Even though it lacks a single-player campaign, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 overflows with so much content you might not even notice. Pushing the franchise into new territory, online play is truly front and center, with each of the three modes nearly offering enough content to be their own separate releases. While the new Blackout mode – think Fortnite or PUBG – will definitely be the draw for many players new and old, they shouldn’t overlook the standard multiplayer mode or the incredibly fun Zombie mode. While those last two modes aren’t new to the Call of Duty franchise, there’s enough polish and tweaks to make them feel free, layered and worthy of revisiting.
Arguably one the strongest entry in the Call of Duty series, Black Ops 4‘s exclusion of a campaign mode shouldn’t upset too many players. Not only does each of the three included online modes offer a hefty amount of options and customizations, but each also includes some character-focused tutorials that offer a slight narrative to offer some sense of story, even if they all essentially boil down to ‘shoot and survive.’ Zombie mode’s tutorial is especially fun, and does an excellent job laying out the skills players will need to have and build on in order to really succeed on those maps. It could be argued that dropping the single-player campaign has ended up strengthening the game’s online play options.
Maps include IX and Voyage of Despair, which are part of the Chaos storyline, and Blood of the Dead and Classified, which fall under the returning Aether storyline. While they cover the same basic Zombie Mode formula – taking down waves of zombies and getting access to new weapons and areas, the strong visuals and quirky tone keep things fresh, even after repeated play-throughs. Out of all the modes, this one is probably closest Black Ops 4 has to anything resembling a single-player campaign. It also never really gets stagnant, as it tends to get more difficult as it goes, which helps encourage that much more gameplay. Personally, zombie mode is the first mode I jumped to and easily my favorite (it helps that these different maps in zombie mode are arguably the most bonkers). However, game play was occasionally hampered by some painful and dated – and at times offensive – dialogue and stereotypes that popped up.
Multiplayer is the most basic mode in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, but it being so straight-forward and to-the-point is a strength. Gameplay feels more objective-based this time, requiring players to be a bit more thoughtful with their actions. Not only do players need to be more mindful of completing objectives, but healing is done manually (think Overwatch), which means players will also need to be more careful in how they approach a map. No more running and gunning. The progression system remains largely untouched, though with more options available for players to gain. If players want skins and cosmetic upgrades, and there are a lot to earn, they’ll need to keep their focus on map objectives and how they play.
Even with those influences, Multiplayer still feels uniquely Call of Duty. Stealth and kills remain as important as ever, but there’s an added layer for deliberate gameplay on the player’s part in order to reach those much-desired rewards and rank up. Playing it smart usually ends up being more rewarding than just running in with guns blazing. Seasoned Call of Duty players will have no problem adjusting to the play tweaks, and it’s also basic enough that new or casual players will be able to get acclimated to the gameplay pretty quickly. This definitely makes it easier for new players to pick the type of character they want to play as, which is key in eventually developing a comfortable and effective play style. And, whatever your chosen character type ends up being, the map designs are flexible enough to support it. Maps are littered with areas attuned to specific abilities, whether it’s great sniping platforms, areas to lay down hazards, and so on.
The last and arguably the biggest draw for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is the Blackout mode. As with other battle royale-type games, Blackout mode tosses 100 players on a map and they must fight it out until only one player or squad remains. While the mode is new to the Call of Duty franchise, it’s still immediately recognizable, as maps are riddled with callbacks to previous Call of Duty games and the gameplay mechanics feel as familiar here as with any other mode. The design and overall layouts in Blackout mode are especially impressive, as there are plenty of areas that players – regardless of their character class – can use to their strategic advantage.
A player’s experience in both Multiplayer and Zombie mode will come in handy here. Not only do the undead pop up from time to time, but skills and knowledge about gear and upgrades from the other modes will definitely help in the battle to the top spot. Pairing this with taking advantage of strategic spots in the map results in a pretty robust game-playing experience. Blackout, by the way, look fantastic and incredibly detailed. More than a few times I found myself just gawking around whatever area I was in, marveling at just how polished it all looks. It surpasses Fortnite‘s cartoony look and offers up a more lush experience than PUBG. The gameplay may be may be similar between these three titles, but Blackout is easily the superior riff.
The whole Blackout experience feels more balanced. While matches can end quickly and without warning, it does feel like a more level experience overall compared to the other reigning battle royale games. Even learning how to play the mode feels easier, which is likely a mix between the experience gained from playing the other modes in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and the map’s ability to strategically assist whatever character class you end up using for your playthroughs. The simplicity of the mode helps. There aren’t any massive secondary objectives or tasks you have to do, like the structure-building in Fortnite. Blackout feels like your basic shooter, though tweaked to work in a battle royale-setting, and it is ridiculously fun.
Despite the new direction Activision appears to be taking with the Call of Duty franchise, it remains roughly the same beast. Graphics are stellar across the board, and controls are tight, responsive and generally easy to master by putting in some solid game time. The game looks and feels great, although occasionally becoming overwhelming in the first few initial hours of playing as you grow accustomed to what Black Ops 4 has to offer, especially when it comes to navigating menus and inventory. I’ll admit to being a little lost during my first couple playthroughs as I guided myself through the games many menu systems.
Even without the single-player campaign, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is overflowing content, plenty to keep players – hardcore and casual alike – plenty occupied. Blackout mode will undoubtedly keep player coming back and months to come, especially as the mode continues to grow and evolve with support from Activision. Zombie mode remains as fun as ever, with this latest iteration offering a deeper experience with more to do. Multiplayer is as solid as ever, too. Each mode offers plenty of variety, and allowing experience to be shared among the three modes allows for the player to keep building their character without the need to sacrifice one mode over the other. It will definitely be interesting to see how Activision will continue to support this mode in the future, and what it could mean for both this game and further installments of the franchise.
Anime Superhero was provided a PS4 “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4” retail copy to review by the publisher.