As an old school FPS player and fan, I always considered any MP to be the bonus content after the story campaign which is why I love the HALO series. In recent years the stand out campaigns for Call of Duty always came from the Black Ops series far more than Modern Warfare titles. As a series, for me Call of Duty had become really stale and almost too copy and paste before it went far too gimmicky in gameplay and I stopped playing before returning last year with Call of Duty: WW2. The news that the single player campaign was being dropped completely for Black Ops 4 came as no surprise, there is only so many times you can spend a stupid amount of money to have Hollywood names provide voices for characters for a mode only a minority of the fanbase actually enjoys. Instead all the focus has moved to the MP and online action and this time the Battle Royale buzz has reached Activision and for the first time in the series, a full Battle Royale mode called ‘Black Out’ was announced. So can the same full price for a game without SP campaign still be worth it?
I do have to say right from the very start that I am really enjoying Call of Duty again now that the majority of the gimmicks have been removed from the MP such as exo-suits and wall running. For a time, it did seem that whatever seemed to be popular in other FPS games would always find their way into the next CoD release in some way which is one of the big reasons I put the series down for almost three years. But I can happily say close to everything I loved about the first Black Ops MP side is back this year and with the refreshing use of Specialists and Custom loadout classes, it feels new yet familiar. It has the right balance of rage and getting killed cheaply but fun in that I cannot put the MP down once I get going either in solo play or teaming up with friends.
To start with players can choose any of the new Specialists to play in per match all of which have a unique special ability and skill set to use but the player can customise and pick the weapon load out. These are:
- Ajax – Armed with a ballistic shield and tactical 9-Bang grenade.
- Battery – A Demolition expert with war machine grenade launcher and uses a cluster grenade.
- Crash – A Healer support specialist armed with a TAK-5 medical kit and can provide an ammunition pack that team members can use.
- Firebreak – Armed with a flamethrower and reactor core that irradiates area around him.
- Nomad – Can summon an attack dog and place tripwire mesh mines.
- Prophet – A Hunter character with an electric shock tempest tactical rifle and player-seeking rolling shock mine.
- Recon — An Intelligence operator with vision pulse and sensor darts.
- Ruin – Can crash the party with his “ground slam” attack and grapple gun to quickly zip around the map.
- Seraph – A Tactician with a high-calibre revolver and deployable respawn beacon.
- Torque – A Defender who can place a protective shield barricade and place razor wire.
I fully recommend trying out and practicing with the different specialists to find one that you feel comfortable with as some will have a very handy silly assigned to Right Bumper that has a cool down once used that can alter how you play. Personal favourites of mine so far are Nomad, who can place trip wire mesh mines on the map to catch out enemies and Prophet who can send out a little rolling bot that will seek out enemies and shock them making them easy to be picked off. It is intriguing that you have specialists with defence, offense and support skill sets and these can change how you play per game type. Each one also has their own version of a “super move” which builds up faster with the more kills you make but builds up slowly any meaning you will always get a chance to use it. This super move is really their main ability and with Nomad for example, once built up and triggered with both Left and Right bumpers together, can summon a single attack dog that will search our enemies on the map and kill any it finds unless it is put down by the enemy or time expires. The special moves really changed up the gameplay enough to make it refreshing for me as someone returning to the series after playing other FPS games such as Destiny 2’s Crucible.
Something that was brought in with Call of Duty: WW2 was the forced manual healing which replaced the traditional automatic healing when out of combat and it works so incredibly well and adds that little bit more awareness and risk to the action and like the skill on right bumper, it has a cool down timer after use but a single use will return full health and it does quickly recharge to use again. This does take some getting used to but a very nice touch to get around the whole “what if I’m shot when healing” argument, you can still fire your gun as it uses what is known as “always up guns” so you are always able to defend yourself when using a skill or health shot, which may not seem like much to read but in a match it is very handy to have.
So, the MP has a few modes to enjoy which fan will recognise from Team Death Match and Kill Confirmed which are my person favourites to dive into with Control a surprise guilty pleasure, which also reminded me very much of the Overwatch where two teams battle to control the zones. Hardpoint and Domination also return so this really is the MP side to Black Ops games fans will instantly recognise. I have found matchmaking fast and stable with the only real complaint so far being how higher-level players with the far better guns are placed with lower levels making some rather unbalanced matches at times. There are some guns which just negate any 50 50 engagements even if you starting firing first. This can be really frustrating when high level players simply own the whole match.
Classic maps have been brought back from previous Black Ops games and at first, I was surprised to find myself on them but brand-new maps are coming, including the usual set with the Season Pass. It was fun to suddenly remember all the little routes through the map I used to take as well as all the firefight points on the map so whilst I do think it is a little on the nose to use so many of the old maps with just a new lick of paint, but it has been great fun to revisit them and whilst I currently do not have the season pass, there is enough here for me to enjoy with classic Nuketown making its appearance soon as well.
A huge mode that began with Black Ops has really evolved over the most recent CoD titles in Zombies, now with full story narratives and characters to take the mode to a new level and in Black Ops 4 Zombies are back and more fun than ever and actually feels like it has become its very own part of the game. For Black Ops 4 there are now three narrative campaigns for Zombies, each one with their own characters and settings and one in particular which feels so totally alien but also my highlight of the game so far. Starting off with ‘Blood of the Dead’ which takes a new spin on the Mob of the Dead, originally from Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, set in Alcatraz prison. Next we have ‘Voyage of Despair’ which is set on the Titanic ship in 1912 and finds our heroes searching for a mysterious artefact whilst dealing with the zombie threat before the Iceberg of legend threatens them all!
The big surprise comes in the form of the third campaign simply called ‘IX’ which is set in the gladiatorial arena of ancient Rome. Now the real twist and what had so many surprise reactions from people when the reveal trailer played at E3 this year, is that this campaign due to its setting, has no guns. That is right, Zombies has gone full Spartacus by using only bladed weapons and it is just crazy fun with friends. Zombies has evolved so much since the original Nazi Zombies and is now a firm part of Call of Duty titles but in this game, which is very much a celebration of the whole Black Ops series, has reached its full potential for me.
Now what really came as very little surprise during the big reveal at E3 was the announcement that Battle Royale was coming to Call of Duty in the shape of new mode ‘Black Out’. To be perfectly honest I totally rolled my eyes at this news but then Battlefield is also getting a Battle Royale mode so that genre was bound to creep into more mainstream FPS games this year. But being honest yet again, I bloody love this mode especially on console. Having spent a lot of time with PUBG on Xbox One and having zero interest in anything Fortnite, Black Out has really been successful in taking all the good parts of PUBG on console and running it through the Call of Duty machine and actually produced my favourite take on the genre yet, something I was not expecting to happen.
Clearly lessons have been learned from PUBG on Xbox One and many of the controls and gameplay is familiar from the Xbox One version of it but it just feels far smoother and more intuitive here in Black Out. The inventory system is far superior here for me with everything just making sense on a controller without all the slow faffing about that PUBG has and still doesn’t do it as well as Black Out does. I love how guns are easily obtainable here instead of spending time hunting down a good gun to use and finding attachments which will automatically fix to the gun you are currently holding just saves so much time and yet you can still press start and quickly remove or exchange gun attachments like scopes and magazines. The controller system does not feel alien and is just so comfortable to use that you will instantly feel at home even if you have never played a Battle Royale mode or game till now.
Vehicles are dotted around the map to be used and all very Call of Duty in style from helicopters, speedboats and quad bikes. The map is large and has different zones and players will be forced to move to a particular zone in order to stay ahead of the electrical cloud that will do damage to the player if caught in its zone for too long. The speed of matches is very fast paced without being too quick that you feel out of the game but it keeps that heightened final top 10 players feeling when the nerves start to tingle as you try to survive to be the last person standing. Win or lose, the turnaround into deploying again means you will not be waiting long to try again which I really appreciate but also the option to remain and spectate the rest of the match if you fell before the end is a nice touch.
Black Out can be played solo but also in duos and 4 player squads and again, this is great fun when played with friends but it will also matchmake you with other players in order to fill squad slots. Every aspect and detail just feel very polished and this is definitely not a throw away mode nor has it been just chucked in without thought and reason to it. Black Out ticks many of the boxes that the console PUBG, now coming close to a year on Xbox, still fails to get right, with server issues few and far between and with the large map paying homage to iconic Black Ops locations and MP maps, there is a huge future for this mode if improvements, skins and new locations can be added going forward. The highlight has to be the opportunity to even take on AI Zombies in certain sections which is such a lovely touch if a little strange at first.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has made fall in love with this series all over again and I am not feeling the loss of the single campaign as much as I thought I would. The MP side, Zombies and Black Out mode make this a top FPS to have on console right now but I do wish they had called it something other than Black Ops 4. More to that I do think charging the full price for what is currently MP modes using a lot of legacy maps in the series is a little bit on the nose. Zombies mode has been made a far fuller experience in its own right and Black Out is already challenging the genre with its popularity and success in just the single week its been out and even friends of mine who have stayed away from PUBG on Xbox One have gravitated to it just as some have turned to this over Fortnite. The MP was always destined to become the main focus for Call of Duty, the eSports scene and popularity of the multiplayer side have been the driving force certainly for the last few years and this is truly the embodiment of all that.
CoD Black Ops 4 is perhaps the best experience I have had since the original Black Ops and with Zombies offering the narrative side I can appreciate for anything story telling wise, this has been a very pleasant surprise and return to form for me and right now, it has taken big steps to reclaiming its title of king of console FPS.