Review – Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
Let me preface this review with letting you know now that I am not one of the people who care that the singleplayer portion has been removed. There have been plenty of multiplayer only titles that are a ton of fun and worth the full price ticket. However, if you’re going to make a multiplayer only title with AAA pricing then it needs to be treated as such. So let’s hop in and see if Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (from here on referred to as BLOPS4) has what it takes to be a AAA multiplayer only title.
While the main campaign has been removed there is still a story here under the Operators HQ. This mode acts as a tutorial for each Operator as well as giving some story about how they become who they are. There is a tie in with the Mason family as well and even a return of an old favorite character, but all and all the experience is nothing like having a story campaign. I still recommend going through them because it does give you a good feel for each of the Operator’s strengths, but don’t go in expecting a good story.
I have to say that BLOPS4‘s Multiplayer mode is one of the most fun and engaging Call of Duty‘s I have played in a while. After Black Ops 2, Call of Duty has been getting progressively more Sci-Fi which did not interest me much until WWII, of course. WWII was a nice return to the good ‘ol boots on the ground combat, but it lacked any depth and of course one of the worst lootbox implementations. BLOPS4 also gets rid of the futuristic jet packs and wall running and keeps things grounded with a Rainbow Six Siege feel.
The Operators really change the feeling of the Multiplayer and adds an extra layer of depth that Call of Duty has been missing. There are ten Operators total and all have a unique feel and special abilities. There are of course Operators that are a bit more useful in combat. For instance, Ajax has a 9-Bang grenade (Flash Grenade) that is very effective and his special feature is a Ballistic Shield that he can run around with for protection. Nomad can place mines and call in an attack dog, while Torque can lay Razor Wire and set a Barricade for team protection.
My favorite is used more for support, but used properly can have amazing effects for the entire team. Recon has the ability to fire Sensor Dart that will show all enemies within its radius. This can be great to spot enemies hiding or to watch your flank. You also get ten points to your Scorestreak for every enemy killed that your sensor has spotted. His special is the ability to use his goggles which will scan the battle ground and highlight all enemies in red for your entire team. This gives your entire team a massive advantage instead of just giving yourself a couple extra kills.
Another big change for the Multiplayer is the additional health. It has been bumped up to 150 and it does increase the TTK enough to create gunfights. Call of Duty has always been about who sees who first, but now you can take more than a couple shots giving you time to react. This of course can all alter a bit depending on the weapons used or loadouts with additional armor, but overall it creates a much more intense game. The one thing I have noticed that the increase health changes is the ability to get multi-kills. Unless you get the drop on a group it is extremely difficult to take on more than one person even if you’re remarkably good or the other two are extremely bad.
Healthpacks make an appearance in BLOPS4, but with some tweaks to keep the fighting going. Every Operator has the ability to heal manually which takes a few rounds to get used to. After so many years of auto-regenerating health it seems strange at first needing to be conscious of healing yourself. Once you get use to it though it doesn’t really change the flow of fights much. Instead of taking cover and healing in 3 seconds, you take cover and press a button to heal in 3 seconds. There is a loadout perk that allows you to heal faster and have your med packs regenerate quicker.
Scorestreaks are replacing Killstreaks this time around and I’m not sure which one is better. To get a Scorestreak move you’ll need points which you accumulate for doing a lot of things on top of killing. Like I mentioned above, Recon gets 10 points for every kill your team gets from your sensor dart. A simple UAV is 500 points so you’d need at least 5 kills to just get a UAV, but when you factor in destroying enemy mines, sensor darts, assists etc. it does rack up fairly quickly. There is equipment you can equip that will lower Scorestreak requirements.
It is worth mentioning that the 10 point loadout system has returned in BLOPS4, which allows you to equip up to 10 items. This includes weapons, mods, equipment, and perks. This makes you decide on what kind of player you want to be. Would you rather forgo your perks and throw a ton of mods on your primary weapon? Or get rid of your secondary weapon to give you an extra leg up with a perk? The choice is up to you.
All the weapon types make a return, but in a more limited scope. Besides the snipers, most of the primary weapons classes only have five options. Shotguns also got put as secondary weapons along with pistols and rocket launchers. You’d think the limited variety of weapons would lead to a more balanced game, but unfortunately the community has already found that the Spitfire is OP and there still has yet to be a balance fix for it. Weapons also have Operator perks that can be equipped as a mod after prestige the weapon, but not every Operator has a mod for each weapon.
There are some new modes to Call of Duty in BLOPS4 that are really enjoyable, but nothing new. The fan favorites make a return like the classic Free-For-All, Kill Confirmed, Domination, Hardpoint, Search and Destroy, and Team Deathmatch and their Hardcore variants. The new ones are a departure from the normal Call of Duty run and gun style, but while they aren’t new, they still feel right at home. Heist is very similar to what you’d find in Counter Strike where you play rounds to earn money and then use that money to purchase better weapons and equipment. Control is a lot like Overwatch where 2 teams start on opposite sides of the map as offense and defense and must play the objective and work as a team.
There are a total of 14 maps with 4 of them being classic maps from past Black Ops games. Nuketown will be making a return at some point in November as a free map for everyone. The 4 returning maps are classics for a reason and they all work well here with the Operators and such, but I’m not ecstatic about the new maps. Of the 10 new maps, I’d say only 3 or 4 are well made. The rest feel really generic and laid out like very simple maps. If you opted for the Season Pass, there are 12 maps coming so hopefully they step up the quality in those.
Now most of this has been pretty positive and for the most part I really do love the changes made to BLOPS4. It really has changed the overall feel of the pacing and I love using the Operators. But as I mentioned in the first paragraph, an AAA multiplayer only title needs essential things to be a solid game and BLOPS4 isn’t quite up to snuff. My personal feeling is that if you make a multiplayer only game, then there are essential things it needs to be considered a full priced title.
For one, it needs dedicated servers. This has been a sin throughout Call of Duty for a while now and I thought with BLOPS4 upping the ante of multiplayer, we would finally see it. Now, the PC version does support dedicated servers, but unfortunately the console folks are stuck with Peer-to-Peer. Two, you need stable servers. Reports have been coming out that the servers are only running at 20hz which is ridiculous in a multiplayer only first person shooter. This leads to a lot of cheap deaths where bullets will register after you’re behind a wall and no, I don’t mean wall penetration. What’s even more frustrating is that the beta was running at 60hz, but the final retail drops to a staggering 20hz. This can be fixed with updates, but who knows how long this will take. Which brings me to my next point.
Three, there needs to be timely updates on fixes, balances, and content. There is already a bust with the Spitfire which has yet to get a fix. Four, timely content roll out. This is something that Call of Duty does well IF you’re a season pass owner. Unfortunately, that means dropping another $50 on the title just to be able to keep up and not get kicked from matchmaking when a map you don’t have makes an appearance. If you aren’t a season pass owner, the only map you’re getting is Nuketown some time in November. I will give them credit though, they won’t be doing loot boxes and moving towards a Fortnite style of seasons and buying cosmetics you want. This gives a better balance for the folks who want to play and unlock those upgrades and those who want to buy their way past completing the seasons.
The Zombies mode retains the quality you have come to expect with a few extra tweaks and additions to experiment with. BLOPS4, unlike previous Call of Duty’s, comes with 3 maps all of which are well crafted and unique. The IX map is set in a Roman coliseum where you play as gladiators fighting off zombies and even a zombie tiger. Voyage of Despair is set upon the RMS Titanic. You start the map right after the Titanic has hit the iceberg so you must escape the ship while fighting through the undead horde. Blood of the Dead is a remake of Mob of the Dead from Black Ops 2, which is the one set in Alcatraz.
All maps are well done and feature bosses, power-ups, Pack-a-Punch, and all sorts of story easter eggs to find. The quality is top notch here and remains just as fun, if the not the best of the series. There is a forth map that is available, but unfortunately it is locked off unless you purchase the season pass. Typical greedy Activision locking on disc content to encourage season pass purchases. The locked off map is called Classified and it’s the Pentagon map from Black Ops 1.
Blackout mode is arguably the most exciting addition to this years Call of Duty. It is their version of Battle Royal and while it is more of a straight clone of PUBG, it actually does it much better. Most of this is due to Call of Duty’s gunplay which remains just as tight and fun as the regular multiplayer. Even though there has never been a Call of Duty that has had a map of this size or even drivable vehicles in the mulitplayer, it is pulled off well here. The map feels open, but not barren, and the vehicles drive and fly well with easily accessible controls.
One of the coolest features of Blackout is that the map is entirely made up of popular multiplayer and zombie maps all stitched together. This makes map navigation enjoyable trotting through old familiar zones all in a new mode. Another nice feature is that when you’re exploring one of the zombie map sections, there is a chance to run into a horde of zombies while looting. Not only that, but you will find special zombie weapons as well as combat perks like knowing when someone is aiming at you. Unfortunately, the poor servers are all in effect here which can cause annoying firefights at times, but for the most part it runs extremely well.
The graphics are aggressively average across the board, even looking worse than BLOPS3 in some cases due to weaker lighting. Call of Duty has never been about the graphics, but it’s been acceptable since they typically prefer performance over visuals. I’m okay with this generally, but the fact there are so many issues with the servers it’s hard to see where the downgrade went into effect. I’m no Digital Foundry, but I’d assume we are seeing a downgrade across the board to accommodate the Blackout mode. This is a shame since I was pleasantly impressed with WWII’s visuals last year. It doesn’t necessarily look terrible, but it certainly isn’t going to have you stop and take in any visuals. However, there are some impressive CGI scenes in the Operator HQ story cutscenes.
The sound design has always been a strong suit of Treyarch in particular. They always have strong sound design with their guns. AR’s have a heavy sound and great feedback which gives you a great sense of power. The music changes periodically throughout matches getting more intense the closer you get to the end to pump you up. The various Operator chatter is also well done calling out kills and various commands. Even though there is a lack of campaign, the Operator HQ cutscenes are also well voiced and acted.
Call of Duty Black Ops 4 is a lot of fun and is packed full of content if you’re into multiplayer, zombies, and Battle Royal. If you played Call of Duty for its singleplayer, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed with the Operator HQ missions. It just isn’t a proper replacement for a story campaign. However, I’m fine with a game being multiplayer only if it is treated like an AAA title. Unfortunately the lack of dedicated servers, 20hz servers, delay of timely balance fixes and the like makes it a hard recommendation at full price. I’d wait for the updates to the servers and give Treyarch some time to balance a few things. This is definitely the most fun I have had in a Call of Duty in a long time and if you have been thinking about returning then this would be a great title to do so. Just give it a couple months.
Truly nothing to be impressed about. Run of the mill visuals and lighting that adds nothing to the atmosphere. The Operator HQ cutscenes are well done.
Some of the most satisfying Call of Duty gameplay to date. Operators give a nice added dimension to matches, but the 20hz servers lead to frustrating hit detection.
Weapon sound effects are very well done, Operator chatter is nice, and the upbeat rock music during the last half of matches really kicks you into gear.
Multiplayer, Zombies, and Battle Royal are the best of the series and possibly the genre. However, for a Multiplayer only title the lack of dedicated servers, 60hz servers, and timely balance updates hurts the overall package.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Reviewed on Xbox One.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is available now on Xbox One, PS4, and PC