Black Ops is back and while this years entry has a glaring omission, it may be the most exciting Call Of Duty experience for many years.
In a surprise move, Treyarch announced earlier this year that it would be completely dropping the story campaign from Black Ops 4. Not including a proper single-player mode is a first for the series, as is the all-new Blackout mode – Call Of Dutys own take on the popular Battle Royale genre. Its an ambitious move, but one that has had some critics label the long-time developer as a trend-chaser rather than setter.
But now the servers are live and the game has officially launched (as of 12.01am this morning) the lack of a story campaign doesnt feel like a devastating loss. Its been a constant since the very first Call Of Duty, some 15 years ago, but its also something a majority of fans blitz through once before hopping online, with others completely ignoring it altogether.
Creating that six to eight-hour campaign each year also eats up a lot of resources. Resources that have been freed up and invested elsewhere in Black Ops 4, allowing Treyarch to create its biggest, most experimental game mode ever.
So, whats the deal with Blackout and how does it stack up next to Fortnite and PlayerUnknowns Battlegrounds? Surprisingly well, actually. This isnt some last-minute addition Treyarch cobbled together and bolted on the end – it has some genuine substance.
Originality? Not so much. For anyone whos had a brush with the Battle Royale genre, the setup here is much the same. Whether playing solo, as a duo, or in a squad of four, each match starts with 88 players dropping from an aircraft onto the massive, sprawling map below. Over time this play area gets smaller, killing off those who dont stay within its shrinking boundary. And while the map is always the same the way in which weapons, equipment, and other items are distributed is random.
Call Of Duty has never been a game focused on long-range encounters. Previous entries have occasionally thrown in a map or two geared towards sniper battles but, for the most part, its all about close quarters combat. That definitely feels at odds with the way Blackouts map is designed – there is way more open space and you can sprint for several minutes at a time without seeing another player.
Needless to say, those who arent yet wired into the Battle Royale genre will definitely face some hurdles. Blackout demands patience and those who simply want some instant run-and-gun action may bounce off entirely. Nothing feels less Call Of Duty then waiting several minutes to join a match, spending just as long scavenging for items, then getting blown away with nothing to show for it. Blackout also wont shower you with progression unlocks like other modes – although it makes sense, given how all loadout items need to be acquired on the battlefield.
For many, Call Of Dutys competitive multiplayer has always been its backbone and over the years Treyarch has continued to experiment in its approach. 2015s Black Ops 3 introduced some major changes to the traditional formula, with a dynamic movement system adapted from Advanced Warfare and the introduction of Specialists – preset characters that replace your typical faceless avatar.
While wall-running and jetpacks are now off the table, traversal is still fluid and not quite as boots on the ground as last years Call Of Duty: WWII. Treyarch has also doubled down on its Specialists, each one having their own powerful gadget as well as a MOBA-style superpower that can easily turn the tide in the midst of a firefight.
With in-depth tutorials available for each Specialist, Treyarch makes that initial experience as painless as possible. Theres a layer of complexity here that goes beyond the simple running and gunning of those early Call of Duty games – a much larger focus on tactical team play similar to games like Overwatch and Rainbow Six: Siege.
Thats not to say lone wolves wont get their kicks too, though. That same distinct feel to the series gameplay is still as sharp as ever and while Black Ops 4 can seem cluttered with the number of customisation options on show this never takes away from the simplistic, brutal thrill of unleashing a killing spree or landing the perfect headshot.
As the creator of Call Of Dutys Zombies mode, Treyarch has been the only studio working on the franchise to really do anything interesting with it. Black Ops 4 is a testament to this, weaving in plenty of new content and features for fans to sink their teeth into, although it isnt quite the reinvention some may have been hoping for.
With the original Zombies cast disbanded, you now play as one of four new characters – a new squad of misfits who find themselves embroiled in a supernatural, dimension-hopping caper through time and space. Its a continuation of Treyarchs efforts in creating a Zombies lore, going way beyond the bare-boned survival mode introduced in Call of Duty: World At War.
Stripped back to its very core, nothing has changed. Youre still going up against wave after wave of the undead, earning points then spending these to bolster your loadout, trying to hold out as long as you can. However, there are new systems and mechanics at play, creating a deeper, more enriching experience that could arguably be its own standalone game.
You have more options than ever to customise your playstyle, upgrading weapons, choosing perks, and equipping bizarre tonics that grant temporary buffs. There are special artefacts too, such as a staff that can heal teammates and a hammer capable of swatting zombies en masse.
It can definitely feel like theres a bit too much going on at times – too many icons, numbers, and gauges to monitor at once. However, these all serve as a welcome distraction from that unavoidable repetition that kicks in. After all, this is a survival game and one in which you and your teammates will all eventually die, only to start over from scratch.
Even after our prolonged binge with Black Ops 4, were only just starting to scratch the surface. Gutting the campaign was never going to be a popular decision, but its hard to say that fans wont get their moneys worth.
Treyarch may have sacrificed what many believe is a crucial part of the Call Of Duty package but, in a way, it feels as though the developer has broken free, no longer shackled by that iron cast template weve come to expect year in, year out. Black Ops 4 is a radical step forward for the franchise and one we cant wait to play more of.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Release Date: 12th October 2018
Age Rating: 18
By Jim Hargreaves