As somebody who has been playing COD since the beginning, I feel somewhat qualified to talk about this game. As the fourth entry in the Black Ops series, this game had a lot riding on it, with many devout fans (myself included) excited to see the direction this game would take. Perhaps the worst part of the game was revealed before launch, there would be no campaign, the first COD to do this. From a business standpoint, I get it, most players are focused only on multiplayer, and the campaign takes a tremendous amount of time and resources to complete.
This game featured 3 full fledged modes: Multiplayer, Blackout, and zombies. I've put several hours into each of these to get the full experience.
The multiplayer is in many parts, the standard COD affair, but does try to separate itself from others. The story of this multiplayer takes place between the events of Black Ops 2 and Black Ops 3. Because of this, there is no advanced movement like there was in Black Ops 3. Despite the community's outcries for boots on the ground multiplayer, the movement system in Black Ops 3 was fantastic. It was deliciously fluid, added a ton of skill to the game, and made the experience significantly more fast paced. It helped contribute to why I maintain that Black Ops 3 had the best Call of duty multiplayer (which I'm sure many would contend). So, it was very upsetting to see them completely do away with this movement system. This is not to say this is a completely boots on the ground system. You can slide to gain some speed, and you jump much higher and mantle easier than other games, as well, the character of ruin has a grapple hook allowing him to traverse the maps more quickly.
Perhaps the biggest change to this multiplayer is the health mechanics. For the first time, the health has been upped from 100 to 150, meaning there is a noticeably longer time to kill in general. As well, no longer do you magically heal your bullet wounds, any damage you take is permanent until you manually heal yourself with a syringe. I think the increased health is a decent enough change of pace, but the manual healing is annoying. For one thing, it means you are forced to get rid of a grenade slot, meaning you can only have a tactical OR a lethal grenade. As well, it is kind of frustrating to need to remove yourself from the fight for a few seconds after every single engagement. A huge change from BO3, where the quick movement meant you could avoid damage with skilled movement while you quickly heal. This forces you to play much more cautiously and stick with your team mates, which is just not something I want to do in Call of Duty. I also want to comment on the time to kill. I find it is in the sweet spot of being both too low and too high at the same time. It doesn't feel like a game like Overwatch where the option to retreat is present in most 1v1 battles, so if you're in an engagement, 90% of the time you will either kill or be killed, there's no strategy beyond that. As well, it is too high to allow someone to pull of a quick flank and take out 3 or 4 enemies. It takes so long to take out the first enemy that the rest of the team will be able to easily turn around and take you out, making killing more than 2 enemies very difficult. Those moments are the most satisfying in Call of Duty games, where you outclass an entire team and get these insane multi- kills. This is certainly possible in Black Ops 4, but the game is designed to prevent that. They are aiming for a much slower "tactical" shooter.
Black Ops 3 introduced the mechanic of specialists, I thought this was executed well in that game. Effectively an ultimate ability, doing well charges a powerful weapon or ability which can be used for a few seconds. They overhauled that concept in BO4. Many of the same specialists returned, but the system is much different. Every character gets an ultimate ability which functions in much the same way, but in addition they get an ability. These abilities range from things like powerful flashbangs to deployable barbed wire. The issue is, they are on a timer in the same way as your specialist ultimate, and this spans across re-spawns. So as a result, 75% of the time, all you are using is your gun. There is the option to exchange your specialist ability for a generic grenade, but I usually don't do this since it consumes a create a class point. The specialist abilities cool down lasts way too long, the characters are built up to revolve around this ability, as if the characters would mesh with each other. But, since you get so few uses of your abilities in a game, it's almost irrelevant which specialist you choose. There are no such things as "team compositions", almost every fight will come down to who is better at shooting or who plays smarter.
All these aspects add up to something fairly obvious; BO4 really wants to be a hero shooter. I understand this idea, people like hero shooters, the issue is, they don't go full out. It's still just COD, but because they sprinkled in a bit of hero shooter mechanics, it feels like a hodgepodge of underdeveloped ideas, which can't decide what it wants to be. The increased health pool, lack of healing, and specialists with game play preferences make the game feel like you want it to be played tactically. That to win you need to group up, communicate, and have a solid team composition. Doing this is way too boring though, the game feels like it is dying to played like past CODs, running around and gunning people down, if you get killed, respawn and do it again, that's what I want to do in a COD game, but the game doesn't want me to do it.
This multiplayer also introduces a pseudo- campaign. The story behind the multiplayer for Black Ops 3 and 4is explained, with some familiar faces from the series being shown. If I’m being honest, as cool as this was, it was completely unnecessary, and just served to confuse me rather than explain things. You get to see the origins of the specialists as you complete a tutorial for each of them, but ultimately this entire part of the game feels like it was made so it would feel like there is some kind of story going on.
Now, I know I've been harping on this multiplayer hard, but to be honest... it is actually alright. The gun play is just so much fun and getting kills is incredibly satisfying. You get a ton of points towards score streaks when playing objectives, plus every time you use your specialist weapons and abilities you get a sizable amount of score streak points and assists also now always count as kills. This all means there are a ton of score streaks to go around, which certainly makes the gameplay more enjoyable. The bottom line is, when you spend most of the time just shooting guys, and shooting guys feels great, the game is going to be pretty fun.
While at its core, there is something inherently enjoyable about BO4 multiplayer it struggles with its identity as a game. Too many ideas which are individually underdeveloped makes it lack direction and a clear way to play, the majority of what made the game so great in the past has been stripped down and replaced. I'll give this multiplayer a score of 2.5 stars.
I've been a fan of zombies since the beginning, and I can confidently say this zombie mode is... decent. It is similar tonally to Black Ops 3, but really mixed up the core of zombies. Perhaps the most noticeable change is the inclusion of an interesting create a class system. You now need to select the perks you want for the game before the game starts. You select your 4 perks and can only purchase those 4 perks in the game, so you must decide what you're doing that game before the game even starts.
A major change to the perk system is the removal of some previously essential perks. Juggernog, speed cola and double tap have all been removed from the game. In the past, you would be crazy to not buy juggernog as soon as possible, but now that option isn't even available to you. I was initially terrified of this and wondered how it would be possible to even do anything without juggernog, thankfully it is not too bad. To start, you have enough health to last through 4 zombie hits, and you can build a shield which will protect your back. There are also perks which can help to some extent. One perk will give you basically an extra life if you lose all your health and allow you to become invulnerable when your health reaches 0, another let's you protect yourself from all sides while you're holding a shield, finally there's a perk which grants you extra damage mitigation while standing still.
The gobble gum system is back as well, but it is tweaked slightly. Now, instead of gum you craft "elixirs" which are basically the same thing. However, now you have access to all 4 of your equipped elixirs from the start of the game, you don't need to hit a machine to get one. This means that in dire situations, you can quickly activate an elixir to save yourself, which you have access to again after a cool down. The elixirs are much weaker in general, which I think is a good thing. Certain elixirs must be randomly obtained from toolboxes and only have one use, just like Black Ops 3. The issue with Black Ops 3 is those who were willing to spend money could obtain some incredibly powerful gum and make zombies a breeze. Now though, even those willing to buy elixirs won't get a huge advantage, as some of the best gobble gums (like perkaholic or shopping free) have been removed.
Black Ops 4 launched with the largest zombie outing to date. With 3 full maps on disc, plus an additional map for season pass holders. I can appreciate the effort they went to in order to compensate for the lack of campaign, there is a ton of zombies here. Each map is a unique experience, with very interesting locations.
-IX takes you back in time to a gladiatorial arena in ancient Rome
-Voyage of despair puts you on board the RMS titanic.
-Blood of the dead let's you join the primis zombies crew to Alcatraz in a remake of Mob of the dead, but with a significantly larger map.
-Season pass holders can play "Classified" a remake of Black Ops 1's "Five" which puts the primis zombies crew in the pentagon.
The large number of maps means it is hard to get bored of this zombies mode, and with more Easter eggs than you an shake a stick at, zombies fans will be more than satisfied with this outing.
The story is as gripping and confusing as ever. After Black Ops 3 I got completely lost in what the plot of the zombies was, it's hard to pay attention when there is multiple time lines and magic evil Gods fighting over the universe. This zombies continues the Black Ops 3 storyline with blood of the dead (which takes place between maps in Black Ops 3), as well as the classified map, which I think actually takes place between the maps shangri- la and moon in Black Ops 1. In addition, the maps IX and voyage of despair introduce 4 new characters with their own unique storyline, which is nice considering we've been extensively following the original primis crew for a decade now.
Perhaps my biggest complaint about this zombie is that you can no longer hold zombies at the end of the round to progress with Easter eggs. Anyone who has completed Easter eggs before knows just how important saving a zombie at the end of the round while you complete steps is. Unfortunately, in Black Ops 4, the last zombies of the round will bleed out after about 10 minutes. This makes getting things done needlessly difficult, as you have a limited amount of time to get it done.
Beyond this, I have no real complaints. This feels like zombies but is different enough to keep players hooked. We have been getting a new zombies mode every year for a long time, and I'm getting somewhat sick of it. It would be nice to get a different 3rd mode for COD. So, while I do think this is a pretty good entry in the ever expanding COD zombies story, it is still another zombies mode, so if you were never a fan, or have grown sick of zombies, you won't love this mode.
The vast number of new maps, different and exciting game play mechanics which force you to alter your play style, a continuation of the story with new characters and exciting maps, and a departure from a high insistence on the rarest gobblegums makes this zombies mode a fun, albeit challenging, experience. Despite its inherent similarities to the previous zombies, I personally found it unique and challenging enough to warrant me playing it, making me excited for zombies again, which I haven't felt for quite some time. I'm giving this zombies mode a score of 4 stars.
Finally, we get to blackout, Call of Duty's shot at a battle royale. This is the first new mode COD has introduced since extinction mode in COD: Ghosts, since then it has always been campaign, multiplayer and zombies. It is painfully obvious this mode was shambled together last minute to capitalize on the popularity of games like Fortnite and PUBG. If there is one thing that COD has really sucked at in these last few years, it is being original.
Now, I should mention, I am not a fan of battle royales. I think the entire game mode is massively flawed at a fundamental level. I played Fortnite when it came out and never enjoyed it whatsoever, it felt like a chore to play, something I did only because some friends of mine wanted to. So, understand that I went into blackout expecting to hate it.
The inherent problem with any battle royale is, the game ensures the most exciting thing is done the least often. You spend an exceptionally small amount of time fighting, and the rest either looting or running, and the looting and running alone is barely even a game. There’s a “strategy” sure, in that certain areas will have better loot, so it’s smarter to run to these areas. At the end of the day, a game should try to ensure the thing most exciting about the game is what you do for the majority of the time. Running from one area to another is boring, but that’s okay if it’s not something you do very often, you need to travel from place to place to place in a video game. All these problems are more than prevalent in Blackout.
Blackout sees you dropping into a large map with no weapons or items and forcing you to desperately loot weapons and ammo to take out your opponents, while the area of play gets increasingly smaller forcing you to move. If you've played a battle royale before, you've played Blackout, it does nearly nothing to distinguish itself from the competition. Gameplay wise, it is borderline identical to PUBG. I kid you not, the literal only differences between PUBG and Blackout is the inclusion of consumable perks, and zombies. Essentially, you can loot perks which can be consumed to give you a buff that lasts around 2 minutes in game, this problem is, the perks are all but useless, even the best perks are only ever useful during rare situations, so the chances that you happen to have activated a perk and found a use for it before it runs out is exceptionally low. The zombies are interesting enough, but encounters tend to be rare.
To begin, I'll explain the few things I liked about this mode.
Fighting is decently fun, getting in battles is effectively just a mini multiplayer game. The guns all transferred over from multiplayer, so they have the same enjoyable feel. There is a wide array of unique gadgets and grenades which can give you an advantage in certain fights, of course, most of the fights are just going to come down to who the better shot is. A major issue is however, the fact that the guns are all projectile based, not hit-scans. Bullets now drop and have a travel time, making hitting far away enemies very difficult. And of course, if you die, that's it, no re spawning. This forces you to play incredibly conservatively, meaning gun fights are few and far between.
The map looks very nice. It's not too big (about the size of Fortnite), but it has many varied terrain and environments. As well, parts of the map are entire maps from previous multiplayer and zombie maps in the series. There's Nuke town, firing range, Verruckt, the lighthouse from Call of the Dead, and more. It's cool being able to traverse these areas freely, not being confined by the small map.
The zombies. In certain areas of the map, specifically zombies maps, zombies will spawn. Killing them can give you powerful weapons, and if you take out every zombie in the area, you can gain access to the mystery box, which gives you some great weapons (possibly even the ray gun).
Now onto the bad.
The inherent problems with battle royales are, of course, very prevalent here. You spend a shocking amount of time running or driving around and looting. If you see an enemy, maybe you kill him, maybe he kills you, and all that looting and running around was a waste of time. It is unbelievably boring.
Every game feels like the same thing. Either you drop in somewhere crowded and likely get destroyed or drop somewhere less crowded and run around for 15 minutes before getting sniped in the back. Every so often you get far, it never really feels like it was earned. You just happened to run into fewer people that game. Winning does not feel rewarding, it feels like a roll of the dice.
Unlocking new characters is ridiculous. Blackout lets you unlock new characters to play as in game, these are visual only, and have no game play advantage. These characters include all the specialists from multiplayer. To unlock a specialist, you need to randomly find a specific item in the game, these typically spawn in supply drops or crates, ammo boxes, or medical bags (as well as some other means). The spawn rate of these items is exceptionally rare. Once an item has been obtained it will give you a series of challenges which you must complete in the same game. The fact that you have such a low chance of finding these things and must complete the challenges it gives in that same game means it is exceptionally difficult to complete. Obviously, this does not change the game play at all, but it is the only real form of progression in blackout.
The armor system needs work. You can pick up armor of levels 1, 2 and 3 in this mode which will reduce incoming damage until it breaks. The issue is, it breaks incredibly fast. Winning a gun fight in other battle royales is inherently rewarding because you may get their superior armor and weaponry. In blackout, if you get in a gun fight, your armor will be shredded in just a few hits. Additionally, your opponent's armor will be nearly gone as well, so despite winning the fight, you're usually much worse off then when you started, because you now have lessened armor. This encourages very passive play, which makes the mode even more boring then it is by design.
Now I should mention, if you like battle royales, you will very much enjoy this mode. It just feels like a smoother version of PUBG, and the problems with it are (for the most part) overshadowed by the positives. The community in general seems to be very fond of this mode for this reason. To me, however, this is yet another unoriginal game designed to cash in on the latest gaming trend. It brings next to nothing new to the table and still massively suffers from the problems which have ruined battle royales since the beginning. Considering this was the replacement for a campaign leaves me pretty upset. Black Ops campaigns are usually short bursts of fun and tell some interesting stories. Because I must suffer through this mode instead of enjoying a campaign, I'm left with a sour taste in my mouth regarding blackout, and I'm giving it a score of 1.5 stars.
The state of this game
There is one thing I neglected to mention from the beginning, it very much overshadows all the positive things I have had to say from the beginning; this game is a completely broken mess. This shouldn't come as much of a shock. Considering the game was initially planned to have a campaign, a significant portion of time was spent on the development of that, until it was all scrapped to make Blackout. What's more, the game's release was pushed forward a ton in order to come out before Red Dead Redemption 2. What resulted is easily the most bug filled, content dry release in COD history.
Naturally, quite a bit has been fixed/ added since release, but I'll cover just how empty this was on release.
-0 character customization. There were 5 odd sprays and emotes, and no ability to unlock more.
-Only a few characters in blackout could be unlocked, the rest showed up as "unlockable”, but the game said their character mission was not yet available.
-No form of black market or ways to obtain more cosmetics
-No place to spend COD points from previous games or for buying the season's pass.
Then we move onto the bugs. The state of this game at launch is completely unacceptable, here are a few bugs that I personally encountered, although there are many more.
-In blackout and multiplayer, I could randomly not heal myself until I died or re-spawned.
-In blackout the sounds of enemies are completely broken, it is impossible to discern where enemies are located based on their sounds
-Random blackout games would drop frames like mad and run at around 15 FPS for the entirety of the game
-In zombies, when my team mate revives someone else, the revive symbol shows up on my screen.
-In zombies, removing all the attachments from my pistol makes the game think I still have 2 attachments equipped, so I now permanently can't run full attachments.
-A potentially game breaking glitch in zombies, which happened to my friend in 3 consecutive games on 2 different maps. After downing with the starting pistol, they can no longer buy ammo for that pistol, and any guns they buy in that game to replace the pistol will also have no ammo and can not get more. They are forced to use one gun for the remainder of the game.
-Several Easter egg steps on the map IX require all players to interact with something at the same time, frequently takes 5+ minutes of fiddling around before it works.
As I said, the game is being slowly fixed, but is still in an awful state glitch wise. Several cosmetic options have been added to the game, but they are hidden behind a tier system similar to Fortnite's battle pass (for once I'd like to see COD come up with something original, this is getting embarrassing). This entire system is perhaps even more anti- consumer than their previous loot box systems. The tier system is on a 2 month "season”, so you have a limited amount of time to progress through the tiers to get all the items. Earning XP in multiplayer and Blackout progresses you through the tiers. The issue is, it takes an ungodly amount of time to do so. From what I understand, about 250+ in game hours to get to tier 200. That means, you need to spend about 1/6 of your time within the 2 months playing this game to unlock tier 200, that's an average of 4 hours a day, everyday, for 2 months straight. That would be a struggle for even the most hardcore fans.
Of course, Activision will allow you to buy your way to the top. Going from tier 1 to tier 200 is 200 USD. So, to unlock all cosmetics without playing, it would cost $1200 US a year on top of the price of the game, that excludes all DLC maps, that is just the cost of cosmetic items in a single year. The fact that they throw this shameless and predatory system onto a game so broken is beyond disgraceful. Call of Duty has certainly fallen from the public's good graces in recent years, but this is not how you win back the public's trust.
Call of Duty is a dying franchise which is really starting to show its age. So desperate are they to make a buck that they shamelessly cash in on every discernible trend in gaming. Haphazardly throwing together a derivative and unoriginal battle royale, poorly focusing their multiplayer to more resemble a team-based shooter and ripping off the tier system to squeeze more money out of their game. While the zombies mode is a good time, and something I expect I will be playing a whole lot of in the coming months (especially when the bugs get fixed), it does not excuse the current state of the game. Delaying this game's release would have done wonders for it, but they instead rushed it out as something more resembling a beta than a full game. Here's hoping the game reaches a better state, and soon, and that future Call of Duty titles try to do something original.
So, what do I rate this game? Well averaging out all 3 scores it would come out to about 2.5 stars. This score is putting aside the massively unfinished nature of the game and the unforgivable black-market system. With that in mind, I feel I must remove an entire star for a final score of 1.5 stars. I really hate to give a series I have loved for a decade now such a low score, but whatever good grace they may save with their zombies mode, the removal of a campaign to throw in a battle royale mode is extremely upsetting, combine that with the less than stellar multiplayer, the plethora of bugs, and the insulting tier system, I feel it deserves a score that low. I imagine the bugs will be patched out mostly in the coming months, which will certainly raise the score, but they would need to completely overhaul their black-market tier system for me to bring the score back to a 2.5.