Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Review

By Kelly Packard, 1 month ago
Treyarch used to be known for developing some of the more unremarkable Call of Duty games of the past. It wasn't easy following up Infinity Ward's tough acts, like 2007's mega-hit Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, after which Treyarch's Call of Duty: World at War launched in 2008. But in 2010, everything changed. Treyarch's Call of Duty: Black Ops became a smash hit, despite Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 breaking every possible record the year prior. Call of Duty's once second-rate developer's star continued to rise; meanwhile, the Modern Warfare sub-series declined. Along the way, Black Ops spawned multiple sequels and gained millions of the most die-hard fans Call of Duty had ever seen. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is a love letter to the series and to those fans.


Black Ops 4 is composed of three main modes: regular multiplayer, the Blackout battle royale mode and zombies mode. At every turn, in every mode, there are reminders of what made the Black Ops series what it is. Frank Woods, Black Ops' brash protagonist, barks orders in the tutorials that educate multiplayer fans about Black Ops 4's different classes. Blackout's large-scale map isn't a new destination so much as it is a smattering of fan-favorite maps together on one enormous playing field: Firing Range. Nuketown. Array. Raid. Asylum — that's right, World at War hasn't been forgotten either. Other famous maps of the series, like Jungle and Slums, return in Black Ops 4's standard multiplayer. And Treyarch has never been shy about bringing back the same zombies maps over and over. Black Ops 4 may be a new game, but it's rooted in the past in a way fans will appreciate.

There is no campaign this year, and Blackout is technically what replaced it, since Black Ops games have always included multiplayer and zombies. Ditching the single-player campaign was controversial with some players, but others welcomed it with open arms, arguing that the series has always been primarily multiplayer-focused. While I feel for those who miss the campaign and love a good story as much as the next person, the last time I played a Call of Duty campaign I'd call good was not in this decade. It's also been a long time since I had as much fun in Call of Duty's multiplayer as I've been having in Black Ops 4. Instead of putting out a lackluster multiplayer experience with a tacked-on campaign, Treyarch have created Black Ops 4's PvP heaven with the added bonus of the co-op zombies mode.

Blackout is well done, combining familiar Call of Duty mechanics with the staples of battle royale. Players parachute in, spreading out across tens of locations while the play zone keeps shrinking. After roughly 20 minutes of looting and shooting, the last person or team standing will win. The mode is polished and ran smoothly for me even on the regular Xbox One, and getting back into the action takes the blink of an eye, making dying relatively painless. Blackout is extremely accessible compared to something like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, which is either great or terrible depending on how hardcore the player likes their FPS games. The inventory system is simplified and lenient; for example, every ammo type can be stored without it taking up inventory space for other items. Using medkits can be done while running. Weapons can be fired underwater, and so can the grappling hook. There is no leaning mechanic. Blackout is less about realism and more about over-the-top action, not unlike Black Ops' traditional multiplayer. Players have to know their preferences when deciding if Blackout is the battle royale for them.

Specialist abilities like the shield can provide offensive or defensive abilitiesSpecialist abilities like the shield can provide offensive or defensive abilities

As for the standard multiplayer, it's a step in the right direction. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm having the most fun I've had in CoD multiplayer in a while. Combat has returned to "boots on the ground" — that phrase people love so much — and gone is the wall running and boost jumping of Black Ops III. Even without the likes of wall running, Black Ops 4's movement system is impressively smooth. Sliding, vaulting over objects and jumping through windows is effortless. Even when my jump isn't precise, the game has a knack for knowing what I'm trying to do; for example, I could hoist myself on top of a tank from right next to it or with a flying leap from ten feet back. Movement shines in multiplayer but especially in Blackout, where players will be looting lots of rooms or buildings quickly.

The specialist classes from the third installment are back, albeit some new and tweaked. Each of the ten specialists still has a major ability, which can be thought of like an ultimate ability from a MOBA or hero shooter, and a unique piece of equipment like a cluster grenade or special ammo pack. This is in addition to standard weapons and perks selection and score streak customization. The charge-up on these abilities is time-based and not tied to performance, so everyone gets to use something cool at least once each match regardless of how well they're doing. Multiplayer is a lot of fun, and popular modes like Team Deathmatch, Domination, Hardpoint, Kill Confirmed and more, plus the new Control mode, are all here. And the availability of the classic maps is icing on the cake.

Players have more health in multiplayer now, and the time to kill has gone up considerably along with it. This has had the impact of making matches more team-focused. Instead of wiping three or four players quickly with one clip of an SMG, someone facing more than one enemy at a time will get turned on by their victim's teammates, and it's risky to be a lone wolf. But while the health and time to kill changes are fine overall, some of Black Ops 4's balancing needs to be tuned to accommodate it. For example, some sniper rifles are still a one-shot kill to the body, not just the head, which doesn't seem right when you consider how drastically the time to kill has gone up on other weapons types. And I haven't found much reason to pick an SMG over an assault rifle or even a light machine gun.

But have you seen the fish AI?But have you seen the fish AI?

One last note on Black Ops 4's standard multiplayer is that player spawns were poor compared to other Call of Duty games. Often, players would spawn into their immediate death to a nearby enemy. The spawning system doesn't seem to know if it's safe to deploy someone; one time, it spawned players from my team and the enemy team next to each other. Another time, an enemy attack dog was waiting for us upon spawn. The balance and spawn problems are hopefully something Treyarch can address with patches, and the developers have already said they are looking into it.

Zombies mode is its usual insanity. Black Ops 4 has an almost overwhelming amount of class customization. I spent what seemed like hours reading through perks, elixirs, talismans, weapon descriptions and more trying to create the perfect setup. There are three maps at launch: IX, a Roman Colosseum-themed setting, Voyage of Despair, which is on a ship, and Blood of the Dead, a remake of Black Ops II's Mob of the Dead. Classified is also available via launch DLC and is a nod to the original Black Ops map Five. Each map has tons of doors and passageways to be opened, defenses to be fortified, machines with which to be interacted, and of course the Easter eggs for which zombies is known. Blood of the Dead and Classified follow the Aether storyline, and IX and Voyage of Despair start up the new Chaos line.

In addition to Blackout, multiplayer and zombies, there is one more mode Black Ops 4 has: the Specialist Headquarters. Specialist HQ is Treyarch's attempt at creating a narrative for this year's campaign-less installment at the same time as a tutorial of the new classes. HQ takes the ten multiplayer specialists and guides players through a Frank Woods-hosted practice of each, which comes with a cutscene of each specialist's background story and its ties to the Black Ops' series overarching story. While the idea of a tutorial of each character is nice, as is shedding light on the ten characters, the background stories are short and shallow and didn't give me enough information to care.

While it's not a full-fledged campaign, Treyarch makes attempts at narrative through the Specialist HQ modeWhile it's not a full-fledged campaign, Treyarch makes attempts at narrative through the Specialist HQ mode

Also in the Specialist HQ, bot games with each character can be completed to earn stars and attempt challenges, which unlock audio files with more Black Ops' tidbits. To earn all stars, it's required to play three bot games, one on each difficulty, with each character. That's 30 games total. Difficulty doesn't stack. With the multiplayer focus of Black Ops 4, playing 30 bot games when they could be going up against real players is the last thing anyone wants to do. Likewise, anyone hoping to squeeze out what narrative there is in Black Ops 4 doesn't want to play boring matches versus AI either. There is also the odd choice to force players to sit through unskippable tutorials of the game mode before every single one of the 30 matches. Call of Duty has been going strong for 15 years, and Black Ops 4 is the fourth installment in its sub-series. None of its fans need, or want, to sit through a video explaining how Team Deathmatch works.

Specialist HQ and other areas of the game have some bugs to be smoothed out as well. Often I would get an error message telling me I couldn't connect to the host to load the bot match after I had already watched the tutorial video. This makes no sense since Specialist HQ is entirely single-player tutorials and versus AI. The "host problems" led to a lot of painful watching and re-watching of the cutscenes and tutorial videos — even more so than the mode already demands — to make it through HQ. Another struggling area of the game is the replay feature. Black Ops 4 crashed a couple minutes into every replay I tried to watch. I have tried with several different matches and still haven't been able to use the feature.

Zombies mode is as nonstop nuts as everZombies mode is as nonstop nuts as ever

Those with their eye on the achievement list better like the undead. A whopping 37 of the 52 achievements are for zombies mode and make up the vast majority of the gamerscore. There are also some for standard multiplayer, Blackout and doing everything in the Specialist HQ. The Classified zombies map already added ten more achievements too, and surely there are more zombies achievements on the way with future DLC. Lastly, there has already been one discovered unobtainable achievement. The zombies-heavy achievement list seems pretty tough and time consuming, and the vast majority of gamers have only unlocked a few achievements so far, as can be seen from our achievement distribution chart.

Check out our Best Xbox First Person Shooters Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

Black Ops 4 is brand new, but Treyarch hasn't forgotten what made the series beloved. Blackout is fresh and exciting, but look closer, and see that it's also an amalgamation of ten years of fan-favorite maps. It's not a random narrator explaining the features of each multiplayer class; it's Black Ops' protagonist Frank Woods. Zombies maps return time and time again for co-op craziness, expanding the long-running Aether story and now creating the new Chaos line. Multiplayer is over-the-top and fun, retaining what sparked players' attention in the first place. There may not be a campaign, but Black Ops 4 is one of the most packed Call of Duty experiences to release in years. Multiplayer could still use some balance and spawn tweaking, Specialist HQ's implementation flopped, and there are still bugs to be addressed. Nonetheless, there is something here that feels like the biggest step in the right direction the Call of Duty series has taken in a long time.
4 / 5
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
Positives
  • Die-hard fans will love the nonstop nods to the rest of the World at War/Black Ops series
  • Feels like a complete and varied PvP experience with Blackout and standard multiplayer
  • Regular multiplayer is one of Call of Duty's best attempts in recent memory
  • Blackout is an accessible and polished first-person shooter battle royale
  • Impressively smooth movement system, which particularly shines in Blackout
  • Zombies mode is still insanity (in a good way)
Negatives
  • Player spawning in multiplayer can be noticeably bad
  • Weapon balance needs tweaking
  • The implementation of Specialist HQ and the attempts at narrative bomb
  • Some annoying bugs and kinks to be worked out
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent about 30 hours playing through the Xbox One version of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's multiplayer, Blackout, zombies and Specialist HQ modes. Due to the tricky, zombies-heavy achievement list, only seven achievements were earned for 105 gamerscore. An Xbox One code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Kelly Packard
Written by Kelly Packard
In a few descriptors: college student, longtime gamer, writer and junk food enthusiast. I contribute to TrueAchievements as a news writer and reviewer. Usually, you can find me knee-deep in a multiplayer game while ignoring my growing backlog or on one forum or another discussing all things gaming.