We're going back to the future this autumn with Treyarch at the wheel of the Call of Duty franchise once more. Sledgehammer Games and its gritty World War II epic are old news. So, what's the story this time around, you might ask? Well, there isn't one actually. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 will be the first entry in the series not to feature a fully-fledged campaign. It's a bold move and a bit of a disappointment if you ask us, but it does make sense. The replayability of the Call of Duty franchise comes from the ambitious multiplayer and its co-op friendly zombie apocalypse, we all know that, but a lot of people like to at least take a look at the story. That being said, there'll still be a narrative built into the multiplayer and solo missions against bots so that lone wolves can hone their skills while getting their fill of sci-fi warfare.
Ditching the campaign has allowed Treyarch to go all-in on the multiplayer side of things, and they're making sure people are enthralled enough to return. Obviously, this wouldn't be Black Ops without the undead, and the full game will launch with not one, not two, but three zombie-riddled maps - and they'll even support weekly challenges. The first map takes place in Ancient Greece with all players using swords and axes to send the ghoulish horde back to Hades. The second map is called Voyage of Despair and it invites players onboard the Titanic. Zombies and a big iceberg? Colour us interested! The third and final map, Blood of the Dead, is a recreation of the Alcatraz level from Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, but that's not all, as this time there'll be a battle royale mode included called Blackout.
While we haven't gotten to try Blackout out for ourselves just yet, it does look pretty darn cool. Players will be able to duke it out on foot or in land, sea and air vehicles on the biggest Call of Duty multiplayer arena ever. The level will even include parts of classic maps from the Black Ops of yesteryear, so we're guessing a house or two from Nuke Town will pop up. The characters and weapons used will be returning classics as well - from all eras visited in the Black Ops series. There are some big changes inbound to the core gameplay as well, with the biggest one being a revamped health system. Gone is the regenerating health of old, replaced by shots of adrenaline that have to be taken manually by the player.
Instead of hiding behind cover for a few second players now have to inject themselves when the situation calls for it, and since the stimpak has to be recharged before being used again you can't use it leisurely. Treyarch's goal is to make the process as seamless as reloading your weapon after a fight, and it does add an extra tactical layer since you can't fire back at your enemies while popping your stim. We actually enjoyed this new system during our time with the game since it didn't interrupt the high-octane action which regular medkits often do in video games. Falling in battle also felt a bit better this time around, since we knew our efforts had forced the enemy to waste their precious healing juice, giving our teammates the upper hand.
Aside from that, things are pretty much the way Treyarch left them in Call of Duty: Black Ops III. You still create your own class by picking attachments, perks, scorestreaks and the like, and when a match starts you're able to pick a specialist. The specialists are unique characters that act as player avatars, while also having their own special weapons and abilities. Some of the characters from Black Ops III return, like the grapple gun wielding Ruin. There's also a bunch of new ones, like Torque, who can deploy a barricade that produces lethal microwaves that ignite enemies.
Another of the new specialists in the game is Crash, the medic. Being a medic hasn't really made any sense in the Call of Duty series before, since everybody dies so quickly, and even if you survive you still regain your health quickly anyways. Here, however, the player who activates Crash's ultimate ability gets to wield a device that basically shoots stimpaks from a distance. It didn't really feel like it added a lot to the match we tried it out in, but that's probably because we were playing with random people on the show floor at E3. We're sure the medic will come in handy for tight-knit teams all around the world, especially when playing objective-based game types.
The addition of the medic is but one of the steps Treyarch is taking to put more emphasis on team play in the new Call of Duty. In Black Ops 4 there can't be more than one of every specialist on the team at once, and since all ten specialists have pros and cons that complement each other, it kind of reminded us of hero shooters like Overwatch and Paladins. It's a really neat idea, but time will have to tell just how well implemented they are. For many, Call of Duty has always been about embracing your inner one-man army - whether you're playing in a team or not. The question remains: will Black Ops 4 be able to reignite the spark that's been missing for so many years? The stakes are higher than ever, especially considering the absence of a single-player campaign, and we can't wait to find out when the game launches in October for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.