The definitive Battle Royale experience you’ve been waiting for? Or just another wet fish? It’s CoD: Black Ops 4
I’m not going to lie to you, I haven’t played any of these so called “Battle Royale” games. Back in my day, we just called it Team Deathmatch. You see, if you played Quake 3 or Unreal Tournament back in the late 90’s, you’d know that it was pretty easy to modify servers to support up to 128 players, or build your own custom maps that were pretty expansive. The problem was, few PC’s of that era could handle such grand designs. This is a problem that persists today, based on the bag of spanners that Player Unknown: Battlegrounds appeared to be when it launched.
As a result, I didn’t bother with it. Nor did I bother with Fortnite – why should I? After all, I’m a grown man with a couple of kids of my own, why would I want to knock around in a cartoon world shooting at potty mouthed twelve year olds? Anyway, enough rambling – Call of Duty 4 is now on my hard drive and as Activision promised, it comes with a full fat, grown up Battle Royale mode called Blackout that actually works almost as it is intended – more on that later. Black Ops famous Zombies mode returns as well, this time with more content than ever before.
Whilst the Battle Royale mode is present and correct, Black Ops 4 is the first Call of Duty game ever to be completely stripped of a campaign mode, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be played offline. Rather than a fully fledged story, Black Ops 4 comes with a weird series of tutorial style sequences – one for each of the named combatants that players can choose from. Each of these sequences comes with a full CGI origins story, a loadout video and a training mission, as well as an offline proxy of one of the multiplayer mode, complete with mostly useless bots on both sides.
This offline mode is something of a travesty, if I’m honest. The content that is here speaks strongly of a campaign that wouldn’t be finished on time and was therefore stripped out. As a result of piecing together these tutorials (over the course of maybe a couple of hours) the player does get a story of sorts, but not the story they will want. Whether I was warned about the lack of a campaign mode or not (and of course I was) I’m here to review Black Ops 4 holistically, and the lack of a credible solo mode is certainly a strike against it.
So much trash-talk my PS4 twisted
This may be a personal thing, but perhaps the reason why I am most upset about the solo mode is because of the absolute joke of a man who appears to lead the team of purple-mohawk wearing individuals that the player must choose from. His narration haunts the player through every tutorial and loadout video to the extent that I simply had to turn it off. I’ve never, in any game, movie or real life situation heard such utter drivel. The kind of crap written into this script would probably embarrass most of the teenage boys at which it is clearly aimed, but for an adult with a reasonable grasp of the English language, it’s an abomination.
Thankfully, whats-his-face is mercifully absent from the main multiplayer modes, which are relatively dense and diverse in their number and composition. There is, of course, the Blackout mode, but that stands alone somewhat as a mode of its own, whilst it should also be noted that Black Ops 4 sports a wide variety of more traditional multiplayer modes (such as deathmatch, control etc) as well as the understated but enjoyable Heist mode. These more traditional multiplayer modes take place across around fourteen maps (with Nuketown coming soon) of which ten are brand new.
Personally, I’ve found the multiplayer maps to be generally satisfying overall. In keeping with Black Ops tradition, there’s a good mix of close quarters and more open maps, although probably more of the former than the latter. Most levels are broadly symmetrical and feature several popular choke points where experienced players are able to rack up considerable numbers of kills. Thankfully, the matrix of specialist and class options offers players a number of options for mixing up their approach to breaking through the enemy ranks.
Black Ops 4 takes a leaf from the book of Overwatch, in particular, in the way that it uses named specialists who each have their own abilities, but it adds to the mix by allowing them to take advantage of traditional Black Ops loadouts. It’s possible therefore for players to choose Ajax, for example, who has the ability to deploy a ballistic shield which he can fortify to become near invincible, and then to give him an assault loadout, or a support one, which will determine his primary weapon and perks – of course it’s also possible to create custom loadouts as you level up further and the game begins to trust you with your own destiny.
Zombies, thousands of them
Zombies is a different kettle of, erm, CoD altogether, much as it always is. Whilst this mode remains mercifully free of the bellend that narrates the solo tutorials, Zombies gets its own irritating narrator, but even he can’t spoil the incredible, awesome insanity that is the three campaigns that feature in Zombies. One is set in a massive, almost perfect recreation of the Titanic, which somehow becomes infested with zombies literally moments before it hits the fateful iceberg. Even this iconic ship can’t meet the spectacle of my favourite campaign, however, which takes place in a replica of Rome’s great Colosseum – as well as through the catacombs beneath it and the temples around and about. The third campaign is Blood of the Dead, a return from Black Ops II – but nonetheless a worthwhile addition.
With offline play, traditional multiplayer and Zombies all done, it only remains to discuss Blackout in some level of detail. With no basis of comparison, I can’t say whether or not it is outright better than its competitors. What I can say is that it has a huge map, it loads quickly and, perhaps unlike others, it presents players with a ton of weapons and equipment to collect from just about anywhere, meaning that when you meet someone, you’ll be able to put up a fight. Not only that, but it’s possible to play Blackout either solo, or in squads of two or four – I’ve tried all configurations of Blackout and in each case, I was able to get into a match very quickly. I have had two or three dropouts due to a lost connection, but that might simply be because the demands of a Battle Royale game are too much for my own internet connection.
In all modes, Black Ops 4 features very solid combat and it even offers split screen play for both Blackout and Zombies, which somewhat negates the lack of a solo mode, since it’s so unique to be able to play a first person shooter locally on the couch these days. The combat is solid and well paced – there’s obviously none of the futuristic leaping and wall running of Advanced Warfare, but there are some rather silly weapons and abilities that add a slightly unusual feel to proceedings. My favourite of the basic weapons is the Vulcan, which is basically a light machine gun, but there are plenty of other exciting choices. Of course, which specialist you choose is just as (if not more) important of a choice – the basic and special weapons that each one brings do bear detailed consideration, which I suppose is one reason why you might sit through the awful tutorial missions.
Of course, Black Ops 4 looks and sounds even more impressive than it ever has in the past. I played it on a PlayStation 4 Pro, which protested noisily about running the game right from the outset, thanks presumably to the demands that Black Ops 4 places upon it. On a 4K television, Black Ops 4 is probably the most impressive shooter that I’ve played on console, with very crisp, very clear visuals and a field of view that remains clear as far as the eye can see – even in Blackout. The sound in CoD games is always impressive through surround sound systems and when turned up loud, the combat is immersive and three dimensional. The voice acting across the board annoys me, but I suspect that’s a personal thing.