Black Ops 4 Review | Not So Special


The first FPS I ever played was Call of Duty: Black Ops on the PlayStation 3, but as much as I love that game, the Call of Duty that holds a special place in my heart is Black Ops 2. I sunk HOURS into that game, from ninja diffusing on Turbine to Gun Game on Hijacked, there are lots of memories I have from those summer days in my parent's basement. So, as much as I like Infinity Ward, Treyarch's Call of Duty games have always been my personal favorite. It’s because of this that I purchased Black Ops 4 on release day despite not having seen or heard anything about it. Sadly, due to the fact that I was in the middle of pre-production for a crowdfunded short film, I put the game down and forgot about it for the past year and a half. But, as is customary during the Great Lockdown of 2020, it's time to blow the dust off the game and play it for the first time.

Normally I review games with a focus on the campaign. I discuss it's writing, sound design, graphics, etc. However, since there is no single-player story mode in Black Ops 4, I will tackle this game one mode at a time. Starting with the closest thing to a campaign that exists in Black Ops 4, Specialist HQ. This mode is essentially a series of offline multiplayer matches, played with or against bots, strung together by a series of short cutscenes featuring a few familiar faces to fans of the Black Ops storyline. While the matches themselves, even on the hardest difficulty, are not much of a challenge, the cut scenes are beautifully animated. They even manage to squeeze in a character arch and a plot twist or two, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that this is a hard departure from the gritty spectacle-filled campaigns that Treyarch has offered in the past.

Black Ops 1, in my opinion, has one of the best plot twists in the first-person shooter genre. Black Ops 2 was the first Call of Duty game to introduce player choice and multiple endings. Black Ops 3, while narratively unrelated to the previous games, tells one of the most complex stories in Call of Duty history. The game pulls the rug out from under you right at the start of the game yet somehow manages to convince you that it was still there till the end. (That's the best I can describe it without giving away the ending.) The series has gotten writers like David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight) and voice actors like Sam Worthington (Avatar), Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), Michael Keaton (Beetlejuice), Emmanuelle Chriqui (Entourage), and more. Compared to this, Black Ops 4's roughly 20-minute story falls drastically short of expectations. While I understand that they wanted to focus more man-power on the much anticipated Blackout mode, the inclusion of such a short glimpse at a plot feels like getting a whiff of your favorite meal but not being allowed to eat it.


Next is Multiplayer, and with the return of boots-on-the-ground gameplay to Call of Duty, the game should feel familiar to fans of the series. The 14 base maps offer a nice variety with a few of them, such as Jungle and Firing Range, making a return from previous Black Ops titles. There are also variation maps in rotation so you can play on Jungle while it’s flooded or Contraband during a tropical storm. It should be no surprise at this point that the gunplay in Black Ops 4 is solid. Weapons feel good to use and unlocking attachments feels natural, with each gun having its own unique set of unlocks. The return of Specialists from Black Ops 3 brings an added level of strategy to the otherwise run-and-gun gameplay. You have to decide when to call in your specialist weapon and when to save it, a choice that could be the determining factor over whether you win or lose. 

But Multiplayer isn't without its flaws. In my roughly 10 hours of Free-for-All, Team Deathmatch, and Dominion, there were several problems that dampened my experience and held the game back from being as memorable as it's predecessors. First, there are the maps. While having fan-favorite maps return is cool at first, it quickly makes the game feel stale. Only 10 of the 14 maps are actually new to the game and in most lobby's you end up playing the same map twice. All the new maps stick religiously to the "three-lane" structure and with most of them being mid-small sized, the game can feel repetitive quick. Then, there are the Specialists. While the inclusion of specialist weapons does mix up the gameplay, offering what is essentially an extra score-streak for free, they are more often than not inconsistent and unbalanced. The use of Battery's War Machine can be unpredictable with it's hit detection, while Torque's Barricade and Nomad's K-9 Unit are near impossible to counter.

Next, there is the most advertised mode in the game: Blackout. Blackout brings the size and scale of the ever-so-popular Battle Royale games to the minute-to-minute gameplay of Call of Duty. One hundred players drop onto the map, either in teams or solo, and you fight to be the last man standing. The Blackout map is great. Scattered across the landscape are keymaps from previous Black Ops titles and stumbling across Hijacked and Cargo was a pleasant surprise.

Now, take what I'm about to say with a grain of salt because playing Blackout over a year after launch and after the release of Call of Duty: Warzone, will certainly have changed the player base since launch. But my time in Blackout has some of the worst experiences I've had playing a Battle Royale game. First, there's a lack of coordination. When playing Warzone, even with complete strangers, players call out locations and mark objectives. In Blackout, every quad I played ended with the team dying because the players decided to split up or land on the other side of the map. Other than the occasional person with a mic, no-one marked any locations or weapons. It was as if the team was playing against me and not with me. Then there are the griefers. I cannot explain how baffled I was when I played not one, but two games, back to back, with griefers. Teammates who kept shooting the rest of the team in the back and then leaving the game. I have not experienced this many griefers in any other BR game to date and while it's not a reflection of the overall experience of Blackout, it really prevented me from returning to it after my first win.

Finally, we have Zombies. I wasn’t a big fan of Zombies back in the day, something about Kino Der Toten really freaked me out. However, for a lot of people, this is where the meat of the gameplay is. There are 3 sizeable maps, XI, Blood of the Dead, and Voyage of Despair, in the base game with a plethora of others that can be bought as DLC. Even with my indifference towards the game mode, my pursuit of some of the trophies in the game made me sink almost 10 hours into Zombies and it's hard to deny that these levels don't drip with self-aware style. XI is a cool gladiator arena and is easily the best-looking map in the game with some map specific features such as crowd rating and Champion banners. While I haven't played Mob of the Dead to compare it to Blood of the Dead, I'm not a big fan of the map overall. It’s often cramped and with the frequency in which I was trapped by zombies and downed while trying to make an escape, I found this map more annoying than intense. Voyage of Despair takes place on the Titanic and fighting off zombies on the massive ocean liner is far from dull. The trophies for Voyage of Despair add some nice curveballs to the gameplay without being too ridiculous. Due to my lack of friends, I either played the game solo or with bots and the highest round I was able to get to was 31 on XI.


I wanted to throw in a little blurb here to talk about Trophies. If you are like me and want to get as many trophies for the game as you can, here's a small guide from my personal experience. To start off, there are quite a few trophies attached to Specialist HQ that are easy to get and don't take too much time. Just remember to check the intel tracker as you acquire all the Stars. Next is multiplayer, if you're a competent FPS player, grind out the 50 multiplayer wins on Free-for-All because getting Top 3 in the match counts as a victory. After that, jump onto whatever the Double XP game mode is and you'll reach level 55 in no time. Play as a Tempest and you'll be able to get the Specialist trophies along the way. In terms of Blackout, all I wanted was one win to get the "My First Win" trophy, and the easiest Blackout mode to do this in is Alcatraz. These games always end in a battle of attrition so load up on medkits before the circle starts closing. I am not an expert in Zombies, so the best I can do is to link to the guide that I used for most of the trophies. But if you're like me and playing Solo, keep in mind that most of the trophies can be unlocked while playing on Easy difficulty. With all that said, it's time for the closing statement.

I've been sitting on this article for a few days now because I don't know how to end it. I can't deny that Black Ops 4 does a lot right in terms of delivering a polished game, but it doesn’t feel like a full package. Specialist HQ delivers a disappointingly small dose of the story that doesn't live up to the wild rides of Black Ops stories of the past. Multiplayer is boots on the ground but the lack of balance for the specialists makes it an often frustrating affair. Battle Royale fits nicely with the classic Call of Duty gameplay, and with a lack of specialist bonuses, Blackout remains the most balanced multiplayer experience offered in the game (given you aren't given scumbags for teammates). And, despite my lack of nostalgia for COD: Zombies, I still enjoyed Black Ops 4: Zombies. I can confidently say that its wildly complex easter eggs will definitely keep fans entertained for hours. At the end of the day, I still think Black Ops 4 was a missed opportunity. Considering how many old maps are in the Black Ops 4 roaster, both in multiplayer and scattered across the map in Blackout, I would have much rather gotten a Black Ops: Greatest Hits featuring a remaster of Black Ops and Black Ops 2. But, as it stands now, Black Ops 4 feels less like a sequel and more like a tribute to better times.

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