There's no doubt that Zombies has become one of the most popular parts of Call of Duty, which is why Black Ops 4 gives us three - four if you buy the season pass - scenarios from the start. With one set on the Titanic, another one in a remastered version of Mob of the Dead, and the third set in a gladiatorial arena, we're getting three wildly different experiences. It's all wrapped up with an enticing and mysterious story that pulled us in with a lot of secrets and some fascinating characters. Running around in ancient Rome while listening to characters making fun of each other and telling meta jokes about how weird it is that modern weaponry is surprisingly easy to come by was, at times, hilarious.
Still, let's admit it, the main draw of Zombies is slaughtering the undead as much as possible while trying to uncover secrets and find all the Easter eggs; Voyage of Despair, Blood of the Dead, and IX deliver loads of both. Summoning special enemies by interacting with specific objects, completing hidden challenges, and gathering items that had to be used in certain places allowed us to upgrade weapons in new ways, find new areas, and unlock new gear, as well as giving us more lore and making us stronger. One of our favourites was spending cash to open a Mystery Box to get a random thing called Homunculus. This little fella replaced our grenades, but boy was it worth it. Not only did he (or it?) yell funny stuff when thrown on the ground, but he also jumped around chopping the heads off a whole load of zombies. Some of the developers didn't even know it existed, so they gathered around our screen, watching on as he massacred a whole room while we took a breather. That's when Zombies director Jason Blundell came by and told us that we hadn't even made it to one of the biggest areas of the map yet, and this was after thirty-two rounds and finding what we thought was every interactable object!
Each scenario both looks and feels different both in terms of level design and zombies, and we enjoyed having so many options. Where Voyage of Despair mostly puts us in tight corridors filled with neatly dressed undead and beefy crew members, Blood of the Dead is a mix of tight and open spaces as it takes us from narrow hallways to the more expansive areas on Alcatraz Island as we fight prisoners and morbid guards. IX is without a doubt the easiest of the three with its more open areas filled with undead gladiators, tigers and more.
Black Ops 4 also offers the most customisable Zombies ever. Using your favourite weapon long enough will let you modify it with attachments, choose which perks you get from different vending machines and alters, buy and choose different elixirs and talismans to bring with you, choose between the more arcadey Rush mode where you compete for the highest score against your friends or the story-focused Classic mode, and more. In short: Treyarch's talk about quantity hasn't lowered the quality. In fact, the quality might be even higher than it was before.
But we all expected Zombies to be great. One of the more questionable parts of the game when first revealed was the battle royale mode Blackout. Well, you can throw those doubts out of the window right away. Blackout delivers just what we want from a battle royale in Call of Duty. The controls are just as perfect as every other part of the game and the weapons feel just as fantastic. The only thing that has changed is the scale and the range at which some of the encounters take place. It's a huge play space, but the signature Call of Duty gameplay works in this new setting, and you'll feel right at home exploring some familiar locations. That said, this enormous map isn't just filled with references to earlier Black Ops games with no thought put into its overall design, and the whole thing fits together nicely.
It's easy to orient yourself because each area feels distinct while at the same time having terrain that makes you feel uneasy every time you go out into the open or whenever you hear a sound. Is it worth running towards Nuketown Island in hopes of grabbing level 3 armour, or should we just make do with what's inside the shed right next to us? You might even be bold enough to go for the best gear in the zombie-filled Asylum, because gathering the best weapons, equipment, and perks can make all the difference when fighting for your life, especially towards the end when the dozens of hopefuls have been whittled down to just a handful of hardened, well-equipped survivors. Either that or you could just test your luck by driving around with one of the vehicles or helicopters found throughout the map, hoping that someone is silly enough to step in front of the hood or propellers.
There's been some discussion about the ballistics of different weapons in Blackout, but it just requires some getting used to in our experience. We're not used to shooting at targets very far away in this series, so it might feel weird at first, but we managed to hit our moving targets a kilometre away after a few rounds. There are enough weapons to facilitate a range of playstyles, and while there is some luck involved in terms of what you find and how quickly you find it, the arsenal and weapon handling worked well in this more expansive battle royale setting. (For a more detailed look at the Blackout mode, check out our impressions from the recent beta.)
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is the breath of fresh air the franchise needed after a few bumpy rides over the last few years. The multiplayer put our boots back on the ground while at the same time introducing manual healing and a more diverse class system to heighten the experience. Zombies delivers more of what we enjoy about the series and even adds some cool customisation options that are sure to please both old and new fans alike. And, finally, Blackout takes some of the best parts of both multiplayer and zombies, mixes them together to make an experience that is sure to give its competitors a real fight. That makes three out of three, which is why we think Black Ops 4 has set the bar both in terms of quality and quantity for the franchise. And we got this far without really mentioning the lack of a single-player campaign. It looks like we didn't miss it after all...