For the last fifteen years, Call of Duty has been one of the most popular first-person shooter titles on the market. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of this war-themed series, and most people have at least seen game-play. Arguably, Activision hasn’t made many of its customers happy with the last few iterations we’ve seen, with a lot of people losing interest in the spacey angle they were going for. Now, with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, we seem to have gone back to the boots-to-the-ground feel that most fell in love with, and it’s extremely refreshing. I was one of the many disappointed with the turn towards “advanced tech” and taking the battle to the stars, so for me to see a return to the Black Ops I once knew was a relief, to say the least.
For starters, we’ll get the obvious point of contention out of the way: there is no proper Campaign in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. I, among many, was not happy to learn this bit of news. There is a Solo Missions mode, which is supposedly in place to fill in for a proper Campaign, but it does not accomplish its mission. Solo Missions are a sort of tutorial for the ten Specialists that are available for use in Black Ops 4, and I don’t hate this – it’s actually an excellent idea – but it’s no Campaign. For each Specialist, you can earn a three-star rating if you finish their On-boarding and Skirmish on each of the three difficulty levels. This obviously takes a bit of time, but it’s an excellent way to become intimately comfortable using each character’s perks. You do unlock a snippet of background for each Specialist, but there is no grand storyline in Black Ops 4, nothing to tie everything together cohesively. This is extremely evident in the map choices in Multiplayer mode. Typically, we see locations that were played through during the Campaign, but in Black Ops 4 they are sort of random. There are four returning maps, three from Black Ops 1 (my favorite Black Ops title) and one from Black Ops 2; we will also be seeing Nuketown next month, a map that has appeared in all Black Ops iterations. But none of the other ten maps included have any connection to a story; they merely exist to exist. I don’t think this is an issue, as it really takes nothing away from the Multiplayer game-play; it’s just strange compared to what we’re used to.
Next up we have Blackout Mode, and this is something that is not new to gamers, but new to Call of Duty. Blackout is PUBG with a Black Ops 4 skin; this may sound simplified and flippant, but it’s the truth. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, as proven by it being exceedingly popular among players, but it’s hard not to shake your head at Activision for bowing to this new Battle Royal fad. I will say, they improved on the mechanic of this game type. The in-game menus are much more user-friendly and intuitive, the graphics are more polished, and it’s fun to use Black Ops gear in this capacity. Since release, I’ve heard nothing but praise for this new mode. Personally, I’m not big on the Battle Royal scene, but even I have dabbled in a few matches of Blackout with friends. It’s fun, plain and simple. For those who haven’t given in to this craze yet, if you like Black Ops 4 Multiplayer and want an extra challenge, Blackout is just the thing. Our fourth and final Mode is Zombies. Ah, Zombies; either you love it, or you hate it. I love Zombies. Granted, I’m often too busy challenging myself to see how many waves I can last before dying to pay much attention to the story, but there is a story here. We also see three new maps/locations: the Titanic, Alcatraz, and the Colosseum. This Black Ops 4 Zombies tale is one of time travel, and I am LOVING the new maps. Now, there is an aspect I am not so crazy about and think they went a little overboard in: Perks and Elixirs. There are over thirty of these little additives, and it took me close to twenty minutes just to read through and understand them all when I first saw them, and then most of the time I forget to use them anyway. It seems very RPGish to me, and overly complicated, but I understand they are just trying to add more variety to the way you play. I think they could have started slow and maybe worked with an “unlock and earn” system to add on to your options instead of throwing so many at you at once. That being said, Zombies is still Zombies, and the new locations are fun as hell.
Game-play length and difficulty are hard to discern with a title like Black Ops 4, because it really depends on you. In reality, there is an infinite amount of play time available to you. With Multiplayer and Blackout, the difficulty begins to ebb as you become more skilled and learn your loadouts or tailor your play style, but you could play forever, and each match will be different and present its own challenges. Zombies is the opposite, in that it becomes harder the longer you play, but strategy is a big help, and you eventually develop your own. Solo Missions are the easiest to quantify in terms of length and difficulty, as there are three distinct levels of difficulty, and each Specialist takes around an hour to work through per level. I would argue a game like Black Ops 4 is more than worth the purchase price if you enjoy first-person shooters; it’s tough to argue against that value.
The graphics are really the only area that disappointed me with Black Ops 4. Given all the advances we’ve made in this field, I genuinely was expecting more, but that’s not what I got. The graphics aren’t terrible, don’t get me wrong, but they are not up to snuff; I would argue they are similar to titles from five or so years ago, just not as sharp as they could be, and I expect better. This doesn’t detract from the game, and it isn’t distracting; I just like realistic graphics because I know they’re within the realm of possibility. I’m not the only one with this complaint – I’ve actually heard it from just about everyone I know who has played – so I don’t think I’m being overly picky here. We can make them better; we have the technology.
The sound design for Black Ops 4 is perfectly acceptable and even stellar in some areas. The pop, whoosh, and thud of bullets are what you’d expect. The radio communication sounds appropriately staticy, and I can hear boots slapping against the ground when someone is running up from behind me. At times, some sound effects may be just a little exaggerated, but realistically, it’s war; war is loud. I appreciate the number of audio cues you are given during a match because they help you stay on top of a situation and aware of your surroundings. When someone is trying to sneak up from behind you, you’ll still hear their boot scrape the ground or accidentally kick some rubble, so I’d say this area of the game meets and maybe even exceeds expectations.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is fun, and that’s what it needs to be. It’s a return to the style of game-play most fans have been missing, with some added current-day fads. The Multiplayer has a steep learning curve, as it always has, but you get better by playing and unlocking new gear. Blackout is infuriating at first, but eventually, you learn the lay of the land, and it’s easier to see that tiny spec running through the trees. Solo Missions are okay; I can’t argue against learning how to play these new characters, but it’s no replacement for a real Campaign. And Zombies is as fun as it’s always been. In a nutshell, I say this is a welcome return to the Black Ops I know and love, and I can’t wait to pour way too many hours into it to git gud.