‘Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’ Hands-On Preview


If there is one dependable thing in life, it’s that Activision will release a new Call of Duty title annually. This year belongs to Treyarch though, some of the most reliable Call of Duty developers, and Black Ops fans have a lot to look forward to with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Like most Call of Duty iterations, Black Ops 4 doesn’t attempt to reinvent itself, instead opting to refine the formula, and take inspiration from some of the other successful shooters from the last few years.

I am playing as Ruin, one of the specialists returning from Black Ops 3. I’m turning a corner with my teammates as they push the front door of a church trying to capture a point. Recon uses his special ability which highlights enemy locations that all teammates can see, similar to Sparrow’s vision pulse in Black Ops 3 but for the whole team. There is a sniper in a broken down upper level of the church that I take out and use Ruin’s grappling hook to enter the church from an alternate entrance. My teammates are in front of the entrance under fire from the interior portion, I can still see the enemies that Recon has tagged down below me. I rush down the stairs, and use Ruin’s gravity spikes to clear the room so my teammates can push in and capture the point. My time with Black Ops 4’s multiplayer was filled with moments like that. Utilizing my team’s abilities and specialists to my advantage to conquer our goal.

While everything feels very Call of Duty, there have been some major changes to the formula. First and foremost are the changes to health system. Gone is regenerating health from previous entries. Treyarch has instead implemented a new stim pak system. These are unlimited in use, but have a cooldown time, so they can’t be used right away. This new system ultimately slow down the pace of battles, but at player choice. Using these health packs take away 7 or 8 seconds of player time, resulting in significant risk of use. Battles themselves are as fast as ever, even with boots on the ground gameplay, so this new health regen system makes battles feel more tactical, even if the pace of gameplay slows down briefly.

One of the other major changes is how the mini-map works. Black Ops 4 introduces a fog of war onto the minimap, where players can only see things in their immediate surroundings. Shooting without a silencer still indicates enemy position on the map, and scorestreaks still work the way players known. However, the fog of war limits players mini-map visibility, and requires players to communicate and work together to accomplish goals. One of the new specialists, Recon, has the upper hand with map visibility as he can deploy sensor darts that help clear some of the fog from the map. Combine that with his vision pulse and he is a powerful ally.

With the lack of wallrunning and thrust jumping Treyarch studios was worried about the flow of combat and making sure the pace was able to keep up with previous iterations. Instead, Treyarch has adopted the “guns up” mantra. As players mantle walls, swim, or use specialist abilities the player will keep his gun out and available to shoot keeping the action fluid and moving.

Another welcome change to the Black Ops formula is restricting player utilization of specialists to one per team. The inspiration from other competitive shooters is clear, but this restriction adds a new layer of tactics to Call of Duty. Each specialist has a unique ability, and each one can benefit allies. Like mentioned before, Recon can highlight enemies for teammates with his vision pulse or use his sensor darts to clear the fog of war. Crash can heal allies and provide bonus health or distribute assault packs. Part of me wonders if there will be a “clearly more powerful specialist” once players start getting used to them. Luckily Treyarch is pretty good about balancing weapon, so buffing and nerfing abilities will probably be on the horizon.

Instead of a traditional campaign, Black Ops 4 will have missions built around all of the specialists in the game, to build their backstories. This will probably be the biggest drawback of Black Ops 4, especially for people who generally play through the campaigns. Those focused on multiplayer will find a lot of changes to like, but as long as these solo missions give personality to the multiplayer specialists, it’s something I can live with.

Zombies isn’t something I usually play, but it looks pretty interesting this time around and unfolds across three different maps, IX, Voyage of Despair, and Blood of the Dead. IX looks the most interesting to me as it is set in a gladiator arena, with players wielding melee weapons instead of guns. Voyage of Despair is set aboard the titanic, and Blood of the Dead takes place in a prison, but is inspired by Mob of the Dead from Black ops 2. With three Zombies experiences launching on day one, this looks to be Treyarch’s most engaging package to date for Zombies fans. The story branches over all three maps too, with an ancient order trying to change the world to fulfill their agenda. It’s up to players to travel through time to find an artifact and stop the order.

There are a couple new features being introduced as well. The first are Callings, limited time challenges that will be added after launch, along with additional unannounced surprises. The second is Zombie Rush, which is meant to teach newcomers some of the intricacies and simplifies things for new players. Players will also be able to select difficulty level, and Treyarch is also implementing bots for solo players to have the full experience if they don’t want to play online with other players. Zombies wasn’t available for us to try out at the reveal event, but hopefully we’ll see more of it in action at E3.

Lastly, Treyarch announced that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 will have a Battle Royale mode called Blackout. The major locations around the map will be key moments from the Black Ops series, and players will be able to use characters from single player, Zombies, and multiplayer specialists during this mode and will have land, sea, and air vehicles. Less of this mode was shown off than either of the other two, but again, I’m sure we’ll see more of it at E3.

If you’re a fan of Call of Duty there are enough tweaks and improvements that players will need to find the right groove before discovering some of the new intricacies to battle. If you’re not a fan, Black Ops 4 might not change your mind, but Treyarch is doing their damnedest to make it fun and accessible to all players. Looking forward to more Zombies gameplay and Blackout gameplay are going to be the key to Black Ops 4’s success, but I am incredibly optimistic for this boots on the ground futuristic shooter. I had a ton of fun during my two-hour gameplay demo, and players who focus on the multiplayer portion have a lot to look forward to.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 will be available October 12th for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Hands-on time with the game took place at a publisher-hosted preview event. Lodging and transportation were provided by Activision.

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