With the fourth entry in the Black Ops series, Treyarch is shaking things up in some major ways. This is the first time we’ll see Call of Duty without a campaign, replaced instead with a topical battle royale mode, whilst the multiplayer sees some of its smartest changes in a long time. They freshen things up in a big way and further refine the excellent fundamentals. Black Ops 4 is the best Call of Duty has been in years.
Before we get stuck into the details, it’s worth highlighting just how essential those fundamentals are. Everything in Black Ops 4 looks, sounds, and feels great. The shooting is tighter than ever. The movement feels smooth and responsive. Each unique hit marker and satisfying thud that signifies a killing blow is endlessly gratifying. The game looks visually stellar and sounds powerful. It’s the consistent excellence at the core that makes this such an endlessly engaging experience. Call of Duty has always had extremely solid gameplay, but this sets a new precedent. Coupled with the major changes and the huge amount of content available here, it’s hard to argue that this is the most compelling package the series has offered in a long time.
Anyway, you’re probably just here to read about Blackout. It’s the biggest and most talked-about thing to happen to Call of Duty in years. So, how is it?
If you aren’t already familiar, Blackout is Call of Duty’s take on the battle royale phenomenon. Up to 100 players drop from a dozen-or-so helicopters and wingsuit down to the ground. They land, get equipped, and try to survive. The simplicity of the concept works wonderfully with the series’ fast-paced action and tight, responsive shooting. It may seem like an opportunistic thing to include, but it works so naturally that it feels like it totally should exist. Blackout immediately and effortlessly asserts itself as a strong contender in the genre’s constant fight for popularity.
Everything about Blackout feels incredibly polished. The drop is smoother than it’s been in other battle royale games. Meanwhile, the speed and fluidity of the vault animation make dashing through buildings, clearing them of loot, and jumping out the window feel fluid and responsive. The action feels great and makes firefights feel responsive in a way that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds never did. Blackout feels like a streamlined battle royale mode that’s more accessible than its competitors. It offers the same tense and exciting experience with a lower barrier of entry.
The experience has truly been boiled down to land, scavenge, fight. There’s no building mechanics, no advanced ballistics and realistic shooting models, no clunky ArmA-esque systems, just tight action and a simplified inventory. A good weapon loaded with attachments, which offer straightforward bonuses, and some healing items are all you really need to into the action. There’s extra inventory space to find, which always helps, and three levels of armor that provide increasingly potent damage reduction. You’ll also find perks, which feel like the thing Blackout added to make it feel like Call of Duty.
There is quite a wide variety of perks and you’ll find them scattered everywhere. They range from making enemy footsteps louder to highlighting all nearby lootable items. Each perk lasts between two and five minutes and can be used a set amount of times. They’re an interesting thing to include in a mode that’s otherwise a pretty even playing field. They don’t really offer any bonuses that make you overpowered in combat. Instead, they mostly help you move quicker, loot more effectively, or improve your battlefield awareness. Perks go into your inventory when collected and can be used at any time. You can stack up multiple perks, too, which can give you a big advantage in the endgame. I’ll be interested to see how people who are much better than me use them.
Manual healing is a big part of Black Ops 4. No multiplayer mode uses the traditional timed health regen, and that includes Blackout. Having a manual heal adds an interesting pacing to the combat, allowing you to choose when you want to heal. Go on the offensive and try to force your opponent to heal, or stay on the defensive, shooting from cover before pulling back to get your health back up. It can seem a little silly sometimes. Especially when endgame firefights basically just become two people shooting at each other, healing at the same time, and then shooting again. At least it’s a more interesting dynamic than regenerating health.
Blackout boasts the largest map the franchise has ever seen. It’s an impressive change for a series that has traditionally seen small-scale conflicts of 12-18 people. It feels a little weird at first to be playing Call of Duty on such a large scale, but it works well and it looks great. To accommodate for the size of the map, they add a degree of bullet drop to the ballistics that isn’t present in the multiplayer. It’s only noticeable at long ranges, but you’ll have to consider how to lead your target as you snipe at them, adding an interesting dynamic to the traditional hit-scan model.
Blackout nails a few key things that make it such an essential battle royale experience. The UI is really well-designed, making it simple and easy to pick up items, see what you’ve got, and switch out attachments. Weapon, equipment, attachments, and healing items fit into your inventory, which is limited to five slots at the start of every match. Meanwhile, ammo and armor separate out into their own categories. The thing they really nail here, though, is that it feels very intuitive on a controller. They seemed to have solved the problem of building battle royale games for controllers, a problem that the Xbox One version of PUBG still has.
Although I was playing Black Ops 4 on PC and primarily playing with a mouse and keyboard (which feels great, by the way), playing Blackout with a controller was a perfectly enjoyable alternative. There’s a Quick Equip option that lets you access your inventory with a single button on the D-pad. This allows you to quickly and easily switch attachments, use perks, and more. It’s an essential and incredibly smart way to handle what could be quite a cumbersome system for a controller.
If I had one complaint, it’s that the map is a little bland. Considering how crazy they could’ve gone with aesthetics, everything feels far too vanilla. There are pockets of personality in a few places, with several locations being reminiscent of previous Black Ops multiplayer maps, such as the fancy housing in the north and the firing range. There are also zombie-infested areas like the asylum, which carry a degree of risk-reward as they can contain some nice loot but are dangerous to explore. These areas are cool and varied, helping to give the map a sense of individuality. The rest of the world looks generic and uninspired, and it looks too much like the original PUBG map. That game added more varied maps over time, so one hopes Blackout will follow the same pattern.
There are a large variety of characters in Blackout, each taken from different parts of the series’ past. These are all cosmetic-only, at the moment, but who knows if they plan on adding characters with gameplay differences. Currently, there aren’t any customizable appearance options. No hats or goofy outfits. Emotes and Counter-Strike spray tags are the only things you can change, at the moment. There are currently no hooks for microtransactions at this time. However, Blackout is ripe for loot-boxing so I’ve no doubt that it’s only a matter of time before that stuff shows up. Especially considering how much the multiplayer has leaned into that in recent Call of Duty games.
Next, we have the multiplayer. Traditionally, this has been the most anticipated part of the annual Call of Duty cycle. What’s new this time? Did they change this, or fix that? How are the maps? As you can probably already tell, this year is a little different. With Blackout being the big thing, the discussion of the Black Ops 4 multiplayer has seemingly taken a backseat. Thankfully, it doesn’t feel like Treyarch have taken the same approach to its design. The latest offering of fast-paced Call of Duty action is sharper and fresher than it has been for a while.
At its core, the multiplayer is largely the same. The traditional modes you’d expect to see are all here and the fundamentals are tighter than ever. It’s fun, quick, and easy to get into a match and start shooting some dudes. Without such solid mechanics, the multiplayer wouldn’t be as successful and excellent as it is. But enough gushing about that, what’s actually new here?
Black Ops 4 changes things up in some major ways. Regenerating health is a thing of the past. Players now have to manually heal using a one-button ability that is present across all loadouts. Since there’s now such an emphasis on healing and health, players have health bars above their heads. You can see how much health both allies and enemies have, providing an essential piece of feedback that makes you think why didn’t the series have this before? This new experiment comes with what feels like a big push for teamwork and more tactical gameplay.
Let me be frank, the push for a more tactical experience doesn’t work. The “time-to-kill” (the number of shots it takes to bring someone down) generally feels more drawn out than it has for a while. There are still weapons that can kill in one or two shots if aimed well, but the more traditional assault rifles and SMGs can take quite a bit longer. This all makes for some longer firefights, especially at mid-to-long ranges. The healing certainly adds an extra degree of strategy, but the idea that Black Ops 4 is turning the series into a tactical shooter is absurd.
The Specialists are another layer to this push for team composition and coordination. They’re characters you pick at the start of a game (and can change at any time) that have their own set of abilities. There’s an ultimate that can be used after a set amount of time and a secondary ability that you can use more frequently. The ultimate abilities provide powerful, limited-time use weapons like a one-shot kill revolver, or potent abilities that can aid you and your team. They only allow two people on a team to play a particular Specialist, which feels like an unnecessary restriction designed to encourage Overwatch-like cohesion. It just is not needed or wanted in Call of Duty.
It may be a team-based game, but the series has never been about teamwork or coordination. People running around like maniacs spraying SMGs and assault rifles and doing dumb quick-scopes. This push for a more team-oriented experience doesn’t hurt the game, it just feels woefully unnecessary and a little forced. My personal gripes aside, the multiplayer experience is still an absolute blast. The weapons feel great, the specialists are fun to mess around with, and the addition of health bars and manual healing is a brilliant concept executed wonderfully.
To ease you into the 10 different Specialists, there’s a series of tutorials in the Specialist HQ. It feels like a stand-in for this year’s absent campaign, providing you with cinematics showing the backstory of the characters and offering a narrative throughline to slightly satisfy single-player minded people. In reality, it’s just a training ground introducing you to their various mechanics and abilities. It’s a useful way to test out of the different Specialists, some of which have some pretty tricky abilities. Still, the way the game tries to make you care about these characters is a little forced. It feels like they’re trying to go the Overwatch route of fleshing out their assorted cast when they really just feel like cosmetic avatars with different abilities. Despite that, the Specialists themselves are varied and fun to play around with, adding a rewarding layer of options for the player.
Alongside all the usual stuff, there are two new modes to check out. The first is Control, a limited-lives mode where teams take it in turns to defend and attack two points on the map. The second is the more experimental and interesting Heist mode. This is a 4v4 mode inspired by Counter-Strike where players earn money that they can spend at the beginning of a round.
The objective of this mode is to secure a big bag of cash and extract it, or simply wipe out the other team, which is probably how 9 out of 10 rounds are going to. Call of Duty meets Counter-Strike is actually a pretty solid mix that works just fine. Adjusting your loadout as you go based on how well you’re doing is an interesting dynamic for Call of Duty, and it’s nice to see them trying something different. I’m not the biggest fan of no-respawn modes in these games. They always feel disruptive to the action, abruptly cutting it short and making it so that you’re watching more than you’re playing most of the time. The fast-paced action of the series always made quick-respawn modes more appealing to me, since they allow the action to always keep going.
Black Ops 4 again uses the “pick 10” system for custom loadouts. This gives you 10 slots to build a loadout, which allows you to mix and match weapons, attachments, and perks. As you’d expect from the series, your arsenal features an array of assault rifles, SMGs, snipers, LMGs, and shotguns. These weapons and your equipment come through earned levels instead of tokens as in previous games. There’s nothing particularly stand-out about the loadouts this time around, it’s all pretty standard Call of Duty stuff. There’s a solid variety of weapons and equipment and they present a nice array of options for customizing your loadout and playstyle.
Finally, we have Zombies. The third piece of the Black Ops 4 pie. This mode has been hugely popular since its inception 10 years ago and it’s easy to see why. Personally, I’ve always been a fan of this nonsensical occult-themed horde mode. Jumping into a game with some friends to mow down waves of the undead is endlessly satisfying. I always have a blast exploring the latest offerings.
The mode has come a long way since 2008. The first ever Zombies map, the straightforward Nacht der Untoten, consisted of just a small handful of rooms. If you haven’t been paying attention to Zombies in its past few iterations you’ll probably find yourself a bit intimidated. Things have gotten dense, to say the least. There are 3 maps and one “Classified” map that I did not have access to (it’s part of the Black Ops Pass). IX is a gladiator arena with a variety of underground passages, Voyage of the Damned takes place on a large cruise ship, whilst Blood of the Dead is set on Alcatraz, the famous prison island.
The maps are huge, the storylines are involved (and a little baffling for someone who isn’t already clued in), and the quest lines and crafting requirements for each map are overwhelming. The key thing to remember with Zombies is that it’s not something you can understand and complete on your first attempt. This is the kind of thing you play again and again as you explore the maps and gradually uncover the bigger picture. It’s exciting and rewarding to learn more about each map with each attempt, seeing more of the madness every time.
Treyarch is clearly aware of how intimidating Zombies can be for first-timers. They offer a fairly lengthy tutorial, explaining how some of its more esoteric systems work. I found this tutorial to be helpful, but they still don’t explain things that well. There’s a kind of expectation that you just have to poke around at things and figure stuff out through trial-and-error. It can occasionally be frustrating, requiring you to have to look something up because it’s so obscure.
All of this would be off-putting if the core loop of Zombies wasn’t so tight. Running around shooting zombies, buying and upgrading weapons, and finding perks to enhance your capabilities is all immensely fun. It’s a joy to play and something I’ll come back to time and time again. Maybe that’s why I don’t really mind the confusing nature of it.
Along with these better on-boarding options, the year’s Zombies offering comes with more options than ever before. Four difficulty settings for the regular mode allow you to alter the level of challenge posed by the hordes of zombies, whilst a huge amount of customization options let you tweak the rules and settings. This allows you to change how much health Zombies have, how much damage they deal, how fast they are, whether the weapon box will move, and much more. It’s great to have so many choices, allowing you to tweak the experience to your liking and giving it some potential variety.
Furthermore, Rush mode is a new way to play Zombies that offers a very different experience. The crafting and questing are all removed and weapons, perks, and weapon upgrades are free. A faster-paced alternative that lets you get straight to the action, this mode seems like a good way to explore the maps and level up your weapons and equipment. It’s a cool concept, offering a Zombies experience that’s quite unlike anything we’ve seen before.
You go on a guided tour of the map, being led from one area to the next with no control over what doors you open and which route you take. The emphasis is on achieving the highest score possible, rather than surviving as long as you can. On top of all this, there are playlists, which let you search for people with similar levels of skill. The wide array of options available to the player is impressive.
That doesn’t even cover the direct customization available to the player, either. There are a ton of perks and elixirs (temporary buffs of varying effect) to unlock and play around with. Leveling up weapons unlocks attachments, making them more potent and versatile when you find them in games. Meanwhile, you have access to special weapons that act as a kind of ultimate ability. A sweet Thor-like lightning hammer and a slick and razor-sharp katana are just a few examples. The weapons available to you vary depending on the map and each weapon can level up to three times during the course of a game, granting them unique bonus abilities.
Technically, Black Ops 4 is a very proficient game. It looks and sounds fantastic and the PC port (the version I played) is generally very solid. The game feels great with either mouse and keyboard or controller. If I had one complaint, I’d say that steering vehicles with a keyboard is a pretty unpleasant experience. Unfortunately, the PC version does come with some caveats. I experienced a number of crashes during my time with the game. Most of which were caused by very specific things, like using a particular weapon skin. The game is optimized well, but the crashes and technical hitches were disappointingly disruptive.
Ultimately, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is a fantastic game. The breadth and variety of content included in this year’s annual offering is quite staggering. The lack of a campaign may be disappointing to some, but the sheer quality of the content on offer more than justifies its absence. Blackout is a huge success, proving that Call of Duty can be more than what we’ve known it for since 2007. Overall, Black Ops 4 is the best the series has been in a long time.
TechRaptor reviewed Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 on PC with a copy purchased by the reviewer.
What do you think about Black Ops 4? Let us know in the comments below!More About This Game
Black Ops 4 pulls together three distinct parts to create an incredible and dense whole. The action is tight, the changes are smart and well-executed, and Blackout may be the most exciting thing out this year. This is the best Call of Duty has been in years.
- Blackout Is Amazing
- Refreshing and Exciting Multiplayer
- Dense and Rewarding Zombies
- Tight and Responsive Action
- Great Presentation
- Absent Campaign Justified By Huge Amount Of Consistent Content
- Frequent Crashes
- Bland Blackout Map