I’m going to start a petition to add an amendment to the ol’ cliche; there are only three things that are certain in this world: death, taxes, and every year a new Call Of Duty will come out that will take two steps forward, two steps back, and then 360 no scope. This year might be a tinge different though, because it doesn’t seem like CoD is going to pass us by as unceremoniously as it has in year’s past. Sure the fourth Black Ops might not be a drastic change in setting, but in two big ways it’s much more different than its predecessors from developer Treyarch.
In one way the franchise within a franchise is cutting all pretenses with its previous storyline, which feels strange — no matter how weird the Black Ops story was getting. In another way, its showing its might in the new arena of Battle Royale games, and it might have produced the definitive version of the budding genre in its Blackout mode. All the while, the game only improved on their last iterations of the franchise stapes: multiplayer and zombies.
The best foot forward for any Call of Duty game, however, arguably, is the tried-and-true multiplayer mode. It may not get the headlines and articles that whatever bells and whistles the new single player campaign (in years past) used in trailers and NBA promo spots, but its always the one mode that the majority of the player base is active in at any given time; this year’s iteration seems to be more good than bad, while definitely trying something new. The most telling aspect of Multiplayer might be that the franchise’s bread and butter — Team Deathmatch — seems to be a buried in a third menu on multiplayer title screen. A rotating spotlight of modes always features on the front, and at launch it was the new Heist mode, but if you want just your regular, standard TDM you have to go two menus in. It’s still easy to find a game, and the more grounded (pun intended) mechanics, shying away from wall runs and double jumps, make it feel like vintage, last gen CoD in a warm way.
Heist itself hearkens back even farther, being essentially a take on Counter-Strike; you buy your weapons from a menu up top with money earned from previous matches which end if the objective is completed, or if the opposing team is eliminated. Control has a similar match-ending mechanic, although you can still respawn once or twice before lives are lost. Generally, Black Ops IIII also adds more Specialists, joining all the returning multiplayer characters from BO3, to the character selection screen each with their own unique abilities, including one ‘Super’. On top of that the standard regenerating health from previous Black Ops titles are gone. BO4 goes the way of World War II with stim shots, although in this modern day setting the effects last a lot faster. Couple those with a longer Time To Kill and it gives the player some welcome chances to retreat from a gunfight, and save that K/D ratio. It doesn’t change up the game too much, but in this case it’s a fresh addition to a solid game mode.
Speaking of solid game modes, Zombies is back in a big way. As your only viable option of good co-op, PvE fun, the Zombie mode brings back classic campaigns and adds really interesting new modes. The change this apostle is the most grateful for is the added tutorial available for CaSuaL N00Bz that takes you through both basic and advanced mechanics of the zombie mode. Icing on top: the narration in this section is actually light and entertaining as well as informative. With the tutorial making the mode a little more accessible, it’s easy to see why there were previous rumors of Zombies being spun off into a separate game altogether. The characters, like them or hate them, are pretty fleshed out and interact a lot with each other — fun for newcomers first twenty minutes — and the systems have become deeper and more interesting.
For example, in the new IX ‘campaign’ there are challenge banners that can be hit, and a whole raid-like puzzle system to follow that can grant you more powerful weapons in the match; because of a new “Beginners” playlist for anyone levels 1-20, these campaign mechanics aren’t buried under 20 hours of grinding practice and stage memorizing. A new rush mode is also available that just allows players to focus on the fast frenzy horde aspect of the game and new perks and specials make it so replay value is higher than it’s ever been. Zombies might not be anywhere near a 1:1 replacement to the absent Single Player Campaign, but it is a solid way for people to get their kills on without having to grind their teeth through rough competition.
Call of Duty itself is deciding to enter some of its own competitive waters with their shiniest, newest edition to the franchise: Blackout. In a world where everyone, their mom, and their favorite rappers are playing Fortnite and doing floss dances on national television, in one of the later hours of development, Black Ops IIII decided to jump right into the Battle Royale fray, and it may have just jumped right on top. While it’s silly to think that this one mode in a $60 game could ever out class Fortnite, a game available for cross-play on mobile phones, it has solid means of attracting the older, more mature gaming audience with its solid AAA mechanics on top of an already exciting new foundations. Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds may have opened the door that Fortnite bounded through, but it may have just served as a solid preview of what was possible in the Battle Royale game mode it kind of coined.
All the tropes of the Battle Royale are here in Blackout: there’s a preliminary staging area where people just punch each other and dance, you drop onto an island with up to 99 other players with just your fists and wits, and you struggle to survive in an arena that is constantly shrinking and bottling up the action to one final moment. The major difference between Blackout and PUBG is something only a AAA studio like Treyarch could bring to the table: years of polish and tons of money. It isn’t pretty politically, but the product glistens when judged on its own merits.
Since they’re bringing in everything they got, Treyarch has managed to make everything feel fluid and intuitive, including looting dead bodies, finding loot, and even traversing the island. Items can be dropped, picked up, and equipped without navigating an impenetrable inventory interface and the gun-feel and movement feels just as smooth as it does in standard TDM. Now an even wider audience of mostly casual console players can feel that rush of a ‘Victory Royale’ as they squad up with ol’ CoD buds in a mode so unique to the series that it feels like a whole new game. It might be the most exciting thing to happen to Call of Duty in years.
Whether its shooting zombies, spamming killstreaks on Domination, or tactically maneuvering around an island, Call of Duty hasn’t felt this good in such a long time. Sadly, this excitement is lost on maybe the most original of CoD fans who propped up the series when the spectacle was all in the campaign, and the world as a whole is out a significant single player FPS story experience in a gaming landscape that is slowly moving away from that type of game. War may never change, but tastes do and in a bittersweet way this may be a big indicative of much needed change for the franchise.