Real Talk By: Zombie Zac
In a tense moment, I found myself with no other option than to dive in the water and swim alongside the edge of the dam. I heard gunfire from somewhere in front of me, but the circle was closing in and I had to move. I found some stairs that led me up to a road along the top of the dam, and without hesitating I ran to the closet door. Inside there was a medical syringe, which I jammed into my arm, and a few bullets for guns I didn’t have. I knew at this point I had to work with what I had. I knew I had to leave this small room so I ran back out onto the road and ducked under a discarded truck. I heard running coming up behind me and turned around and unloaded. He went down. Then ricochets of bullets rang off the hood, and I was struck— I dropped down and crawled back under. A few yards away was a service building, and I saw the muzzle fire coming from a broken window. As I aimed and shot back, I realized my submachine gun wasn’t going to connect. As I heard more footsteps coming a flurry of bullets whizzed past me and I was hit with a deadly shot. Fade to black.
Last year’s Call of Duty was about returning to the series’ WWII roots, and this year Black Ops 4 chooses to redefine them. The radical move of removing the campaign has received a lot of attention and I think it’s overblown as only a tiny fraction of Call of Duty players in previous years even touched it, let alone completed it. There’s no denying that each year the Call of Duty campaign has had high production values with big orchestrated set pieces and a wide variety of missions, but the quality of the story-telling was usually subpar, in particular with WWII last year failing to uphold the severity of it’s subject matter. Of course, the bread and butter since Modern Warfare has been multiplayer and this year because of the rise of PUBG and Fortnite, Treyarch has decided to place all bets on it and compete in the Battle Royale space. In Blackout, Call of Duty’s new premier multiplayer mode, epic stories like the one above happen almost every time you boot it up, and they’re not scripted, they’re real players interacting within the game world.
So off the bat, Blackout, the Battle Royale mode, more than makes up for the lack of a campaign. I’m sure most people are curious about how Blackout stacks up to PUBG and Fortnite and whether or not the whole Battle Royale thing has jumped the shark yet. If you’ve had a chance to play PUBG, you know how unpolished it is and this is especially true on Xbox One. Fortnite runs great, on the other hand, and offers a different kind of experience with building aspects and is a free-to-play. Blackout is going to take a dent out of PUBG, maybe even eventually be it’s demise, because tonally, and gameplay-wise, they are extremely close. The best thing I can say about Blackout is that it takes what PUBG started and makes it polished, creating a smooth, beautiful looking world map to explore with excellent feeling weapons. There is no base-building in Blackout, and because it is played from a first-person perspective only, it feels like Fortnite will largely remain unaffected by this player base. Many wondered if Blackout would be 100 players, and when playing in squads of 4 it is, when playing solo or with another player it’s 88 players. The map is diverse, big enough to be able to disappear yet small enough where rounds don’t last forever. It’s extremely fine-tuned.
As for whether Battle Royale games have become too saturated, or if they’re a fad and the novelty has worn off, well, in a word: No. That being said, it isn’t as impressive as the first time you parachuted into the game world in your first PUBG game a couple years ago. The expectations are higher and the concept is understood. Now players want refinement, they want the gameplay to be polished and well-executed. Blackout succeeds with little to no network lag, world object or texture pop-in, and no significant frame drops. In fact, this year, Call of Duty runs on Bizzard’s battle.net which is a huge upgrade from the previous peer-to-peer system. The same responsive Call of Duty feel is present in a massive world, and the vehicles (including a helicopter) all control effortlessly. Vaulting over walls, crashing through windows, opening and closing doors and picking up items are all easy and managing your inventory is much more streamlined and intuitive than PUBG on a controller. If anything the Battle Royale mode is just that, less a fad or a cultural zeitgeist, but maybe more so it is finding its place as a really fun mode. An option.
And Black Ops 4 is not short on options. If you’re getting tired of the 100 person madness, you can opt to size-down and play more traditional multiplayer modes like Domination and Team Deathmatch, on smaller maps with teams of 5. This is something PUBG or Fortnite do not have the ability to do, and it adds dimension to the package. These more focused rounds wiz by at breakneck pace in comparison to the looting, the sneaking, and the hiding of Blackout’s dense world. If you have played a Call of Duty multiplayer match since Modern Warfare you know if you like this stuff. Black Ops 4 offers a measured approach as it’s more traditional than the futuristic titles, yet more experimental than the WWII ones. The biggest change this year is that you have to manually heal— no more automatic health regeneration. You’ll find that after a fire fight you’re faced with the addictive dilemma of whether or not to reload, or heal. Healing is based off a cooldown, and getting to know the timing is essential in staying alive. Layered on top of traditional loadouts each player picks a ‘Specialist’ (and only one of each specialist can be picked on each team) and they round out your arsenal with unique skills. This plays out like Overwatch-lite, in that they generally are either defensive, offensive, or support skills that when used correctly can help turn the tide of a close match.
For many the main draw of Call of Duty is the epic zombie slaying, and Black Ops 4 because of it’s renewed focus on multiplayer has been able to squeeze even more zombie content at launch than ever before. Through three zombie missions (4 if you have the season pass) Zombies provides great environments, excellent characters, and breakneck zombie-killing action. Notoriously confusing and vague, these modes are intriguing because the player base has to figure out exactly what to do each time a new one comes out. The levels hold all kinds of secrets and cryptic, esoteric designs, which are less intimidating now for newcomers because of a brand new tutorial mode you can play. In the tutorial, a narrator takes you through some basics and covers a lot of ground without making things seem overwhelming. I found that particularly smart because even though I enjoy the Zombies modes I can recognize that they’re not very approachable if you haven’t been playing them for years. There are returning characters, new characters, new time periods, new elixirs, a new wave based mode and all kinds of leveling to do. Zombies is robust and feels jam-packed with content.
All of this goes towards making the case that Call of Duty in 2018 doesn’t need a traditional campaign. I do have to note that there are some single player missions you can complete which help tell the stories of the different specialists and these act more as an appetizer for the main meal. I appreciate that it is in there and for those craving a little more lore, or substance to the shooting, check that out. The fact is, though, each of the three main modes are so robust they could be their own games. While I have heard that lootbox-like things are coming, I see none of that stuff in the game as it stands today. I can’t imagine if they add it it will in any way impact the full package that exists now. For couch co-op fans, take note: Every mode, including Blackout, is playable online in two player split-screen, and while the aspect ratio takes a little hit, it’s more than playable and a lot of fun.
What’s ironic is Call of Duty as an annual release has been subject to intense scrutiny and criticisms but now in the world of free-to-play business models and monthly passes for unlocks, Call of Duty is presenting the clearest business model in the multiplayer space. There is a season pass you can purchase, and it’s basically like buying the game twice, but by the end of it the amount of content Treyarch has pledged to deliver literally sounds like twice the amount of content. The only thing I’m missing is the War mode from WWII, a push-pull team-based objective mode that went beyond capturing ‘zones’ and had you doing things like escorting tanks or defending the beaches of normandy. It would be awesome if Black Ops 4 added a similar mode later as DLC. That being said, this is a great year for Call of Duty, and if you’re on the fence, this is the year to take the plunge back in to the black.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Gets
4.5 out of 5
Polishes the Battle Royale genre and sets the bar
battle.net severs create smooth, lag free games
Strategic changes to Multiplayer with Specialist Skills
Tons of Zombies content
Two player split-screen across every mode
No War mode
Season Pass is like buying the game a second time