STAFF REVIEW of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (Xbox One)

Friday, October 12, 2018.
by Jennifer Dingle

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Box art I’m no stranger to the Call of Duty series. My very first achievement on my Xbox 360 was from Call of Duty 3. My COD love continued, as I fondly remember the excitement of getting into the Modern Warfare beta and how the multiplayer experience changed online gaming in that generation. I absolutely loved playing multiplayer. Friday nights, a couple beers and good friends and I would play into the wee hours of the morning. And this continued. I absolutely loved World at War and even found myself at the midnight release for Black Ops, but sometime after the release of Black Ops II I lost interest. I was fatigued with the series and the community, and really haven’t played since.

When offered the chance to review Black Ops 4, I’ll admit it, I was a bit reluctant. I’m certainly not up to date with what’s been happening in the COD universe over the past few years, my first-person shooter skills and reflexes are certainly not what they used to be, but damn I’m glad I took a chance on this game. So fair warning, as you read on, this is a glimpse into my experience as a veteran of the series who really isn’t that good but enjoyed the hell out of Black Ops 4.

Much to the dismay of some gamers, Treyarch decided to opt out of including a single player campaign this time around, instead, the focus is on the social aspect of Call of Duty multiplayer. There is no doubt that many find this decision upsetting. Perhaps I’m playing the devil's advocate, but I think that considering the time frame and resources needed, I would much rather have a rich multiplayer experience that has a ton of replay value rather than a four-hour single player campaign. Treyarch found that not many took advantage of the single player campaign, even with adding an online co-op option. Instead, most players jumped right into multiplayer arena. Treyarch's focus this game is replayability as they want people to play their game for years and not put it away after finishing the solo campaign. Personally, the only reason I personally played the campaign was to better my skills before jumping in online, and for Black Ops 4, the Specialists mission now serve that purpose.

Black Ops 4 takes place sometime between Black Ops 2 and 3, and the story, should we call it that, is introduced through the brief solo Specialist missions. While they don’t exactly take the place of a single player narrative, I thought the Specialists missions were very entertaining, with a certain master sergeant providing training instructions with some great comic relief. Heck, there are even some emotion stirring cinematic cutscenes after completing your mission. After completing the training with each Specialist, and learning how to use their weapons and gear, you’re given a chance to play multiplayer modes against bots to practice your newly learned skills, a fantastic way to get familiar with them before venturing online (especially great for a gamer like me!).

In terms of my favourite specialists, I absolutely love playing as Firebreak and Battery, as I found these two specialists easy to play and their weapons cause lots of damage, but those with more experience might prefer a more strategic and tactical characters like Crash. I think the Specialist missions offered just the right amount of single player experience, with incentive to go back and play through again for a higher score.

Multiplayer is...well, it’s Call of Duty multiplayer. Not much has really changed from the formula over the years. The same modes that fans of the series know and love are still there; Team Deathmatch, Domination, Kill Confirmed, Search and Destroy and Hardpoint return, along with two new modes Heist (moving cash to an extraction point) and Control (where you attack and control two points on the map). And veterans of the series will be happy to know that Hardcore game modes are available at launch. I’ve played several hours of multiplayer, and I’ll be honest, despite my constant death at the hands of high level players, and my awful K/D ratio, I still had fun. I was very pleased to play on a few maps that I was familiar with! Redesigned fan favourites like Jungle, Slums, Summit and Firing Range (Nuketown arriving shortly after release) were definitely a welcome addition. I did not have a chance to play on all of the new maps, but those that I did play on, like Monaco, resulted in some intense fights, great sniping locations and loads of intense of close quarter combat.

The multitude of guns and attachments, and the various Perks and Wildcards that COD is known for, remain, although the assortment sometimes can be a bit overwhelming for a newcomer (or someone who hasn’t played the series in a few years). There has been slight changes to gameplay worth noting. Combat is more tactical, with seemingly more of a focus on teamwork, and more ground based combat with outrageous moves like thrust jumps and wall running eliminated. Movement seems just so slick! The way you effortlessly climb through a window, a quick slide into cover, it just feels right. And the healing system has been revised as well. Regenerated health has been removed, instead, players now inject themselves in the midst of battle, which can lead to some very tense moments and strategic gameplay. You have to use it at just the right moment, as there is a cool down before you can use it again.

I haven’t played Zombies since the days of Call of The Dead (and zombie George Romero). Over the past 10 years, the story has become pretty intricate and, well, somewhat out of control and hard to follow. This time around, Treyarch has introduced a brand-new storyline to Zombie mode called "The Chaos Storyline", which features a fresh new cast of characters and exciting new scenarios. For the first time ever in the series, there are three zombie filled maps to play through right from the start (with a fourth - Classified) available at launch for those who purchase the Season Pass), and fans of the old storyline will be pleased to know that a remake of fan-favourite map Mob of The Dead (from BLOPS II), where you travel to a secret laboratory beneath Alcatraz, is one of the three, complete with Cerberus who craves the meat of nearby zombies (love this!).

Beginners to Zombies mode can start off with map IX in a classic based survival mode. Inspired by epic Colosseum battles found during the days of Ancient Rome, and taking place in the new Chaos storyline, the four heroes are whisked back in time to face off against hordes upon hordes of zombies in an ancient stadium, with many secrets to uncover, complete with massive champions and possessed tigers to contend with. It offers a larger map to move around, the zombies are gentler, and there is increased health. Voyage of Despair takes the Chaos adventurers to RMS Titanic, where their attempts to pull off an epic heist leads to a supernatural encounter on board the doomed ship. This was probably my favourite map of the three, with lots of close quarters combat, and some epic battles, all while the infamous iceberg is looming in the background.

There are still special power ups that drop from killing zombies, like max ammo, along with mystery boxes that can be used for your own benefit or passed on to a team member. You can also create a class for each storyline, with various perks, talisman and custom mutations that can really change up the gameplay. Special weapons are pretty badass with three stages of destruction, and their availability will change depending on which storyline you are playing. I took great pleasure in using the Hammer of Valhalla to smash my way through a horde of zombies and loved using the Viper and Dragon combo to slice and dice my way out after being surrounded.

There are various elixirs to use in the heat of battle and they can drastically change the outcome. These buffs range in duration from a couple of seconds to 5 minutes, but they add awesome buffs like headshots that have a chance to Instakill, charge your special weapon faster, spawn a special power up, and more. Some of these are some only available at higher levels too. You'll find that there are elixirs, that are legendary and epic, that are picked up within a level or are a reward when you take a chance at the laboratory.

You can truly create a more personalized way of playing with Custom games and the option to change the experience to match your play style. I dare say I had more fun with Zombies than I had with any other multiplayer mode. It was awesome, gruesome and with the different options and modifications to use, the replay value is high. I love the added story elements that always make COD Zombies stand out from your typical Horde mode. You will die often (I did anyhow!) but it’s so fun to play with friends, even alone with bots.

And last but certainly not the least, there is the new Blackout mode. Unless you live under a rock, you’ll know that the Battle Royale genre is on fire right now. What’s not to love? Massive maps, 100 players, loot, and intense gameplay that’s a blast to play. And it’s accessible to all players. Everyone starts out with the same loot. Everyone has a chance. Is Activision throwing all of their eggs in one basket with Blackout? Maybe? Is it worthwhile business decision? I believe so. With the stellar success of other Battle Royale games, it’s no wonder that Activision wants a piece of the pie. I don’t think it will touch the Fortnite fan base, but I do feel that PUBG may see a hit. It has that extra touch that PUBG doesn’t offer on console. 60 FPS, nearly bug free, it doesn't look like garbage. Don’t get me wrong, I love PUBG, and think it’s one of the better of the Battle Royale games out there, but the extra polish and the slick gameplay that Black Ops 4 offers is hard to resist. Think about it, taking a game series as well-crafted as Call of Duty, the experience of the Treyarch dev-team, a massive map filled with COD fan-favourite assets from previous games, and you mix it all into a game genre that is on fire right now. It works so well and it’s damn fun to play.

From the moment you drop from the plane and land in the staging area, the extra polish that Treyarch has added is quite evident. I’m a sucker for detail, and I really appreciate the little things that make this an immersive experience. The way a player raises his/her gun, the swinging clip from the strap on a sniper rifle to the letters on the inside of the scope. You will also notice the little things in the environment, like bugs crawling out of a garbage bag, Treyarch has seemingly thought of everything. It looks good and feels good, although some of the textures and colours did seem slightly flat.

Gameplay is pretty typical of what you might expect in a Battle Royale style game. 88 players (for single and duos) and 100 players (quads) are dropped into the map without equipment and left to fend for themselves as they loot equipment and ensure they remain in the constantly reducing safe zone circle until the last person (or team) remains. I can tell you, playing this in the Call of Duty universe was fantastic. Sure, it definitely takes inspiration from PUBG and Fortnite, but playing Blackout definitely feels like traditional Call of Duty. The map is filled with many recognizable elements from the series, familiar locations from previous games, (like Nuketown), and the extensive weaponry that BLOPS is known for.

You can play solo, but it’s definitely best played with a friend or three. Communicating is huge when playing with teammates. I can think of several times my squad was completely silent, and needless to say, we were one of the first to be eliminated. Vehicles play a very prominent role with 4 different types to use at launch (ATV, boat, truck and helicopter), and they have added an extra sense of dread when you hear one in the distance as it approaches your location. It’s also a blast to zip across the map on an ATV with your teammate clinging to the back. Loot is plentiful too, and I never had any difficulty finding a weapon. You can only hold two, so carrying one ranged and one for close-up combat is ideal. If you dare, you can visit the known locations of Zombies. Yes, you heard me right, even they make an appearance in this Battle Royale mode, how awesome is that? It's here that you can grab some extremely powerful guns while fighting off the Undead, but at a cost, as it will alert other players to your location. Backpacks, armor, special items that give you a temporary ability, even Specialist equipment like Ruin’s Grappling hook, can be found hidden within a building or shed.

Although this mode is so fun, it’s certainly not without its faults. Perhaps I didn’t jump from a high enough location, but I found myself falling to my death after a jump without my wingsuit deploying, but again, this could be my gaming skills. Regardless, I do think that the wingsuit could use some work. Oh, and the Level 3 armor is tough to beat! Other players were essentially bullet sponges while wearing it. I mean, I’m not a great shot, but it felt like they didn’t even take any damage. That said, Treyarch has been fantastic in responding to player feedback, and I have no doubt that commitment will remain well after launch in making improvements to Blackout.

Blackout is a game mode that will no doubt be played for years to come. It’s a refreshing change from the typical modes usually found in a Call of Duty game. And maybe it’s just me, but it makes multiplayer a little more accessible for someone who loves playing the game online but certainly struggles playing a mode like Team Deathmatch against high level players. It honestly makes me excited to play Call of Duty online again.

With the exception of Blackout (as previously mentioned, I found some of the textures and colours to be a bit flat), the visuals in Black Ops 4 look fantastic. The cinematics are spectacular and the zombies mode is delightfully gory (I bet the game designers must have had a blast working on that mode). The weapons, character models and everything else was exceptionally well-detailed. In terms of the audio, the ring of gunshots, the footsteps on the ground, the distant moan of a zombie in the background, and of course the voice acting and atmospheric sounds, were well done and truly added to the immersive Call of Duty experience.

Some may argue that there isn’t enough content to warrant an $80 CDN price tag (sure, cheaper is always better) or that other games in the Battle Royale genre are free-to-play. But I like to think of replay value when recommending a game, and there is plenty here. I think in the case of Black Ops 4; it’s quality over quantity. The new Blackout mode is very polished and it actually works. It’s familiar, it’s gritty, it’s everything you love about Call of Duty Black Ops in one huge map. Not to mention in addition to Blackout, Black Ops 4 includes 14 different multiplayer maps at launch, numerous game modes and three Zombie experiences. That’s a lot of content. It’s nothing groundbreaking or innovative, but its heart stopping gameplay is fun and exciting and it reminds me of why I loved playing Call of Duty back in the day.

At the end of the day, I am very confident in recommending Black Ops 4 to anyone who loves the Black Ops series, the COD franchise as a whole, or the Battle Royale genre. For those that might not fall into one of these three groups, if you are just a gamer looking for some great multiplayer experiences, both PvP (traditional CoD modes and the new Blackout Battle Royale mode) and PvE (Zombies), you should definitely consider this game. For this writer, Black Ops 4 has me looking forward, again, to grabbing some of my gaming friends for a night of beers and Blackout.

Overall: 8.9 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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