‘Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4’ Feels Absurdly Polished, But Lacks New Ideas

James McMahon
Game Reviews Games
Game Reviews Games PlayStation Call of Duty Xbox
3.5
of 5
Review Essentials
  • An extremely polished, FPS experience (as you expected)
  • Zombies is exceptional
  • Where are the new ideas?
Reviewed on Xbox One
As you might expect, with servers only going live for launch, much of what Black Ops 4 has to offer remains untested and even unknown. Consequently, for now, this review will focus upon our immediate reactions to the game’s full gamut of modes. We will update this with a finalscore once we’ve poured enough rounds in to reach a definitive verdict.

We’re just going to come out and say it. Right from the off. Headshot the elephant in the room so to speak. BANG BANG. Okay, well look, after immersing ourselves in Black Ops 4 for the weekend (we’ll update this review later in the week when the servers have become more populated and we can collect our thoughts further) we really miss the campaign mode. There. Said it. Whether you will or not will largely depend on whether you’ve enjoyed Call Of Duty campaign modes in the past. Either way, consider this. Yes, Activision reserve the right to do anything it damn please with its own intellectual property, but we can’t help feeling that the absence of a campaign in Black Ops this year sets a worrying precedent.

You might think that sounds overly dramatic. After all, the new title sees developers Treyarch giving the lion’s share of players exactly what they want. Which is, the opportunity to shoot people in the head using a variety of very big, highly fetishized guns in a crisp, meaty fashion. Some might applaud this. They’ve listened to the community and they’ve given players exactly what they want, right? Well sorry Treyarch, art doesn’t work like that.

It’s the reason why The Lord Of The Rings isn’t just four hours of orcs fighting. The reason why you have to play full games of football in FIFA and not just 90 simulated minutes of hitting volleys from the edge of the box. It’s the reason, maybe, why The Rolling Stones wrote a song called You Can’t Always Get What You Want. There is a gaming element to Black Ops 4, it’s why you’re here, but we’d argue it’s just as much of a toolkit as it is a game.

That’s not to say it’s not a lot of fun. It is.

BATTLE ROYALE AND FRIES, PLEASE

In fact, there’s almost an Orange Box feel to Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4, in that, where Valves’ seminal 2007 compilation gave you five separate games under one banner, Black Ops 4 offers three modes of play, each disconnected from each other, yet all of an extremely high quality. Of the three, Blackout is the newbie, and yet not especially different to the BETA you most likely have already played.

It’s CoD’s concession to the modern mania for Battle Royale – arguably the reason why Activision felt that it had to do something different this year, such is the fear that the likes of Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds will leave the once dominant FPS looking like yesterday’s news. We can report they’ve done it really well.

As expected, you share the map with up to a hundred other players, though at the time of writing we haven’t been in a game with more than seventy – some have been positively lonely! – and after twenty odd rounds, we felt it played a lot like PUGB might if PUGB didn’t often feel so rickety. We’ll take that.

There are some flaws; some of the maps seem unnecessarily big, with lots of open space and many empty buildings. Playing alone and not in a squad is often infuriating and makes for very short games. Revive me! Please… But it’s worth remembering that Blackout is a launching pad for a new era of CoD, and yet they’ve delivered a firm, stable one.

Veterans will recognise the maps from outings that have come prior in the series – there’s a luxury villa, some kind of army compound, an airport; there’s nothing like a round of bullets to the brain to cure a spot of déjà vu – and the mode is given a distinct Black Ops feel to it by virtue of having areas of the maps populated with zombies and mystery boxes with rare weapons inside. This isn’t just a Battle Royale mode. It’s a Battle Royale inside Black Ops’ infrastructure, and it’s as slick and as meaty as you’d expect. Not as frantic though.

There’s something slower about it than we expected. Of course, it’s difficult to assess the mode with only a third of the players who are supposed to be in the game are online, but we hope the matches become more fevered. We don’t turn to Black Ops for sedate. And yet, the true test of whether Blackout can better Battle Royale FPS experiences elsewhere, will come if and when special events are held for users.

Hold the line on that one. More news when we have it…

SPILL THE ZOMBEANS…

Speaking of zombies, this time it’s a hulk of a mode, with three different adventures available. Two share the same cast of characters – Scarlett Rhodes, Diego Necalli, Bruno Delacroix, Stanton Shaw – with one mission set on the sinking Titanic (Voyage Of Despair, the closest thing we have to a campaign – it’s got cutscenes and everything!) and the other inside the pages of the greatest Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson Fighting Fantasy novel never published.

In this mode, named IX, the aforementioned foursome are plunged into a gladiatorial arena and forced to fight their way through wave after wave of zombies and zombie-adjace creatures – there’s zombie tigers in the game! – all for the crowd’s approval. It’s ridiculously fun. The characters, who quip throughout the veritable gore platter they subsequently serve up, are brilliantly written. It might be – might be – the most fun Zombies experience Black Ops has ever given us.

The third mode is called Blood Of The Dead, and is a re-imagining of the classic Mob Of The Dead map from 2012’s Black Ops 2. You play as the ‘Primis’ crew, specifically the versions of them from Origins. That’s ‘Tank’ Dempsey, Nikolai Belinski, Takeo Masaki and Edward Richtofen, all with jingoistic racial stereotypes in tow. It’s fun, but we don’t ask voice actors to voice Asian characters like that anymore Treyarch, okay? While we remember, there’s a pretty neat ‘customize your own zombie’ device with the main Zombies hub, which we’re going to get right into the guts of forthwith – pun most definitely intended.

THERE’S NO DIE IN TEAM

A few thoughts on Multiplayer, which we should say, is the mode we’ve spent the least amount of time with thus far. There are a few things we’ve experienced that you should know. Health no longer auto-regenerates, which doesn’t feel a lot like Black Ops if we’re telling the truth, yet maybe it’s something which will in time. Also, the game is largely concerned with making you play as a unit of specialists, each with different jobs to do.

Remember Brink? Of course you do. It was really, really boring, because, as is the case here, nobody goes into a FPS wanting a grapple hook rather than a flamethrower. Now, this isn’t Brink, but we bring it up to highlight the problem with the device. Again, maybe we’ll feel differently in time. There’s a character called Nomad. He’s got an attack dog he can call upon. We like dogs. Attack dogs too. As long as they’re attacking someone else but us, obviously.

Is Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4 Any Good?

First impressions, then? Well, Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4 is certainly a competent, varied FPS experience. It restores a franchise that was in danger of looking like just another shooter to being an AAA title that’s a pretty big deal. Fun will be had. Servers will be full. But here’s the thing. Call Of Duty has been with us a long time – fifteen years and counting – and it became the titan it was for well over a decade – by innovating.

What Black Ops 4 does is shamelessly cherry-pick modern trends (some of which are boundlessly creative – even if Fortnite isn’t your cup of health, it’s difficult to argue it’s not a game drowning in ideas) and view them through its aesthetic.

Essentially, Black Ops 4 a Frankenstein Monster of a FPS experience. That’s fine. It’s also a little bit sad. Time will tell if the package peels further back to reveal more of its own soul.

James McMahon
James McMahon is a journalist from the north of England, though he currently lives in east London with his wife and Ramones records. He was formerly the editor of Kerrang! magazine for absolutely ages, and now writes for Vice, The Big Issue and The Observer. He likes Bigfoot, Xbox and crisps.
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