I have been spending my time over the weekend with Black Ops 4, but as this is a multiplayer-only title and therefore impossible to review effectively pre-release, I haven’t been able to spend enough time as yet to be fully comfortable giving a score to the title. This, therefore, will be some early impressions of the game. I will say though that my gut tells me that this is one of the best instalments in the Call of Duty franchise in a good few years with what, on the surface, appears to be an absolutely stellar multiplayer suite with exceptional weapon “feel”, extensive Zombies offering and a polished Battle Royale mode in Blackout.
I have for a long time been one of those people who said that if Call of Duty ever stopped doing a single player campaign and just released the multiplayer portion I would still buy it, but when Treyarch announced that its fourth instalment in the Black Ops series of games would ship without a story campaign I had a sharp intake of breath. I am still conflicted as to whether this is the right direction for the series, and I know of a few people who simply will not purchase this game because of its lack of campaign, however, I cannot escape the feeling that it has had a profoundly positive effect on the the quality of the multiplayer in a way that I haven’t felt since perhaps Black Ops 2.
So far I have spent most of my time with Blackout. In my Beta impressions piece on this mode a few weeks back I was a little lukewarm on it. I had a strong feeling that I didn’t really understand what Call of Duty wanted to be any more, and that this franchise felt, certainly in recent years, much more of a trend chaser than a trend setter. I still believe this to be the case, however, Blackout is an outstandingly polished offering and will seriously threaten PUBG if Treyarch has a solid plan for moving it forward and keeping it fresh. The map isn’t anywhere as big as PUBG, however it seems just big enough to make encounters feel evenly paced. I’ve yet to win a match, but I have come close on a couple of occasions and that feeling of tension towards the end ramps up perfectly. Combine that with a real sense that the gear and equipment you find during scavenging runs are up to the task, and I have a new found confidence that I am able to handle pretty much anything in those last few moments of the game. A real testament to the stability of the mode and the balancing of the gear and weapons.
Multiplayer is similarly a stellar offering. There are a variety of modes to play from the standard Domination and Team Deathmatch to new mode Heist which seems to be a kind of asymmetrical single life capture the flag mode and the new attack and defend mode, Control which features a limited number of respawns for each team. The specialists introduced in Black Ops 3 are back with a few tweaks and each one feels great to use. Depending on the mode that you are playing, choice of Specialist is limited to one per team or up to two in modes like Kill Confirmed. This has the effect of almost turning the multiplayer into a Hero shooter, but not quite. Instead of grenades, Specialists have their own equipment, things like Tactical Deploy beacon of Seraph to the Razor Wire of Torque, as well as a powerful special ability that takes a while to cool down to use meaning it is a one or two times use per game. The specialists make the multiplayer feel fresher. There are still the familiar class set up mechanics of ten slots per class that can be tweaked however you see fit, for example forgoing a sight on your weapon to have a long barrel and a stock, and taking two tier three perks in favour of no tier one perk.
As for the matches, there appears to have been a great deal of focus on improving a lot of the criticisms that has plagued multiplayer over the years. The games I have played so far have been running smoothly and more importantly a lot of the sense that fire fights are really down to whose reflexes are quicker has been whittled down somewhat. Input lag feels negligible and the overall weapon feel is superb. The guns feel weighty and more importantly there’s a satisfying feedback loop that your shots are having real impact. Couple that with a non-automatic health regeneration system and the result of each battle is a tactical choice between reloading or healing up.
The only mode I haven’t spent enough time with at the moment is Zombies. I am not a natural Zombies player and this portion of the game looks packed with content that I will need to get my head around, so expect more comment on it in my full review. As for the moment, I can’t escape the feeling that this is the best Call of Duty game in a while which is great news for long term fans and new alike. It really does seem that not having a story campaign may not have been the worst decision for Treyarch.