Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Review

Unlike most, I can say that I’ve been here since day one. And by day one I don’t mean Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, but Call of Duty, full stop. And while initially the series was not much to write home about, as back then games such as Medal of Honor, and Half-Life were the creme de la creme of the first person shooter genre, then unlike those two, Call of Duty as a brand and as a series, has evolved over the years, and turned into a colossi which would ultimately become the last man standing. But in the pursuit of change, the series in question has shed its rags, and turned into a game which many would struggle to even recognize. And the just released Black Ops IIII, is the furthest the series has ever strayed from its core.

Unlike its direct prequel, Black Ops III, Black Ops IIII is a boots on the ground experience which follows suit of the last year’s Call of Duty: World War II. However, unlike Sledgehammer’s most recent release, Treyarch’s newest creation has not distanced itself too much from the essence of the Black Ops series, because just like Black Ops II, and III, the fourth title in the series maintain’s a lot of its core principles. And one of them is the near future setting which gave the studio an expanded creative licence which allowed it to craft new guns, equipment, and abilities, but it did not allow them to completely abandon the reality, and enter the realm of fantasy. And as out there as the grappling hook and portable nuclear reactor may be, they are not as fantastical as the exoskeletons of Infinite Warfare, or the laser guns of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.

As far as the pace, and core gameplay experience go, Black Ops IIII is much closer to the second entry in the series, than the third. However, the hit-and-run formula has been much refined with the addition of pre-set recoil patterns, manual health regeneration system, and the new-and-improved pick-ten system, which is now much more impactful than in the previous entries in the series. And that’s because all in-game equipment is pre-set to one slot, so if you are looking to enter the competitive scene, or the casual-scene with a full stack, then you, or some of the members of your team will have to sacrifice one of their specialist abilities, for a smoke grenade, or a flash-bang. However, certain more powerful utility items are bound exclusively to certain specialists, meaning that at times you are not just forced to sacrifice an ability, but  an entire set of of such.

Some of you may shudder at the sheer mention of the word specialist, but in Black Ops IIII they are more than a vessel for the in-vogue class based mechanic, which in recent years has taken the world of multiplayer games by storm. As now, they all represent unique individuals, which possess distinct personalities and backgrounds which largely reflect their skill sets. And in addition, they are not just throw away personas which have been grouped together for the sake of the gameplay, because as you’ll soon discover when playing Black Ops IIII yourself, they all come together to form an overarching narrative which explains the events which has taken place between Black Ops II and III.

Overall, the core, multiplayer component of Black Ops IIII, plays in an impeccable manner and feels like it has been in the making for much more than the three years. And in truth, the multiplayer mode of Black Ops IIII is the first truly next gen Call of Duty experience. As instead of throwing in gimmicks to the old and tired hit-and-run gameplay, it has introduced new integral features, which transform the otherwise brainless multiplayer into a much more tactical, yet equally fun experience. Which is the very best that the series had to offer since Black Ops’ first outing, all the way back in 2009. And what makes this year’s multiplayer even better, is the Specialist HQ which allows you to familiarize yourself with all the specialists and abilities, without having to worry for your kill death ratio, or getting bored, as the HQ rewards you for each completed session with new cutscenes and audiologs related to both the individual characters, as well as the overarching story.

As you already known, the multiplayer of Black Ops IIII is packed to the brim with narrative elements, and the reason for this is very simple, as Black Ops IIII simply does not contain a single-player campaign. And while I always loved the over-the-top stories which the series has always graced us with, I wasn’t initially bothered with the lack of a story mode. That is until I’ve got to watch some of the cutscenes which have clearly been pulled from a story mode which has been more than likely cut – late into the development. And without spoiling too much, all I’m going to say is that it is a real shame that Activision has decided against the story mode, as from what I’ve seen from the above-mentioned cutscenes, it could have been truly great. As it incorporated all the multiplayer specialists, a plot straight from a spy thriller, and a number of beloved Black Ops characters which featured within the previous installments of the series. But we can’t have everything, especially with a Battle Royale mode in the mix.

If not for the Black Out mode, which is the next big thing in terms of Call of Duty as well as the video game industry as a while, then the absence of the story mode would be difficult to explain and justify. However, considering the scope and the technical excellence of the mode at hand, it is not so difficult to understand why it has been cut. As Black Out, as of the day one launch, outperforms all the other Battle Royale games on the market – and it is not even close. It is mechanically, technically, and visually the best Battle Royale game on the market. And considering that it is only day one – it is simply breath taking. The gunplay within the Black Out mode has been appropriately adjusted as to accommodate bullet drop, and the varied landscape. The map, is reasonably balanced as it features just the right amount of named locations, hot spots, tertiary buildings, and barren areas. But that being said, it is not entirely perfect.

Black Out in and of itself is simply great, and I’ve spent more than 80% of the time with the game playing just that very mode. And from my experience, it requires quite a few balancing changes, which could easily increase the level of entertainment which this very mode can provide. And in their entirety, the changes in question are related to the mode’s balancing rather than the performance, as items such as body armour and Molotov cocktails need some adjustments. The first, is way too easy to obtain and provides one with too much of an advantage, as the level two and three body armours can require one to fire twice as many bullets, if not more, just to down a single enemy at point blank range. And the latter, can immolate, and decimate an entire four man squad when thrown into a building as the damage which it deals, and area of effect are simply too impactful.

When PUBG first launched, it had hundreds of complaints aimed at it as it was a complete mess, and it is still largely flawed to this day on the Xbox One and to some extent on PC. And to say Black Out’s only negatives are related just to its balancing, really puts things in perspective. But most will not be surprised by this fact as Treyarch is ultimately one of the best studios out here, as it has carried the franchise on its back, when others simply couldn’t provide the goods. And with Black Ops IIII, Treyarch has ironically gone above and beyond the Call of Duty, as it has arguably created the ultimate multiplayer experience of the current generation. And as you may already know Call of Duty Black Ops IIII does not start on multiplayer, and end on Black Out. As it also contains the highly regarded and beloved Zombies mode, which makes a grand return this year.

To surprise of few, Black Ops IIII features an incredibly expansive zombie mode, which to cynics may seem like a play on the side of Treyarch, made in an attempt to please those upset by the lack of a story mode. And to an extent, this appears to be somewhat true as Black Ops IIII features three, fully realized zombie maps, with all the bells and whistles combined. And if you happen to own the Season Pass, your copy of Black Ops IIII will feature four complete maps, which can be played on different difficulty settings, and in a newly introduced rush mode, a mode designed to give the now somewhat stale zombies, a new dimension. And all in all, Black Ops IIII zombies are superbly detailed, and realized, and unlike the mode of World War II, the one of Black Ops IIII will not hold your hand, or tell you what to do next. And just like in the previous entries of the Black Ops series, you have to figure it all out yourself – or with the use of hundreds, if not thousands of online guides.

In conjunction, all three core modes of Black Ops IIII will provide you thousands of hours of entertainment. And if anything, at launch, Black Ops IIII simply features too much content, as there is not enough time in a day to play all three modes, and gain any significant satisfaction. And unfortunately, I fear that some part, or even parts of this particular title may get lost in the mix, as the time goes on. And considering that Black Out features the large portions of the multiplayer, and that Zombies are a thing of this own. Then I fear that by the start of next year, the multiplayer may be nothing more than a memory, which is a great shame, as it is the modes best showing since 2009. But who know, maybe it will be the zombies that will get lost in transition, but sure enough Black Out, is what will keep Black Ops IIII in the headlines, and it might just be the very thing which will allow Call of Duty to regain its thrown of the most relevant multiplayer game on the market.

Ultimately, Black Ops IIII is an incredible package. And with the sheer amount of content which it possesses, and its impressive quality, it feels like three separate games packed into a neat, shiny box, rather than a single title. And as mentioned before, it is with no doubt in mind, the greatest Call of Duty title, since the 2009’s Call of Duty: Black Ops. And with Treyarch behind it, we can be certain that in the coming months it will not slip into obscurity, like last year’s World War II, as Treyarch is the best studio that has ever worked on the franchise. And if the future support of the title remains on the level of all the launch content, then Black Ops IIII very well may become the greatest title in the history of the franchise – even with the story mode removed. But even if it fails to reach that accolade, it will surely be known as the best battle royale game to ever hit the industry.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is available now from leading retailers including Argos and Sainsbury’s.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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