficial marketing points, attempting to lure millions back every year. It would be unfair to lay the same charge against Black Ops 4. Whilst it feels familiat, this is Call of Duty finely tuned, aware of the current trends, proud of its past, striding confidently into the future.

To hear Black Ops 4 wouldn’t include a single-player campaign was a disappointment. More often than not, they were surprisingly good despite their shooting gallery linearity, stringing together high-octane set-pieces and explosive drama with the satisfaction of a big budget, Hollywood action flick. The Black Ops series was no exception.

I cannot help but feel the campaign came at the cost of keeping up with the times, but it doesn’t go amiss. Black Ops 4 is entirely multiplayer-focused with an emphasis on its latest take on its suite of competitive multiplayer modes, cooperative survival in Zombies and – most notably – Blackout. Blackout is their first foray into the now massively popular Battle Royale genre, a genre that’s only recently achieved widespread appeal. It is therefore surprising that Treyarch has been able to so quickly produce Blackout, and for it to be as fleshed out and polished as it. More like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds than my recent obsession, FortniteBlackout is a more grounded, realistic experience.

This is where Black Ops 4 feels the most different as a COD title. The tight, close-quarters maps synonymous with the franchise’s frantic multiplayer matches are forgone in favour for wide-open landscapes. With sparse cover, it’s the most vulnerable and tense I’ve felt playing a COD game. It’s fast, tactical, edge-of-your-seat type of stuff that asks you to ditch the typical run-and-gun COD tactics that are, by now, second-nature.

Unlike the Battle Royales preceding it, Blackout feels feature complete at launch, packed with a wide array of gadgets and gizmos, weapons and perks, and vehicles. This means a hefty amount of inventory management which is a bit clunky, especially when juggling attachments between weapons. However, it includes everything we now expect from the genre but adds it’s own touch, with COD‘s signature fluidity and tight gunplay, as well as the addition of zombie hordes, which pose an extra danger but increased potential reward.

This is indicative of the game as a whole; Treyarch has taken great inspiration from its competition but tries to offer something different with Black Ops 4. Multiplayer, where I still have spent the majority of my time, once again borrows from its peers but draws from its tradition. In doing so, it doesn’t stray too far from the formula. The class system, which has carried through the last couple season entries, have you choosing abilities based on characters reminiscent of hero-shooters such as Overwatch. It’s a straightforward system that you quickly get your head around, made easier by Specialist HQ which allows you to sample each in unique tutorials, view backstory videos and post high scores. It did not take me long to find a ‘main’ that I vibed with, but there are several I’m comfortable to play as. So far, I’ve seen a pretty even mix online, suggesting the balance is pretty healthy too.

The character-based classes, however, do not restrict your customisation abilities. The ‘Pick 10’, point-based custom class system remains with enough fan favourite returning perks, scorestreaks and equipment, along with a decent amount of new options. Similarly, the guns feel both new and familiar. Based on the weapons I’ve so far used, there’s an argument to be made for using each one, and no doubt you will find one that suits you. Gone is the wall-running and high degree of mobility that has previously bothered COD fans, and the server issues that have plagued prior releases. I did have a couple of hard crashes, but never during a multiplayer match, just mucking about in Theatre mode and loading up a Specialist HQ mission.

The maps as well, both old and new, are fantastic. The return or fan favourite maps from the Black Ops sub-series is a nice touch, although I’m sure there will be a handful that suddenly feels like they’re playing a game they’ve already played. However, I feel it’s more of a Super Smash Bros Ultimate-style move (although admittedly not nearly as complete), bringing together the best Black Ops bits into one package. Coupled with the new maps, this makes it one of the strongest sets in a COD game. Icebreaker is a particular stand out (in my opinion) from the 10 new maps, which combined with the four returning maps makes a total of 14 at launch, with Nuketown coming free next month.

All that leaves is the new and improved Zombie mode. Fans of the mode, one of the highlights of COD games since it was introduced in World of War, will be pleasantly surprised to see that it is even zanier in Black Ops 4. We got a glimpse of how insane it would be in some of the promotional material that was released prior to release, and I’m pleased to report it is as wild as I hoped it would be. The assortment of weapons (including magical staffs, swords and shields) and power-ups is bonkers, the maps are some of the series strongest, and the customisable class system is super refreshing. The supernatural and mythical themes, as well as historical references, are also super cool for a geek like me.

Black Ops 4 takes a great deal of inspiration from its competition but amalgamates it all in a polished package that manages to offer something refreshing with Blackout and Zombies. However, it doesn’t go so far as to offer anything revolutionary, content in following the trends rather than setting them. For all intents and purposes, when it comes to multiplayer particularly, it still feels very much like Call of Duty has, and mightn’t win back fatigued players.

Gone are the days where Call Of Duty sets the trends, but Black Ops 4 does a great job of keeping up. Choosing which mode to play first every time I launch the game is a struggle, with each being unique and impressive in their own way. Black Ops 4’s individual components may not be groundbreaking, but as a package, it’s one of the most refined Call Of Duty games. Black Ops 4 is a complete and polished package with Treyarch’s deft touch of quality.
Refined, polished and feature complete
Zany Zombies
Follows trends rather than sets them
MP mightn't do enough to prevent formula fatique