As a continuation of the Black Ops subseries, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 both benefits from and is limited by its past. Its standard multiplayer mode feels only tangentially related to what came before, rather than explicitly building upon it, and the bigger changes lose impact as a result. Zombies, too, mixes old and new; it's overflowing with content at launch, offering a brand-new story and a continuation of the existing one.
While Black Ops 4 doesn't have a traditional single-player campaign, it does have a training mode with story cutscenes based on the characters from multiplayer. Because I played Black Ops 4 at a pre-launch event for these early review impressions, I haven't yet had a chance to try it. Of course, the most intriguing of the three main modes is Black Ops 4's take on the battle royale genre. Blackout is a big step forward for Call of Duty, and while it undoubtedly captures what makes battle royale so popular, I still need to play a lot more (and on live servers post-launch) before finalizing my review early next week.
Multiplayer is the most straightforward of the modes, and Black Ops 4 attempts to be more tactical than previous entries. The wall-running and thrust-jumping of Black Ops 3 is gone, replaced with a weighty, grounded feel that forces you to be a bit more thoughtful about positioning. Healing is now manual, too, and on a cooldown timer, adding another layer of consideration as you approach a firefight. Matches overall have a slightly slower, more cautious pace, but time-to-kill is still low and respawning still near-instant. Maps follow the familiar three-lane structure and are longer and narrower than those in Black Ops 3, with a mix of open areas and tighter spaces that provide opportunities for both long-range and close-quarters firefights.
Black Ops 3's Specialists return with some tweaks; there are 10 total at launch, some new and some imported from the previous game. Each still has a unique weapon and ability, but instead of choosing one or the other, you now go into a match with both. The weapon is tied to a longer cooldown and functions as a superpowered attack, while the ability is a piece of equipment, like a grenade or a trap, with a more strategic purpose. More so than in Black Ops 3, the Specialists are clearly geared toward certain roles; Battery, for example, keeps her War Machine grenade launcher from 3 and trades her old defensive ability for a Cluster Grenade, making her an obvious offensive choice. Other Specialists fill defensive and supporting roles, and having the opportunity to take a step back from just shooting is a welcome one.
There are two new game types, Heist and Control, that join the core roster. Heist has you competing against another team to grab a bag of money and extract it, and each player has only one life. Killstreaks that can take out an entire team at once, like the Hellstorm missile, feel overpowered and out of place in Heist. The low time-to-kill coupled with no respawn makes it hard to implement any real strategy, too, since most rounds are over in a few short minutes.
Control, on the other hand, is an objective-based mode that is far better suited to and actively encourages you to use Specialist tactics. Each team, one attacking and one defending, shares 25 lives; you win by either exhausting all of the enemy team's lives or maintaining control of the two objectives. A defensive Specialist like Torque, who has Razor Wire perfect for placement under windows and a Barricade "weapon" for extra cover, is a great option if you're trying to hold an objective, for example, while offensive Specialists can aim to wipe out the enemy team.
But most of Black Ops 4's multiplayer game types--the typical Call of Duty suite, including Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, and Domination--don't require you to follow a Specialist strategy too closely. This isn't a hero shooter, and your success is more dependent on the gun you choose and how good you are at shooting it than your skill with a particular Specialist or your team's composition. As a result, the more tactical aspects feel robbed of their impact, and committing to them isn't any more rewarding than a normal kill.
Black Ops 4's Zombies is as broad as it is deep, with two separate storylines across three maps--four if you have the Black Ops pass included in the game's special editions. The first two, IX and Voyage of Despair, are part of the brand-new Chaos story; the third, Blood of the Dead, and the optional Classified make up the returning Aether story. It's a lot to take in at once, and I still need to really dive into each map. I'm most intrigued by Voyage of Despair, though--partially because of its Titanic setting, but also because its small spaces pose a greater challenge than IX's more open arenas.
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Over in the Aether storyline, the Ultimus crew hasn't aged particularly well, even considering that each of them is stereotyped to the extreme. The jokes just don't land anymore, especially Takeo's overdone Japanese accent where Ls are replaced with Rs at every opportunity. Aside from that, slowly uncovering the secrets of the homage maps is a tantalizing prospect.
The new Rush mode is a much faster-paced version of Zombies where you don't have to do any thinking or puzzle-solving; you're just there to kill the undead, horde-style. There's no money, so you don't need to save up to unlock a door or buy a weapon. You're instead told which area will have the next rush wave, and you're directed from room to room as you go. It's too intense to be a tutorial, per se, but it's a great way to familiarize yourself with the map, test weapons, and maybe figure out which rooms you should aim to reach first in Classic mode.
Since it's the brand-new mode, Blackout is obviously the most intriguing aspect of Black Ops 4. But because there was a limited number of people at the pre-launch event, I didn't get to play many rounds or experience matchmaking on live, populated servers. My initial impression is that it's similar to PUBG, but I need to spend a lot more time with the mode before I can fully evaluate it. That said, Blackout undoubtedly captures the intense, shaky excitement that makes battle royale so popular, with Call of Duty's tight shooting and movement mechanics as a strong foundation. Areas with zombies add a PvE element that helps distinguish Blackout from the likes of PUBG, too, offering powerful loot at the risk of dying from an undead mob or attracting human players to your position. Perks and specialist equipment are present as items that can be looted during a match, providing another small but distinct Call of Duty twist (and one that I want to experiment with further).
Sure, there isn't a traditional single-player campaign, but Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 isn't short on content, and its three main modes are substantial. With standard multiplayer and Zombies, it struggles to fully commit to moving forward, and the mix of old content and new ideas doesn't always gel. From what I've played so far, Blackout more successfully incorporates elements of Black Ops' past while forming its own take on trends of the present. But because each mode is deep in its own right, I'll be spending more time with Black Ops 4 post-launch before posting my final review.
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