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Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Release Date: Oct. 12, 2018

About David Silbert

I'm a recent college graduate from Boston, MA. When I'm not writing for WorthPlaying, I'm probably researching Celtics trade rumors or struggling to keep up with the growing library on my Nintendo Switch.


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PS4 Review - 'Call of Duty: Black Ops 4'

by David Silbert on Oct. 16, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 features gritty, grounded, combat, along with new levels of customization and tactical gameplay, and a variety of new weaponry, maps and modes for the ultimate Black Ops multiplayer experience.

Buy Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

For over a decade, Call of Duty has been a fixture in people's homes thanks to its tense action, satisfying gunplay, and rich multiplayer options. Activision's flagship franchise has seen annual fall releases since the series launched in 2003, and 2018 is no exception.

This year, developer Treyarch answers the call with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. While Black Ops 4's new class-based competitive multiplayer and patented "Zombies" cooperative play will excite longtime fans of the series, Treyarch's newest addition comes in the form of "Blackout": a battle royale mode looking to mimic the success of games like PUBG and Fortnite. Black Ops 4 also marks a first for the franchise, as it leaves behind the single-player campaign in a bold, multiplayer-only gambit.

It's a gambit that mostly pays off. Multiplayer is polished to a sheen, offering a new spin on the Call of Duty formula with the addition of class-based abilities and two fantastic new game modes. Blackout is an admirable, albeit derivative, first stab at battle royale, and Zombies is deeper and more fun than ever before.

For as impressive and as comprehensive as Black Ops 4's various modes can be, there's one underlying theme that persists across most of Treyarch's epic: a lack of originality. The modes are individually entertaining, especially in the company of friends, but when taken as a whole, Black Ops 4 doesn't bring enough to the table to justify leaving its campaign on the cutting room floor. The result is still an excellent first-person shooter, but it feels like it's playing catch up with many of its contemporaries.

Upon booting up Black Ops 4 for the first time, players can choose from three general icons housing the three focal points: Blackout, Multiplayer, and Zombies. Meanwhile, a fourth, smaller icon is dedicated to a tutorial component called "Specialist HQ."

Blackout is undoubtedly Black Ops 4's biggest addition. Activision has heavily featured the mode in its marketing campaign, and the game even prioritizes the installation of Blackout ahead of other modes when players are downloading Black Ops 4 to their hard drives. We live in a world where battle royale — and Fortnite in particular — is king, and Treyarch makes sure to capitalize on this fact with Black Ops 4.

The Blackout game mode has far more in common with titles like PUBG than it does with Fortnite. As in most battle royale games, players start by jumping out of a moving aircraft, deploying a parachute, and landing on one of several marked areas on a sprawling map, and the goal is to be the last man or woman standing.

After landing, the ties to PUBG become much more apparent. Armor, med kits, weapons, and other tools are practically littered all over the ground. Players can customize their guns using various attachments that they find, including extended magazines, scopes, and silencers. Vehicles — such as boats, helicopters, and trucks — dot the landscape, offering mobility and easy getaways across air, land, and sea. As is customary with Call of Duty, all the visceral, on-foot action takes place in first-person view, complete with sprinting, sliding, and going prone to stay hidden from enemies.

In truth, Black Ops 4 taking inspiration from PUBG when it comes to its battle royale mode makes sense, given the more realistic, mature tone of PUBG compared to the bright colors and peppy emotes of Fortnite. At the same time, however, the decision to borrow heavily from PlayerUnknown's hit game also leads to one of the main issues with Blackout: It doesn't really do anything new.

Gunplay is satisfying and responsive, vehicles control well, and navigating Blackout's map is a breeze, but I can't escape the feeling that I've already had this experience before in other games. Blackout attempts to remedy this by incorporating many of Black Ops 4's new tools into the mode, such as a grappling hook, a UAV-like motion sensor, and various briefcases that grant the player powerful perks for a limited duration of time; at the end of the day, though, these small additions don't do nearly enough to differentiate Blackout from the competition.

Visuals are another area where Blackout falters. While the rest of Black Ops 4 looks in line with what's expected from a Call of Duty game — detailed models, sharp textures, great particle effects — Blackout stands out for all the opposite reasons. Textures are muddy and low-res, environments are bland and lack personality, and mild to moderate frame rate stutters brought me out of the experience from time to time on my base PS4. It's a far cry from the performance woes found on consoles with PUBG, but Blackout isn't exactly a technical or artistic powerhouse, either.

If you're new to the battle royale craze or are dying to see the game type applied to Call of Duty's control scheme, you likely won't be disappointed with Blackout. In spite of my issues with it, the mode is fun, especially with three other friends at your side to wreak havoc as you fight to be the last squad standing. At the same time, if you're used to the ingenuity of Fortnite's building mechanics or were expecting different modes to keep you hooked, you might be underwhelmed at what Blackout has to offer at launch.

This could change. Fortnite has become one of the biggest games on the planet at least in part thanks to Epic's stream of constant updates to the maps, modes, and weapons. There's always a possibility that Blackout will evolve in the same way, especially given the legs that Activision typically gives Call of Duty games in the months following their initial launches. At the current moment, Blackout offers a fun, if derivative, first entry into the world of battle royale.

Aside from Blackout, Black Ops 4's other major shakeup to the Call of Duty formula is in its single-player component, or lack thereof. For the first time in the series' history, Call of Duty has ditched a campaign mode in Black Ops 4 in favor of Specialist HQ: a series of 10 missions that serve as tutorials for the game's various "specialist" classes and game modes in multiplayer.

Let's be clear up front: The specialist missions are in no way an adequate substitute for a Call of Duty single-player campaign. There's a brief story to be uncovered that focuses on a female lead who is enlisting a Suicide Squad-esque team of mercenaries while piecing together the mystery of her sister's death. The narrative includes characters both old and new, spanning the entirety of the Black Ops franchise, but the overall narrative is underwhelming.

Aside from the sheer shock factor of the tutorial's opening cut scene, there's very little emotion to be felt while watching what ends up being the assembly of Black Ops' very own Overwatch. There are no set pieces to be found or big, climatic payoffs to the story. It's simply a way to introduce players to Black Ops 4's multiplayer characters.

It's sad that many people are going to come away from Specialist HQ and be disappointed. Although it might not be a bonafide campaign, the missions themselves are actually quite good. You won't find the next All Ghillied Up or Mile High Club here, but for tutorial missions that teach players the basic controls and abilities for each specialist, Specialist HQ injects a surprising amount of humor into each scenario. It's not groundbreaking material, but it'll put a smile on your face and have you chuckling.

As entertaining as Specialist HQ can be, it's ultimately an appetizer for Black Ops 4's main dish: multiplayer. It will come as no surprise to longtime fans that Black Ops 4's multiplayer is rich with RPG elements and peppered with deep customization options. This time around, Black Ops 4 raises the stakes with some interesting tweaks to the existing formula. Healing is now done manually, with the tap of the left bumper, while each specialist has his or her own distinct cool-down ability mapped to the right bumper. Ajax, for example, can cook and throw a "9-Bang" grenade, which is like a flashbang on steroids. Prophet, meanwhile, can deploy a robot known as a "Seeker," which hunts down and shocks nearby enemies, leaving them vulnerable to an attack.

Each specialist also has a second, more powerful ability that can be activated based on an even longer cooldown. Ajax's special ability lets him wield a riot shield and pistol combo for extra defense and some easy kills. Prophet's special grants him a long-range rifle that shocks the enemy on its receiving end, as well as anybody else in the vicinity.

Seem familiar? While class-based shooters aren't exactly a new concept, Black Ops 4's multiplayer seems to take a lot of inspiration from Blizzard's massively successful Overwatch. From the cooldowns to each specialist's distinct appearance and personality, to each character's equivalent of an "ultimate" move, the similarities are there, clear as the sky on a sunny day in July.

While the obvious inspiration does put a bit of a damper on the experience — Recon's special is essentially just Widowmaker's, complete with a pair of night vision goggles — there's just enough innovation here to make Black Ops 4's multiplayer stand out. The specialist Firebreak has been my absolute favorite, with the wild ability of using an unstable radioactive core to fry enemies behind walls, above and below you, and in all other sorts of nooks and crannies.

The multiplayer modes are more standard fare, with classics such as domination, free-for-all, search and destroy, and team deathmatch. Black Ops 4 also introduces two new game modes. The first is Heist, which lets players buy increasingly more powerful mods, perks, and weapons over a series of rounds. The second is Control, which tasks players with attacking and defending a point on the map with a limited pool of lives.

Both modes are fantastic new additions to the Call of Duty universe. Heist may be inspired, like much else in Black Ops 4, by another game — this time, it's Counter-Strike — but the mode works extremely well in tandem with the countless customization possibilities of Black Ops 4's different perks and weapons. Control is more original; battles are tense, and the limited lives add a layer of strategy to the end of each round. It may not have the most original multiplayer, but Black Ops 4 offers more than enough modes, characters, and incentives to keep players engaged for hours on end.

The final piece of the Black Ops 4 puzzle is the Zombies mode. A staple of Treyarch games since Call of Duty: World at War, Zombies has time and time again been the tasty dessert that follows up a long play session. It's the cathartic cooldown that seems at odds with its visceral action and mature subject matter. Black Ops 4 offers three new Zombies scenarios. There's Voyage of Despair, which takes place on the sinking Titanic; there's IX, set in ancient Rome; and there's Blood of the Dead, a reimagining of Mob of the Dead from Black Ops II.

While Zombies has always been a blast, the three maps in Black Ops 4 are some of the best of the bunch. From navigating the crowded corridors in Voyage of Despair to fending off the undead in a gladiator coliseum in IX, Zombies in Black Ops 4 oozes with personality. During the action, characters constantly chime in with witty dialogue, while the labyrinthine map layouts and multitude of secrets ensure that no two playthroughs will be exactly alike.

A lot of this has been true of past Zombies maps over the years, but what sends Black Ops 4's over the edge is the added customization that's on display. Black Ops 4 lets players outfit their characters with various "elixirs," which grant powerful in-game bonuses, such as extending the length of power-ups or being able to teleport to another part of the map when overwhelmed by zombies. Players can also pick which perks they want to buy during a given playthrough, and they can customize purchased weapons. Add to this a progression system that has players unlocking new elixirs and weapons as play progresses, and Zombies in Black Ops 4 has surprisingly long legs for even its most dedicated fans.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 offers a whole lot of content for players to like, even if not all of that content is made equal. Its competitive multiplayer is robust and rewarding, even if it plays a little too close to its competitors to feel unique. Blackout, meanwhile, is an ambitious first foray for Call of Duty into battle royale, though it never truly capitalizes on the strengths of the franchise to make it anything more than a fun diversion.

In an ironic way, it's Zombies that ends up feeling the freshest of the three, as Treyarch continues to delve deeper into the mode's mechanics while granting you and your friends more customization options than ever. At the same time, however, the strengths of the mode come at the sobering reminder that a real story mode in Black Ops 4 is nowhere to be found.

Black Ops 4 is nonetheless an excellent game, and it's hard to not be impressed by the sheer amount of content that Treyarch has provided with these three distinct modes. Call of Duty fans will feel right at home, while those who are new to the franchise will surely find something to like, with so much to choose from. At the same time, however, it's difficult to look past the lack of a campaign, especially when nearly everything else on offer is something you've seen, played, or heard about before.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is a grand old time. Just don't expect anything too out of the ordinary.

Score: 8.4/10

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