It’s that time of the year again. The leaves are starting to turn red and brown, the air is starting to get a bit chilly, and the new Call of Duty has hit store shelves. While that name used to be synonymous with big sales numbers, the series has been on a bit of a sales decline ever since Ghosts, with last year’s Call of Duty: WWII being a slight exception.
With Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, some people, even long-time fans, assumed that the series was almost out the door, especially with no single-player campaign anywhere in sight. However, after playing all three modes the game has to offer over the past three or four days, I can say without a doubt in my mind that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is terrific. Even without a single-player campaign, Blackout, Zombies, and the standard multiplayer modes all feel meticulously crafted to the point that you’ll be addicted to each one.
Out of all the modes included in the game, surprisingly enough, the traditional multiplayer is the one that I’ve played the least, but that’s not to say it’s terrible by any stretch. Tons of changes have been made to the way that equipment, health, damage, and more work to make this experience feel different from other Call of Duty entries. For example, players now start at 150 health, meaning that you’ll now have to pump in an extra shot or two, depending on where you’re aiming, to kill your enemy. Also, the Specialist abilities feel like they actually matter this time around. In Black Ops 3 they felt more like glorified killstreaks, but here they provide proper support to your team in a variety of different ways, even in non-objective modes like Team Deathmatch and Kill Confirmed.
The maps are also the best we’ve gotten in a Call of Duty game in a long time. Very few of them follow the series’ stale three-lane design, and even the ones that do feel unique in their own way. In “Morocco,” players can bob and weave between alleys and shops, while on “Icebreaker,” players will find more open and exposed battles. While I think it’s too soon to say that the days of boring maps are gone, this is most certainly a step in the right direction. Even though I didn’t end up getting what I wanted in regards to more dynamic maps, beggars can’t be choosers.
Another part of the multiplayer that works really well is the weapons themselves. Nothing, at least as of the time of this writing, feels over or underpowered. I’ve seen bum-rushers with submachine guns and shotguns, players that hang back with tactical rifles and snipers, and medium-ranged fighters packing assault rifles, but none of these approaches felt overly powerful or cheap. While it’ll be interesting to see if the game stays this way throughout its life cycle, unlike last year’s Call of Duty: WWII, the game feels well-balanced right now.
Of course, this is just the surface of Black Ops 4, as the game also comes packed with the best Zombies experiences since Call of Duty: World at War. I was always a Zombies fan before, but every one of these maps are so well designed, and so vastly different from each other, that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since I got the game on Thursday afternoon.
Three zombies maps are included with Black Ops 4, which is about two more than we usually get unless you count the bonus maps (I’m not adding “Classified,” the remake of the classic map “Five,” with this review as it’s not included with the base game). Across these three maps, two different storylines are being told: “Chaos,” which follows the new cast of Bruno, Scarlett, Diego, and Stanton, as well as “Aether,” which follows the traditional cast of Dempsey, Nikolai, Takeo, and Richtofen.
On the “Chaos” side of things, two maps are included. On “Voyage of Despair,” players are thrust onto the RMS Titanic. Due to the limited space that players have on a horizontal level, Treyarch makes up for this by adding multiple layers vertically. You can explore almost everything on the massive ship from the main deck to the dining room, all the way down to the ship’s bowels, which is full of water thanks to a certain iceberg. Out of the three experiences included with the game, this one is easily the most confusing regarding its layout, so it’ll definitely take some practicing to get used to.
The other “Chaos” map included is “IX,” the gladiator experience you see in all of the game’s trailers. On this map, everything comes back to the center Pit, which is the starting area for the map and features giant firewalls after you reach a certain round. While the layout for the map is almost completely symmetrical it never feels boring, as each area has their own theme based on a god or deity: Danu, Zeus, Odin, and Ra. Honestly, this would be my favorite Zombies map in the game if “Blood of the Dead” wasn’t included.
Speaking of “Blood of the Dead,” which is a part of the “Aether” storyline, it’s absolutely amazing. “Mob of the Dead,” the Black Ops 2 map that this experience is based on, is one of my favorites of all time, so I was already excited about going into it. “Blood of the Dead” adds new areas to the old layout, which makes it feel like an entirely different experience, especially during the first ten to fifteen minutes or so, which is entirely comprised of new areas. The highlight of “Blood of the Dead” is the new “catwalk area,” which separates the new areas and the old map. If you try and cross it, no matter what round you’re on, or if you’re in between rounds, you’ll always be met with fast-running zombies and Hellhounds until you get across it.
The best part about these maps is that there isn’t a large number of steps you have to follow to Pack-A-Punch your weapons, which is essentially required if you want to survive into the higher rounds. Out of all of them, I would say that Blood of the Dead is the hardest, but even then all you have to do is find three parts scattered around the map and build a specific item. Once you start getting in the rhythm of doing it, it almost becomes second nature.
Finally, we have Blackout, the game’s answer to the battle-royale craze that’s sweeping the world right now. Honestly, it’s really well done. The map feels large enough to where it doesn’t feel lazy, it’s filled with areas from previous Black Ops games to where fans will feel right at home, and pretty much wherever you drop you’ll be rewarded with loot and a weapon of some kind, so you’re rarely screwed. It won’t be for everyone though. If you enjoy the more methodical, vastly slower-paced gameplay of Fortnite, then you probably won’t have fun here as you’ll be dying a lot. That being said, the traditional Call of Duty gameplay works really well in this setting, so long-time fans will be able to enjoy themselves.
While Black Ops 4 is a massive improvement over the recent Call of Duty games, I don’t like every little thing about it. Specialist HQ, which is the game’s “story” mode feels lazy. It’s honestly a glorified training mode, and while it includes fully-rendered cutscenes, a narrative (which is more than some people thought we would get), and the return of James C. Burns’ Frank Woods and Sam Worthington’s Alex Mason–both of whom were noticeably absent from Black Ops 3 even though they’re pretty much icons of the series at this point. It ends up being confusing and uninteresting, especially considering the ending of Black Ops 2. I can’t bag on it too much, however, as it’s a minimal feature of the game that isn’t required to enjoy the experience whatsoever.
Another thing to note is that while I didn’t encounter any server problems while playing both before release and after, there have been some people that have had problems. Shortly after the launch, my friend couldn’t connect to the game’s servers for a few hours. At the same time, it only takes a short Twitter and Google search to see that other people are having a few problems as well. While every multiplayer game has server issues at launch, and it’s not definitive whatsoever, it’s still worth mentioning.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is fantastic, plain and simple. The concerns over the game not being worth it due to a lack of a single-player campaign seem overblown, when compared to how much effort was put into improving the online modes. This easily feels like one of the most content-filled Call of Duty entries and I can absolutely recommend picking this up, even if you’re a since-jaded fan of the first-person shooter series.