In May of this year, Activision held a press event for the new Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. It was at this event that developer Treyarch officially announced to the world that the game would not have a campaign/story mode, and that decision immediately divided gamers and fans. Since that time, Treyarch has released various betas for the various multiplayer modes, and finally, the full game was released last week to record sales and much fanfare, as to be expected from a Call of Duty game release.
But after playing the “full” game since its release, the lack of that campaign mode has truly begun to sink in, and no matter how many dollars Activision counts, or units of the game they move, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 still feels like an unfinished game at best, and a glorified expansion pack at worst.
I get that half of the people are okay with the lack of a campaign mode in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. These are people that publicly state they never play that mode anyway, and only play online multiplayer, or zombies. But on the flip side are the true fans who have played and enjoyed the epic stories in this iconic game series. And some of Call of Duty’s most memorable aspects come from the story modes. Ask any Call of Duty fan their favorite moment in the series and they are sure to mention Modern Warfare’s “All Ghillied Up.” Or when the bomb went off. Or even walk up to a Call of Duty player and gently whisper, “No Russian,” and watch their eyes gleam with the memories of some of the most epic FPS gameplay ever.
And Treyarch happens to be the developer who took the campaign mode to incredible heights. Starting with World at War, and bleeding that into the amazing story of Alex Mason in the Black Ops series, Treyarch has created summer-blockbuster action film epics that suck the player into an amazing story while getting them ready to take their game online in multiplayer and zombies.
And now all of that is gone.
In its place, Treyarch created Blackout, yet another Battle Royale, the soup de jour mode for shooters these days. Instead of leading, Activision is once again following. And no matter how good the Blackout mode is, or how well executed, Battle Royale games can be played on cell phones in your doctor’s office waiting room, so making it the draw for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is a true head scratcher. Sure the Blackout map is huge and the duos and quads options mean that you can squad up with friends and have fun, but to what end? Five years from now, no one is going to waxing about a Blackout match the same way they do about “All Ghillied Up.” It just won’t happen.
Also trying desperately to replace the campaign mode is a wide scale revamping of the whole Zombies mode. Instead of just one story told with four characters (usually performed by some big name Hollywood actors), Treyarch stuffed this thing with four games, including a Rush mode. The most interesting story is “IX,” which takes place in a gladiatorial arena and has players beating waves of undead Romans, leading up to zombie tigers, and even huge reanimated champions, all the while trying to solve the mysteries to get out of the arena. “Voyage of Despair” puts players on the RMS Titanic as they try to steal an artifact as the doomed oceanliner is overrun with the undead. “Blood of the Dead” brings back classic Zombies heroes for another chapter in their story. There is a fourth Zombies map/story, but its only included in the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Season Pass — for an additional $49.99.
Multiplayer is another area where Treyarch underwhelms. Specialist classes return, as they were first introduced in Black Ops 3, and it feels much like a “greatest hits” of sorts, as players choose from 10 Specialist characters, each with their own unique battlefield perks and tools, and then take the battle online. Ruin and his Grav Slam move return, as does Prophet and his electricity-based shocking weapons. The idea of Specialist classes works for a multiplayer game like Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, but my issue is that there’s nothing really new here. Even the maps feel like rehashes of older COD maps, both intentional and otherwise. More maps are available in the Season Pass, once again for $49.99.
As for the gameplay, two new modes are introduced: Heist and Control. Heist feels like a capture the flag (which it replaces), and Control is Domination with extra steps. This is where my call of “greatest hits” comes from. Everything here feels like something I’ve played in other games. Also, I’ve not seen this level of player camping and spawn murder in a Call of Duty game since the original Modern Warfare — before the updates. There have been whole matches where I’ve spawned only to be immediately killed over and over. My enemy knew the spawn points — no matter which I chose — and racked up huge kill streaks, so if I did survive a spawn, I was then destroyed by a hellfire missile or an Attack chopper. This is not all that much fun, and I know that Treyarch will balance this out, and soon, but why did we play a beta if the game ships with these issues?
There’s just not enough new here to warrant an annual game release. For anyone that has put time into any Treyarch-developed Call of Duty multiplayer game, you’ve seen and done this all. And I get that after all these years, there’s not much more that can be added to multiplayer to make it different, but that just goes to help my argument that omitting a campaign mode was a detriment to this game and this franchise as a whole.
While this feels like all I’m doing is bashing Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, I’m not. There are still some great things in this game. The play control and graphics look good, as usual, and the Blackout map is so vast that it almost feels like three maps in one. I also like that Zombies were added to the Blackout map, and the undead protect some pretty substantial loot, provided that you can get to it, kill the zombies, survive the other players, and equip it. And it’s not easy. I’ve enjoyed my time playing the game’s modes, even with the campers and spawn murderers on MP maps, and Blackout has tons of possibilities and so many ways to play and enjoy. I like to hide and snipe, and from my various perches, I’ve seen players who run and gun, meaning there’s room for all of us. And Zombies mode is almost enough to warrant its own stand alone game, for full price, of course, and with a $49.99 Season Pass (you see the pattern here?)
As a companion mode, Blackout would have been perfect and would have made this the absolute best Call of Duty game ever. Blackout could have been the “fourth pillar” in the Call of Duty franchise, which would have set it apart from its competitors. Yet, by dropping the campaign, Activision and Treyarch have missed that opportunity, and I have to wonder if EA’s Battlefield V will step up and be the first to take that step. But for now, no matter how many copies of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 were sold in the first week, and how much money it has raked in (those crappy Transformers movies also make a ton of money, so let that sink in), this game truly feels like it’s missing something. No matter how exciting it is to play multiplayer or Blackout or zombies, this game is still a man down — or a mode down — and it does matter. For that reason, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is a bit of a disappointment this year. Hopefully Infinity Ward is watching and rectifies this for next year’s installment.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is available now for the PS4 and Xbox One. This review is based off a PS4 review code provided by Activision.
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