Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4 Review (PS4)
Ditching the campaign turns out to be the best thing that has happened to CoD this generation...
OverviewUsually, news of a game mode that has been a staple in a series for over a decade getting axed in the new release is something that would be met with raised eyebrows and/or raised voices. But when it comes to Call Of Duty and its now-MIA solo campaign, the only thing we can really say about its dishonourable discharge is 'it's about time, really'. Save for the odd exception, this aspect of the series has typically been the weakest aspect, something that few players even bother with despite the ridiculous amount of money thrown at recent instalments to stack them with Hollywood talent. It's an anachronism for the modern Call Of Duty audience, for whom the game is all about online multiplayer, so refocussing Black Ops 4 to double down on that is actually the smartest move Activision has made with the series is some time and the game feels fresh for the first time in years as a result.
This year's CoD is best seen as three games in one – the ever-popular competitive multiplayer mode, the Zombies survival mode, and all-new battle royale mode, Blackout. The first two are staple ingredients of any CoD package, and while it'd be easy to dismiss Blackout's inclusion as a cynical lunge towards the piles of money generated by breakout hits like Fortnite and PUBG, it'd also be unfair. Blackout could have been that, but it isn't – in fact, it's the first example of the genre to feel like a complete release, unsurprising given that Fortnite is technically still in early access and PUBG only just left early access, not that you'd know to look at it. The money that might once have gone on having a digital Kevin Spacey shout at solo players for a few forgettable hours has instead been put to good use in developing what might be the best battle royale experience on the market at the moment, backed up with the expected array of other multiplayer options and zombie-based silliness as Black Ops 4 accepts and leans into its online-only form impressively.
First ImpressionsFeels fresh for the first time in years
Let's look at multiplayer first, since there's least to be said about that as it differs little from the tried-and-tested formula. Black Ops means that Specialists are back, with players hopping into the boots of one of ten unique characters with their own Overwatch/Destiny-style special cooldown abilities and supers that define their role on a team. There's a story of sorts here, told through the tutorial missions for each character that take the form of simple multiplayer games versus bots, with a handful of daft cutscenes here doing the same job of the old campaigns in a fraction of the time. Each 'hero' shines in different modes, so while Recon might be a great pick for guarding flanks in a mode where everyone works with a single life, his sensor darts are far less useful in capture or control modes where choke points are openly advertised. Learning the cast is crucial, as every player must take a unique Specialist every match so you'll sometimes find yourself needing to move away your favourites if other players get to them first. It's as fast and frantic as ever, perhaps a little too much so at times – character 'classes' like this add another layer of complexity in an experience which has always thrived on its simplicity, and the combination of twitch gunplay, objective-based gameplay and unique character powers can stagger just outside the typical comfort zone and make it feel like there's a little too much going on for a game that moves at this kind of pace.
Zombies suffers similarly from overcomplexity and while it's great that it's grown from a throwaway one-room horde mode into its own standalone marquee game mode with multiple narrative adventures and mysteries and secrets galore, it's missing that purity and can feel like a mess of ideas that don't necessarily belong together. There's another set of characters with their own supers, stacks of potions to chug and relics to equip, assorted weapons to buy and power up with your zombie bucks, passages to unlock, assorted things to interact with that may or may not do something... your first few runs are fun and exciting purely because you're overwhelmed with things you don't understand and must adapt on the fly, plus it's a co-op mode and everything is better with friends. Once you get the mechanics of each map down after a few goes, though, it gets smacked with the one-two punch of losing that initial mystery and outstaying its welcome, with later rounds degenerating into going through the motions once you've got a loadout you're happy with. The basic gameplay loop of smacking countless trash mobs to make a big boss thing appear ad infinitum simply isn't interesting enough to hold interest across longer sessions – that core system hasn't evolved in line with the rest of the mode's mechanics and as a result, Zombies is easily the weakest of the three pillars of Black Ops 4.
In-Depth AnalysisZombies is easily the weakest of the three pillars
Finally, we get to Blackout which, conversely, is the star attraction. The setup will be familiar to anyone who has danced the battle royale jig before – 100 players get dumped on an island inexplicably littered with military-grade gear and chase a safe zone around the map while dropping anyone who gets in their way. Solo, duo and four-person squad options all change up the flow of the game, with lone wolf play a chaotic free-for-all while having allies demands a more tactical and considered approach. With the game's inherent pace and low time-to-kill, it's a very different beast to the two other main players on the scene – PUBG is much slower and promotes patient play and Fortnite allows players to fall back on building options if they find themselves outgunned, while Blackout is more or less pure fast-paced gunplay. On top of the plentiful weapons (games where you get taken out before you can even grab a gun seem extremely rare), there's all kind of extra equipment up for grabs, much of it borrowed from the Specialists of the competitive multiplayer mode. This means you might luck into trip mines for fortifying positions, RC cars for scouting ahead safely, cluster or multi-flash grenades for decimating entire squads... the options for creative carnage are plentiful and all in keeping with the feel of the game.
One divisive inclusion is that of zombies in this battle royale mode, but we actually loved the extra layer of risk it adds to key locations. The lighthouse, for instance, is one hell of a sniper nest for skilled marksmen, but even though you might be safe from most of the shambling undead on its outer ledges, the sound of their shuffling within can mask the footsteps of anyone sneaking up the stairs to end your headshot spree. This risk is not without reward, either – locations that spawn zombies also have chests packed with great goodies that open when the area is free of zees, presenting the decision to either avoid them altogether or lay waste to them to claim their loot, but with the knowledge that doing so will completely give away your position to nearby enemies. You can afford to be a little more gung-ho here than you might in other battle royale games, the the breakneck pace means that games are typically over – for better or for worse – a lot quicker than elsewhere. This too plays into CoD's pick-up-and-play approach, with little downtime between encounters or do-overs making for an intense experience which is definitely in the upper echelon of the genre and arguably even its pinnacle to date.
Blackout is more or less pure fast-paced gunplay
- A fantastic overall package
- Blackout is fantastic fun
- Will last you ages
- Zombies is a weak link
- 'Story' is nonsense
- Bot AI is pretty terrible
Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4 Review (PS4)Unsurprisingly, Black Ops 4 looks fantastic and zips along at a blistering pace, and the only thing to criticise on the audio front is the shouty buffoon in the character tutorials who is in desperate need of a swear jar and a broader vocabulary.
Each of the game's three main pillars – Blackout, multiplayer, and Zombies – genuinely feels like it could offer enough longevity on its own to players that want to live in that one mode and barely tough the others, Zombies the only possible exception to this as there's so little depth to the actual gameplay there.
Dropping the solo campaign was a bold but necessary decision, and Call Of Duty is all the better for it – a more focussed and finessed product that truly plays to its core strengths (not to mention what the majority of players actually want from it) in superb fashion.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £49.99
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