‘Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’ excels by going all in on multiplayer

Everyone could see this coming. It was only a matter of time. The evolution of “Call of Duty” has led to the elimination of single-player campaign as fans knew it. A game that started with a focus on the solo experience has shed that like an old skin. The result is a fuller, more entertaining package that offers plenty of bang for the buck.

All of it starts with the new battle royale mode called Blackout. More “PlayerUnknown’s Battleground” than “Fortnite,” this new way to play puts about 100 players on a huge map. They parachute from helicopters, land and must immediately scavenge for weapons and gear in the abandoned houses, factories and garages scattered through the land.

Using whatever they find, they have to battle other players who wish to do them harm. The goal of Blackout is to be the last person standing. That’s easier said than done, though, as the game shrinks the area of play every few minutes. This forces players to crowd into smaller areas, which become kill zones.

Blackout borrows gameplay mostly from “PUBG” with its emphasis on realistic weapons, vehicles and gear. It echoes the same tension as players stalk across the map and encounter adversaries. A typical session has long periods of quiet wandering punctuated by short spurts of violence. The big difference is in how the game is more polished and streamlined to accentuate the best parts of the battle royale experience.

Players always face a risk and reward in what they do. They can crash through a window to gather supplies, but that might alert others to their presence and lead to an ambush. They could stay put and lie in wait near the border of the safe zone for kills, but by doing so, they may miss out on the opportunity to gather more supplies.

Blackout is a mode of constant choices. Everything from where players land to their choice of using a loud vehicle impacts their survival rate. Treyarch and other studios designed the experience well enough that it’s fun, fast and addictive, fitting the genre right into the “Call of Duty” wheelhouse.

The second of the three modes is zombies, which has been a staple of the series since “Call of Duty: World at War.” The formula for the cooperative mode is simple: Players have to survive relentless waves of the undead by killing them for points and using those credits for better weapons and gear. They also use the currency to unlock other areas of the map.

With three different scenarios — IX, Voyage of the Despair and Blood of the Dead — the game has plenty of zombies and levels to explore. Although things can seem obtuse at first, the mode begs to be replayed as players figure out the best spots for weapons, power-ups and escape routes.

As players learn how to navigate each map, they can survive longer against more powerful zombies from each wave. On top of that, after each session, players are scored and they can obtain more powerful items to customize their loadouts in their next match. It’s a game mode that can become frantic with each wave of foes.

Lastly, players have the normal multiplayer mode that they’ve become familiar with over the past decade. It contains eight rule sets that fans have come to expect: team deathmatch, kill confirmed, hardpoint, control, domination, heist, free for all and search and destroy.

The big tweak this year is the introduction of 10 specialists, which are essentially class characters. It’s comparable to what Blizzard did with the heroes and villains of “Overwatch.” Each character has a special ability and tool that has a cooldown. The idea behind these distinct commandos is that they play a role in the squad. Some heal teammates while others focus on controlling an area.

It tries to make “Black Ops 4” fun for those who haven’t invested hours into honing their shooter skills, but newcomers or those who aren’t very skilled still face an uphill battle. Interestingly, the closest thing to a single-player mode lies in the Specialist HQ, which acts as a tutorial for multiplayer. It introduces each of the class characters, intertwines a convoluted story and lets players practice multiplayer concepts against bots.

Specialist HQ readies players for the sharks online, but they’ll still face stiff challenges against human players. That shouldn’t matter too much, though. With so much diverse content, gamers can find a style of play they like, making “Black Ops 4” one of the most complete packages for fans of first-person shooters.


3 stars out of four

Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Rating: Mature