A new Call of Duty (COD) is here. The series’ gritty Black Ops returns in its fourth instalment – and COD‘s 15th – introducing the first-person shooter’s first battle royale mode, Blackout. Black Ops is COD‘s most-played sub-series, with a reported more-than 200 million players.
“Black Ops is maybe the darker, grittier side of Call of Duty,” says Marc Yammine, a spokesperson for Activision-Blizzard, which publishes COD. “It has its own universe and its own way of developing stories and characters, and goes into uncharted territory for the series.”
Black Ops 4 has three modes of play: Multiplayer, Zombies and Blackout.
In a bid to make multiplayer gameplay more accessible for beginners and newbies, BO4 offers a training simulation for each of its ten specialists, alongside a few cutscenes detailing that character’s backstory and its connection to the broader narrative. I tried out three of these: Ajax, a specialist in area clearance armed with a heavy ballistics shield and stun grenades; demolition expert Battery, who wields a bouncing grenade launcher and sticky cluster bombs; and Crash, who can heal your entire team at the press of a button, as well as stock them with special high-scoring ammunition.
Multiplayer’s Pick 10 system is unchanged from previous games, but players now have to heal themselves (there’s a health bar).
This mode is perfect for those who don’t fancy their chances against other humans. While it’s sadly impossible to win Zombies, the objective is to survive as many rounds as you can, gaining maximum points and clearing challenges that will eventually make your next playthrough easier. Starting off with a basic pistol, you need to kill zombies to earn currency, which can be spent on buying ammo, upgrading your weapon, buying a new gun or unlocking new areas of the map. You can play Zombies split-screen with friends, with online companions, AI bots or on your own.
There are three distinctive Zombie adventures in Black Ops 4. Voyage of Despair takes place on the Titanic, where you’ve got to battle zombies across upper and lower decks, through claustrophobic passages, the engine room and fancy dining halls. There’s even a room fans of the Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet film will remember, although Rose walking down the stairs in a pretty dress might not be the first thing that comes to mind while shotgunning a monster.
Another Zombies adventure is IX, which sees you fending off hordes of creatures in the Roman Colisseum. It’s way bloodier than anything you might remember from Russel Crowe’s Gladiator, although there are tigers here too. What’s become common across the Zombies mini-game is the addition of increasingly deep narratives. “What made me love playing Zombies, why I make all these videos, is the storyline,” says Bashar Al Kayal, a Dubai-based Syrian gaming YouTuber with 146,000 subscribers. The four characters featured in both adventures don’t quietly fight the monsters; there’s no shortage of witty banter and clever repartees exchanged between them.
You can also activate perks, which grant boosts to speed, stamina or health. “For the first time in Zombies mode, you can now select the perks you’d like to use from a menu before actually starting the game,” says Al Kayal, who made his name in the Middle East’s gaming community by choosing to focus on Zombies.
Blackout mode sees you compete against up to 99 other players in a bid to be the last (wo)man standing on an ever-shrinking map.
You start out by launching out of a helicopter with a wingsuit. Around you, there are 99 others doing the same. It’s a race down to earth, with parachutes deploying as you frantically try to land somewhere relatively safe and blessed with loot. If you’re not a crack shot at COD, your best bet is to opt for stealth. My personal best result, when I survived to the last seven players, is largely due to sprinting into a two-storey house, grabbing a shotgun and waiting in the bathroom with the door closed. Hearing the sporadic blasts of gunfire nearing, the roar of a truck engine and running footsteps when you can’t see any of these things is terrifying.
“In Blackout, two games are never the same,” explains Yammine. He’s right; I died on a hill facing an airport hangar, perished on the landing between a flight of stairs and met an untimely demise on a beach. Blackout’s map is massive but survival against 99 others requires knowing when to stick or thrust.
Taking its name from a 2000 Japanese film, Battle Royale sees a large number of players parachuted onto an island with no weapons or armour. Everything must be scavenged, and the stakes are raised further by an ever-shrinking battle zone, which forces you closer to danger. As a gaming concept, the format has exploded in popularity since 2016’s Player Unknown Battlegrounds and Fortnite.
How does Blackout compare to its more established competition? Aside from the sharper graphics and gunplay than Fortnite, what’s really cool is the option to play split-screen with a partner using a single console. The Blackout map comprises slightly miniaturised versions of several COD fan favourites over the years, including Nuketown, Cargo and Firing Range.