Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 review impressions: Come for battle royale, stay for battle royale

We got access to the PC version of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 ($60 on Humble) at the same time as the rest of the world, so I’ve been playing catch-up all day. Don’t ask me why Activision didn’t make it available ahead of release. I expected it to be truly broken given the circumstances but…nope. Everything seems fine, at least on a technical level.

Of course, reviewing Call of Duty is a lot easier this year given Black Ops 4 doesn’t have an actual singleplayer campaign, and the Blackout battle royale mode had a beta last month. I’ve spent some post-release time with Blackout though, plus a bit of time in traditional multiplayer and of course this year’s time-traveling Zombies stories.

Here are my thoughts so far, separated by game type.

Team Deathmatch, et al

First let me reiterate, I really do wish Black Ops 4 had a singleplayer campaign. That might make me an outlier, but I’ve played every Call of Duty campaign over the years (even Ghosts) and at least moderately enjoyed them. Some are downright fantastic, including both Black Ops and Black Ops III.

Without a campaign to tie it all together I wondered “How do you make it a Black Ops game?” After all, the first Black Ops took place during the Cold War, the second blended Cold War elements with near-future warfare, the third was some sort of virtual reality dreamscape. Little ties the series together except for like, “Weird PSYOPs, man.”

Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII IDG / Hayden Dingman

The answer is apparently: You don’t bother trying. I don’t know what was planned for the Black Ops 4 campaign, I don’t know why it fell apart, and I don’t know whether the inclusion of Blackout mode was to blame. What I do know is that every multiplayer map feels like it comes from a different game.

There’s one in some sort of luxury villa, one on a snowy mountain with a gondola, one set in Panama, one in the Vietnamese jungle, one in a little seaside bunker, a Far Cry 5-esque prepper compound with a bombed-out church. Some of them are repeats from previous games, but there’s no unified aesthetic. None of it feels like “Oh yeah, Black Ops.”

Mechanically of course there are some Treyarch trademarks. Movement’s faster than in last year’s WWII, and Black Ops 4 brings back “Specialists” from the previous Black Ops game—basically hero-type character classes. Instead of grenades you might have a grappling hook or a shield or even a dog buddy.