'Call of Duty: Black Ops 4' Review - Blackout & Zombies Outshine Multiplayer

8.5/10 (PS4)

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is designed for the modern multiplayer gamer, and it succeeds in all facets of its three-pronged online package. Almost. While some odd design choices and gameplay bugs hold it back from perfection, Treyarch has made one of the most exciting offerings the franchise has seen in years.

Blackout is Battle Royale Done Right

The most talked about part of Black Ops 4 is the brand-new Blackout battle royale mode. The third pillar essentially stands in for what would have been a traditional single-player campaign, a controversial decision that was clearly the right one.

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Blackout is the biggest innovation to the 'Call of Duty' formula in years. Treyarch/Activision

In terms of its gameplay, Blackout goes great lengths to bridge the gap between the tactical nature of PUBG and the unrivaled accessibility of Fortnite. With regard to the latter, Blackout picks up the pace by absolutely drowning its massive arena in interesting loot for players to collect. In most matches you'll only be without a gun for a few minutes, and there are so many health items in every building that even the silliest of mistakes can be remedied with skillful maneuvering. The addition of lootable Perks further lightens the load by offering limited buffs to things like melee, hearing ability and health regeneration. Simply put, this is a battle royale that places a slight emphasis on fun over flawless precision.

Of course, those who want to play tactically will still succeed in doing so. Blackout places all of its weight on the stellar shooting and movement mechanics of Black Ops 4. Because of that, the action feels faster, more fluid and more polished than any battle royale on the market. Especially if you're a console shooter fan who likes the idea of Fortnite but lacks the creativity to build, investing in Black Ops 4 for Blackout is a no brainer.

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In Quads, Duos or Solos there's always exciting loot to find. Treyarch/Activision

While the gameplay remains solid, there are a few problems. For one, the in-game progression system and skin unlock process are ludicrous. In order to level up in Blackout, you need to get kills, win the match or place in the top 10 of a very large lobby. While it's pretty easy to accomplish those things in standard multiplayer, it's far more difficult to do in Blackout. As such, don't be surprised if you rarely see your character level rise. Without those levels, there are a few skins that become an absolute chore to unlock.

Speaking of skins, you'll find quite a few of your favorite Black Ops and Zombies characters are available to play, as long as you're willing to look for special randomized loot while completing two very specific challenges in a single match. To unlock Menendez, for example, you must find a Locket item at random, kill an enemy with melee and another with a shotgun. Unless you're extremely good at Blackout, that's almost never going to happen. While microtransactions aren't available in the game yet, this skin unlock process seems deliberately frustrating to encourage players to pay to get characters. The free unlock is always a possibility, it's just not very likely. In other words, get used to seeing that default player model.

In short, Blackout is a joy to play, but there are a few obvious pain points we hope get smoothed out in the coming months.

Make Zombies Your Way

While still extremely popular with a subset of Call of Duty fans, the co-op Zombies mode has never quite reached mainstream popularity. It's not perfect, but the multi-map suite featured in Black Ops 4 is the series' best attempt at broadening the Zombies audience.

For this year's Zombies, Treyarch placed clear emphasis on customization and player choice. Instead of focusing on a single map, Black Ops 4 features three full-fledged arenas with unique settings, characters and puzzles to solve. If the gladiator stylings of IX don't appeal to you, take your friends to the Titanic in Voyage of Despair. If you're more of a retro Zombies enthusiast, Blood of the Dead marks the return of Richtofen and the classic Zombies cast fans know and love.

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The 'Black Ops 4' Zombies maps are varied and accessible. Treyarch/Activision

Once you're placed inside these intentionally varied maps, the basic conceits of Zombies are the same as they've always been. Up to four players enter a small horde-based space to kill increasingly difficult waves of Zombies and accrue points. Those points can then be spent to unlock weapons, Perks, defenses and different areas of the map. The longer you survive, the more experience you gain. There are, of course, some very involved Easter egg quests that strive to expand the hit-and-miss lore of the Chaos and Aether narratives, but these are designed for only the most dedicated of crews.

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For those hoping for a challenge, there are plenty of deadly foes and difficult puzzles to uncover. Treyarch/Activision

For everyone else, one of the best parts of Zombies is the new Custom Mutations that allow teams to personalize every aspect of a lobby to their liking. Dozens of sliders allow you to adjust difficulty settings, weapons, zombie speed, starting health, available Perks and the addition of AI bots.That means no longer being forced to engage with brain-busting tasks to see the coolest weapons, and solo play suddenly becomes viable. These are some very welcome firsts for a mode that still manages to preserve its challenge for those who want it.

Also for those who'd like to play alone, the new Zombie Rush mode is probably your best option. In this special game type, all weapons and map areas are free to unlock with the sole purpose of accruing points to place in an online leaderboard. It essentially strips away the complex puzzles and puts action first in a way that's extremely accessible for all types of players.

While I'd stop short of saying Black Ops 4 Zombies will turn non-believers into fans, the package offers an absolute ton of content for those with a tangential interest in the mode. Custom Mutations are a godsend, and we hope Treyarch and Activision's other teams expand on them in the future.

Gold Standard Multiplayer

Call of Duty has always been known for its competitive multiplayer, and Black Ops 4 keeps that tradition alive and well in the transitioning PvP landscape. Its base shooting and movement feel great, and they act as a solid compromise between last year's grounded Call of Duty: WWII and 2015's Black Ops III. If you've been playing Call of Duty games over the past few years, you know the series always feels good. There are no top-level worries this year either. The only major change is the manual health regen system, which we found to offer greater strategic opportunity even if it takes some time to get used to.

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The Specialist system of 'Black Ops 4' is hit or miss. Treyarch/Activision

Black Ops 4 expands on the Specialist system from Black Ops III, which essentially means players select defined characters with one special ability that recharges over time and an ultimate that's unlocked via kills. At launch players have nearly a dozen Specialists to choose from, and they offer a wide range of abilities including RC Cars that stun enemies, flamethrowers, souped-up grenades, attack dogs and beacons that alert teams to enemy locations. These work well on paper to create possibilities for defined team compositions, but the vast majority of online combatants at all levels rarely make use of them. In that sense, whether intentional or not, Specialists feel like a unique but wasted opportunity. That may change as the meta evolves, but right now the action feels very familiar.

This is in part due to the fact that Black Ops 4 still uses the tried and true create-a-class system that's defined Call of Duty multiplayer for over a decade. That means true loadout customization comes not in the form of Specialists but in personalized schemes of Perks, equipment, Scorestreaks, weapons and Operator Mods to further enhance those weapons. It works just as well as it always has, with your armory growing as you level up.

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Create-a-Class lets players customize Specialists with any weapon they choose. Treyarch/Activision

At launch, Black Ops 4 features 10 new multiplayer maps and four returning favorites. While the selection admittedly feels a bit sparse at first, the roster ultimately succeeds in offering a ton of variety in geography and design. On the same server you'll cycle through the hazy surroundings of Jungle, then switch to the chilly Tundras of Icebreaker. There are a few questionable chokepoints and spawn killing is an obvious problem in certain modes, but, once those kinks are ironed out, Black Ops 4's starting map selection will serve players just fine.

Beyond maps, other new additions include the Control and Heist game modes. Control is basically just an iteration on Hardpoint that swaps teams between capturing and defending certain points on the map instead of doing both at once. During my review time this was probably my favorite mode, but I honestly didn't even realize it was the first time we'd seen it. In other words, it's fun but it doesn't feel like anything I haven't played before.

The same can be said about Heist, in which players start out with a basic roster of weapons and purchase better ones with money earned during gameplay. This is basically Call of Duty's answer to Counter-Strike, and it works to varying degrees of success. It functions as a neat way to play with weapons you haven't unlocked yet, but the fast-paced nature of Black Ops doesn't mesh well with the strategic, limited-life gameplay Heist tries to encourage. For me, it was only fun for a handful of rounds.

While my assessment may come off as a bit negative, I'll reiterate that Black Ops 4 multiplayer feels amazing. It falls short in trying to innovate along the established formula, but the base product is still very enjoyable. Even with its shortcomings, I'd still consider Black Ops 4 to be one of the best multiplayer games of the year.

Overall

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is a stellar package with amazing innovations in Blackout and Zombies that make it well worth a purchase. The competitive multiplayer suite, while still very solid, won't bring in new players and may confuse them with a Specialist system that isn't as critical as Treyarch would probably like it to be. Menus may be messy and it would be nice for progression to be unified across all modes, but this is a solid foundation for developers to expand on in the coming year.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.

Have you enjoyed your time with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 so far? Which mode do you like best? Tell us in the comments section!

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'Call of Duty: Black Ops 4' Review - Blackout & Zombies Outshine Multiplayer | Gaming