Saturday 19 October 2019

Call of Duty Black Ops 4 review: Packing a familiar punch

(XO/PS4/PC) ★★★★★ Age: 18+

Blackout is the Black Ops 4 branding for its battle royale mode
Blackout is the Black Ops 4 branding for its battle royale mode
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

WAR never changes, “they” say. Well, “they” haven’t paid attention to the rapid evolution of military shooters in recent years, not least since the explosive popularity of PUBG unleashed an entirely new genre.

As PUBG’s battle royale mode threatened to eclipse even the Call of Duty brand, it was inevitable that the big guns would pile in. Barely 18 months since Irishman Brendan Greene’s last-man-standing epic began storming the charts, Black Ops 4 makes room in its line-up for a clone, a bloody good but pretty exact clone at that, called Blackout.

It would be hard to identify a single area where Blackout innovates notably compared to PUBG. There’s only one smallish map, no construction as in Fortnite and pretty much all the rules have been imported verbatim.

The addition of airborne vehicles certainly trumps rivals but they’re rare enough and the ground action always feels more tense and satisfying. Likewise, certain areas of the map include the additional hazard of zombies but it’s hardly a revolution.

Zombies mode is even more comprehensive in Black Ops 4
Zombies mode is even more comprehensive in Black Ops 4

For all that, Blackout is a polished and often-thrilling knock-off of PUBG. It’s a nice touch that (like Zombies mode), it can be played in split-screen with a pal beside you on the couch. With more maps and a few new ideas, it has a shot at emulating its inspiration in terms of popularity.

Blackout’s inclusion seemingly comes at the expense of a single-player story mode. Perhaps not many will miss the expensively produced narrative – usually featuring major stars such as Kit Harington, Jeff Goldblum and, ahem, Kevin Spacey. But it means there’s precious little offline content for fans who don’t enjoy CoD’s multiplayer.

The extensive, revamped Zombies mode can be played alone, with bots, but the precise teamwork required to stem floods of undead means soloing can be frustrating. In a group, though, it’s fast, fun and filled with fearsome firefights.

Particularly enjoyable is the mission set aboard the tight, claustrophobic decks of the Titanic, a multi-level frightfest that is just one of three separate storylines that are endless (and endlessly replayable).

The third and final pillar of multiplayer is CoD’s bread and butter, one that benefits from game-changing Overwatch-like specialist classes with super abilities. It’s less hyperactive than Black Ops 3, thankfully, and is likely to prove as popular as ever with the community. In a small concession to less skilled players (like, um, me with my pathetic kill/death ratio), several offline tutorial levels enable you to get to grips with the specialists before you’re abandoned to the bearpit of online multiplayer.

So one game, three big, slick packages. The value for money is unquestionable but we should be worried that Black Ops 4’s innovation comes cribbed from other games.

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