Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Review

October 31, 2018
Xbox One
Also on: PC, PS4
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Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 takes everything developer Treyarch has built over the years and hones it down to its trademark brilliant sheen. Snappy visuals, matched with visceral audio make the thrilling act of murder (whether that be through your VR training SIM or strangers/friends on the internet) bloodier and more entertaining than ever before. The distraction of a full campaign is cast aside and, instead, mini-backstories unlocked through mastering a class offer insight to your chosen character in this big box of badassery. Tried and tested multiplayer modes are back with a slew of new maps to learn and conquer, along with a variety of unlockable guns (named with sexy numeric and letter combinations) to make your climb to the top of the leaderboard exhilarating and worthwhile as the content just keeps on unlocking and the kills just keep on mounting.

If the standard multiplayer doesn’t get your juices flowing, there’s now BLACKOUT — a sumptuous killing field of oh-so-familiar battle royale rules that you may already be familiar with from other (free) games. However, Treyarch show us they know what they’re doing as they have created a truly entertaining map full of brilliant houses and blue skies and roads. I really appreciate it when a developer does their homework and makes a town look like a town. It’s good.

‍‍“Rather not, to be honest.”

Not to fret PVE fans - ZOMBIES is also back! Fighting off hordes and hordes and hordes of the undead feels slicker than ever, with puzzle dynamics with absolutely no explanations at all mixing up the grind of mowing down the zombie waves. Blood-soaked screens never felt so visceral — and I’m grateful that a shotgun really is the best way to deal with them. This time we get a few new maps and styles to try and survive and their variety of settings from Gladiatorial Arena to the ill-fated Titanic makes for a solid variety of gameplay.

If you’re feeling I’m being ever-so-slightly cynical about this game is because that really is the sum of it. The simple fact is that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is for a set audience — the audience that is already arm deep (yes, I’m being polite) in the Call of Duty franchise. As stated, everything in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is slick and polished. If I was being finicky, I would state that the gunplay doesn’t get my pulse racing, but a shotgun has a damn fine kick, so it’s pretty solid overall.

“Well, erm … that’s different”

But here’s the thing.

It took me precisely six minutes of gameplay for my eyes to roll into the back of my head. I’m not going to hold the franchise up as some bastion of sensitive and grandiose writing, but holy heck is Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s script painfully lacking in self-awareness. This comes mostly from your trainer during the VR specialist training (the bit that replaces a proper campaign), who unleashes a constant torrent of profanity and excrement-laden synonyms, idioms and in one very bizarre moment, poetry. It’s as relentless as the machine gun you’re mowing down enemies with, and it just never stops. Worse, the writing makes the mistake of making jokes about said murder within a realistic setting — context is vital within ‘comedic’ writing, Treyarch, honestly. Overall, it’s just bad taste through and through. Let’s not get started on the appalling decision to include a specialist who literally walks around with an open nuclear reactor to radiate his enemies — with said trainer making jokes about it.

It just makes you constantly pinch your eyes in exasperation. Especially when you know that, in the past, the franchise has stood in far better stead in terms of writing. One positive thread is that, once upon a time, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 seemed very happy making it clear there are soldiers across the world that give their lives for the greater good. Regardless of your opinion on the military forces, that’s actually quite a good message to give people — there are things bigger than us, and there is honour in giving one's life for their country and ‘the folks back home’. There’s a reason war films make so many people cry, and as a medium for the longest time, video games carried that mantle with some serious aplomb (anyone else choke back a sob when Soap bought it?).

“Head … shot?”

I know I’m harping on about story and writing, and so many people will slap me down saying PVP is the core of modern FPS games. But given the vast resources so obviously available to Activision, and by extension Treyarch, this lack of campaign just smacks of laziness. Worse, its omission actually implies confidence in slapping the brand name onto the box and expecting the masses to buy it anyway (which, they will). Yes, I know that the ‘solo missions’ give a loose semblance of a story — but remember when Titanfall tried this stunt? It got torn to shreds. But no, let’s keep clapping at Call of Duty cuz Call of Duty.

Not only is Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 a cash grab, it’s not even bothering to hide that it’s a mad scrabble at reclaiming its market too. I’m currently enduring the mother of all negotiations with my son regarding getting Fortnite on the communal Xbox. I know I’m fighting a losing battle, but I just want to preserve his innocence in gaming just a little bit longer. I want a few more nights of Final Fantasy and Fable in his gaming world before he gets sucked into online competitive multiplayer. Is that too much to ask? Epic Games are you listening? Your juggernaut of a franchise shows no signs of slowing and its tendrils are felt everywhere. Which is why Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 desperately scrambles to ape the battle royale mode that PUBG and Fortnite do so well. It wants its players back — I'm sure there is at least one statistic showing the dip in sales since both games hit the scene — and it definitely won’t be in its favour.

BLACKOUT draws more from PUBG than Fortnite just due to its similar setting of realism. There’s a smattering of familiar locations dotted across the map for those who know (such as the Turbine multiplayer map) mixed in with generally decent locations to scuffle over and loot accordingly — but ultimately this is more of the same that’s been done before by others. It’s just Call of Duty’s version. All things being equal, it’s just more laziness on Treyarch’s part.

So okay, we have the ZOMBIES PVE mode which, as things go, is fairly enjoyable. But we’ve seen it all before so many times by so many Call of Duty games that it’s more of what we know and love (or hate). Whether or not that is a good thing is very much down to individual player opinion, but it is a very slick operation. The zombie mode has always done a superb job of making you feel increasingly desperate as you progress through the waves of undead — you begin to clutch that shotgun ever tighter and count your dwindling shells the further you progress — and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has polished the mode to near perfection. It is definitely worth playing with friends, never solo and never with strangers; it practically begs you for those late night gaming sessions that crawl into the small hours of the morning. That being said, for practise sake and map familiarity, the addition of bots to the mode is a welcome one.

“So. Come here often?”

It’s not that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is inherently bad at what it does. It’s actually very good at what it does, and it does it with some slick style. I just cannot get a handle on what it represents within gaming culture. Call of Duty as a franchise is the by-word in why gamers are sneered at by non-gamers across the world. While it could certainly be argued that FPS games in general are responsible. Call of Duty’s annual Christmas cash gr … sorry, annual release schedule means that gamers are constantly given a fix of recycled gameplay with a nice shiny coat of paint on the top.

And, in this writer's opinion, that is a real problem.

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Improving what it’s done time and time and time and time again with a sexier (read: crasser) coat of paint thrown on it. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 does exactly what it says on the tin — that is, not very much of anything new or different.
Daniel Garrod

You can usually find me scrabbling in the low Golds of Competitive Overwatch (the fact that I'm a Roadhog main this season is a coincidence), or shouting to any poor soul within earshot how amazing Dungeons & Dragons is (it is).