No matter what you might think about the Call of Duty games they always receive a lot of attention, and when it comes to Black Ops 4 the Internet has been buzzing with rumours and speculation for months now. Activision and Treyarch finally decided to shoot the rumours down by having the game's reveal party in Los Angeles recently, and we travelled to sunny California to hear more about the latest instalment in this legendary series.
The audience, which consisted of reporters, influencers, and fans of the series, cheered gleefully to the explosive reveal video, with took us through the history of the Black Ops series. After the presentation, Treyarch's chairman Mark Lamia took to the stage to explain how the fourth entry in the Black Ops series will pay attention to player wishes more than ever, claiming that it will be a more replayable gaming experience than we've seen from the franchise before.
The multiplayer mode was the first feature of the game introduced, with developers Dan Bunting and David Vonderhaar emphasising that they've learned from past mistakes, meaning the wall running and powered jumps that proved so divisive in Black Ops 3 are now ancient history. Based between the second and third games in the sub-series, the fourth Black Ops will bring us quite literally back down-to-earth, with the action enriched by a hefty number of gun modifications and several character classes that each have unique special abilities.
Even though the era is not as futuristic as Black Ops 3, there is still high-tech gear to be utilised. We saw a glimpse of a grappling hook-type gun which can be used to reel the player short distances at high speed. The same character also had this battering ram-like weapon which can be slammed into the ground to knock down all the players in the vicinity (this particular combination seemed quite effective). Another ability that grabbed our attention was some sort of aerial fire attack which when unleashed burnt soldiers in its area of effect. In terms of the wider conflict, there wasn't any particular side to choose from and the quick cuts in the trailer showed typical multiplayer action focused on player versus player combat, so we'll have to wait a bit longer to find out more about exactly who's fighting who and why.
We then got onto the Zombies mode, which seems like a bold transformation compared to past entries, as part of it seems to be based in the gladiator arenas of ancient antiquity and includes only melee weapons. Creator Jason Blundell was there to tell us that they are trying a lot of innovative ideas this time around. He also mentioned that there'll be totally new playable characters with new special abilities for the mode, with players now able to freely modify the game settings too, letting them create completely new experiences (which should help keep everyone busy for a while). Maybe this approach seemed a bit far-fetched compared to what players are used to dealing with in the Zombies mode but it sure opens up a totally new approach for the series.
Another trailer saw Treyarch place the zombie fighting team in a totally different environment, with the sandy battle arena making way for an elegant ballroom aboard the famous ship, The Titanic, with the video also revealing the reason for the epidemic. Blundell also mentioned briefly that the game will launch with three playable Zombie stories from the get-go and a short video was presented for the third, which seems to include familiar characters from earlier Zombies chapters. It's pretty obvious that Treyarch wants to keep the setting of the third story a secret since we only saw character silhouettes. We didn't even see any undead shufflers.
So far, the show had only covered multiplayer game modes and soon came the confirmation that the rumours were true and the single-player portion of the game was indeed gone. However, the presenters at the event were quick to explain that every aspect of this new Black Ops game can be experienced as a solo player if desired. It was also said that all the game modes are somehow tied to the story, however, we don't exactly know what this is going to mean in practice. Since the characters from the Zombies mode were mentioned as part of Blackout (which we'll get to shortly), maybe the undead are involved as well. Perhaps every now and then there are going to be zombie attacks and rivals will need to put their differences aside to tackle a common enemy. Or maybe dead players will turn into zombies to spice up the game for the rest of the surviving players. Since the whole presentation of the Blackout mode was so vague, we're just going to have to sit tight and wait for more to be revealed in due course.
If you haven't guessed by now the Blackout mode we just alluded to is the Battle Royale mode that was teased ahead of the reveal. Fortnite and PUBG were mentioned on the stage and the devs themselves admitted that they are totally new to this sub-genre. However, they also said that Blackout will be made in a completely new way and will feature a unique Call of Duty style. The play area will be enormous, with land, sea, and air vehicles set to be thrown into the mix. Not much else was mentioned about the new mode, and a very barebones video accompanied the presentation.
We then had an opportunity to play approximately 45 minutes of the game in our session and our demo included three different levels of relatively traditional multiplayer. The mission was to either conquer or protect a certain area of the map while playing in teams, with the new character classes making an appearance (and we were free to modify the guns as we played). One of the levels was based on a tropical beach with some military structures placed along on it. The interesting part of the level was the water section which you could use to swim through to find an advantageous position. There were secret passages in other levels as well. For example, in some sort of missile assembly facility, you could take a footpath on a mountainside to reach an open missile tube which you could use to surprise any unaware enemies. It's also worth noting that there were plenty of weapons to choose from. Modifications could be made using a limited pool of points that can be shared between different mods and bonus features like automated helicopter attacks or aerial bombardments.
The pace of the game felt a touch calmer than in earlier Black Ops, but the action was still plenty intense and full of explosions, with the shooting feeling familiar, something that we've come to expect from Call of Duty over the years. While there are a few new features, those who were familiar with the series seemed to take to it easily enough, possibly thanks to the fact that there were some more recent additions that made it into this year's entry. For example, Black Ops 4 inherited the character energy method from Call of Duty WWII and now your character doesn't heal on their own and instead the player needs to manually heal. This was messing with our game a bit since we were constantly forgetting to take painkillers during the intense firefights, even if the game reminded us via a text pop-up on the screen.
It was mentioned during the show that Black Ops 4's sound system was built from scratch and we have to say that we were blown away by how good the game sounded. The audio was rich and realistic, with every gun sounding unique. The bass from the explosions and machinery was deeply intense, creating a firm base for the realistic soundscape that truly brought the game to life. The graphics also looked very good and detailed, and the PlayStation 4 Pro (which was used during our play session) ran the visuals and high-paced action very smoothly indeed.
The Call of Duty series has always divided its players by those who only play multiplayer action and those who go for the single-player campaign. As someone belonging to the latter group, it was disappointing to see the solo campaign absent from Black Ops 4. That said it seems that Treyarch is really making an effort to make the multiplayer action as versatile and immersive as possible thanks to tweaks like special guns (from flamethrowers to bouncing grenades) and interesting new gadgets (like the aforementioned grappling hook and battering ram).
The Zombies mode will include three stories straight from the get-go and with the free tools to make your own zombie battles, it could keep players engaged for a long time. The juiciest and the most game-changing announcement was Blackout. Unfortunately, it felt like a hasty and forced acknowledgement of a rumour rather than the bespoke announcement it perhaps warranted. The cloud of mystery hasn't exactly cleared but at least now we know what to expect in the future. At the very least we're intrigued to find out how the best part of ten years of Black Ops history will merge into the biggest multiplayer experience Call of Duty fans have ever seen.
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