Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Review

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 cuts its single player campaign in favour of a cornucopia of multiplayer delights – and it works.
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Verdict

The somewhat stale franchise has a new lease of life with this multiplayer-only experience.

Pros

  • Smooth gunplay
  • Excellent level design
  • Story woven through all three branches of multiplayer
  • A great reinvention of a slightly stale franchise

Cons

  • No single player campaign

Key Features

  • Review Price: £49.99
  • Developer: Treyarch
  • Release Date: October 12, 2018
  • Genre: FPS
  • Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC

There’s no denying Call of Duty is a well put-together AAA game. In my first few hours with Call of Duty Black Ops 4, the most consistently noticeable aspect was how slick everything felt, exuding quality all over the place like a big ol’ quality hose.

You don’t need to explain Call of Duty’s concept. For the last decade, the game has seeped into the public consciousness, becoming synonymous with gaming in a way most brands would only dream of. Chances are, even if you’ve never played it you have a decent concept of how Call of Duty’s multiplayer looks, the UI absorbed through a bizarre form of photosynthesis, such has been the franchise’s exposure.

So, Call of Duty has rolled around again, all full of jingoism and a gung-ho attitude. However, this year it has cut the single-player campaign in favour of fleshing out its three distinct multiplayer segments, each of which comfortably contains enough content to fill its own full-price release.

The game has a competitive PvP mode, generally referred to as Multiplayer in the game, a cooperative Zombies mode and a well-polished battle royale mode entitled Blackout.

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Call of Duty Black Ops 4

Across the board, there’s fluid gunplay, tight movement and a weird predilection for gore. It’s not just the case that a player could walk over a hidden mine and blow their legs off – although that does happen – but that there are lashings of blood and body parts everywhere you look.

The introduction to the story, which is weaved through the multiplayer mode, opens with a machine gun blowing off a soldier’s arms, while another catches a bullet to the head, tearing open her face, which hangs open lazily as she tries to talk in the next scene.

For a game that does its best to sanitise military-grade murder, it’s a surprisingly brutal opening scene, and from there it doesn’t let up. Call in a hellfire missile, one of the several killstreak rewards on offer, and you’ll be greeted with a score pop-up rewarding you for your frags, in addition to a pile of bloody gibs. This isn’t to say it’s a bad thing, but it did make me squirm a few times.

The multiplayer feels drastically different after just a few matches, revealing a more tactical game with a focus on playing as different ‘specialists’ that can affect the game in different ways. Initially, I was drawn to Crash, a combat medic who can buff his allies’ health or drop ammo packs to keep the team tooled up. Crucial now that ammo is limited and there’s no more regenerating health.

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Call of Duty Black Ops review

These specialists aren’t classes, and their unique abilities aren’t killstreaks – both of those exist in the game in addition to the specialist system, and in fact, the specialist abilities are closer in tone to equipment.

There aren’t a lot of grenades in Black Ops 4, as many players will opt for the unique specialist equipment, but there are still plenty of ways to get yourself killed, as specialists have access to tools like trip-mines, grenade launchers, ballistic shields, and even an adorable attack dog. Loveable right until he goes for the throat. It’s clear that the influence of shooters like Overwatch and Rainbow Six Siege has been felt here, but it’s still distinctly a Call of Duty experience. 

The specialist you choose informs the way you’ll play. Crash is a supporting character that hands out ammo, heals and buffs his teammates. He’s there to keep you pushing forward and hints at a more team-focused Call of Duty.

Yet in many of the multiplayer playlists, this just isn’t the case as preternaturally talented Call of Duty players take on all comers, single-handedly charging around levels and carving out an advantage that can be used to snowball to victory.

The regular playlists can, as a result, feel like a hostile atmosphere as you try to cling on to any success, as a small loss can quickly lead to death by a thousand killstreak rewards as the enemy hammers you with missiles, attack helicopters and a bunch of other things that go bang. 

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Call of Duty Black Ops 4

This is often the case even despite the game’s incredible tutorial system, which takes you through an operator’s strengths and weaknesses while also feeding you their story in a series of cutscenes. Some of these tell the overarching meta-narrative of the game, while some just give you a look at the personality of the operator you’re playing. 

However, there are still highlights and the multiplayer PvP gameplay is at its best when it slows the pace down, keeping the frenetic action but introducing consequences to stop it being such a meat grinder, as the game is mechanically elegant enough to lose its lustre slightly when it becomes a live, die, respawn cycle. There are hints of this in the limited lives of Control mode, or the one-and-done round-based gunplay of Search and Destroy.

The Heist gamemode, a new addition to the series, offers round-based multiplayer shooting that puts you into a buy menu at the start of each round, all the better to blow the earnings you accumulated from killing enemies. So far so Counter-Strike, and the comparison doesn’t get any more flattering with the addition of the fact that each death is final, leaving you to wait until the next round.

There are differences, though. The end goal here is to either extract the bag of cash set in the middle of each map, or to kill every member of the enemy team, but the items you can buy and the strategies you can engage in mark it out as separate to the games that it’s inspired by, and worthy of considering as its own unique gametype.

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Call of Duty Black Ops 4 review

So far, it’s my favourite part of the multiplayer in a big way, forcing players to pick between different upgrade trees and strategies to react to the plays of the enemy team. Notable rounds included several matches where I refused to wield anything but a combat knife and some body armour, flanking and roaming with the aim of getting stabby with any enemies that weren’t paying enough attention, but also when we discovered that the fully upgraded revolver would kill anyone unfortunate enough to catch a headshot from the fast-firing sidearm.

For those that can hack the intense pressure of playing Call of Duty online, it’s as good here as it’s ever been, and the constant dripfeed of challenges, unlocks and customisation is a heady cocktail that will intoxicate not just the buy-it-every-year-even-Ghosts diehards, but also those who are on the fence about what a completely multiplayer Call of Duty can even offer.

Zombies is a labyrinthine affair and nearly beyond the limits of human understanding, but for groups that can find someone that understands the interlocking systems or, perhaps, read a wiki during play, this is one of the finest cooperative shooters out there. You can also play with bots who prove themselves as surprisingly intelligent allies.

There’s deep lore, killer production values and the mode manages to capture the shooting that has always made Call of Duty feel satisfying, even if most matches end when all of the players are swamped with slow-moving, heavy hitting, undead monsters.

Before that happens, you could find yourself ringing gongs, cutting ropes to be given challenges and even feeding all of your weaponry into an interdimensional portal that will ugprade your guns and give you a chance against the undead tide. These actions are all in the first level of the Zombie mode, yet each of the three packaged with the game has their own quirks, story and characters.

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Call of Duty Black Ops 4

Regardless, those hoping that the different time periods might feature different weapon sets or gunplay may be disappointed: you’re just as likely to cowboy up and go to war with a laser-spewing sub-machine gun in Ancient Rome as you are on a zombie-infested boat. It’s a disappointing change, but one that makes a lot more sense when you consider that fetishing military hardware is a franchise hallmark.

Finally, we touch on Blackout. The game’s battle royale mode has been watched with keen eyes since it was first announced, and it is one of the first true AAA experiences in the space. In areas it’s a little clunky – some of the animations feel a bit rigid in the wide-open battleground, but generally, it feels like one of the most polished experiences in the genre that I’ve played.

I’d go so far as to say that it’s my favourite battle royale currently available. The huge map is stitched together from chunks of beloved franchise locations, meaning you can land in Nuketown or even a hydroelectric dam and explore refined versions of popular maps, which means every single element feels refined. Wherever you’re fighting, it often feels like the environment has ways for you to flank or reposition.

There are some weird parts that don’t quite mesh with the rest of the experience: some of the gadgets feel underutilised, a poor fit for the playstyle. However, the addition of zombies to protect certain areas, and the inclusion of perks as limited-time consumables, are bold new choices for the battle royale genre while still feeling familiar.

While across the board the game is graphically a little underwhelming, it performed well enough on my PC, and you’re often moving so quickly that you don’t notice. The design leaves a little to be desired outside of the weaponry in the game, which includes some tremendous faux weapons.

Verdict

Call of Duty Black Ops 4 is a bold reinvention of a series that desperately needed it. Despite the success of Call of Duty WWII, it felt like the mega-franchise had lost its way.

It plays to its strengths and delivers enough multiplayer content to make it worth recommending. It’s a strong entry, with fluid shooting. I wouldn’t buy the PR line that this is ‘three different games’ but all three branches play into each other, enhancing the overall package. Fans of Call of Duty will have a ball, although those that have never understood the appeal won’t be won over here.

Still, it’s probably one of the best multiplayer shooters released this year, and the AAA implementation of a battle royale is a fascinating thing to play, too.

Call of Duty Black Ops 4 PC requirements

Want to splash out on a brand new rig to celebrate the release of Call of Duty Black Ops 4? We’ve had a look at the official recommended specs and rounded up all of the components to build a gaming PC suited to the popular shooter.

The recommended specs are listed below:

  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-2500K or AMD Ryzen R5 1600X processor
  • RAM: 12GB RAM
  • HDD: 80GB HD space
  • GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 4 GB / GTX 1060 6 GB or Radeon R9 390 / AMD RX 580

But as you’ll see in our ‘recommended build’ table, we’ve suggested slightly more expensive options for some of the components, just to ensure you get a fantastic performance and buttery smooth frame rates.

We’ve also created two separate builds: one for HD gaming and the latter for 4K. Mind, the second option is significantly more expensive, but if you really want to make the most out of your Ultra HD monitor, then you’ve got cough up the cash. Anything less than a 1080 Ti would likely see a big dip in performance.

Recommended HD build Recommended 4K build
CPU AMD Ryzen 3 2200G CPU (£90) Intel Core i7-8700K (£242)
Motherboard GIGABYTE B450M (£69) MSI Z370 Gaming Pro (£173)
RAM Corsair Vengeance lpx 16gb (£137) Corsair Vengeance lpx 16gb (£137)
SSD Kingston UV500 120GB (£35) Samsung 970 Evo 500GB (£135)
HDD NA WD Blue 1TB HDD (£37)
GPU Nvidia GTX 1060 (£200) Gigabyte AORUS NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti (£686)
Power supply Corsair TX650M 80 Plus Gold (£75) Corsair TX650M 80 Plus Gold (£75)
Case BitFenix Nova (£34) NZXT S340 (£65)
Cooler NA Be Quiet! Dark Rock 3 (£60)
Software Windows 10 (£120) Windows 10 (£120)
Total price: £729 £1733

Of course, it’s possible to save a few pounds here and there. If you don’t have a massive library of games, you could settle for less storage for example. And it’s possible to find a cheaper case too, as you only really need to consider airflow and size.

Alternatively, if you’re happy to spend even more cash, it’s worthwhile considering the most powerful graphics card and gaming CPU available in the Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti and soon-to-be-released Intel Core 9th Gen i9. Sure, they’re both overkill for Call of Duty Black Ops 4, but these components would keep your rig future-proofed for years to come.

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