Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 SUPER-MEGA-ULTRA! review

Editor’s note: Yes, we know, this review is INCREDIBLY late. WE’RE SORRY. Except we’re only kind of sorry, because here’s the thing:

Shortly after the launch of CODBLOPS 4, the game’s new Blackout mode completely fell over in certain regions, including our own. As in, no-one in South Africa could access Blackout at all for a few weeks. And given that Blackout is Call of Duty’s first rodeo with battle royale, it’s a Pretty Big Deal. So! We decided to hold off on reviewing the game (i.e. telling you whether or not it’s worthy of your cash) until we could be absolutely sure that Blackout is stable again. It felt wrong to tell you whether or not you should spend your hard-earned moneys on the game when one third of its game modes wasn’t exactly functional.

We’re pretty sure Blackout is all good now though, and local players can finally get into games of this new mode. So, like, yay! HERE, HAVE A REVIEW.

Game info
Genre: First-person shooter
Platform/s: PC / PS4 / XBO
Reviewed on: PC / XBO
Developer: Treyarch / Beenox / Raven Software
Publisher: Activision
Distributor: Megarom

First Class Privates Dane Remendes, multiplayer ops

I haven’t touched Call of Duty’s assorted stuff and things in years. I spent hundreds of hours getting shot in the face (and doing some face-shooting of my own) in Modern Warfare, Modern Warfare 2, World at War, and the first Black Ops – but after all those hundreds (maybe thousands, who knows) of hours of CODding I’d done, I was officially all CODded out. I couldn’t do it anymore. Playing what essentially amounts to the same game year after year takes its toll after a while, you know? So I left Call of Duty behind, and moved on to other games.

But! So much time has passed since I last gave COD any real attention that the annualised franchise fatigue I once felt has since mostly dissipated. And so I’ve spent the last few weeks tearing my way through Black Ops 4’s multiplayer suite – and it’s been a total blast.

It’s not like all that much has even changed though. It’s still Call of Duty, and it behaves as such. If anything, it behaves more like COD did back when I used to play it religiously, because they’ve done away with all the jetpacks and wall-runs and whatever else they added while I was gone, and returned to a simpler time when all you really had to do was use your regular, jumpjet-less feet to floor-run really fast until you managed to get close enough to someone to shotgun them in the crotch-region. Except now there’s a shotgun that does additional fire damage to said crotch-region, and it’s possibly the greatest thing ever. It’s essentially a shotgun that shoots STDs, and it’s pretty magical.

For the most part the standard multiplayer is instantly familiar, but there’s enough new stuff crammed in there to make it exciting for a lapsed player like myself. From my perspective, the coolest New Thing is the game’s various Specialist characters. When you start a multiplayer match, you’re presented with a pool of Specialists you’re able to play as, and each of these super-serious soldier people has their own unique pair of special abilities that can be fired off once they’re charged up, and these are generally really satisfying to use. Firebreak’s flamethrower is a personal favourite, as is Battery’s War Machine grenade launcher. Also, special shout-out to South African Specialist Ajax and his magnificent bastard of a riot shield, because it’s Just Lovely.

Elsewhere, the array of customisation unlocks is dizzying. Levelling up and completing various challenges slowly rewards you with new weapon and character skins, player emblems and more, and there’s so much of this sort of thing on offer that I can’t imagine I’ll ever get anywhere near collecting it all.

I’m totally fine with that though, because it’s tough to care about unlocking a new shader for your favourite Specialist’s favourite undies when the game itself feels this good. Black Ops 4 is fun. Really, really fun, no matter which of the many game modes you’re playing. It’s savagely fast-paced, almost overwhelmingly so if you’re a complete newcomer to COD, and most of the maps are tightly designed, often catering to a variety of play styles. The weapons are deliciously punchy – they feel and sound every bit as vicious as they should, and every shot fired is brutally gratifying. Customising your load-outs with the “Pick 10” system offers an impressive amount of variety in terms of weapons, attachments, perks and assorted extras. Tinkering with this stuff is almost a game unto itself, letting you find your perfect mix-‘n’-match of fancy ways to kill everything and ruin everyone’s day. Also, I love how colourful and relatively playful Black Ops 4 is. It’s a far cry from the depressingly dreary days of bygone CODs.

85if you’ve played COD’s traditional multiplayer stuff before, you already kinda, sorta know what you’re in for. If you haven’t, this is an excellent opportunity to acquaint yourself with the series, because Black Ops 4’s multiplayer is right up there with the best the franchise has ever offered. To tell you the truth, it’s so good that I’d buy the game for the multiplayer alone. Throw in Blackout (which really isn’t My Thing, to be honest) and the new, incredibly detailed Zombies mode, and Black Ops 4 offers incredible value for the price.

Corporal Punisher Gareth Runnalls, Blackout ops

When looking at the battle royale genre, you can muster them all into one camp, put them through hell week, and finally, reduce the platoon down to just two special forces contenders – Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite, the former a sergeant major considering a medical discharge, and the latter a gung-ho corporal busting for promotion. Besides one or two other recruits scrubbing the base toilets, this is the competition that Treyarch decided to take on with the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s new Blackout mode.

For most die-hard Call of Duty fans, Blackout is both new and comfortably familiar. The mode’s single map comprises of a lot of unique terrain and buildings with parts scavenged from iconic franchise multiplayer maps, including Raid, High Rise, NukeTown, and others. At approximately four square clicks, it’s also the biggest map in the series, but it’s slightly smaller than the one on offer in Fortnite and about the same size of PUBG’s Sanhok.

A variety of vehicles are available for you to cover large areas in a hurry when you find yourselves a little far from the ever-encroaching circle’s safe zone. Cargo trucks and ATVs are a staple overland mode of transport, and there are zodiac inflatables for those that prefer water sports. New to the genre – at least, in my somewhat limited experience – are the Little Bird choppers, but if you have a full squad of four, you’re going to have to draw straws because there’s only room for three.

The arsenal is more or less your standard-issue Call of Duty kill-kit, with a variety of guns to pick up and promptly dump like a Tinder date when you find one of a higher calibre. The attachment interface is significantly more user-friendly than PUBG’s, in that you get the option to equip the attachment immediately without having to go into your inventory or to keep it for later – but I haven’t played PUBG in a few months, so if this is now a feature offered in the game, I‘ll consider myself schooled on the subject.

Blackout also includes a very long list of challenges to keep you coming back for more, I guess. It’s an extra little bit to grind away at and give you some sense of purpose when you’re down to the last six and manage to get perforated with lead before you’ve had a chance to squeeze the trigger for the first time. These challenges are divided up into Career, which include professional and survivalist tasks, and Operations, which handle the heroic and vehicular stuff. Completing these challenges earns  you some CP (COD Points, in-game currency) which you can go spend in the Black Market on cosmetic items. Obviously, those with deep pockets and little to no patience can purchase this fake money with real money to spend fake money on fake things developed in the real world by real people for fake soldiers to make real money.

So in theory, Blackout has the makings of a very decent game mode. It’s fun, fast, and personally rewarding in that you can buy the vanity items you want, with the CP you earned, without having to roll the dice with loot boxes. Oorah!  But… actually getting into a game is another thing altogether.

We’ve got local servers, so the pings are amazing. But we’re also locked into the region, and can’t manually change it, which is less amazing if nobody’s playing – though I do suspect that matchmaking eventually expands to search other regions if no games are found. Additionally, on my Xbox One the game keeps telling me I have a moderate NAT, even though Xbox Live tells me I have an open NAT, so that’s confusing. Finding a Solo game takes some time and I’ve had to wait for up to six or seven minutes, and every game I found had a maximum of about 60 other players. Finding a Duos or Quads game just never happened for me, ever. When Dane and Michael did a couple of games of Blackout for the NAG stream, they often ended up (after quite a bit of waiting) in games with about 25 to 30 players, which is in line with the trends I’ve noticed on social media and various forums.

There were also serious server issues at launch contributing to and generally compounding this issue. I believe that, by and large, these have been resolved now, but given Blackout’s potential, it’s a disappointment.

65Blackout is a great if not exactly innovative addition to the Call of Duty roster, but having to go through boot camp, basic training, and officer school before you’re able to find a game with a squad sucks.

Commander-in-Briefs Tarryn van der Byl, Zombies ops

Co-op survival modes are very much My Sort of Thing. Since Gears of War 2 introduced the original* Horde mode in 2008, and the unprecedented, avante-garde concept of playing nice with others, a game’s inclusion of a co-op survival mode of some kind is almost a prerequisite feature for me – and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s revamped Zombies mode is so much more more than a feature, it could even be its own game. And with the franchise dumping its single-player campaign to focus on multiplayer content, maybe next time it should be.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 includes three Zombies maps, plus an extra map with the game’s season pass which I don’t have so that sucks, but whatever – the unconventional and extravagantly pulp-campy IX map has been keeping me so busy, I’ve hardly even played the other two.

The setup is absurd. While investigating the disappearance of her eccentric dad, protagonist Scarlett and her co-protagonists Diego, Bruno, and Shaw find themselves magically transported into… a Roman gladiator coliseum crammed with undead brainsuckers and demonic tigers. I mean, this is compelling historical drama stuff.

“I stared into the abyss,” she says. “And the abyss gave me a gun.”

And it’s a strap-on scorpion that shoots lightning bolts.

The in-game script is hilarious, with characters frequently commenting on the silliness of everything going on around them, one of them even complaining with snobby, public school disdain about how stupid he looks dressed up like a “Celtic barbarian”, like that’s the worst thing about this. Zombies has completely embraced its inherent comedy, and I love it. More like this, please.

Every map has its own premise and idiosyncratic mechanics, but the objectives – besides not getting killed, obviously – are not immediately apparent. Or ever apparent, for that matter. Although opening up new locations provides access to upgraded gear, there’s much more to get if you know how. But how can you even know? This shit is complicated, so using a guide is totally not cheating.

* Okay, so it wasn’t technically the first ever co-op survival mode – preceded by similar custom modes in games like AVP and Unreal Tournament 2004 – but it was the first one to become super popular, which is more or less exactly the same thing.

YESBlack Ops 4 dials the fun-o-meter up to 11 with its New! Improved! Now with 100% More Added Craaaaazies! Zombies mode.

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