“Call of Duty: Black Ops 4” has left me conflicted. It features the smooth as butter first person shooter mechanics I’ve enjoyed for years, fan-favorite multiplayer maps, the return of zombies co-op and Blackout, a new Battle Royale mode that looks to steal thunder from the two genre heavyweights in “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” (PUBG) and “Fortnite”. But despite everything the game has on offer to welcome me in, I find myself being pushed away by its familiarity and lack of identity.

Multiplayer

“Black Ops 4” has the smoothest and arguably most diverse multiplayer suite the series has seen. New modes like control shake up the standard run and gun pacing of matches, as does the move from 6v6 matches to 5v5 for most modes.

There is an clear arch towards using tactical team gameplay. The implementation of specialist characters, each with their own abilities and traits, once again pushes the franchise closer towards that destination. But I still found the most success playing Call of Duty the traditional way, SMG or Assault rifle in hand and a multitude of map knowledge to know where my enemies would be sliding in from.

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But as much as the formula has been refined and tweaked, Black Ops 4 still feels little more than Black ops 3 with less mobility. Many of the guns and abilities in the game are literal copy and paste jobs from the previous entry with minor sound and visual tweaks. The inclusion of maps from prior Black Ops games feels less like fan service and more like the developers bolstering the map rotation with quick additions.

The experience just feels hollow and rushed and not an experience I see myself returning to again and again. It’s simply too familiar to an entry in the franchise I already poured hundreds of hours into.

Zombies

The creative minds at Treyarch never cease to amaze when it comes to setting design their Zombies mode. “Black Ops 4” features a gladiatorial arena and the sinking Titanic as two new map locations and a return to Alcatraz island in Blood of the Dead.

Featuring characters old and new, the wave based survival mode presents itself as both refreshing and overly complex through your first few playthroughs. But as map secrets are uncovered and you begin to learn the best paths to run and ways to upgrade weapons, a new layer of accomplishment tolls with every successful round survival.

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The addition of a new rush mode attempts to liven-up the act of killing the undead by injecting speed and further action into the formula, but ultimately it will more than likely see a similar fate as the Turned game mode in “Black Ops 2”. You remember having fun with that mode for more than a couple minutes? Neither do I.

If you’ve enjoyed the direction of Treyarch’s zombies mode in “Black Ops 3” than you’ll enjoy this mode once again in “Black Ops 4”, mainly because the mode feels like DLC for the prior game shoved into a new one.

Blackout

More than likely born out of the desire for Activision to grab a slice of that steaming hot Battle Royale cash pie, Blackout is Treyarch’s response to the grounded but poorly performing PUBG and the whimsical and all-encompassing “Fortnite”.

But a response doesn’t do Treyarch justice in this situation. Blackout is a resounding eruption of stellar gameplay and fresh ideas that usher it in as the best first-person Battle Royale experience and maybe the best Battle Royale experience period.

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This isn’t a simple alternative to what already exists, this mode is the new front-runner for how the genre should be evolving. It’s wacky enough to feature zombies and maps from the Black Ops series inside its large battle arena, but grounded enough to feel extremely tactical. Load time between matches is quick, animations are smooth and moment to moment gameplay is better than any Battle Royale game available.

Solo, Duos and Squad matches each offer their own sense of variety and pacing and can sometimes feel like a completely separate experience from each other in the most refreshing way possible.

Blackout is the standout inclusion of “Black Ops 4” and has me hooked on its gameplay loop in a way I haven’t felt since the initial release of “Overwatch”. It’s the reason to own Black Ops 4, but whether it justifies the $60 entry fee is a question for your conscience and your wallet.

The Verdict

“Call of Duty: Black Ops 4” would have been better sold as three individual $20 experiences. Multiplayer is greatly refined but familiar to the point of fatigue setting in within the first few matches. Zombies succeeds with a familiar formula but once again offers little more than a change of scenery for long-time fans of the franchise. Blackout is the newest and most promising addition to the franchise formula and shows the most potential to retain players. But being gated behind a $60 paywall isn’t doing Blackout any favors. I’ve never played a game so jam-packed with things to play that simultaneously felt so devoid of truly meaningful content.

5.5/10

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