Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Review

By Blair Nokes on October 12, 2018

Black Ops has been a prominent brand in the Call of Duty franchise for nearly eight years, debuting first in 2010. Coming directly after the critically acclaimed Modern Warfare 2 was no easy task, however Treyarch was determined to deliver an experience that could try and rival Infinity Ward’s titan of a game. While the story may not have resonated with fans in the same way that Modern Warfare 2 has, its multiplayer had some great improvements over its predecessor, and it introduced the now infamous ‘Nuketown’ map that has been so popular that it still receives new iterations. On top of that, Treyarch established its presence in World at War with the inclusion of Nazi Zombies, which is now almost a required staple in any Call of Duty title, and Black Ops elevated the mode with “Five” – a superbly goofy Zombie survival map where players can play as Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, Robert McNamara and Fidel Castro. Over the years, Black Ops has evolved and changed according to different trends in the FPS genre. When it first released, it was based in the Cold War. Black Ops 2 was set in 2025, and Black Ops 3 set forty years after. These followed the growing trend of players wanting past, modern and futuristic combat. There are also recurring characters or bloodlines that reappear throughout the series, tying some of these stories together.

That’s why it came as a bit of a surprise to hear that Treyarch’s next installment in the series, Black Ops 4, would be totally devoid of any form of single player campaign – which would be a first in the franchise. Instead, the game would boast a wide assortment of competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes, and introduces a brand new type of mode – Blackout, which seeks to reach into the Battle Royale market largely dominated by Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Last week, I was given the opportunity to fly out to Los Angeles and test every mode available for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Can this entry provide as much content for fans of the series despite missing a single player campaign?

Rather than a traditional campaign, Black Ops 4 does contain something called Solo Missions, which will focus on the backstory of the game’s ten multiplayer characters, also known as Specialists. Each Specialist’s solo missions begin with a highly stylized cutscene that offers a great, albeit brief backstory into the characters to familiarize yourself with them as you assume their roles in the competitive mode. The vast majority of them are grittily portrayed and spectacularly done; Firebreak’s cutscene in particular was one of the most noteworthy for me. These missions take place between the events of Black Ops 2 and 3. While I do appreciate the inclusion of this mode, it made me wish for an actual campaign around these characters, as they seem genuinely interesting. Instead, these serve as more of a primer and tutorial for each Specialist and their unique abilities and equipments, and situations that best make use of them.

Some of the Specialists will be returning from Black Ops 3; Nomad, Firebreak, Battery, Prophet, Seraph and Ruin are all carried forward. In addition to those, we will also be given a handful of new faces like Ajax, Recon, Crash, and Torque. For any who may have not played Black Ops 3, Specialists are a continuation of Black Ops 3’s core multiplayer, where characters have certain unique abilities, and each multiplayer mode puts a greater emphasis on team-based gameplay. This essentially means that Specialists behave under an archetypical class system. Teams are required to utilize each member effectively to secure a win, or capture an objective. Specialists will have different abilities and equipment that can either benefit the individual, or the entire team. Below is a quick rundown of the Specialists you will play in Black Ops 4, and their Ability and Equipment:

Ajax is the game’s tank character, is equipped with a mobile ballistic shield, and has the 9-bang as his special equipment. This is a tactical grenade that flashes and stuns, and can be cooked to offer multiple detonations.

Battery retains her War Machine as a special weapon, which is a grenade launcher that shoots bouncing projectiles that explode when they come into contact with an enemy – perfect in tight spaces. She also has a cluster grenade which sticks to surfaces, and releases several smaller grenades.

Firebreak has the Purifier, which is an incredibly potent flamethrower, and has a piece of equipment called a Reactor Core, which emits a damaging radiation field, which wounds enemies nearby, even behind walls. This also reduces their max health while inflicted, making it perfect for teammates to finish the job. Always monitor the radiation meter, as you could be killed if you hold it for too long.

Nomad has an attack dog that can be commanded to follow or set to patrol a designated location. He also has a mesh mine, which are explosive traps triggered by tripwires.

Crash is the Healer class, and comes with the TAK 5, which heals, boosts maximum health and removes any prevailing wounds for up to four targets, which also works through walls. He comes with the Assault Pack, which deploys additional ammunition and a bonus score for taking down enemies, which is available to everyone on the team.

Prophet is a Ranged class that has the Tempest – a tactical rifle that shoots electrically charged rounds to incapacitate enemies and their surrounding squad mates. He also comes with the Seeker Shock Mine, which hunts down enemies and shocks them with temporary paralysis.

Recon is a Tactician class that can greatly benefit the squad with his Vision Pulse ability that sends a pulse in the surrounding area to reveal enemy locations for a period of time. He is also equipped with the Sensor Dart which is a projectile that emits a pulsing sensor to detect and reveals enemies within its proximity.

Ruin is an Aggro class that is one of the more mobile characters in the game. He has a grappling hook which lets him soar to higher terrain, and elevations on the map. His special ability is the Grave Slam, a leaping ground slam that delivers a lethal blast around the point of impact.

Seraph is another Tactician based class that carries a Tac Deploy, allowing her to deploy a beacon that allows teammates to respawn on its location, and comes packing with the Annihilator – which is a high caliber revolver with bullet penetrating rounds.

Torque is a Builder class, and makes full use of the Barricade ability, which deploys a reinforced structure to provide cover and protection; imperative in any objective based mission. He also has a Razor Wire he can lay out to damage and slow enemies from progressing.

I spent a fair amount of time handling each of the characters, and all feel balanced and have their usefulness on the battlefield. I like the diversity in the class types, so players can fulfill the roles they feel most comfortable with. Since no one Specialist has a preset weapon class, you can customize your class to be universal with any given Specialist, or have tailored classes to specific Specialists, or modes. One notable change is that Shotguns are now only a secondary weapon, alongside projectiles and handguns.

Multiplayer has been largely reworked in some drastic ways that I feel are necessary improvements. Automatic health regeneration has been removed in favour of a manual healing system. Each player comes equipped with health packs, and a visible health bar now. I really appreciate this fundamental change, as the series has largely been criticized for its easiness with health regeneration. This provides a new layer depth to Call of Duty’s multiplayer. On top of that weapons have been given something called predictive recoil, which is a system built into the game that determines a specific recoil pattern for every gun shot. Fans of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive may appreciate its inclusion. Higher level players will be able to learn the recoil patterns for specific weapons, and in turn make slight adjustments to their aim to counteract the recoil and keep a closer radius of your bullet spread.

Not only that, but some weapons now work on a ballistic system, rather than having an immediate impact with a hitscan as previous games employed. This means a rendered bullet will actually travel to the target, enforcing both a hitscan and projectile damage system. This really helps in keeping guns acting close to their role. For example, Sub-Machine Guns in the past could be mastered to be used at long distances; the use of ballistics here keep them at their close-to-mid-range engagement. At longer range, the ballistics will engage and make them less reliable.

These all seem like inclusions Treyarch wanted to address to really push Black Ops 4 into more of a skill-based eSport, like Counter-Strike. Both the ballistics system and predictive recoil provide a steeper learning curve that will be great for pros and hardcore fans who want to dive deeper into the mechanics and understand the finer nuances that the game now allows. I think it’s a step in the right direction and hope Activision’s other developers follow suit.

Weapon customization for Black Ops 4 brings back the popular Pick 10 system, which gives you total control of how you customize your character’s class. All weapon attachments, grenades, equipment, perks and gear factor into how you allocate your 10 units.

Multiplayer also hosts its standard assortment of competitive modes, and introduces newer ones, like Heist. Similar to games like Payday or Counter-Strike, Heist is a currency-based mode where players begin with a fixed amount of cash, and can buy their weapons at the beginning of each round. The goal is to reach the payload, which is a stockpile of cash and take it to the extraction point. Kills reward players with more money to spend on better guns and attachments in the next round. These were some of the entertaining segments of traditional multiplayer. I was a big fan of Counter-Strike growing up, and can see myself primarily spending my Multiplayer time with this mode. Control is another new mode, which tasks teams with either attacking or defending two points, similar to Blizzard’s Overwatch for those familiar.
Fans of the Black Ops series will appreciate that some of the maps from Black Ops and Black Ops 2 are reimagined, including Jungle, Summit, Firing Range, as well as Slums and Nuketown. Summit looked fantastic, and thanks to the engine they’re working off of, it feels like it has a new sense of size and scale; it’s hard to pinpoint, but the structures just feel more realistically larger than they previously were.

Zombies mode makes a triumphant return in Black Ops 4; only this time, Treyarch has delivered three unique experiences out of the box, with a fourth map offered to players who purchase the season’s pass. For those who may have never touched the mode before, Zombies is a horde mode where a squad of four is pitted against waves of the undead. On top of that, they are encouraged to explore the game’s map, by unlocking new portions as they go, and ultimately solving some of the map’s inner puzzles or challenges. You can unlock portions and weapons using the currency you garner from every point of damage dealt. All of them have incredibly creative settings and scenarios. Voyage of Despair takes place on the Titanic, and begins after the iceberg hits. You quickly find that other passengers have turned into the undead, so you’re tasked with finding a way to safety from the sinking ship and clearing your way through the undead. Blood of the Dead is a sort of reimaging of Black Ops 2’s Mob of the Dead, and takes place in Alcatraz prison. One of the most bizarre, and entertaining of the three Zombie campaigns has to be IX, which takes place in Ancient Rome. Set in a gladiator styled arena, players are tasked with uncovering and completing the challenge of four gods; each god has their own pillar surrounding the arena, and players need to work together to find access to each of them. The fourth map is titled Classified, and it appears to be a reimagining of the map Five from the first Black Ops.

As is typical with any Zombies mode, these were an absolute treat, and will require a full party of four to get the best experience. As many players have discovered in the past, uncovering the rest of the game’s map is best when you have one last straggling Zombie tailing you, so you can explore without the fear of encountering any harder enemies.

The most ambitious mode that Black Ops 4 offers is unquestionably Blackout. Now, I need to preface this by saying I was not a fan of Battle Royale games like Fortnite. It wasn’t necessarily because of the style of gameplay, but rather the game itself. For those unfamiliar with it, Battle Royale games are an elimination style mode, where players are dropped into a very large, open map with an ominous ring that slowly closes in. The ring acts as the mode’s boundary, so players are forced to flee within its circumference before a set amount of time. Any stragglers outside of it will be damaged over time. The goal is to use your wits about the map, search high and low for weapons and equipment, and protect yourself from any other player. It’s highly competitive, especially when you’re down to the last remaining players, as the ring slowly shrinks to a very small size, forcing players to eventually confront one another. On top of that, you can use an assortment of vehicles within the map, including ATVs, boats, transport trucks and helicopters. Since the game begins the drop locations from varying angles, there are a seemingly infinite number of ways you can begin this experience, making it brand new each time you drop.

Blackout has done what I thought wasn’t possible, in that it delivered a Battle Royale mode I found exhilarating and incredibly fun. The map is quite large in contrast to other Call of Duty maps, and has several positions and locales where you can begin from the initial drop. As mentioned earlier, you begin without any weapon or attachment, so exploring the environment is usually your primary focus. By doing so, you can discover perks, weapons, attachments, armour, and even consumables for your health all scattered about this grandiose map. We were given the chance to partake in Blackout’s quads and solo rounds, although duos is also available at launch. Quads mode is interesting as you’re pitted in a team of four, and you need to cooperate effectively to survive as the last team standing. Solo is as it implies and is a free-for-all, with anxiety levels at an all-time high as you fear who may be lurking in the distance.

The player-count for this mode is larger than any other mode in any Call of Duty title to date, sporting as many as 100 players in a given round. As players get eliminated, the pressure rises as your own capabilities are put to the ultimate test. One slight mistake can quickly eliminate you from the match. The downside to this is that when eliminated there is a considerable amount of downtime, since the map is so large and the player count is so high. Thankfully you can spectate other players and observe their performance and hopefully make note of what they have, and how they’ve been able to survive longer than you.

It also features various character avatars from the entire Black Ops series, such as Alex Mason and the entire Primis crew from Zombies, as well as any Specialist in traditional multiplayer, provided you complete their Solo Missions mode.

There are also special modes within Blackout that change the mechanics in the Blackout world. Close Quarters focuses on aggressive playstyles and excludes long-range items, and Fast Collapse features a much faster enclosure of the circle.

Black Ops 4’s visuals are fairly well done. The Multiplayer and Zombies maps have a great sense of design to them, the weapons all look, feel and sound incredible, and the Specialists are nicely detailed. Blackout looks pretty good for the sheer size of the map and playercount, and the performance is surprisingly well. Aside from a share of host connection issues, I never encountered any performance issues or framerate dips.

Final Thoughts

I was wary of Black Ops 4’s decision to abstain from any form of Single Player story. I’m one of the few that genuinely enjoys them year after year. That being said, having put enough time into Black Ops 4, I can safely conclude that the absence of a campaign mode is easily offset by the sheer bulk in quantity of game types and modes present in Black Ops 4. Treyarch delivered the same hectic competitive multiplayer with a few new improvements like Heist and Control. The weapons system has been entirely redesigned with a ballistics system and predictive recoil that feel like such a monumental improvement over the past formula that I hope it remains the gold standard for future Call of Duty titles. They also not only doubled down, but tripled down on the types of Zombie experiences present, each with their own quirky setting and sets of challenges. Blackout itself is grandiose enough to be its own entire game, but instead acts as the main feature of one. There is a lot of quality content in Black Ops 4, and it seems like it contains something for just about everyone. I never thought I would say this, but a Call of Duty entry without a campaign just so happens to be one of the strongest Call of Duty titles to date. It’s one that focuses on unwaveringly tight core gameplay, addresses some of the series’ previous hindrances by introducing a manual heal system, and weapon balancing, and feels like it has enough longevity to last well beyond their yearly cycle.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 was reviewed using a PS4 Physical Copy provided by Activision. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
Heist and Control are exceptional, albeit clearly inspired modes from popular FPS’.
Blackout is insanely addicting, and feels like its own game.
Each of the three Zombies modes are incredibly clever and wildly addicting.
The new ballistics system and predictive recoil should be the new norm for future COD titles.
Removing automatic healing is a right move for the future of the series.
Lack of a proper campaign is missed.
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