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Review: ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’

With last year’s return of “Call of Duty” to its World War II roots in the aptly titled “Call of Duty: WWII,” I was once again at peace with the popular first-person shooter series. After years of futuristic settings and a dramatic shift away from the “boots on the ground” feel of combat caused me to all but abandon Activision’s flagship franchise, I gladly welcomed the bombed-out German bunkers, bolt-action sniper rifles and bloody bayonet charges I remembered from earlier installments.

You can therefore imagine my reaction when Activision revealed that this year’s “Call of Duty” game would be a continuation of the “Black Ops” brand. Developed by Treyarch, it was the “Black Ops” series that introduced much of what I don’t like about modern “Call of Duty” games to the franchise. And they were eliminating the single-player campaign, too? Clearly this was shaping up to be a year in which I took a hard pass on “Call of Duty.”

Much to my surprise, however, that isn’t going to be the case. With “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4,” Treyarch has found the sweet spot between old-school gameplay and new-school features, creating a experience that appeals to both my kids (who swear “Black Ops 3” is the best “Call of Duty” game ever) and myself (who hates “Black Ops 3” with the burning passion of 1,000 suns.)

“BO4” features three distinct gameplay pillars — traditional multiplayer, a new battle royale mode called Blackout and the ever-popular Zombies. Each offers a unique and enjoyable experience, though the addition of battle royale to the “Call of Duty” universe is without question the highlight of “Black Ops 4” and worth the price of admission alone.

As someone who has spent countless hours playing other battle royale games, especially “Fortnite” and “PUBG,” I was immediately impressed not only with Blackout’s surprising amount of polish, but with its ability to keep the focus squarely on the franchise’s greatest strength — its gunplay.

With a large map consisting of memorable locales from previous “Call of Duty” games, and a collection of weapons culled from both the traditional multiplayer and Zombies modes, Blackout combines the best of what “Black Ops” has to offer with a tension-filled game mode that requires skill, strategy and, yes, a little luck.

Simply put, Blackout is the best battle royale game I’ve played and the best thing to happen to “Call of Duty” since … well, ever.

As great as Blackout is, admittedly it isn’t for everyone. For those seeking a more traditional “Call of Duty” experience, I’m pleased to say that the multiplayer suite is a solid effort all around.

Treyarch clearly took a more grounded, tactical approach to combat, eliminating things like wall running while putting a greater emphasis on mastering the abilities of the Specialists. The diverse selection of weapons makes it easy to find a gun you’re comfortable with, and the move away from automatic health regeneration works better than I could have imagined (though I do seem to forget to heal myself at least once or twice each match).

As has become the case with recent “Call of Duty” installments, the selection of maps at launch is a mixed bag. Most maps seemed geared toward medium- to close-range combat, with plenty of narrow corridors and choke points. When compared to many of the open maps in “WWII,” “Black Ops 4” feels downright claustrophobic. That isn’t an altogether bad thing, especially considering many of the Specialist abilities are designed to work best in tight spaces.

I’m a big fan of the new Control mode in multiplayer, in which teams take turns attacking and defending two points on the map, but that game mode more than any other highlights what has become my biggest pet peeve regarding multiplayer in “Black Ops 4” — spawn camping. I’ve encountered it in other modes to varying degrees, but it seems most prevalent here, where I’ve been frustrated to the point of rage quitting on multiple occasions. Treyarch has already taken steps to correct the problem in other game modes and I’m hopeful a fix for Control will arrive soon.

Zombies mode has gotten the least amount of my play time, but that’s certainly no indictment against what the team has created. In fact, I’ve found myself enjoying this installment of Zombies more than any of its predecessors, namely because it’s now much more accessible to those who opt to play the story alone. Indeed, Zombies in “Black Ops 4” not only offers a full tutorial, but now players can fill out their four-person squad with AI-controlled bots to help even the odds against the undead horde. And with a wealth of customization options, players can cater the Zombies experience to their liking.

“Black Ops 4” takes risks with the traditional “Call of Duty” formula and is a better game because of it. The three distinct game types offer players a wide variety of ways to experience the action, but regardless of how you play, the unmistakable “Call of Duty” DNA shines through. While the traditional multiplayer and Zombies modes deliver as expected, it is the groundbreaking Blackout mode that elevates “Black Ops 4” to a whole new level.

“Call of Duty: Black Ops 4”

Developer: Treyarch

Publisher: Activision

Available for: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC ($59.99)

Rating: M for mature

Score: 8.7/10