Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Review

Richard Walker

Treyarch's decision to ditch the single-player campaign for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, with all of its explosive set-pieces and barely coherent narrative, initially seemed like a foolhardy idea. Losing a vital element of what makes Call of Duty the Hollywood blockbuster of first-person shooters, binning the story mode is certainly a gamble, but you know what? We don't really miss it all that much, and playing to the series' strengths in multiplayer and Zombies while having a go at zeitgeist mode of the moment, battle royale, makes up for the missing campaign in spades.

First off, Blackout is a remarkably polished take on PUBG-style battle royale, wherein a helicopter squadron of players (88 in singles and duos, 100 in quads) drop onto a deserted island and there can only be one winner. It's quite possibly the game's jewel in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's crown. And after the runaway success of PUBG, Fortnite et al in recent years, a Black Ops 4 battle royale mode was to be expected. One so polished and unique perhaps was not, so Blackout proves a perfect addition to the franchise.

Treyarch has without question crafted a BR mode very much in the Call of Duty mould with choppers, grappling hooks and temporary perks galore to make it look and feel like a Call of Duty battle royale experience rather than a shameless cash grab. With Mystery Boxes protected by AI zombies and callbacks to certain franchise staples like choppers, quad bikes, homing rocket launchers and gadgets like RC cars, sensor darts and the like, Blackout is very much its own beast.

The mode isn't without its issues, of course, like the loot system and how fiddly it can be to sort through your equipment, but considering that loot in general is new to the series, teething issues are to be expected. In the grand scheme of things, however, it's a minor complaint, and on the whole Treyarch has absolutely nailed its debut stab at delivering battle royale in Call of Duty, from the map's scale - which is perfect - to the balance of the mode in general. If battle royale tickles your fancy, then the sheer quality of the Blackout behemoth will almost certainly have limitless appeal.

While Blackout alone has countless hours of gameplay, multiplayer remains the beating heart in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, providing just as much longevity as it always does, with all of the modes and options you could wish for. It speaks volumes that even when you're having your ass handed to you (and you'll probably still yell and complain regardless, if you're anything like me) multiplayer matches remain enjoyable and exciting, the 'boots-on-the-ground' ethos and swift pace keeping you constantly in the thick of the action.

Like Black Ops 3, the Specialist classes return, refined and boasting a selection of different abilities that freshen things up a bit. There are new characters - like Ajax with his riot shield or Battery with her grenade launcher - whose unique skills inject something new into the formula, but overall, it's the tweaks to multiplayer's core itself that makes the most waves. Tweaks like giving players a little extra health, a gadget like a health syringe for a quick personal heal, and an increased emphasis on working with your team rather than lone wolfing it. Arguably, this is the most compelling and unreservedly fun that Call of Duty multiplayer has been in quite some time, and as ever, it's supremely satisfying when you're on a roll, horribly frustrating when you're not.

New modes like the Counter-Strike style Heist in which you purchase weapons, attachments and perks prior to each round, add another dimension to Black Ops 4's multiplayer offerings too. You'll also find some CG cut-scenes framing the Specialist HQ tutorials, designed to give you a breakdown of each character and their various attributes. They're worth playing through, especially if you'd prefer to go into multiplayer armed with the knowledge of what each Specialist is capable of, and it's about as close to a story set within the series' timeline as you're going to get in Black Ops 4.

For anyone craving narrative in some other form, the game's three (four if you own the Season Pass) generous Zombies campaigns should help in filling the void. As is now staple in Zombies mode, each campaign is a wonderfully offbeat melange of supernatural horror and the occult, the time travel yarn of IX throwing you and your motley crew into a Roman arena, pitting you against undead gladiators, brawny champions summoned via a gong, and even hulking red-eyed tigers intent on clawing your face off.

Voyage of Despair, on the other hand, tells a very different tale of how the Titanic sank, one in which the ill-fated ship's residents have been violently transformed into the living dead. Opening with the iceberg collision, things go from bad to worse in Voyage of Despair, taking you from the deck, deep into the submerged bowels of the ship. Blood of the Dead rounds out the base game's Zombies offerings, reimagining Black Ops 2 fan-favourite, Mob of the Dead, with a macabre laboratory beneath Alcatraz to navigate.

The best thing about Zombies is the dizzying array of different ways in which you can play each of its campaigns, with the frenetic points-hoovering score attack insanity of Rush, or the (comparatively) no-frills, yet equally frantic Classic mode. There are so many settings to play around with, whether you want to play a custom game with bots, jump into a split-screen match with friends, or edit the rules to your own specifications, you could be tinkering around with options and experimenting for ages.

Rush, in particular, is a great way to explore the Zombies maps, doors opening at regular intervals to unlock new areas, as you move from zone to zone engaging in intense undead onslaughts, desperately striving to stay alive while keeping enemies at bay. You have a finite number of lives, need to score as much as you possibly can and not die, making Rush a nice and relatively simple – though no less challenging - arcade-style alternative to the Classic Zombies experience.

While somewhere inside, deep down, we might have liked another chapter of incomprehensible near-futuristic CoD campaign shenanigans, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 boils the series right down to brass tacks, and is all the better for it. Blackout is a triumph that could have so easily been written off as a cynical attempt to cash-in on the mode du jour, and while multiplayer remains ludicrously popular, without a campaign in which to dip your toe first, this year's Call of Duty could have been off-putting to some.

As it stands, it's difficult not to recommend Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. For anyone with even a passing fancy in Activision's FPS juggernaut, you're probably going to want to get involved.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

In pruning the campaign from its suite of modes, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has discovered a renewed focus on the nuts and bolts of what most players demand from Activision's undying shooter series. Blackout is a superb addition, in which Treyarch improves upon the battle royale formula, ensuring the gamble in losing single-player ultimately pays off.

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A slightly aggressive rock soundtrack in multiplayer, entertaining voice acting for Zombies, and meaty-sounding weaponry. Yep, that sounds like a Call of Duty game alright.


Running at a silky 60 frames per second is par for the course these days when it comes to Call of Duty, but the entire package is polished to the Nth degree. Even Blackout, which is visually downgraded slightly to accommodate the player numbers, still looks good.


No major shifts here. Black Ops 4 retains the boots-on-the-ground mantra that WWII brought back to the fore, and is tight, well-balanced, immediate and just really great fun to play. Blackout is fantastic.


The absence of a story-driven campaign isn't as keenly felt as you'd think. Blackout more than makes up for it, delivering a battle royale mode that's almost worth the asking price alone. Three Zombies campaigns, stellar multiplayer and a lot of polish make for a killer package.


The majority of the list has been assigned to Black Ops 4's Zombies campaigns, so you'll need to dig in and get a good squad together. Completing all of the Specialist HQ tutorials, levelling up in multiplayer, winning in Blackout and unlocking characters makes up the rest of the list. A difficult one then, but a good spread overall.

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