While today’s Call of Duty headlines will be dominated by talk about the loss of the single-player campaign and the introduction of a battle royale mode, it turns out Black Ops 4’s multiplayer matches are the best they’ve been for a long time.
To give you some context on my own personal history with COD, I fell out of love with the series a couple of games back. I played the hell out of the multiplayer for Modern Warfare and its sequel, and I did the same for the very first Black Ops. Recently, however, I’ve just played COD for the single-player.
Infinite Warfare had a solid campaign with fresh mechanics and an inspired setting, but its multiplayer was an exercise in frustration. The limited three-lane maps gave you few flanking opportunities and very little cover, and they did not take advantage of your sci-fi parkour moveset. It felt like it was just about who sees who first. Bang! They win.
Black Ops 4 is a sidestep away from all that. Instead of creating maps that work with double jumps and wall running, Treyarch has just stripped those futuristic locomotion abilities out instead. In their place are characters with distinct abilities, called Specialists – similar to Rainbow Six Siege’s character selection – and you can only have one of each on your team.
One Specialist erects barriers and pops down impassable barb wire coils, another can lock down areas with a microwave device, another can fire off darts to detect enemies through walls, and another can zip across the map with a grappling hook like Batman in camo gear.
These abilities are rigid, but you still have the freedom to pick ten perks, attachments – which are now unique to each weapon type – secondary weapons, wildcards, or whatever else you fancy. So, yes, you are forced into a role, but you can tweak that role to still work with your playstyle.
All these new tactical considerations slow down the pace a little. It’s still hyperactive, twitchy, and instantly gratifying, but teams who want to win need to work together more than before.
Glancing at the minimap, you can see your allies and their sightlines, so it’s simple to cover an area without needing to communicate. Pop a gadget in the right place, hinder the opposition, and you’re well on your way to a win.
On top of this, your health no longer regenerates on its own. Instead, you need to jab a health stim into your arm, which adds another layer of strategy to combat.
Time to kill is slightly longer than in previous COD games as well, so there are moments where you damage an enemy and know they need to run away to heal. Perhaps you are also injured, so you have a choice: heal up and re-engage once they’ve done the same, or rush in and deny them a heal.
It makes those moments where you just tear through an entire square, precision shot after precision shot, even more satisfying. And if you do pull off a particularly impressive killstreak or a game-winning squad wipe, you get to show everyone how cool you are with a play of the game clip, just like in Overwatch.
It is clear that Treyarch has been looking to other games for inspiration, but it all works really well with COD’s genre-leading foundations. Although I’ve only played just over an hour of the multiplayer, I can’t wait to dive back in again – maybe next time out the back of a plane, onto an island filled with guns.