Every year we get a Call of Duty game. Every year we hear the same complaints and criticisms from its dedicated player base. Whether it’s the repetitive content, matchmaking woes, woefully ignored single-player experience, and much more, it seems folks have made up their minds about what each iteration of the Call of Duty franchise brings. With that in mind, Treyarch and Beenox have set about reinventing the game with Black Ops 4. Offering the traditional multiplayer experience, Zombies, and Blackout — its own battle royale mode — Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 hopes to meet and exceed fan expectations. But how does it stack up? Let’s find out in our PC review.
No Single-Player Campaign? No Worries
First things first, let’s address the elephant that left the room: the single-player campaign. It’s gone. Kaput! That was a major talking point among longtime fans. A quick glance at past Call of Duty games will tell you why the move was made. While other titles in the Call of Duty franchise had their fair share of the player base who took their time to complete the story, Black Ops 3 only had a handful of players who bothered. The storyline, in a sense, was perhaps no longer a priority among players. That, or the high point of the narrative and storytelling died with Sgt. Reznov.
So Treyarch opted to focus on the multiplayer aspect, hoping that the four modes that Black Ops 4 has — Traditional Multiplayer, Zombies, Blackout battle royale, and Specialist HQ — would be enough to assuage the worries of its players. The question is: do they?
We’ll examine each mode and their inherent issues. Likewise, for more in-depth analysis of the graphics, performance, and matchmaking, we’ll also have a PC Benchmark and Technical Review.
Blackout: What The Battle Royale Genre Was Made For
The battle royale genre started out as a fad before becoming a multimillion dollar part of the industry. Today, it’s a genre that has attracted casual gamers and hardcore streamers, supported by a burgeoning esports scene. There’s just one problem: for every PUBG and Fortnite juggernaut, or Realm Royale, Last Tide, and Dying Light: Bad Blood upstart, there were always calls for tweaks and fixes. Either these games weren’t balanced properly, the visuals weren’t as good, or the gunplay wasn’t as polished.
Enter Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 with Blackout mode. I can honestly say that it stands head and shoulders above other games in the battle royale genre. It’s as though this is what battle royales were made for!
Forget long queue times just to get a hundred players or spending ten minutes running around the map. In Blackout, you get near-nonstop action and gunfights with a little bit of respite in between. In fact, combat is so astoundingly fast-paced that half of the players in a match would be dead by the time the first collapse happens. This is not your “grandchildren’s battle royale” — no cartoony stuff here. There’s blood, explosions, and torn-off limbs galore!
Given that the map is fairly small compared to other games, you’re spending more time shooting stuff rather than just aimlessly running around. Mobility and getting around is a breeze. You’ve got buggies and even helicopters to help you traverse the countryside. You can even deploy your Wingsuit and glide from one end of the map to the other (almost). Oh, and don’t forget some activities on the side. If you’ve cleared out your surroundings, you can also opt to kill some zombies or find the mystery boxes just to get some rare loot.
There are some issues with this mode, however. First and foremost is the exploit that allows players to peek around corners and walls using gestures or emotes. As we’ve mentioned in a previous piece, this can be quite a boon for the exploiter and a detriment to foes.
Another which has remained a constant bane for online multiplayer are cheaters. Take a look at this post from Reddit user Chocopiehd who got aimbotted to oblivion during a Blackout match. That post got a bit of traction, which then led to a reply from Treyarch representatives on Reddit. The offender did get banned, but we have to ask: if it takes a highly-upvoted post to get someone banned, what anti-cheat system is in place and how functional is it?
Another is the audio, which can be inconsistent every now and then. Like many other battle royale games, Blackout does not give you an indicator of where a shooter is coming from (unless you used a sensor). This means you need to guess based on audio cues. The problem is that there are moments when footsteps and gunfire may seem distant only for you to realize that the enemy is closer than you think.
Still: it’s Battle Royale on a grand scale, done the Call of Duty way with traditional Call of Duty flair. You’re getting the trademark fast, frantic, and fascinating gunplay that the series is known for. Say goodbye to clunky controls and awkward animations. That’s because Blackout plays wonderfully and looks absolutely gorgeous with certain locations reminding you of past Call of Duty games.
Blackout provides a premium experience for the genre, remaining vaguely familiar yet surprisingly fresh at the same time. This is an absolutely perfect way to drive home the idea that this is what AAA production values can do for an action-packed genre. Unfortunately, it’s also marred by a few nagging issues. Exploiting exists, some cheaters can ruin your day on PC, and inconsistent audio cues can prove to be detrimental.
Zombies: It’s Back, Better, And More Brutal Than Ever
Since Treyarch introduced Zombies mode in Call of Duty: World at War a decade ago, it’s become an enjoyable romp for groups of randoms or friends. If you’ve been paying attention to the Zombies storyline, you’ll know that there’s a new quartet in town.
You’ve got several maps to battle in, such as the awe-inspiring “IX” set in a Roman Coliseum, the “Voyage of Despair” on the ill-fated Titanic, and “Blood of the Dead,” which is a reimagined version of the Alcatraz map from Black Ops 2. Another map, “Classified”, which is a remake of a map from Black Ops, is for season pass owners.
As for the learning curve, there were moments wherein a teammate of mine (random matchmaking) kept telling us about the materials we needed to get for crafting, which rooms we need to open, and how to properly aggro certain enemies. I was expecting just mindless undead slaying action, and instead, I got a rundown similar to one from a Destiny sherpa or a World of Warcraft raid leader. The point is that there are so many things to do and tons of mechanics to master that you’re going to get overwhelmed not by zombies, but by information overload.
Some Things Bite
My main gripe with zombies is that it won’t cater to casuals and newcomers. That’s because of the sheer amount of information you’ll need to understand in a short timeframe as the match progresses. Granted, you can use the Custom Mutations feature to create a game with bots. This is mostly an extra-advanced tutorial of sorts or something you can run for the hell of it.
Learning everything there is to know about Zombies’ mechanics and features are necessities. That’s because this mode is brutally difficult even in lower difficulties. I was surprised that our team was wiping at the mid-20s rounds when Zombies in Black Ops 3 was hilariously easy. Unlike in the other multiplayer modes, random matchmaking with barely any callouts or communication will get you nowhere in Zombies.
Zombies ends up an intense and highly demanding co-op mode that’s not for the faint of heart or the lone wolf looking to fly solo. The differences in themes and presentation for each map are superb. It’s not just the environments that would catch your eye, but the designs of the zombies as well. Zombies remains an enjoyable romp for dedicated teams, but the sheer number of mechanics, as well as the spike in difficulty, will turn off many newcomers.
Traditional Multiplayer: Why The Bloody Hell Did I Spawn Here?
The Call of Duty franchise has been multiplayer-centric for a very long time. Traditional Multiplayer offers Free-For-All, Domination, Control, Heist, and many more. As for the maps, each and every environment is different from the other. Hacienda is set in a massive estate where firefights erupt from room to room; Gridlock is in a destroyed Japanese city complete with a collapsed temple; Slums has you running from one house to the next to get to objectives.
There are preset classes to choose from. When you rank up, though, you get access to weapons and attachments. Completing challenges for certain weapons will also rank them up and provide you with additional customization options such as camo. As for the core gameplay, this time around you’ve got health boosts that you can use at the press of a button. It makes for a “run-and-gun, oh crap, heal, run-and-gun again” affair.
The grind is real; the rewards are worth it. The challenges are there to keep you on your toes. But what exactly are its biggest flaws?
Traditional Matchmaking Issues
We’d say it’s two-fold: Matchmaking and Spawns.
First off, matchmaking — games tend to start even when one team is missing a player. You can basically be at a disadvantage from the get-go. If you’re not in a party with others (ie. solo queued) then chances are you’re going to be on the receiving end of a thrashing. Matchmaking also takes a horrendously long time before it finds another replacement.
Worse, if a team (not in a party or pre-made mind you) completely stomped the opposing faction, matchmaking tends to keep them together as well. It also does not distribute players based on rank or stats evenly. You could have a team with a couple of rank 1 players while the other team has those who’ve already attained Prestige.
As for spawns, well, you can watch the video above from Reddit user Crematori to know how messed up it can be. That’s for Domination. A recent patch has fixed this, somewhat, although it’s still not optimal. Getting spawn trapped or spawning with an enemy already having a lock on you tends to be a common occurrence. Just earlier today I was playing a Control match and a teammate and I both spawned right in front of a Firebreak, who scorched us with his flamethrower just as we popped up.
Getting spawn trapped or ending up one player down when a match starts tends to happen fairly frequently as well — whether it’s your team or your opponent’s. Either way, it’s not a fun experience for whoever’s on the receiving end of matchmaking and spawning woes.
Despite having an assortment of maps, game modes, and customization options, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4‘s Traditional Multiplayer element is the weakest link of the bunch. Ideally, you should be playing with a pre-made team or with a friend. If not, be prepared to get annihilated every now and then.
The Specialist HQ mode is a neat addition to the game. It’s basically a glorified tutorial for all the specialists in the game. You’re given a backstory of each before getting dropped into mini missions/tutorials on how to best use each character. It’s a brilliant idea given that each specialist has unique tools and abilities that can turn the tide of battle — think Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege, or even Destiny.
Though Treyarch eschewed a traditional single-player campaign, in some ways, the Specialist HQ makes up for it. At the very least you get a bit of practice right before you reach the meat and potatoes of competitive multiplayer. As this is a glorified tutorial mode, we’re not going to give this a rating, although we’d definitely say that it’s a worthwhile feature to have.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 – Final Thoughts
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, in certain aspects, is a wonder to behold. The crisp animations, fluid movement, solid gunplay, and frantic action that have defined the franchise are here in full glory. Losing the single-player campaign isn’t a big issue once you’ve tried and tested the different features the game has to offer. Treyarch made this bold decision, and Beenox followed through with creating a PC version from the ground up.
Blackout is an absolute blast to play. It’s definitely what ginormous maps and Battle Royale was made for, albeit more polished and better defined. Zombies is noteworthy for providing a tough and almost RPG-like challenge that would test the most hardcore of teams. Traditional Multiplayer offers classic Call of Duty action redefined with specialists whose techniques you can master via the Specialist HQ. The game also tracks your stats from your previous matches so you’ll know how you’ve fared recently.
Unfortunately, certain issues for these game modes mar what could have been a true master-crafted offering from Treyarch and Beenox. Likewise, performance issues for mid to high-end PCs might also prove to be a detriment. Note: we’ll cover this more in our PC Benchmark and Technical Review.
Play Blackout to your heart’s content. Enjoy Zombies for what it’s worth. Finish Specialist HQ to get to know the characters. Lastly, wait for a fix for Traditional Multiplayer unless you’re running stacked.
Review code was provided by the publisher.