Over the last 48 hours, many of us have been conquering control points, slaying zombies, and surviving against all odds in the massive Blackout battle royale map in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Activision holds a coveted position in the gaming industry where the annual launch of its Call of Duty franchise tends to be a focal point of the holiday release season. The sales figures have always been high, but some years have been better than others. I suspect that this year may see a spike in the juggernaut franchise from a sales perspective.
That suspicion is not without reason. In the several hours I’ve already sunk into the title, I can say that it’s arguably one of the most fun outings I’ve had in the series to date. Black Ops 4 has shaken loose the single-player campaign in favor of more multiplayer experiences. While single-player games certainly have their place in gaming, no one can argue that Call of Duty thrives in the competitive multiplayer arena. That’s only become more apparent with the rise of esports. So, the added focus on multiplayer content is welcome.
As the newest addition to the overall Call of Duty experience, Blackout seems like the best place to start. The concerns of many earlier this year were that battle royale was being tacked onto the series because it’s what is popular. And in the end, did it ever really have a shot of competing with Fortnite? Do you want the short answer? Yes. And, Blackout – Black Ops 4’s battle royale mode – is anything but tacked on. Clearly, Treyarch has taken great pride with what it created here.
Yes, Blackout mirrors the structure of PUBG and Fortnite with a pre-game staging area, a method of diving into a massive map, a large player count, scavenging for items, and aiming to be the last player or squad standing as a storm pushes combatants closer toward each other in the map. I will note that the player counts in solo and duo modes, however, is a few heads shy of the usual 100-player count sitting at 88. Quad squad matches run up to 100. However, this doesn’t really seem to have any effect on the fun-factor or make the mode feel any more vacant than a usual game of battle royale. With the specific player count numbers aside, the structure of the mode is where the similarities end.
Treyarch has incorporated a Call of Duty flair to its adaptation of the famous battle royale mode. For starters, zombies and the infamous mystery box exist within the map. The mystery box comes packed with goodies should you reach it. Players can always locate the mystery box by looking for the giant beam of light in the sky stemming from its location. I’ve seen times where two beams of light were shining from the map at once meaning there are two instances of the mystery box available. But be prepared, you’re going to have to battle zombies to open that box and, all the while, you’re going to have to keep a lookout for other players looking to score some powerful loot. Zombies can also drop some pretty awesome loot after being eliminated.
Additionally, perks – the advantages players can equip in their loadouts in regular multiplayer – are available for pick-up along with traditional items like weapons, body armor, and health. Yet again, this adds another layer to the map. Many maps of Call of Duty past are honored in the Blackout map including a decimated version of Nuketown, an asylum that is the same layout as the Verruckt zombie map from World at War, the Cargo Docks based on Cargo in Black Ops II, and much more. The vehicles for land, sea, and air also provide variability as players can do things like launching an assault from a helicopter.
Multiplayer brings hot new modes such as Heist and Control to the usual mix of other game types like Domination and Team Deathmatch. Heist is, perhaps, the real highlight here. It supplants Search & Destroy as my favorite multiplayer mode. We’ve detailed the mode previously during the beta. But to summarize, players start with nothing but a pistol and earn cash after each round to buy more weapons, armor, attachments, perks, and scorestreak rewards. Once you are killed in a round, there’s no respawning – similar to Search & Destroy. The object is to obviously eliminate the other team. However, winning a round provides your team with more money for the next round. If you’re capable of extracting the cash at a specified point in the map, your team gains even more money for buying goodies.
Multiplayer feels much more fluid, and the removal of more complex movements like wall-running, double jumping, hovering, etc. is welcome. It allows all players to focus on the more important aspects of the game such as strategy and teamwork instead of skilled players just lone wolfing it. Also, I’m thrilled with the new method of healing. Players must manually heal themselves with a stim injector instead of waiting to self-heal as in past games. It adds to the strategy. The various specialists also offer several new abilities that are fun to explore and use. So, be like me and try them all until you find your favorites!
While this early impression of the game is extremely positive – because the game is absolutely deserving – there are still some tweaks and adjustments that can be made to make the game even better. In Blackout mode, many times I had a hard time telling where gunshots in the distance were coming from even with stereo surround sound. I’m not referring to when you’re directly being fired at, but when you might hear a shootout off in the distance. If I wanted to head in that direction, sometimes it’s hard to tell what exactly that direction is. Perhaps, a map indicator showing a generic red area for gunshot sounds might aid this and enable quicker combat in the rounds. I know some might oppose that for the sake of realism. But let’s be honest, we’re fighting zombies – realism isn’t a huge thing here.
Also, while I enjoyed seeing many of the old multiplayer maps from past Black Ops entries, I do want more completely new options. Again, these maps are fun, but I’d favor something new and fresh over a retread of these old ones. There is a handful including Jungle, Firing Range, Slums, and Summit. Apparently, we’ll also be getting Nuketown in October as well. That said, I found myself wishing to play new maps I wasn’t so familiar with more than the classic maps in the rotation.
All in all, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is a stellar package. The complaints are nit-picky at this point. Tweaks will probably be happening for some time until the balance is just right. Treyarch already announced incoming adjustments including the elimination of being able to use emotes in Blackout to “peek” around corners. Even so, I was impressed with the fact that the game randomly asked me many times this weekend whether I enjoyed the match I just played as a survey question from Treyarch. I can always get behind a game where I’m fully confident that the developer is listening to the players, actively supporting the game, and generally striving to make it better.
Later this week, I’ll have in-depth reviews of competitive multiplayer and Blackout separately. Don’t worry, I’m not ignoring Zombies. While it doesn’t fit within the competitive PVP sphere, I’ll have some words to say on that as well. In the meantime, if you have the game – I’ll be seeing you online. Also, be sure to let us know what questions you might have about the game. Or if you’ve picked up a copy, let us know what you think. We’d like to hear from you in the comments below!
Accountant by day, video games enthusiast by night. Somewhere in between all of that, I’m a husband, dad, and generally a giant man-child, too. If a game is all about action, there’s a safe bet I’m playing it. I started laying waste to virtual worlds as a youngin’ on the ol’ Atari and haven’t stopped since.