Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

Fun but fa­mil­iar, CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS 4 nails es­tab­lished trends, but carves out none for it­self.

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Steven T. Wright

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’ s take on battle royale, Blackout, feels like an un­in­ten­tional com­men­tary on the se­ries as a whole. It’s a sales-driven ver­sion of one of the most pop­u­lar trends in gam­ing right now, ex­pertly tuned to the whims of a capri­cious com­mu­nity. Blackout is a vari­a­tion on ideas forged by bolder games. But with its usual ar­ray of com­pul­sive mul­ti­player modes and the most in­stantly thrilling battle royale mode to date, Black Ops 4 has reignited my in­ter­est in the se­ries.

Note the lack of sin­gle­player in that de­scrip­tion. If you haven’t heard, Tre­yarch has jet­ti­soned the usual glossy eight-hour cor­ri­dor cam­paign from this year’s game. Though I have fond mem­o­ries of the Call of Duty cam­paigns of yesteryear, es­pe­cially Mod­ern War­fare 2’ s, re­cent en­tries have left me unim­pressed. Sin­gle­player is rel­a­tively mea­gre this time around, lim­ited to solo zom­bie-stomp­ing with bots or lone mis­sions star­ing the game’s cast of mul­ti­player ‘Spe­cial­ists’. Black Ops 4 is a game about shoot­ing your friends or shoot­ing with your friends, and if the battle royale mode weren’t so fun, it’d feel thin for its $60 price tag.

The whip-sharp pre­ci­sion and re­ac­tiv­ity of Blackout’s shoot­ing eas­ily out­classes the clunky gun­play of PUBG, while the smaller map and the gen­er­ous dis­tri­bu­tion of qual­ity loot en­sure a much faster, more thrilling game that’s more akin to Fort­nite. Blackout doesn’t fea­ture the long lulls that sit be­tween nail-bit­ing bursts of ac­tion in each 45-minute PUBG match. Its rounds are quick and dirty, leav­ing lit­tle room for tac­ti­cal ma­neu­ver­ing. Deftly slid­ing around small in­te­ri­ors with an SMG or quickscop­ing with a sniper ri­fle will get you fur­ther than camp­ing on a bath­room floor.

Though high-spec loot zones are filled with the ex­pected su­per­weapons and god-tier ar­mor, Tre­yarch is gen­er­ous with gear, which de­flates much of the frus­tra­tion that can ac­com­pany a bad run of matches. I rarely found my­self with­out a pis­tol or ri­fle, even in the tense open­ing sec­onds of a match. I loved feel­ing like I had a fight­ing chance, but the zom­bies who pa­trol parts of the map wore on me, es­pe­cially since it made my pre­ferred stealth playstyle less vi­able. It’s some­thing PUBG and Fort­nite don’t have, but it’s more of a nui­sance than a le­git­i­mate tac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tion. In one match, I man­aged to find a bolt-ac­tion sniper ri­fle and a scope; my pre­ferred load­out for battle royale games. I never got a chance to use it, though, be­cause a hand­ful of zom­bies ran up on my crew and we had to give away our po­si­tions by blow­ing them away. As we were killing the last of them, a ri­val squad tore into the ware­house and shot us in our backs. Battle royale games are at their best when you’re im­pro­vis­ing your way through an emer­gent sit­u­a­tion, but the zom­bies are an un­nec­es­sary wrench in the gears that don’t add a lot to the game other than frus­tra­tion.

Com­pared its con­tem­po­raries, Blackout might be a re­fine­ment rather than a revo­lu­tion, but it’s still one of the best battle royales that I’ve played. I plan to go back to it for weeks to come.

Blackout’s shoot­ing eas­ily out­classes the clunky gun­play of PUBG

Boots on ground

For its tra­di­tional mul­ti­player modes, Tre­yarch has ditched the di­vi­sive wall-run­ning and dou­ble-jump­ing of Black Ops III. The sim­pli­fied move­ment bet­ter suits Call of Duty’s pure, no-gris­tle take on the genre. Nev­er­the­less, this new en­try has dou­bled-down on Black Ops III’s ‘Spe­cial­ist’ sys­tem, which lay­ers char­ac­ter-spe­cific abil­i­ties over the se­ries’ en­dur­ing class sys­tem. Though com­par­isons to Over­watch seem in­evitable, these Spe­cial­ists lean closer to the classes of Destiny’s Cru­cible, where your choice of spe­cific load­out is just as im­por­tant.

I found suc­cess as Prophet, a deep-voiced grunt who de­ploys a rolling drone that seeks out tar­gets and im­mo­bi­lizes them with a pierc­ing shock. One high­light saw me clear a point of the en­tire enemy team with his spe­cial­ist abil­ity, which uses a far-reach­ing shock ri­fle to par­a­lyze tar­gets with a sin­gle shot. Though it felt great in the mo­ment to snatch vic­tory from the jaws of de­feat with just a hand­ful of mouse clicks, some­thing about it seemed off.

The prob­lem is that Call of Duty has, to me, al­ways rep­re­sented a ‘pure’ shoot­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, un­tainted by abil­i­ties and cooldowns. Perks and

kill­streaks are one thing, but area-of-ef­fect flash­bangs, Wi­d­ow­maker-style wall­hacks, and de­ploy­able ac­ces­sories that re­di­rect where your team­mates respawn are a strange and clumsy di­rec­tion for the se­ries. Rather than the race of re­flexes that brought the se­ries to the dance, Black Ops 4 has lum­bered into an un­com­fort­able mid­dle ground be­tween a pure twitch shooter and a game of tac­ti­cal team­work, shed­ding some of the se­ries’ ir­re­sistible sim­plic­ity in the process.

Per­haps that’s why I so en­joyed the game’s new mode, Heist, which shunts abil­i­ties aside in fa­vor of a Counter-Strike- style pur­chase menu. Af­ter gear­ing up, two teams com­pete to lo­cate a mound of cash and bring it to an ex­fil site. And there are no respawns to blunt mis­takes. Rather than the pop­u­lar Team Death­match, where you can end­lessly spawn with the same gear with­out a thought for strat­egy, Heist makes you con­sider the ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages of Black Ops 4’ s con­sid­er­able ar­mory from round to round.

When the enemy team were rush­ing us down with well-timed flash­bangs and close-range SMG bursts, I saved my money to pur­chase a semi­au­to­matic ri­fle and some help­ful perks to en­gage them at range, turn­ing the tide in the fol­low­ing rounds. They re­sponded a few rounds later by counter-snip­ing me, so I switched to a midrange ri­fle to try to cover both bases. It’s not ex­actly the Art of War, but it brings a wel­come mea­sure of tit-for-tat tac­ti­cal think­ing to a game that feels mind­less at times. While Heist owes debts of grat­i­tude to its in­spi­ra­tions, Tre­yarch suc­ceeds at melding the se­ries’ stel­lar shoot­ing with a more care­ful and ex­act­ing playstyle. The re­sult is my fa­vorite mode since Mod­ern Black War­fare’s Dom­i­na­tion.

There’s an ab­so­lute ton of un­dead to slaugh­ter in Ops 4

Sham­bling on

The last part of the Black Ops 4’ s tri­fecta is its Zom­bies mode. While I ad­mire the com­plex, ob­scure sub­sys­tems and sub­goals that you have to mas­ter to achieve a 50-round run on the new IX map, they’re lay­ered over a foun­da­tion that boils down to a very pretty but very static shoot­ing gallery—one that’s bro­ken up by bul­let-sponge su­per-zom­bies with lit­tle in the way of per­son­al­ity. The lack of clear lin­ear pro­gres­sion makes the mode opaque to new­com­ers. While that was fun enough in short bursts, I even­tu­ally got sick of dy­ing on wave 11.

The only other op­tion is to strive for mas­tery through trial and er­ror, fig­ur­ing out the com­plex­i­ties of the bonus-be­stow­ing Pack-a-Punch ma­chine or the ideal build to syn­er­gize with your team­mates. Even when it comes to the rote zom­bie-blast­ing, the bal­loon­ing health of the ba­sic un­dead makes it hard to judge pri­or­ity tar­gets or the ef­fi­cacy of your arse­nal. I even­tu­ally made it into the 30s af­ter sac­ri­fic­ing some heads to an al­tar to up­grade my ma­chine­gun enough to cut through the hordes of un­dead. When I even­tu­ally died, I didn’t feel like go­ing through those mo­tions again. The big gun made me feel pow­er­ful, but it didn’t solve the mode’s un­der­ly­ing is­sues. There’s an ab­so­lute ton of un­dead to slaugh­ter in Black Ops 4, in­clud­ing two brand-new maps and a re­make of Black Ops 2’ s Mob of the Dead. But af­ter over 15 hours, I felt a deep urge to play through Left 4 Dead 2 again. I had much more fun with Black Ops 4’ s Rush mode, which pits play­ers against one another in a mur­der race to see who can gather the most points by off­ing zom­bies. For me, this con­jured the ar­cadey pleasures that World at War’s orig­i­nal Zom­bie mode hear­kened back to.

Bug Ops

It’s worth not­ing that I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced some se­ri­ous sta­bil­ity prob­lems while play­ing the game on my PC. Though it runs for hours with­out in­ci­dent, I’ve had crashes in vir­tu­ally ev­ery mode, some in the mid­dle of games. Also, Black Ops 4’ s in­vite and party sys­tems need work. My friends have is­sues join­ing my party, and they get booted from it be­tween games with no ex­pla­na­tion. Other than that, the game runs well, giv­ing me a solid 60-plus fram­er­ate on my GTX 1080.

It can be hard to re­mem­ber that this is the se­ries that redefined the on­line shooter just a decade ago. Black Ops 4 no longer feels in­no­va­tive, but the weapons are fun to use, and its lighter, faster take on battle royale is best in class. So even though noth­ing about it is sur­pris­ing, this year’s CoD still gives me what I want af­ter 15 years of blast­ing through the se­ries: All-adren­a­line, with guns that are a joy to use.

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