Call of Duty: Black ops 4
We sit down with Treyarch to understand its latest take on high-octane, online multiplayer FPS action
There are two major things that you need to know about Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. First, the single player campaign is out. In fact, there’s nothing at all that could be described as typical narrative content. You’re out of luck if that was your reason for playing Call Of Duty.
Second, a battle royale mode in the vein of that offered by the likes of Fortnite and Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is in. Developer Treyarch’s take on the game mode that has taken the world by storm promises to deliver big by including land, air and sea vehicles and a huge map (over 1,500 times the size of Black Ops’
Nuketown map) but there remain more questions than answers at this point. More on that later.
So, Black Ops 4 is a multiplayer focused experience down to its core. Three game modes are due to ship on initial release: Blackout, Zombies and the traditional suite of multiplayer modes such as Team Deathmatch, Domination, Hardpoint, etc.
Franchises that have reached the popularity and status of Call Of Duty tend not to make many bold moves for fear of upsetting their enormous fan bases, and so this swing of direction is both surprising and daring. Clearly, in the face of shifting tastes among shooter fans – demonstrated not least by the global phenomenon that is Fortnite
– something had to change. As such, no matter the outcome, Treyarch and publisher Activision deserve some credit for making a move.
Whether or not the move will be positive from a game design and wider game balance perspective still remains to be seen, however, the removal of a campaign is unlikely to weaken the franchise’s appeal given that the majority of its players have been flocking primarily to its multiplayer offerings for years.
“Games are getting more social and are going to continue going that way,” says Black Ops 4 game designer Matt Scronce when asked for the reasoning behind his game’s change of course.
“Even with Black Ops 3’s campaign we didn’t do things in a normal way,” Matt explains. “You could play it completely out of order and approach it in different ways and play through in co-op. We didn’t care too much if you were focusing on the narrative or not, we wanted you to be able to jump in and out of it whenever you wanted, whether with friends or solo.”
Recent Call Of Duty campaigns have offered little originality and so the decision to get rid of it altogether has the potential to alter the entire franchise for the better. By no longer having part of the team focused on producing something that must abide by a set of design rules that have become ingrained over the series’ history there should exist greater freedom to think more creatively about how to move the triple-a, firstperson shooter to the next level.
The introduction of a battle royale mode might seem like the most obvious and creatively stunted addition, but, nevertheless, there exists huge flexibility in the core concept and the full gamut of potential has by no means been reached. Treyarch promises that Blackout will play and feel like a unique experience.
“We wouldn’t even be trying to do [battle royale] if we couldn’t add something fresh and unique to the genre,” Yale Miller, senior producer, tells us. “Battle royale is a great game mode and one that we’ve been looking at for a long time and, clearly, is one that a lot of people want to play.
“What we love about battle royale is that no two matches are the same. Add to that the great gunplay, gritty realism and high-fidelity graphics from Black Ops games and you’ve got something that’s really fun and something you can’t get anywhere else from battle royale.”
Treyarch is keeping the player count under wraps, as well as the exact mechanics that we’ll be able to employ. Vehicles are confirmed, as is the fact that a number of gadgets from the whole Black Ops series (like the exploding radiocontrolled car) will be appearing.
Characters from across Black Ops’ campaigns and Zombies will be available as skins, although how they’re unlocked is a mystery. Neither Miller or Scronce would agree to answer any questions at all relating to Blackout’s progression system.
What they have promised is a map that
“WE’RE REALLY TRYING TO DO ALL WE CAN TO MAKE SURE ALL DIFFERENT KINDS OF PLAYERS CAN BE SUCCESSFUL"
includes familiar locations from previous
Black Ops games. It’s unlikely that these areas will be brought in wholesale and simply stitched together to create a larger map, but long-term fans are sure to recognise some of the environment and be able to point to the original inspiration.
Going back and imagining fresh ways to explore previous designs is one of the reasons Treyarch is so keen to include a battle royale mode in Black Ops 4.
“Part of Blackout is about bringing back things that we want to see again,” explains Scronce. “Sometimes I think, ‘I want to play as Riggs again and I want to see this game mechanic in a new way’.
“A lot of the ideas have come from those, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if...?’ conversations. Thinking about it like that has given us a lot of freedom to be able to try a lot of different things. This game mode gives you so much freedom because you’re not bound by the usual rules of multiplayer or the rules required to be taken seriously on the esports side.”
That’s not to say the rules elsewhere haven’t changed. The divisive thrust jumping and wall-running abilities introduced in Black Ops 3
are out, thankfully, replaced by a concentration on fighting on the ground alongside your teammates.
In each multiplayer match – whether that’s Domination, Team Deathmatch or otherwise – you must select one of ten ‘Specialists’ to use in battle, their abilities combining with your weapon and gear selections to add another layer of loadout customisation.
Ajax is a frontline force, able to stun enemies with powerful flash grenades and provide cover for allies with a large, moveable shield. Different altogether is Recon, an intel gatherer who is comparatively unsuited to direct engagements. His Sensor Dart reveals enemies on the map, while Vision Pulse means you can see their movement through walls.
Elsewhere, Ruin has the Grapple Gun that can be used to move quickly horizontally and vertically and a Grav Slam attack that sends shockwaves across an small area. Torque is defensively minded and can deploy Razor Wire to block off doorways or corridors and a Barricade skill that locks down tight spaces even more readily.
“Specialists give more importance to tactical decisions and that’s a great benefit for players like me, who aren’t the best in moving around the map at top speed,” laughs Scronce. “Instead,
I’m winning by thinking about situations clearly, deciding whether to stick with my team or not and creatively combining the abilities of my Specialist with everyone else.”
Specialist abilities are on a cooldown timer, preventing matches dissolving into each team spamming the new moves constantly. Their relative rarity means that mastering the core
Call Of Duty skills – movement, accuracy and timing – remain the best way to win. Such abilities, however, mean that there are more ways to approach how you play.
“It’s not all about directly killing your enemy anymore,” Miller adds. “If Ruin bursts into the room and gets some kills, then anyone who has boosted Ruin before that is going to get a higher score, too – whether that’s through healing, or revealing enemies or whatever.
“We’re trying to take away some of the emphasis on kill/death ratio and focus on your wider impact on a match. Now we take better account of how you’re using your equipment. Even if you never fire your gun you can be adding to your score and helping your team.”
Working as a team is the best way to go and not only because of the many ways Specialists can synchronise their skills. The mini-map now only shows enemies' movement in your immediate vicinity, meaning you have to rely on Specialist skills to help monitor your opposition. Further, healing is no longer automatic and instead you must heal yourself using a new medikit system or stick with a healing specialist.
The changes to the heath system are particularly interesting in that you now have more options and therefore more decisions to make. Do you continue pushing forward when injured and try to take advantage of a good opportunity, or do you pull back to heal and accept that the enemy might either rush you or heal themselves?
In comparison to the previous system of waiting around for the auto-heal to engage, what’s presented here puts the onus on you to make quick judgments under pressure. We’ve played multiplayer for only an hour, but we came away feeling pretty impressed with how a seemingly small change can alter the tone quite considerably. It’s been a mainstay of the series for so long that it makes a massive difference to this new installment.
These more detailed changes combine with larger ones, such as the removal of the campaign and the introduction of Blackout to make Black
Ops 4 the most interesting Call Of Duty in years. Whether or not that interest now is repaid in quality upon release remains to be seen, but it’s nice to be able to look forward to some originality from a series that has played it safe for too long.
Call OF duty: black OPS 4 is coming out of Treyarch Games after three years of waiting. Find out more here: callofduty.com
Seraph can deploy a beacon onto which teammates can respawn, allowing for a greater variety of tactical options.
Specialist Ajax is the tank of the group, sporting a mobile, bulletabsorbing shield and a powerful flash grenade.