It’s the most wonderful time of the year for everyone who was raised on a diet of murder simulators, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is out, and it’s good, with some caveats.
This year’s Treyarch-designed Call of Duty is something like three years of work now that there are three studios working on their own individual series within the Call of Duty brand.
As usual, I’ll note here that I have good friends at this Activision studio but I try to not let that influence my opinions about any of their games.
Black Ops 4 is split into three subsidiary modes: competitive multiplayer, blackout (battle royale mode), and zombies. There is no single-player campaign, which I am pretty disappointed by, but there are a set of tutorial matches with vignettes that tell the tales of Black Ops’ different playable characters.
The playable characters – with different abilities in the regular competitive multiplayer mode – took some getting used to. I never cared for defined “hero characters” in games that didn’t traditionally have them. WarCraft 3 being the example that first sticks to mind. Nevertheless, I enjoy them in Black Ops 4
BLOPS 4’s UI is somewhat broken and poorly designed. Look at this icon, what does it mean to you:
If you said “settings” or “options” you’re wrong, just like I was. It is the “custom game” icon. If you click that icon while you’re in a party the UI changes from this:
Which are quite similar except for the disappearing “settings” button and the addition of some text that says “custom games.”
If you don’t notice either of those changes, and you hit “play” you’re plunged into a match that you’re hosting without any human players. If you’re as dumb as I was, you’ll sit there for a few minutes wondering when they’ll join.
Still, despite all the quirks to the UI, Black Ops 4 is an undeniably fun multiplayer-only romp through murder town. The competitive multiplayer modes are fine, there’s one like Counter-Strike this year, it’s called Heist. You can still just play team deathmatch if you want. This year you can only heal when you press a button instead of by hiding and waiting for the jelly to disappear from the screen’s edges.
Blackout is the new Battle Royale-like and it’s fun, it feels a little bit incomplete but miles ahead of the competition in terms of how the game feels to play. With PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds I’m always struggling to do the most basic tasks. Clambering over or onto an object in Blackout works 9 times out of 10 instead of PUBG’s 4 or 5 times out of 10. Blackout also has it’s own spin on almost everything. There are packs that provide you with perks, and you can’t examine items that are on the ground to see their stats. I’m guessing they want us to learn what they look like.
The downside to Blackout is that there’s only one map, for now, and it isn’t clear where this mode is going to go. It can’t compete with Fortnite, per se, because it isn’t free-to-play, or at least not yet. Does that mean there will be a Blackout mode in next year’s Call of Duty? Will Treyarch continue to work on this one, including adding more content? That isn’t clear to me.
Finally, there’s still a Zombies mode if you enjoy co-operative zombie hunting with ridiculous dialog between Zombies-specific characters the studio designed. I want to enjoy this mode, I almost never do. There are a lot of hidden things about it, and I’ve never learned about them.
For me, the best single-player Call of Duty campaign was Infinite Warfare in 2016, and I also miss playing that game’s multiplayer. I enjoyed all of the sci-fi movement trappings that this game has eschewed by placing the timeline in-between Black Ops 2 and 3, which seems like the weirdest decision of all given that this game has no single-player campaign and a bunch of cutscenes instead. Also, the number is 4 which is higher than 3. I’m not sure Treyarch understands how the numbers work. Maybe they need to call Mason.
This is the first year that Activision has gone all-in on Blizzard’s Battle.net launcher and Black Ops 4 is only available there for Windows players alongside Destiny 2 (Destiny 1 was never available on Windows). As disappointed as I am with Valve, lately, there isn’t any good reason for this from a player’s perspective. We get Battle.net’s social features and rich presence notifications but that is about it. I’m curious where 2019’s Call of Duty will end up, but it is extremely unlikely it’ll be on Steam. Activision definitely doesn’t want to give up any cut to Valve. The negative feedback in the reviews for WW2, Infinite Warfare, and Advanced Warfare on Steam probably didn’t help things, either.
Unfortunately, this year Activision has again chosen to split their players up with an add-on pass that isn’t included with the “standard” $60 version of Black Ops 4. They’re also adding in some kind of in-game microtransactions.
I’m not going to fully review Black Ops 4, there are good reviews elsewhere. Notably, IGN split their review into four pieces, one for each mode and an overall score. It’s a game that I’m surprised to find my friends who abandoned Call of Duty years ago talking about and playing, and I love it.
Despite all of the odd decisions and bad UI, I love playing Black Ops 4. It’s the definitive way to play Treyarch’s version of multiplayer Call of Duty, and I have fun with their take on the Battle Royale genre. If you miss dumb, exciting, and fun multiplayer shooters, this is that. If you loved any campaign from previous Call of Duty games and you like to skip multiplayer because you didn’t want to be schooled by 12-year-olds, this isn’t for you. I’m losing to them every night, and that’s OK. I can still get to the top of the leaderboards sometimes.