Call Of Duty: Black Ops IIII

PC, PS4, Xbox One


There’s a sub­ver­sive thrill to beat­ing 99 Call Of Duty play­ers with­out hav­ing to shoot them all. How re­bel­lious it feels to pad around, be­ing care­ful about the noises you make. Paus­ing for a mo­ment with an en­emy lined up in your iron sights, then think­ing bet­ter of it. Adopt­ing these stan­dard bat­tle-royale tac­tics in Call Of Duty – Call Of Duty, for good­ness’ sake, where the twitchi­est play­ers have ruled for aeons – feels like driv­ing a mo­tor­bike through the grounds of your old school and jump­ing it into the swim­ming pool. Sud­denly you’re free of the old tyranny, and it’s now the slay­ers of old who fail to ad­just, and ex­pire in the open­ing sec­onds.

In that way, Black Ops IIII’s rein­ven­tion as a norm­core-wear­ing, fid­get-spin­ner-twid­dling com­peti­tor to youth favourites PUBG and Fort­nite works well. Me­chan­i­cal pol­ish has been patently lack­ing in bat­tle royale for as long as the genre ex­isted, so nat­u­rally Tre­yarch’s sig­na­ture flour­ishes in player an­i­ma­tion and in­her­ently right weapon be­hav­iour was go­ing to make an im­pact. Its new Black­out mode, which at­tempts to re­place the tra­di­tional sin­gle­player cam­paign with a 100-player last-one-stand­ing mode, works im­me­di­ately by do­ing all the things bat­tle-royale games seem to forsake: proper player an­i­ma­tion, re­li­able hit­boxes, con­sis­tent sur­faces and smooth con­trol. Then again, if me­chan­i­cal fi­nesse was all that im­por­tant to bat­tle-royale play­ers in the first place, would PUBG have found the au­di­ence it did?

The an­swer, you sus­pect as you smash feet-first through a waist-high win­dow and seam­lessly be­gin a gun­fight, is that pol­ish isn’t the point in bat­tle royale. Be­ing first is. Black­out can’t of­fer the same ago­ra­pho­bic thrill you felt the first time you ex­plored Erangel by Da­cia. Its world map, though far big­ger than any pre­vi­ous COD mul­ti­player arena, doesn’t of­fer any par­tic­u­lar ge­o­graph­i­cal cu­rios­ity, be­cause you’re used to this scale by now. There’s a lot to be said for the re­fined gun­play, and the powerup-laden loot sys­tem, but their ef­fect is that of an ap­pre­cia­tive nod, not an all-nighter.

Af­ter sev­eral hours look­ing for the heart of Black Ops IIII in Black­out and re­turn­ing empty-handed, it’s a turn-up for the books to dis­cover that it’s the old stal­warts, the mul­ti­player and Zom­bies modes, where Tre­yarch’s lat­est best de­fines it­self. Here, in the do­mains of half-sec­ond twitch-du­els, gath­er­ing dog­tags in choke­point-laden war­zones, and ini­ti­at­ing ar­cane rit­u­als with a tap of X amid waves of undead, the game re­as­sures you that al­though the solo cam­paign is gone, the series’ iden­tity has not.

Much to the hard­core com­mu­nity’s cha­grin, Spe­cial­ists make a re­turn in mul­ti­player. That’s not to say it’s sud­denly be­come a hero shooter as well as a bat­tle-royale game – yes, there are char­ac­ter abil­i­ties, but they’re sub­tle by COD’s stan­dards. Ruin, per­haps por­ten­tously named, has a grap­ple-gun at his dis­posal, and you will be killed by some­one who has an ap­par­ently su­per­hu­man com­mand of its tra­ver­sal pos­si­bil­i­ties within 15 min­utes. How­ever, that’s the ex­cep­tion to the rule. This isn’t a wall-run­ning, back­flip­ping shooter. Abil­i­ties don’t turn the fight into a car­toon. You just might end up get­ting mauled by No­mad’s at­tack dog ev­ery once in a while, that’s all.

And if both kills and deaths felt a bit cheap in those floaty, hy­per­ac­tive series en­trants prior to WWII’s grounded fights where wall-runs were ubiq­ui­tous, stay­ing alive has re­newed mean­ing in Heist mode. Clearly tak­ing its cues from Pay­day 2 and CS: GO, it’s a rush to a cen­tral cash-stuffed suitcase, then a rush to an ex­trac­tion point in per­madeath fash­ion. As a ves­sel for dra­matic ten­sion and a palate cleanser af­ter five rounds of mind­less Kill Con­firmed, it’s equally adept. There’s es­ports po­ten­tial in Heist to which Tre­yarch’s is clearly not obliv­i­ous, ev­i­denced by sev­eral sig­nif­i­cant be­tas and ‘hard­core’ vari­ants of each mode.

Else­where, the song re­mains the same: twitchshoot­ing 6v6 brawls across 14 mul­ti­player maps that pay a more than pass­ing nod to pre­vi­ous games and their as­set li­braries, and usual sus­pects Hard­point, Free-For-All, Dom­i­na­tion and Con­trol wait­ing for you to get bored of more cere­bral modes such as the afore­men­tioned Heist and Search And De­stroy. If there’s a cen­tral idea bring­ing to­gether all these dis­parate ac­tiv­i­ties it’s well hid­den, but the sim­ple grat­i­fi­ca­tion is as mor­eish as it ever was.

Per­haps most sur­pris­ingly of all, it’s Zom­bies mode that feels the most es­sen­tial. What be­gan life as a throw­away di­ver­sion has some­how be­come a bona fide stand-in for tra­di­tional six-hour cam­paigns, and now a highly sus­pect his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment too thanks to Black Ops IIII’s own vi­sions of the RMS Ti­tanic, An­cient Rome and Al­ca­traz (again). These three co-op sur­vival maps are re­ally the only ar­eas of the game and its dis­parate modes which have the kind of per­son­al­ity you’d ex­pect from such a tow­er­ing mono­lith of an IP. The in­her­ent silli­ness of sprint­ing around a hun­dredyear-old ocean liner with a fu­tur­is­tic as­sault ri­fle in one hand and the Scepter Of Ra in the other goes a long way to make up for Black­out’s charisma vac­uum, and the same must be said for shoot­ing ex­plod­ing tigers in a glad­i­a­to­rial arena some­where in an­cient Rome.

Who knows how we got here, but Zom­bies is the most com­pelling rea­son to buy a COD game in 2018. What’s ap­par­ent from the series’ first re­lease not to fea­ture a sin­gle­player nar­ra­tive com­po­nent is that those ex­pe­ri­ences pro­vided more than six hours of drone-cam cutscenes and throw­ing gre­nades back at mercs. They were the con­tex­tual an­chor of each game, and you can’t help but feel that con­text’s ab­sence here.

Who knows how we got here, but Zom­bies is the most com­pelling rea­son to buy a Call Of Duty game in 2018

MAIN There’s a whiff of the ‘reimag­ined’ if you’re feel­ing char­i­ta­ble, or ‘re­hashed’ if you’re not, to many maps. The RMS Ti­tanic’s ex­te­rior looks a lot like that of the USS Texas in COD:WWII.

BOT­TOM The jam­boree of sec­ondguess­ing and dou­ble-bluff­ing in close-quar­ters Heist maps adds a thrilling new wrin­kle to mul­ti­player, but con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween team­mates is es­sen­tial

LEFT All ve­hi­cles in Black­out, from quad bikes to trucks to chop­pers, are im­pres­sively re­fined in their be­hav­iour. Halo’s twin-stick ve­hic­u­lar con­trols are alive and well thanks to Black Ops IIII.

ABOVE This dar­ing ex­per­i­ment yielded vi­tal field in­for­ma­tion: yes, this drop can be sur­vived. And yes, the driver will al­most cer­tainly panic upon re­ceiv­ing the pas­sen­ger and drive head­long into the near­est wall

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