In the past, gamers responding to Call of Duty's siren song of simulated combat generally fell into one of three categories. I mean, they all liked pulling triggers, killing virtual enemies and blasting things. But they also wanted to either:
Play for the intense, cinematic roller coaster ride of each game's campaign mode, firefight-strewn adventures that keep them ducking from ricocheting bullets and leaping through crumbling walls while, for instance, the skyscraper they're currently occupying is falling over sideways.
Play for the scorestreak, upgrade-laden perks of multiplayer rumbles—bloody blast-and-slash battles that continue on and on until the next CoD releases with new weapons and maps and upgrades and rumbles.
- Some combination of both. Oh, and zombies.
With Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, however, gamemakers have pretty much blown up option one. Now, you either come for the multiplayer action, the Fortnite-like battle royale, or, well, the zombies.
We don't need no stinking story! seems to be the mantra of Black Ops 4.
Now, Let’s Talk Story …
OK, so there is a teeny bit of story in a few cutscenes during the game's opening instructional segments. This two-hour intro gives you a bit o' background on the mercenary “specialists” you’ll be playing in the battle modes, while also familiarizing you with their weaponry as well.
These segments feel as if the gamemakers tried to boil down all the requisite nasty story content into its most concentrated form and stuff it all in at once. So gamers get battered with f- and s-words and all other manner of other profanities and crudities. Meanwhile, various tutorials walk players through how to use the game's myriad of high-tech rifles, rocket launchers, sticky grenades, percussive hammers, portable shields, radio-controlled minicars, explosive toy aircraft, flamethrowers, nuclear radiation weapons, razor wire, K-9 attack units, etc.
This boot camp also prepares gamers for just how goopy and intense the online battling will be as human and zombie targets get ripped and torn asunder for cinematic effect. Blood spurts from rent arteries. Ragged bone fragments jut from fallen victims. People have their jaws blown off, limbs severed, heads decapitated and skin charred to a sizzling crisp. They stagger around as their viscera spills out. And in some cases, victims simply explode in a crimson shower of goo.
Now, some eager young wannabe player might be reminding his mom at this point that the game offers a digital switch to turns off the most gruesome visuals and harshest language. And that’s true. But what youthful skull of mush won’t be tempted to see some guts spilling when shooting foes with their favorite deadly weapon?
Shall We Discuss Multiplayer Modes?
Once gamers endure that instructional onslaught (with or without the goriest and foulest bits included), what does Black Ops 4 really have stuck in its flak jacket? As I alluded to above, the latest CoD release offers three primary categories of online-only, pull-a-trigger mayhem: Multiplayer, Blackout Battle Royale and Zombies.
The Multiplayer segment—playable by up to 18 players simultaneously—lets you gather together a group of your friends (and yes, you can pick and choose who you want to invite in for your team) for one of several different sub-modes of fast-paced and frenetic combat challenges.
Deathmatch mode, for instance, is exactly what that word implies. Two teams, one goal: Eliminate the opposition, and get upgrade points. Kill Confirmed mode is similar, but in this case you don’t get points for kills, you get points for collecting a fallen foe’s dog tags. Domination mode features three areas on the map that must be captured and held to get points. Hardpoint mode likewise challenges your team to capture and hold specific areas. The longer your team maintains that position, the more points you get. On and on these Multiplayer challenges go, each more chaotic than the last.
Players also have different specialists to choose from, characters with different skill sets and weapons; and that diversity can be a real advantage in these multiplayer modes. If, for instance, you’ve got really aggressive sharpshooters in your group, some quick-moving specialists will definitely complement their styles. On the other hand, if some of your game-playing compatriots are less skilled, they might feel more comfortable choosing a specialist who sets up razor wire or mine traps to slow the enemy down, or a character who stays in the background defending or healing your team.
These additions can make the going a bit easier for newbs. But let’s face it: CoD multiplayer games are designed to be incredibly fast-paced, and often nearly insane in their intensity. So for players who are brand new to it all, well … good luck.
Of Blackouts and Zombies
Blackout, meanwhile, is the new Battle Royale portion of Black Ops 4. It's obviously intended as a Fortnite-killer. Or, at least, the gamemakers hope that it will give all those gazillions of online Fortnite fans another place to dig their foxholes and take aim. Accordingly, gamers can engage this mode Solo, as a Duo or as a Quad team on a massive expanded map.
The action in this mode is actually a lot less frenzied than the multiplayer modes, offering gamers a chance to blow enemies into pieces without feeling as if you’re about to have a heart attack. The goal is simple here: 100 players set boots down on the ground and try to be the last Solo/Duo/Quad still standing when it’s all over. (Like I said, Fortnite's the obvious inspiration here.)
Finally, there’s that Zombie-blasting mode. Call of Duty games have, for some reason, become the go-to place for those who want to use an arsenal of incredible weaponry to puree and sauté a flood of onrushing undead. Black Ops 4 carries on that tradition. Nuff said.
Ducking Black Ops 4's Bullets
Now, if you’ve gotten to this point and you think you sense a bit of snarky critique emanating from my review, well, you are correct. I’ve personally never been a big fan of shooters in light of behavioral scientists' well-document concerns about the potential negative effects of this genre, from emotional desensitization, to decreased empathy, to increased aggression.
In fact, a recent study from the University of Montreal suggested that prolonged exposure to shooters might even cause a kind of brain damage. And let's face it: Black Ops 4 is meticulously engineered to suck players into prolonged stretches of online trigger-pulling and brain-blasting play—even more so now that the game's story mode takes a backseat to online multiplayer battles, which could theoretically stretch on over many hundreds of hours of gameplay. (Just as all those obsessively engaged Fortnite fans!)
And when you also add in the possibility of some really gruesome visuals and pretty nasty dialogue (not to mention the potentially problematic online dialogue between players), I can’t bring myself to do much more than warn parents and would-be players to think twice before jumping in. This is one video game bullet you’ll want to duck.