Republished on Wednesday 30th June 2021: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of July's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Call of Duty had to do something in order to remain relevant. After a slew of yearly releases that failed to really move the needle, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 takes the franchise’s biggest risk yet by doubling down on its online multiplayer experience and ditching the single player campaign. Has it paid off? In a word, absolutely. This year’s entry is the biggest, best, and most important instalment of the generation.
Before we dive in and discuss what Treyarch’s latest has to offer, let’s address the elephant in the room and focus on what it doesn’t. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 lacks the traditional single player campaign you would find in every other entry in the series. Now, that’s not to say there isn’t any content at hand for those who prefer to play alone at all, but what there is to experience lacks any sort of cohesive narrative or real drive to press forward. A series of missions introduces you to each of the 10 Specialist classes you’ll be playing as in the multiplayer, explaining how each of their abilities work as well as what sort of effect their special attacks have. You’re then ushered into different types of matches against bots where you can put that training into practise.
It’s nothing more than a number of tutorials and offline bouts against the AI, and it’s a complete waste of time. The matches are long and boring, while the cutscenes in-between try to catch your interest by relating back to previous Black Ops titles. However, only the most devoted of fans are really going to draw anything meaningful from its vague references. We don’t think this was meant to be any sort of replacement for a full single player campaign, but nevertheless, it’s not something you should bother engaging with.
Once you head online though, it’s a whole different story. Traditional multiplayer has been a pillar of the Call of Duty titles for 15 years now, and it doesn’t get much better than what Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 brings to the table. A huge assortment of modes feel at home across 14 different maps, but it’s the newest additions that really begin to impress. Specialist classes were introduced in 2015’s Call of Duty: Black Ops III, and six of those have returned to be accompanied by four brand new ones to help form a multiplayer offering that feels wholly unique, while still keeping its boots firmly on the ground.
And there’s no place those 10 classes shine brighter in than this year’s two new modes: Control and Heist. The former has you attacking and defending two points on a map simultaneously with limited respawns and a timer, while the latter is a round-based mode where you must locate and extract a pool of cash. The twist here, though, is that every player begins the match with a pistol, and you must accrue better gear and weapons by purchasing them in-between rounds via the money you earn from kills. Both modes work great in practise, with each playing to the strengths of certain Specialists. For example, Torque feels tailor-made for Control thanks to the defensive capabilities he possesses of barbed wire to block off entrances and a barrier for players to hide behind.
One change made for this year’s iteration sees the game veer itself away from regenerative health in favour of manual healing, applied via a stim shot mapped to the L1 button. It may seem like a minor tweak, but this fundamentally changes the way you tackle combat. Instead of running and gunning and letting your health catch up with you, you now need to take a second and heal yourself back up before re-joining the fight. It’s more of a tactical approach that we think really works when compared to the screens of red jelly you’d have to put up with in previous titles when low on health.
On the whole, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s multiplayer offering is simply sublime. Established modes return to bolster the newer additions to ensure there’s something for everyone, while a large arsenal of guns allow you to experiment with tried and true assault rifles or push the boat out with sniper rifles and shotguns. It’s fast, fun, and addictive action that we will be sticking with long past the launch period.
Next up is Blackout, the franchise’s first attempt at a Battle Royale mode. And to cut to the chase: it’s incredible. Modelling itself after the more realistic PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds rather than Fortnite, 88 players can duke it out for first place in Solo play or Duos, while 100 users can team up in Quads in an attempt to win. Rounds typically take up even less time than a match in Epic Games’ powerhouse does, but it’s Treyarch’s commitment to doing the genre the Black Ops way that really sets the mode apart from anything else on the market.
Perhaps its biggest differentiator is the presence of zombies at certain locations on the map. You’ll find some of the best loot in their presence, but in order to get your hands on it you’ll need to slim their numbers down and reveal your position to enemies in the vicinity. It’s a risk that could pay off in the form of a flashy new gun, but if another player wanders by, they’ll know your exact location.
Elsewhere, air vehicles come to the genre for the first time with pilotable helicopters to cover ground quickly, while trucks and quad bikes can be taken advantage of by those with a fear of heights. Perks also make their way into Blackout, providing temporary boosts that could quieten your footsteps, quicken the rate at which you revive a teammate, or highlight large loot drops on the map. These can all be equipped thanks to an intuitive user-interface that makes selecting weapons and dealing with attachments a complete breeze. Furthermore, a quick equip menu mapped to the d-pad means you may never even need to access the more detailed menu at all. There’s also a separate levelling system to progress through, as well as new characters to unlock by completing missions out in the field.
Treyarch has absolutely succeeded in creating a Battle Royale mode that is of an incredibly high quality as well as feeling unique. A solid framerate keeps the experience ticking at a fast pace, weapon variety makes sure whatever you scavenge will be worthy of your inventory, and the efforts to differentiate the mode from PUBG while still emulating the basic experience will go a long way to retaining a player base for the months to come. This is the greatest and most polished Battle Royale mode we’ve ever played.
Rounding out the package is Zombies, a mode that continues to astonish us thanks to the sheer amount of mechanics and features in play. Three different scenarios ship with the base game: IX takes you to ancient Rome to battle it out in the Colosseum with the gladiators of the undead, Voyage of Despair tasks you with escaping the Titanic as it crashes into the infamous iceberg, and Blood of the Dead has you rummaging through the depths of an abandoned infirmary. Each one features a sprawling map full of doors to unlock, Easter eggs to uncover, and new routes to take, but that’s not even the half of it. There’s another levelling up system to work your way through, an entirely separate class system, weapons to upgrade, selectable perks, and talismans and elixirs that provide further boosts. It really is quite unbelievable just how much content gets packed into this mode year after year.
One new mode making its way into Zombies this year is titled Rush, where players must compete against each other in order to achieve the highest score. The act of purchasing weapons and opening doors is stripped in favour of an approach that promotes as much carnage as possible. It’s fast, frantic, and an absolute ton of fun if you’re looking for a quick hit instead of the more drawn-out traditional mode.
There will always be those that lament it for the lack of a single player campaign, but what Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 does for its multiplayer experience is nothing less than phenomenal. Traditional multiplayer has never been better thanks to a few tweaks and additions here and there that elevate the action to a whole new level, while the all new Blackout mode does Battle Royale better than anyone else. And on top of that, Zombies continues to impress us with a plethora of mechanics to engage with and scenarios to complete. As a package, you’re going to struggle to find much better than Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 in the multiplayer market this year.
Excellent review! Had fun my first few days with a rental. But still a no buy.....
With a campaign I'd have been tempted but I'm not paying full price just for online multiplayer
I love the blackout mode, I’m absolutely terrible at it though!
Not my sort of game in the slightest, but it’s nice to hear that it’s reviewing well across the board. I imagine it’s great for COD’s fans that everything they love of the multiplayer has been honed and tweaked for the better, plus the new Blackout mode. Have fun, guys 👍
Nice review Liam. Im leaving blops as a backup if battlefield (more importantly their war stories mode) is mediocre.
Great review. I Haven't played call of duty properly since medal of honour on ps one!! I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted, zombies looks great, just unlikely to spend any serious time on this with some other big games on the way. How long to cod games tend to keep there multiplayer community? Is it like fifa and it dies when a new one comes out?
Tempted to get it to try the black out, I think Battle Royal is a really cool gameplay mode. Fortnite doesn't appeal and PUBG is a no go on PS4.
Not a full pricer though.
I'm one of the few who really only played CoD games for the campaign which usually were really good, cinematic experiences (especially the Modern Warfare series). I mean I'd generally get them used since they weren't worth $60 for just the campaign (except when I found the Infinite Warfare MW Remastered bundle for 60 at launch which was a great deal). I'm gonna miss it, especially since the Black Ops campaigns were some of my favorites. Do you guys think campaigns are gone from here on out or do you think they'll make a return eventually?
Eh...if not, at least Wolfenstein is really stepping up to the single player FPS plate these days.
@Giygas_95 They will definitely make a come back as soon as they realize that it's hurting sales (and it is). Just look at Gran Turismo sport.
@naruball True but how much is it hurting it? It seems like this one is selling pretty well so far at least digitally. I think the vast majority only play for the multiplayer.
I will not be buying it first because I love Campaign mode 2 because for all those COD fans some can afford the game but cant afford internet can't play it 3 it's Bull no Campaign mode for the 2nd time I wrote I really like that mode online they cheat so much it's not fun to play online
Great review, great game...blops4 just feels right and it is so good to play, yes there the campaign is missing but there is a mountain of multiplayer content...this gens best fps? Certainly is(or at least joint first with titanfall 2)
Part of me really wants Black Ops 4. I might get it a little further down the line
I've found it so difficult to bring myself to pick this Call of Duty up when I don't have someone I'd be playing with. Previous entries were an easy purchase for me with the single-player campaigns offering plenty of trophy-hunting fun that kept me more than sated when a friend wasn't around to play the multiplayer or zombies with me. This is the first CoD in 5 years that I haven't picked up day one since I don't have peeps to play with, but I'm definitely not ruling it out as a possibility at some point in the future. It's nice to see that this year's entry continues to offer the sheer wealth and variety of content that makes me enjoy the series so much. It is a shame, however, that they continue to shackle themselves to the now antiquated season pass DLC model that significantly fragments the user base mere months after release.
@LiamCroft: Please share with us the current install size on PS4 after updates. I've seen lots of seemingly conflicting info, that it's 100+ GB footprint, or otherwise that only install requires 100+ GB but after that the footprint is actually a more reasonable 55 GB or so. Which is it? Thanks...
Looks like this will be on my to buy list, only other CoD I've played was MW2 and some BF4. I quite like the look of the zombie mode reminds me of Left 4 Dead.
@Loki7T1 My digital download currently sits at 52.96GB.
I have a bit of a FPS itch to scratch at the moment, and I don’t know whether to get Forsaken (I only have the Destiny 2 base game) or the new CoD 🤔
@naruball Cost vs. profit. How many people buy COD for the single player versus the millions of dollars it costs to create a campaign. And what will reel in more players: a new Blackout mode or a story mode.
Activision probably did the math on that, and my guess is that a CoD campaign might not be a worthwhile investment in 2018.
The Call of Duty campaigns are just wack-a-mole anyway. Don't get me wrong, I like them, and I thought Infinite Warfare's was amazing, but I think Blackout was the right choice on this occasion.
@Kidfried True, true. I don't know whether or not this is a good decision, but they do make wrong decisions from time to time, so who knows! Guess we'll find out at some point.
To me it just feels.and looks like a hero shooter like Overwatch with the characters having abilities and what not. How is this different then that. I want CoD not an Overwatch clone. Thankfully there is BFV for my FPS fix.
Seriously it plays nothing like a hero shooter, and with boots on the ground it feels like a great cod game. There's so many modes to play also. The specialist abilities are only really earnt once per match and feel more like a low level call streak
No mention of the 4 player split screen features whatsoever? That alone is a huge deal in a 2018 FPS.
@gingerfrog Really? I was under the impression like Torques razor wire can be placed down as often as you wanted, is that not the case?
@Tasuki There's a cooldown on every ability.
@LiamCroft So then yeah it's like the characters in Overwatch then. So as I said a hero shooter.
@Giygas_95 I read somewhere and don't quote me on this that next year's will have a campaign. I for one played each and every installments campaign twice.(I enjoyed them). I rented this one spent about 20 plus hrs got my fix and I'm done. I would've purchased this had it had a campaign, the multiplayer gets semi boring to me about the 20 hr mark which is when people learn the maps start camping, no scope shooting, etc....
No sale for me. Without a single player bit I'm not interested at all.
I'm confused, why are the characters dressed like gladiators in one of the images?
Not very often I say this about a COD game, BUT well deserved score, and all round a great package. Yes I miss the SP but let’s face it they are normally not that great. I am even loving the standard MP but still suck at it. Zombies is ace, and with the addition of bots as team mates for when my mates are not online is very welcome and the vast amount of customisation you can do to the settings is sweet. Great collection.
@WanderingBullet Thats one of the Zombie stories man. Bloody great massive tigers as well. grrrrrrr.
@RustyBullet Thanks. Yeah, I noticed the Zombies logo at the bottom right just don't get why their dressed like gladiators since this is a COD game.haha Having said that, I don't play COD games so maybe this doesn't seem out of place for players who used to this series?
Sorry if I wasn't clear their main ability attached to R1+L1 is only coming up once per game, sometimes not at all in quick multilayer matches. Their secondary attached to R1; like razor wire, flash bangs, grenade come up a few times with cool down. These are ofter replaced with normal grenades and concussion grenades. Anyway the point I was trying to make was that this feels like a cod not an overwatch to me, but everyone will have different opinions. If you get a chance to play it give it a try you may be pleasantly surprised. Trayarch make great multilayer games.
I wont be buying it due to the fact that they are selling it without a single player campaign yet not reducing the price.
The campaign takes them the most time, effort and money to create, so just not bothering to do it and knowing the sheeple will still flock to buy it feels very dirty. Not that my single non-purchase will make a difference but buying it I feel will only promote other developers to follow suit.
Great for the fans but how hard it is i wont be buying these games putting stuff behind a expensive paywall Edition. 😜
"Given that the campaign has expensive actors and a much more complex dev process you can't really blame them."
You can blame them though, they are saving themselves tonnes of effort and money but not passing these savings on to their loyal fan base. It's a decision purely based on greed and people are letting them, so it will become the norm.
@Omnicron Do you think the Blackout mode was free to design and develop?
@get2sammyb Nope. However they are just re-using assets and it will be no comparison to the cost of actors, , scripts writing, motion capture and creating whole new story driven environments and music.
@LiamCroft: Ok, good to know. What about this PushSquare article, then? - https://www.pushsquare.com/news/2018/10/call_of_duty_black_ops_4_needs_100gb_minimum_of_your_ps4_hard_drive
Does that apply to the physical edition only? Other than initially pushing out that news, none of the news outlets that I frequent have clarified on that since.
@Loki7T1 It could possibly just be for the physical version, or it's that thing where it needs double the amount of space to install, and then it resorts back to its original size once complete.
I've checked both my storage page and the information on the game tab itself on my PS4, and both definitely list 52.96GB.
I'll wait for the BR mode to be sold separately, but that's probably not happening so...
I'm always surprised how some people actually play and enjoy recent previous CoD campaigns. I think its the right move to shift resources to other modes and BR
@gingerfrog Ok yeah K see what you are saying. I have played several hours of Black Ops 2 and 3 so I do know they make great games, it's just at this point it looks to simialr to Overwatch then q CoD game for me to justify spending the $60 for it. After all if I want to play a FPS with characters that have different abilities I have Overwatch for that. I might pick it up on Black Friday if it goes for a reasonable price, but as of now $60 is just a bit much for me to just try the game.
I really appreciate your input though, you've explained alot to me that I haven't heard of since this game was announced
@Lonejester Well Treyarch has said that Blackout will be supported and updated for years to come, so I feel that after next year they will be selling it separate. Just look at MWR.
@LiamCroft: Thanks for clarifying that.
lol oh how time flies and opinions change.. i don't think this review was even a popular opinion back then .
It had plenty of issues especially around the micro transactions. But I felt the moment to moment gameplay was some of there best cod has ever produced. I much preferred it to modern warfare or cold war. The specialists could be annoying but the speed and fluidity of the gun play was great and kept me hooked much longer than the more recent CODs
@gingerfrog thats true about the gameplay , ill admit that . it was the best fast-paced , run & gun feel , of any COD i played too .
kinda suprised i overlooked that , because now that i think about it - i wish that gameplay would comeback honestly . but everything else about the game can stay though .
I was excited when I saw COD was on Plus but then I found out this is the one without a campaign so now I'm whatever the opposite of excited is.
There is a South African in the game so its by default the best COD game ever made
It joins the elite ranks of Far Cry 2, Uncharted 4, Titanfall, Rainbow 6, Battlefield 2042 and MGS 5
@johncalmc i believe the modern term is "meh".
@johncalmc Same here, no longer interested in claiming it now.
Of all my Platinums this is probably my favorite, was so enjoyable.
no single player no interest
On my Wish list! Thanks
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