Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gareth F 20.10.2018

Review for Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII on PlayStation 4

Airdropping into play slightly earlier than its regular November deployment (no doubt due to external "Wild West" influences emanating from the Rock Star campfire) is the latest iteration of Activision's annual Call of Duty cash cow. This time around it's the turn of long-standing developer, Treyarch, who has delivered unto the trigger happy public the latest addition to its popular covert paramilitary series, Black Ops IIII. Looking back at previous franchise entries, it's fair to say that COD often comes across as being a bit formulaic, with a familiar and well established format that doesn't really go out of its way to take risks. Well... not this time as Treyarch haw dared to make a number of bold changes and a fairly sizeable omission in a bid to keep things fresh. Has it panned out favourably? Cubed3 dons the wing-suit and glides into the danger zone to find out.

It would be remiss to kick off a review for Black Ops IIII and not address the heavily camouflaged elephant lurking in the back of the room. For the first time ever, Call of Duty has shipped without a single-player campaign, which will be a massive disappointment for the regular troops that enlist annually for a slice of that high octane, Michael Bay style, over the top action. Treyarch's official line was that the mode was being dropped so that the developer could focus on a more sociable, multiplayer-centric package but, considering its last entry to the series (Black Ops III) featured a campaign that could be tackled co-op with up to four players, it's hard not to feel slightly cheated. There is little doubt that a lot of people buy Call of Duty specifically for the multiplayer and Treyarch has no doubt crunched the numbers to justify making this decision. It's fair to say that the campaign gave each entry to the series an individual sense of character, as well as a thematic consistency with the multiplayer component. However, to play Devil's advocate, lamenting the loss of a campaign that would likely get played through maybe once or twice does feel very much like an 'entitled gamer' thing to do, although given how content-rich the series has become, it's quite an understandable reaction. COD has truly spoilt the game-buying public over the years and the fact that three vastly different strands get crammed into each package as standard has unavoidably created a rod for the one developer that chooses to deviate from the norm. That's not to say that this title is short on content because it's missing a campaign, as it isn't, but it definitely helps that the expanded multiplayer options that comprise Black Ops IIII have been refined in such a way as to give it an entirely new lease of life. Treyarch's gamble may just have paid off.

First up, getting straight into the regular meat and potatoes of the COD experience, there is the e-sports centric multiplayer component. Being tasked to consistently deliver a fast-paced, adrenalised competitive mode that adheres to a very specific blueprint year in, year out, doesn't really give a developer much room to innovate or change up the formula too drastically but here, Treyarch has managed to find the perfect, workable balance between the familiar and the fresh. The wall-running and boost jumping of Black Ops III is but a dim, distant memory now, although wisely, the trouser destroying power-slide has been retained to ensure that the movement still feels fast, fluid, and kinetic. It's fair to say that both Overwatch and Rainbow Six Siege appear to have had an indirect influence on a number of fairly prevalent strands in the scoring system, tactical game types, specialist skill-sets, and presentation, and this is definitely a good thing. Where in the past, Call of Duty was all about that Kill/Death ratio, these stats don't feature prominently in the post-match breakdown anymore and now, simply contributing to the demise of an opposing team member is enough to earn a kill credit, be it by stray bullet or the splash damage of a nearby grenade. It's a nice touch that helps the lesser skilled troops feel like they have made a contribution during those victorious celebrations.

Screenshot for Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII on PlayStation 4

The standard regenerative health that has served the series well over the years has now gone and in its place is a healing stim-shot that's activated manually with the left shoulder button. It soon becomes second nature to self-medicate after each encounter, and the short cool-down timer before dose availability ensures that picking the right moment to do it becomes a tactic in itself. In fact, overall, Black Ops IIII feels like a far more tactical proposition than previous chapters in the series thanks in no small part to varying roles and abilities of the Specialists themselves. Torque, for example, is in the business of slowing down the enemy by blocking off pathways with his microwave-emitting barricade and razor wire, 'Recon' is all about intel and can relay the positions of the opposing team via his sensor darts and vision pulse, while 'Crash' can resupply ammo and provide health boosts to his squad. Is the enemy team defending an objective a bit too effective? Send in 'Firebreak' with his portable reactor core that has the ability to damage all enemies within a nearby radius, even those hiding behind walls. While a lot of the core modes return to Call of Duty, it's the newer, more tactical, objective-based additions to the roster, like Control and Heist, that really emphasise the importance of having a well-balanced team with an effective support. There is now a Specialist HQ that acts as a training exercise for each individual operator, which, besides outlying the background story of each individual, provides the opportunity to learn how to use their abilities efficiently. Map-wise, Black Ops IIII ships with 15 arenas that take in a wide variety of locales, ranging from a spacious Hacienda, to a Submarine locked in an icy embrace, a vibrant Seaside town, and dusty Moroccan marketplace. Five of the maps (Slums, Firing Range, Summit, Jungle and, of course, the ever-present Nuketown) are actually updated versions of BLOPS classics from back in the day. Lazy? Maybe. Fun? Definitely.

The one plus point to not having a campaign in this iteration of COD is that Treyarch has seriously overcompensated with the content in the remaining multiplayer stems, and Zombies is no exception. It's a shame that this particular reviewer finds the mode as stale as the undead hordes that populate it, but looking at what's on offer here objectively, there is no denying that fans of blowing seven shades of rot from a neverending stream of reanimated cadavers are very well catered for and should have a blast, literally and figuratively. Rocking three different campaigns (four for those that shelled out for the Season Pass), the individual thematic settings are as disparate as they are varied. Voyage of Despair takes place on board the sprawling RMS Titanic just after the infamous iceberg incident, which makes for a great, creepy setting with a foreboding sense of doom hanging in the air. Sadly, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are conspicuous by their absence, although there is no shortage of reanimated passengers and crew members to fend off during the hazardous journey to the bowels of the ship.

Screenshot for Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII on PlayStation 4

Kicking off proceedings in a packed Coliseum, with a crowd baying for blood, is IX, a story set during ancient Roman times, which as many historians will attest to, was an era when automatic firearms were plentiful. Hey, quit sniggering at the back, suspend that disbelief, and grab a gun before that oversized Centurion takes a bite from your fleshy torso. While it might have been interesting to have a sword-based, trident-flinging, limb-severing take on the genre, as usual the lure of bullets through rotten flesh proves too strong… plus, this has zombie tigers, too. Last, but not least, is Blood of the Dead, an extended remix of fan favourite 'Mob of the Dead,' which takes place on the high security island of Alcatraz and features a few familiar faces from the Origins story line. Yep, those guys again. It will be interesting to see how the Zombies DLC pans out over the course of the year, as having one-off, self-contained stories is far preferable to the long-winded, episodic chapter format that this mode usually adheres to. Treyarch has also tried to make the mode a tad more accessible by including a tutorial that does a good job of explaining the basics. This, combined with the option to create custom games, as well as the addition of difficulty settings that drop all the way down to casual, make it easier than ever for noobs to dip their toes into the never-ending rivers of blood. Wannabe zombie slayers that are strapped for time can also hop into the brand new Rush mode that dispenses with the story elements and replaces it with a combo-driven, score attack style that is considerably faster paced to progress through.

The Blackout mode, then… does it live up to the hype? Short answer… Heck yes! For the benefit of the few that might not be aware, Blackout is an entirely new addition to the franchise and Treyarch's take on the very current Battle Royale craze that has proven particularly popular with the streaming community. It's a relatively new genre that derived its name from the controversial Japanese film, which told the tale of a hundred troublesome schoolkids fitted with explosive collars, dumped on an island, given weapons, and forced to duke it out to the death, with the last person standing being granted their freedom. As a concept for an online videogame, it's pretty solid and, while there are a few titles that inhabit this space in the gaming landscape, the two biggest (up until this point) have a number of issues that have left many gamers yearning for a better alternative. Player Unknown's Battleground kick-started the genre, but to say that it's prone to the occasional glitch is a massive understatement, plus it overuses the phrase 'Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner,' which is just naff and annoying. The free-to-play Fortnite is massively popular with the youngsters and revolves around a building mechanic that can be annoying for those just wanting to concentrate on the gunplay. Yes, it's fair to say that there was definitely a gap in the market for a big budget, highly polished Battle Royale game and Treyarch has stepped up to the task and totally knocked it out of the park.

Screenshot for Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII on PlayStation 4

The rules are pretty simple: a helicopter containing all 100 unarmed competitors flies slowly across the map, allowing each passenger to bail out and wingsuit down to the ground at any given point. Once on terra firma, the frantic hunt for weapons, attachments, first aid supplies, temporary perks, and body armour becomes key to survival. Thankfully, these items litter the terrain in heavy abundance and there are plenty of buildings and structures scattered about the landscape that are ripe for the looting. Of course, when there are 99 other people all working to the same aim, well that's when it gets tricky. Kill or be killed. Most matches are spent gathering supplies that will likely be snatched from your cold, dead hands after the first encounter with another competitor goes inevitably wrong and the number of times that a fists-versus-automatic-weapon situation arises is scarily common. With that said, the ticker tape detailing fallen foes in the far flung reaches of the map is another step closer to the number one spot and every minor skirmish survived feels like an exhilarating victory in itself. While it makes sense to try and stay out of trouble for as long as possible, it's not an easy task as 'the collapse' forces all the combatants to keep moving, constantly, towards an unspecified safe area as the ever-shrinking battlefield becomes increasingly toxic to those left behind. Confrontation is inevitable.

The Blackout map itself is huge and apparently 1,500 times larger than the classic Nuketown multiplayer level. It's fair to say that the first few matches definitely feel novel as the stark contrast between the regular, cramped multiplayer maps and this vast, playground of death is staggering and it feels most un-CODlike. The fact that 13 recognisable multiplayer maps from past chapters of Black Ops are seamlessly woven into the battlefield and treated as landmarks, should be an indicator of the sheer scale at play here. Needless to say, it can be a chore to traverse on foot, although, thankfully, there are a number of vehicles that can be commandeered, such as quad bikes, flatbed trucks, helicopters, and motorboats that, again, is another first for the series. The Call of Duty DNA is deeply embedded throughout the experience from the wide and varied selection of weaponry all the way to the zombie-infested areas that hide greater prizes for those brave enough to add the undead to their 'to do' list. While playing solo is probably truer to the Battle Royale ethos, those of a more sociable leaning can jump in as part of a duo or quad team, which lightens the load and ever so slightly increases the chance of survival. Not only has Treyarch managed to lockdown a rock solid 60fps in Blackout, but it has even made it playable in split-screen, so fans of local multiplayer can team up online with just the one console. Matchmaking is swift, performance is impressively smooth with no lag or de-sync to speak of, and the inventory management is quick and intuitive. All that's missing is a '50 vs. 50 Ground War' mode... Make it happen, Treyarch!

Screenshot for Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

It's hard to pinpoint precisely why Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII is a far more enjoyable proposition than its immediate predecessors but Treyarch has somehow managed to crank up the fun factor to the point where even repeatedly dying to far superior players has ceased to be irritating. While it isn't going to make longstanding haters of the series rush out to pick up a copy, the consistently satisfying gunplay, revamped health system, renewed tactical focus, and well thought-out specialist skill-sets all contribute to rejuvenating a series that was, truthfully, starting to feel a bit stale. Sure, the lack of a campaign is a minor disappointment that will dissuade some from making that purchase but the addition of the addictive Blackout mode more than makes up for it in many ways and anybody with more than a passing interest in the Battle Royale genre would be foolish to pass up on the best 'last man standing' experience the current generation has to offer. Get to it, specialist!

Also known as

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

Developer

Treyarch

Publisher

Activision Blizzard

Genre

First Person Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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