Call of Duty has been, for many years running, a Jekyll and Hyde franchise. Whether the titular game, the Black Ops spinoffs or the Modern Warfare incarnations, the series has tried to satisfy both hardcore online shooter fans and single-player FPS devotees. The results were often mixed and solo campaigns stretched dramatic credulity while becoming ever more bloated with their set pieces. For Black Ops 4, the franchise and Treyarch have gone all in with one of the biggest and feature-packed installments in the Call of Duty lineup, albeit one that all but excludes the single player community. Black Ops 4 is 100% focused on multiplayer content, but at least this year the franchise has stirred a very settled pot and the results are outstanding—provided one belongs to the target demographic.
Really, Black Ops 4 is a suite of three, incredibly polished games: team and single-player modes such as Free-for-All, Team Deathmatch, Control, Domination, etc; Zombies, returning bigger and better than any previous version; and finally, CoD’s take on the battle royale genre, Blackout, which has deservedly received the most attention. Between these three parts, Black Ops 4 includes a massive amount of high-quality content.
Returning from Black Ops 3 are specialists, some new and some reprising their appearance in the last game. They have specific armor and weapon types, and their individual stories are told in a series of training missions, the closest Black Ops 4 comes to a single-player campaign and story. Longtime fans of the franchise will see the return of the “pick 10” mechanic of customization slots, and this time around weapons can be upgraded through a tiered system. Totally new to Black Ops 4 is a revamped health mechanic that does away with time-based recovery and replaces it with player-controlled healing that must be manually triggered. All in all, between the healing mechanic, classes, and upgrades, Black Ops 4 has really moved its multiplayer components strongly in the RPG direction and there is a true diversity of possible builds that favor an immense number of playstyles. Of course, novices to Black Ops 4 multiplayer will be immediately confronted with the fact that they are hopelessly outmatched. It takes real determination to slog through enough humiliating matches to achieve an acceptable level. The CoD community has always had its share of toxic members and it’s unforgiving of hapless newbies.
At least the new battle royale mode, Blackout, is equally unfamiliar to everyone so there is some parity, at least for the moment. When it was announced, Blackout was met with both heavy-duty cynical skepticism and eager anticipation, coming hard on the heels of multiplayer gaming’s two darlings, PUBG and Fortnite. Rather than re-invent the genre, Blackout positions itself as the most technically polished, stable and breathlessly paced example of battle royale. Although its single map is relatively small, overall the game is amazingly fun for single players, duos, or four-man squads. Even with 100 participants on a map, it runs flawlessly. Blackout does not entirely fill the need for a single-player campaign but good matches often have the same tense drama and memorable moments as those of a scripted story, and an early death can at least be turned into a learning experience via the spectator camera.
Zombies has evolved from a silly and relatively incidental add-on to content that is as feature-rich as any other aspect of Black Ops 4, with three maps and two modes that are imaginative — though not quite as weird as in the past versions — and entertaining. With so many aspects of the Zombies mode open to customization, it’s a great point of entry for players intimidated by Black Ops 4 competitive multiplayer. It almost goes without saying that Black Ops 4 looks fantastic, with incredible detail and effects, and map design that is unmatched. Whether playing one of the new or handful of returning maps, everyone will find their favorites and there isn’t a dud in the bunch.
Still, as rich in content as Black Ops 4 might be, it does exclude a segment of shooter fans that have no interest in multiplayer or competitive gaming, or don’t have a community of gaming friends to play with. Solo players can have a lot of fun with Black Ops 4, though ranking up in multiplayer can be a bit of a frustrating slog through hours of humiliation at the hands of experienced series veterans. The new Blackout mode is probably the best point of entry and promises to be an entertaining game of choice for months to come.