Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

Sin­gle-player mode is gun but not for­got­ten as the long-lived se­ries sol­diers on

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The lat­est, mul­ti­player-fo­cused, in­stal­ment in the bom­bas­tic mil­i­tary shooter se­ries BOM! SNIPED!

You can’t feed to­day’s hunger with yes­ter­day’s meal, and Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4 knows this all too well. For the first time in the se­ries’ his­tory, there is no tra­di­tional sin­gle-player cam­paign to the games. It’s strange to boot it up and not see a story mode wait­ing for you on the menu screen. Even more strangely, af­ter all the fuss that was made about the game re­leas­ing with­out the usual sin­gle-player mode, its omis­sion feels like a safe choice. Wel­come to our post-sin­gle-player world. It does not fea­ture a lu­di­crously life­like dig­i­tal ver­sion of Kit Har­ing­ton.

In re­cent years the cam­paign moved from the main event to the un­der­card, some­thing fans blasted through out of habit be­fore com­mit­ting them­selves to reg­u­lar ses­sions of mul­ti­player or zom­bies. These two modes alone wouldn’t have filled the void, but to­gether with Black Ops 4’s brand-new mode, Black­out, they do.

Black­out is Tre­yarch’s take on the bat­tle royale genre. It’s 88 play­ers (or 100 in the four-player quads mode) sky­div­ing into one mas­sive map and fight­ing to the death. Tech­no­log­i­cally it’s a mar­vel, as slick and sta­ble as one of the se­ries’ sig­na­ture cam­paign cor­ri­dor shootouts but spread across sev­eral kilo­me­tres of wood­land, desert, coast, and ur­ban ter­rain. Tre­yarch has turned an en­gine built for speed into one ca­pa­ble of en­durance. Al­beit, with caveats.

It’s in­cred­i­bly ugly at times, with some in­te­ri­ors con­sist­ing of noth­ing more than a rug, a lamp, and a blurry ta­ble. Punches were pulled to get the mode run­ning. That’s not to say it isn’t a suc­cess. Think of this as PUBG with the rough edges sanded down. In­ven­tory man­age­ment is in­cred­i­bly sim­ple, all done by a few clicks of the D-pad. It means you spend less time faffing and more time fight­ing. Ve­hi­cles across land, sea, and air, mean­while, are so easy to drive that try­ing to man­gle some­one with your chop­per blades is al­most a no-brainer.

Quad goals

For bet­ter and worse, Black­out is the fastest bat­tle royale out there. It feels com­pletely at odds with the game’s mul­ti­player por­tion that re­wards hy­per ag­gres­sion, and play­ers who don’t adapt will likely grow frus­trated at be­ing re­peat­edly sent back to the lobby. One wrong turn and you’re dead. Call Of Duty is usu­ally about charg­ing into the next duel, whereas this is more about avoid­ing them al­to­gether. Black­out doesn’t at first seem a nat­u­ral fit. Still, you’ve got plenty of time to ac­cli­ma­tise, be­cause this is a mode Tre­yarch clearly in­tends to sup­port in­def­i­nitely. Take the char­ac­ter mis­sions, in which you have to find a se­ries of items in or­der to un­lock that char­ac­ter. This gives you some­thing to do other than killing. Other touches, like the pres­ence of zom­bies, of­fer an ex­tra di­men­sion. Try bait­ing them over to op­po­nents for a good time. There are op­tional tasks too. In a box­ing ring we de­feat a brief wave of zom­bies be­fore un­lock­ing a chest con­tain­ing a meaty lock-on rocket launcher. In a crowded

“With Black­out, Tre­yarch turns an en­gine built for speed into one ca­pa­ble of en­durance”

genre these novel ad­di­tions give Black­out an edge.

It’s quick, sta­ble, and ad­dic­tive. You drop, you fight, you die, you go again. While it’s tough to stom­ach get­ting in­stantly sent back to the lobby af­ter a tense 20 min­utes, given the raw pace this is played at, you can get a new game go­ing in sec­onds. It’s less re­mark­able than its more in­no­va­tive peers, true, but it re­ally does give you ev­ery­thing you’d want in a bat­tle royale game.

Fu­ture-proof

Onto mul­ti­player now, and hap­pily this is on its best form for years. A purer COD, out go wall-run­ning, dou­ble jump­ing, and any other rem­nant of fu­tur­is­tic mil­i­tary tech that turned you into an an­noy­ing jumpy flea soldier, and in comes lean, grounded ac­tion. Gun­play, not move­ment, reigns supreme here, plac­ing the em­pha­sis on tac­tics and ac­cu­racy. Cen­tral to which are Spe­cial­ists. These ten classes each have a dis­tinct abil­ity and piece of equip­ment. Tank-man Ajax brings a ‘9-bang’ flash grenade that can be cooked to det­o­nate mul­ti­ple times, and a bal­lis­tic shield with built-in pis­tol, while Re­con is more in­tel-based, fir­ing a sen­sor dart to re­veal en­e­mies and us­ing vi­sion pulse to high­light them through walls. There were fears Black Ops 4 would be­come a hero shooter in the Over­watch vein, but this isn’t the case.

Abil­i­ties and equip­ment rarely dom­i­nate, in­stead giv­ing you the tools to help you play the game the way you want, whether zeal­ously, de­fen­sively, or sup­port­ively. Add to that cooldown me­ters lim­it­ing your party tricks to roughly one use per life, and a re­duc­tion in player count from 12 to ten in stan­dard team death­match, and you’ve al­ways got a clearer pic­ture of what Spe­cial­ist pow­ers are in play with­out ev­ery­thing turn­ing into a big mag­i­cal mess.

Mul­ti­player is less a meat grinder, more one of those ma­chines that churns out ar­ti­san pasta. That’s in part due to big­ger health bars that soak up more dam­age, pre­vent­ing death com­ing quite so thick and fast. You can have more gun­fights now. It’s not just about who shoots first, but whether they can use their ac­cu­racy to keep shoot­ing. New man­ual heal­ing is the dark side of these larger health bars. You’d think hav­ing to press LB/L1 to top your health up would in­cen­tivise vig­i­lance, but given the sheer speed of matches, you’ll do this dozens of times. Hit­ting the heal but­ton is a chore, like clock­ing in for work or brush­ing your teeth, an un­nec­es­sary dis­trac­tion that de­tracts from the oth­er­wise fo­cussed na­ture of the game.

In all this, Tre­yarch finds time to in­tro­duce two new game modes. Heist sees your five-per­son team steal a bag of cash then fight to reach an ex­trac­tion point, us­ing cash to buy more equip­ment af­ter each round, while Con­trol is fixed-point land-grab­bing with a shared pool of lives. They’re at­tempts to scratch

“gun­play, not move­ment, reigns supreme in mul­ti­player, plac­ing the em­pha­sis on ac­cu­racy”

an itch that wasn’t ac­tu­ally itchy in the first place, but they’ll give you some­thing to do be­tween ses­sions of Team Death­match or Kill Con­firmed. Heist, in par­tic­u­lar, is in­ter­est­ing in the way play­ers grad­u­ally start spawn­ing with ever more pow­er­ful weapons.

To­po­graphic vi­o­lence

Map-wise, there’s a healthy 14 at launch. High­lights in­clude the Colom­bia-coast­set Con­tra­band, if only for its un­der­wa­ter shootouts and pranc­ing blue crabs, and Mili­tia, set in a mer­ce­nary com­pound with def­i­nite Far Cry 5 vibes. It’s a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing that they stick to the same mid-sized sym­met­ri­cal tem­plate, how­ever. We know the game is ca­pa­ble of huge seam­less play ar­eas thanks to Black­out, and de­spite the bold pri­mary colours and tightly de­signed av­enues on new maps like Morocco, and fresh­ened-up favourites like Sum­mit, there’s not a lot of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion here.

The wave-based Zom­bies mode, on the other hand, re­turns re­vi­talised cour­tesy of the Chaos sto­ry­line, a time-trav­el­ling es­capade tak­ing four new char­ac­ters to two new stages. The Ro­man colos­seum of IX fea­tures zom­bie glad­i­a­tors, ar­moured tigers, and a cen­tral killing floor that ab­so­lutely crawls with en­e­mies in later rounds, while Voy­age Of De­spair’s Ti­tanic is over­run with mul­ti­ple floors of Ed­war­dian un­dead. The com­bi­na­tion of con­fined pas­sage­ways and wide open spa­ces has you see-saw­ing be­tween feel­ings of hor­ror and re­lease – straf­ing round IX’s bloody colos­seum or the Ti­tanic’s grand cen­tral stair­case with a bul­let-spray­ing sub­ma­chine gun is pure joy.

That said, Zom­bies is a lit­tle im­pen­e­tra­ble for new­com­ers, even with tu­to­ri­als. It isn’t purely about sur­viv­ing waves. There are hid­den quests, ob­scure Easter eggs, and sys­tems stacked on top of sys­tems, in­clud­ing perks, tal­is­mans, and cus­tomis­able elixir power-ups. Although you’ve got the op­tion of play­ing with bots, they won’t help you with any ob­jec­tives. With three sprawl­ing maps in to­tal, Zom­bies will keep you busy, but it’s also the least ac­ces­si­ble part of the Black Ops 4 pack­age.

As a whole, this is Call Of Duty’s most for­ward-think­ing en­try in years, pack­ing only the essen­tials for its long march for­ward. As the say­ing goes, you get to where you’re go­ing by walk­ing away from where you’ve been, and with the triple threat of mul­ti­player, Zom­bies, and Black­out, this is a game tak­ing the bold step of los­ing some­thing that no longer serves it in or­der to make room for some­thing that does.

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