Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is Familiar, Fast-Paced and Fluid Yet Surprisingly Feels Fresh

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Preview

So, the rumors are true. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 doesn’t feature a traditional campaign, but refined competitive multiplayer, a reimagined zombies experience, and an ambitious battle royale mode applicably titled ‘Blackout.’ I attended the worldwide reveal event in Los Angeles where I had the chance to go hands-on with both the PC and PS4 builds of the game, and speak with Treyarch developers regarding changes to gameplay and storytelling.

I’m no stranger to the Call of Duty franchise. In fact, I’ve played every game in the mainline series since 2003. Throughout fifteen plus titles, the Black Ops series has repeatedly stood out for me. From the original game’s riveting campaign to Blacks Ops 3’s willingness to experiment with the multiplayer formula (for better or worse), Treyarch has consistently strived to alter gameplay, storytelling, and fan expectations alike with each iteration. With Black Ops 4, they may very well be taking their greatest risks yet. But as a long time fan of the franchise, I haven’t been this interested in years.

While sitting down with the developers, I learned that their intent with narrative in Black Ops 4 is to continue the Treyarch tradition of telling stories in new ways. This time, the story’s set between the events of Black Ops 2 and 3 and spreads across all four modes including the single player character missions, competitive multiplayer, zombies, and even Blackout. How the story comes together remains a mystery, but Treyarch’s confident in the ability of their four modes to build a narrative through different gameplay experiences.

Black Ops 4 Delivers on Keyboard and Mouse

Speaking of which, I spent roughly three and half hours with an alpha build of the competitive multiplayer on both PC and PS4. Now, Call of Duty has never been taken seriously as a PC shooter. But thanks to Beenox, it’s well on its way to making quite an impression on the platform. Even in its current state, Black Ops 4 feels damn exceptional on keyboard and mouse. Not unlike the PC version of Destiny 2, movement, shooting, and recoil feel entirely different than they do on console but just right for PC. And as expected, keybindings and graphics are fully customizable. Beyond it all, the addition of Black Ops 4 to Blizzard’s is marvelous. Treyarch’s investment in the PC player-base is evident, and dare I say it, this may be the first Call of Duty game I pick up on the platform. On the other hand, it feels mighty fine as always on the ol’ PS4. I was incredibly impressed by the experience on PC, but Call of Duty on a controller feels like home to me.

What’s most gratifying are the tweaks they’ve made to gunplay, character abilities, the HUD, and health. Each weapon possesses its own recoil pattern and specific attachments; making them more unique than ever before. Additionally, old and new character abilities and gear have been refined to place an even greater emphasis on teamwork. From Torque’s barricades and barbed wire to Recon’s vision pulse and sensor dart, each character possesses abilities that emphasize offensive, defensive, and supportive play styles. These aren’t groundbreaking features for any team based shooter this generation, but they’re features that I believe greatly benefit the moment to moment gameplay in Call of Duty. It’s almost as if Treyarch took a page out of Rainbow Six: Siege’s book and used it to tweak their weapons and characters; providing them with more identity and personality.

Call of Duty

Alterations to the HUD are notably satisfying. Health bars appear above your enemies, returning from Infinite Warfare. If you’re like me, you’ve raged upon blasting an entire clip into an enemy’s face, only to have them shoot you once and sprint away seemingly unscathed. Now, you can see every bit of damage you’re pounding into your adversaries. The most significant change to gameplay is the removal of regenerative health. It’s shocking, truly, as confirmed by the audible gasps that echoed throughout the Jet Center upon the announcement. I was skeptical at first, naturally, but having grown accustomed to it over the course of three hours, I adore this change. For the first time in years, there are actual firefights in Call of Duty. No longer does it feel like a contest of who pulled the trigger first. If you manage to survive a few shots, you have an opportunity to take cover and heal up at will. However, your enemies can do the same. It’s up to you as a player to determine when it’s tactically appropriate to heal or rush your enemies while they’re doing so.

Lastly, the pure focus on weapons is especially refreshing. Gear and equipment are two new additions to Treyarch’s Pick Ten System. Gear includes items like body armor for increased defense or a stim shot that instantly heals you over having to wait for the standard, gradual recuperation. Equipment comprises various grenades or the choice of wielding your character’s specific item. Thankfully, equipment and health are set to cooldowns. You need to be smart about expelling your grenades and healing up because there will undoubtedly be scenarios where you’ll wish you’d held on to one or the other. Again, a cool down for items and abilities isn’t innovative, but it assists maintaining the focus on weapons while still adding flavor to the traditional Call of Duty gameplay loop.

Call of Duty

Unfortunately, the developers couldn’t share any additional details concerning Blackout beyond what we learned from the keynote. The map’s about 1500 times the size of Nuketown, it’s essentially an amalgamation of previous Black Ops multiplayer maps including zombies, and features land, air, and sea vehicles. I’m no battle royale junkie, but I’ve been around the bend. And I can’t deny how intriguing the idea of a battle royale developed by a studio with Treyarch’s budget and resources sounds; not to mention with Call of Duty’s remarkable mechanics. Battle royale in and of itself is brand new to the franchise, and we haven’t been in full control of vehicles in Call of Duty multiplayer since World At War, but it begs many unanswered questions like player count. Do you enter the match empty-handed? Can you choose to play as any past or present Black Ops characters? And if so, do they merely feature aesthetic differences or do they possess different abilities? All of this battle royale mumbo-jumbo sounds unique for Call of Duty, certainly. But having received minimal information, one must question how Call of Duty will manage to establish an identity of its own within the trending genre. Thankfully E3 2018 is right around the corner, and I trust we’ll hear much more about Blackout then and possibly even see it in action. Fingers crossed.

Call of Duty

I get it. From the outside looking in, Black Ops 4 looks like any other Call of Duty game that came before it. That same thought crossed my mind while editing my own gameplay footage. But having invested a considerable amount of time into the competitive multiplayer, I can confirm that it maintains that familiar, fast-paced, fluid action with a fresh spin. Zombie fans have much to look forward to with the inclusion of three separate experiences at launch, and Blackout has a lot of promise. I had a blast attending the reveal event, and I’m genuinely excited about the new direction of the Black Ops series. For more on Black Ops 4, you can check out multiple gameplay videos here.

***Travel, accommodations, and access to reveal event provided by Activision***