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For al­most any­one who has ever picked up a con­troller, one se­ries has caused more stir within the gam­ing world and shaped the way we play than any other of its kind. Whether you have liked it or not, and re­gard­less of where your loy­al­ties lie, you can­not deny the sheer im­pact and driv­ing force that the Call of Duty ( COD) fran­chise has had on gam­ing, es­pe­cially within the first-per­son-shooter genre. It has con­sis­tently changed what we thought war­fare gam­ing could be, rein­vent­ing game en­gines, in­tro­duc­ing graph­ics be­yond our com­pre­hen­sion, and pro­vid­ing bil­lions of hours of on­line game — it’s forced those ti­tles around it to play catch-up at every re­lease.

There­fore, it’s not sur­pris­ing that, with the push to­wards pure mul­ti­player for­mats, the fran­chise is at the front of the pack. In the lat­est in­stal­ment, Call of Duty: Black Ops4, you’ll find a dis­tinct lack of cam­paign mode. Yep, they’ve scrapped story time — the first time that it hasn’t been present in a COD game. It’s a ballsy step — cam­paigns make up a big sell­ing point of any game — but, while there is no main line to fol­low, what we’re of­fered in­stead is the largest map in COD his­tory in a bat­tle royale–style death match that sees 100 play­ers en­ter and only one emerge on top in Black­out mode.

The game­play it­self is slick, su­per slick — the kind of ex­pe­ri­ence that we’ve come to ex­pect from any COD. You know what we’re talk­ing about: that adrenalin-filled com­bat sweet spot of fast-paced, hard­core war­fare blended with over-the-top re­al­ism that forces strate­gic game­play to en­sure that you stay alive long enough to watch the world burn down — it’s a style that the fran­chise has cham­pi­oned since the orig­i­nal Mod­ern War­fare, and suits the bat­tleroyale for­mat.

The map it­self draws on lo­ca­tions from the fran­chise’s 15-year run. The wildly pop­u­lar Nuke­town has been rein­vented as a dystopian is­land, and a hand­ful of zones mash up the most fa­mous maps or build on their con­cepts for fresh killing fields we’ve yet to see. Whether you en­joy long-range one-by-ones, close-quar­ter knife fights, or all-out spray-and-prays, the en­vi­ron­ment is built to suit your taste and to be taken from for your plea­sure.

Per­haps the pièce de ré­sis­tance for most, the weapons draw on all pre­vi­ous ti­tles for a great­est-hits mix of pure mil­i­tary-based may­hem, with a few well-placed curve­ball op­tions thrown in for good mea­sure. If you find your­self stuck with a pis­tol and a sin­gle shot, mys­tery boxes drop from the skies like gifts from the gods and com­prise even wilder weapons yanked straight from Zom­bies mode — and, yes, there is a sci-fi-spec laser ray gun. There are even AI zom­bies roam­ing the map for added body sheds in those in­tense shoot outs!

It takes only a few rounds to no­tice the ef­fects of sub­tle changes. One of the big­gest is the loss of re­gen­er­at­ing health, re­placed with a hefty 150-health-point life gauge that means you can trade more dam­age but don’t have the lux­ury of camp­ing away un­til you’ve healed — the only way to re­plen­ish health is to jab your­self with a mys­tery serum found in-game. This forces more tac­ti­cal de­ci­sions, so for­get rush­ing large groups and ex­pect­ing to get out alive. It’s now a fight-kill-reload-and-heal type of world.

Of course, what would COD be with­out a solid dose of un­dead mur­der!? As men­tioned, Zom­bies mode is back, with the largest re­lease-day of­fer­ing that will see three dif­fer­ent full story lines launched off the bat: IX, Voy­age of De­spair, and Blood of the Dead.

So, for­get what you think you know, be­cause Black Ops 4 is mix­ing the best of the past with ex­actly what the fu­ture de­mands, for an ex­pe­ri­ence to which you’re un­doubt­edly go­ing to lose a few night and days — and, to make sure that hap­pens for one reader, we’ve got a copy to give away! To go into the draw, all you’ve got to do is mes­sage us on In­sta­gram or Face­book with the code term ‘COD: BO4’.

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