Reviews

CoD: Black Ops 4 review: precision guided PUBG killer

Activision
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Call of Duty Black Ops 4 - The saga might be complete

Ask yourself what can you do for PUBG, not what PUBG can do for you! Yes, we know this is a Black Ops review but do stay with the conceit: How the fast development cycle of Black Ops got it right, and PUBG has so consistently got it wrong.

It is impossible to do a review of any game that has a Battle Royale mode without starting with PUBG. 

Many moons ago, when PUBG first came out, we, together with pretty much everyone else, jumped into an early access, roller coaster of adrenalin driven, exciting game play. PUBG was the popular juggernaut that promised to be the definitive incarnation of the Battle Royale game concept.

We downloaded the game from Steam and got going immediately with the limited, unfinished beauty of Player Unknown's Battlegrounds. It was fun, fast, unpredictable and brilliantly silly. I can't claim to have ever gotten a chicken dinner. I can't claim that my ass - literally - was saved by a frying pan. I have never killed anyone with a frying pan, nor shot anyone from 16 miles away. But what I did have was a great time.

Yes, the game was buggy and limited in many ways: Physics issues, movement issues, in fact a general bug set drawn from a menu of flaws that would make Bethesda envious.

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However, it was clearly labelled as Early Access - that ingenious modern day mechanic to sell unfinished games, which, to an indie studio may be the difference between finishing their beloved project and seeking alternate employment.

PUBG however really burst the whole Early Access envelope. They didn't sell a few copies to ensure funding for pizza and coffee. They sold millions of copies, and found themselves in the big boy league overnight. And, well, you know the rest. They weren't prepared for this league - in fact Bluehole have managed to smelt gold into tin. Here isn't the place to recap all the missteps made on PUBG, but if you have the game, you'll know them already. The whole situation reminds us of the old Irish joke, when a lost tourist asks a grizzled old farmer the way to Gneeveguilla. "Gneeveguilla?" replies the rustic local. "Hmmm, well I wouldn't be starting from here."

ActivisionCoD BO4 logoCall of Duty: Black Ops 4

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, developed by Treyarch, and published by Activision very much falls into the "compare-me-to-PUBG" category. How can it not? It certainly isn't a Fortnite clone - the graphics are realistic and gorgeous, and there is the relief at not having to build anything, so you can focus on actually shooting people.

Retailing at $59.99 for the entry level game (£59.99, €69.99) is another reason not to compare it to the free to play phenomenon that is Fortnite, and perhaps the first point to address. Is it worth the money? Yes. An emphatic "Yes" in fact. I have never been a massive fan of freemium as I firmly believe that content creators should get paid and that their work has value. In the case of Black Ops 4, you are essentially getting three different games, each fun in its own way and value for money set against the current games market.

Starting with Heist, this is your classic slug fest, two teams trying to outdo each other in a number of familiar game modes such as Control, Deathmatch, Heist, and similar. It is fine. It is fun, however it could be improved. Compared to super-polished Titanfall 2 gameplay, or Destiny 1 equivalents, it feels a bit flimsy in comparison. If someone gets you in their sights and lands a bullet, you are likely dead. It is fine, if against the general trend that is being able to take few shots and heal over time.

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Maps feel quite small and cramped - it makes them easy to remember, however bigger maps would allow for more variety in playing styles. For CoD veterans, it will be familiar fare.

Zombies mode, is on the other hand totally nuts and incredibly fun. I mean, I had no idea what the hell I was doing for the first few games, apart form running around and killing everything in sight. You team up with three other (random) people - in an ideal world this would be three friends for proper coordination. I loved it, and can absolutely see myself playing it as much as any other game. The mobs are fun, the game mechanic is brilliant, weapons are great, and the whole premise of classes and stories is great.

There are no prizes for guessing that Blackout mode gets the top billing. If the Multiplayer was fries, and Zombies mode a fine selection of perfectly-made garlic mushrooms, then the Blackout mode is a steak. And it's a tasty, juicy, perfectly cooked steak. A prime cut of the BR genre. It is rather telling that Treyarch has managed to build a really brilliant Battle Royale game in less time than it has taken Blue Hole to fix PUBG.

Sure, there are no pans, and some of the quirky PUBG appeal is not there, but make no mistake, this is a good, solid Battle Royale experience, with all the polish you'd expect from a CoD game.

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The Duo mechanic is also a perfect place to start. Finding one friend who wants to play is the right balance between making it a fun co-op and not making it a four person coordination nightmare. It is almost as if Treyarch looked at all the stuff that is annoying people and then dealt with it. Crazy idea eh?

What you are left with is a really fun experience, and apart from few Bethesda-like moments with items not being visible yet available for pickup, the game is smooth and works. Matchmaking is quick. Game load times are good. Physics in the game are good. Map is great, with a wonderful bit of variety. Pace is excellent. Games are generally of the right length to both build suspense as well as to be dynamic. Performance is good - where No Man's Sky makes my PS4 Pro sound like it's about to take off, I get no such nonsense with Black Ops 4.

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For my part, I haven't magically started winning at Black Ops 4. I have managed few kills, managed a bunch of top 10 finishes, but I am no more successful then I ever was with PUBG. However, I am much more likely to fire it up and play. For a game that is not particularly cheap, I'd say there is a great deal of fun to be had, you know, in a sort of the whole-point-of-playing-games type of a way and despite the price, it's a good value for money. For that reason, I give Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 a solid 9/10.