Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 review of reviews: What do game critics think of Battle Royale lead CoD?

Tom Hoggins
Call of Duty Black Ops 4 is out now for PS4, Xbox One and PC

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 releases today on PS4, Xbox One and PC to much intrigue. It is the first game in the hugely successful Call of Duty series not to feature a cinematic solo campaign, instead focussing on a more customisable and involved competitive multiplayer and a meaty co-operative mode in the form of Zombies.

The headline mode, though, is the addition of the Fortnite challenging Blackout, a Battle Royale mode that drops players onto a huge map and tasks them with finding equipment and be the last combatant standing.

While we are busy hot-dropping around its myriad modes for our Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 review, wanting to get into the nitty gritty on live servers, several international specialist game sites has been publishing their full reviews and early impressions. If you prefer to wait, why don’t you prepare yourself for Black Ops battle with our exclusive developer tips on competitive multiplayer, Blackout and Zombies.

But the early signs are pretty good for developer Treyarch and publisher Activision. Initial response has been highly positive, with Blackout stealing the show due to its fast pace and smaller map size in comparison to its competitors. The Telegraph enjoyed its time with the beta, of which you can read our impressions here.

The Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Battle Royale mode Blackout is proving an early hit with critics

"The unquestionable star of the show is Blackout, Call of Duty’s first foray into the battle-royale space, "said Game Informer's Daniel Tack in the US magazine's effusive 95-rated review. "The pacing of the experience is almost perfect, with a lot less foraging and a lot more action thanks to a map size that facilitates a focus on fighting. Moments where you’re running around in the doldrums of fields, rocks, and trees without enemy contact are few and far between.  You can play this mode solo, but it really sizzles in four-player squads with your friends."

Tack says that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Blackout is "the best battle-royale experience available today." High praise indeed, especially in an arena currently dominated by Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.

In his detailed 9/10 review for PCGamesN, Jordan Forward says that Blackout "fits snugly between the two disparate behemoths that currently dominate the genre."

"There’s the accessible gunplay and variety of gadgets that you’d associate with Fortnite, while the tiered armour, vehicles, and bullet drop recall PUBG’s MilSim tone," says Forward. "But Blackout also has a skill ceiling that’s approachable for the average gamer: the bullet ballistics and recoil patterns are generous, while high mobility takes the place of building mechanics, giving players scope for attacking and fleeing without having to learn how to build complex structures."

But while Blackout is receiving plaudits, the other modes of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 are also finding favour, particularly with the increased focussed on the uniquely skilled Specialists and teamwork. “Each multiplayer match is like a grudge fest between Specialists,” says GamesBeat’s Dean Takahashi. “You always find that you’ll go head-to-head against another player. You’ll peek around a corner and see an enemy. You could invoke your special ability, like Battery’s grenade launcher, or stay behind cover and heal yourself. If your enemy comes out on the attack as you heal, you might not be able to pull out your weapon in time. The multiplayer experience of Black Ops 4 is just one duel of wits after another.”

Specialists such as Battery are more of a focus in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's competitive multiplayer

Gamespot’s Kallie Plagge is less convinced, however, and says that with the exception of the Specialist focussed ‘Control’ mode, the specialists perhaps aren’t adding as much as they could. “This isn't a hero shooter, and your success is more dependent on the gun you choose and how good you are at shooting it than your skill with a particular Specialist or your team's composition,” says Plagge. “As a result, the more tactical aspects feel robbed of their impact, and committing to them isn't any more rewarding than a normal kill.”

The co-operative Zombies meanwhile feels like a ‘soft replacement’ for campaign, according to USGamer’s Mike Williams. Zombies features two separate storylines split across three maps. The Titanic-based Voyage of Despair and Roman colosseum-set IX make up the new ‘Chaos’ storyline, starring four new characters in Scarlett, Stanton, Diego and Bruno. ‘Blood of the Dead’, meanwhile, is a remake of Black Ops 2 map ‘Mob of the Dead’ starring original cast Dempsey, Nikolai, Takeo and Richtofen.

“IX is the clear stand out from what I've played so far,” says Williams. “It starts in a gladiatorial arena in the Roman Empire, but the branching paths from the hub area include dark catacombs full of mushrooms and other plant life, an Egyptian-themed area, a Viking rowhouse, and much more.”

“Voyage of Despair and Blood of the Dead stick to singular themes-corrupted versions of the Titanic and Alcatraz-but IX plays around with its map concept far more. Assuming there will be more maps added to Zombies, I'm hoping they're more like IX.”

Gamespot’s Plagge is also fond of Zombies, calling it ‘broad as it is deep’, but feels that some of the storytellin doesn’t hit its mark. Particularly when it comes to the older, perhaps more outdated characters. “Over in the Aether storyline, the Ultimus crew hasn't aged particularly well, even considering that each of them is stereotyped to the extreme,” she says. “The jokes just don't land anymore, especially Takeo's overdone Japanese accent where Ls are replaced with Rs at every opportunity. Aside from that, slowly uncovering the secrets of the homage maps is a tantalizing prospect.”

Most critics are either waiting to publish reviews after some time on liver servers, or are marking reviews as in-progress and withholding scores until a later date. A game like Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 poses an interesting challenge for game critics. IGN and Polygon, for example, have said they are not only waiting on their verdicts, but will review each portion of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 separately.

But as a package, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 looks off to a good start with critics. Takahashi says: “I enjoy the Call of Duty experience, from the feel of the weapons to the fast-action gameplay that throws you into the action. Call of Duty works best when it throws a diversity of experiences at you. The multiplayer game accomplishes this with the constant duels between the Specialists. The Zombies experience will keep you trying to survive for just one more round. And Blackout could provide an endless set of crazy and fun experiences.”

It is this diversity that could mark Black Ops 4 as a special entry into the military series, going some way to make up for the shortfall many will be feeling from the lack of a single-player campaign. We will have our own verdict in the coming days.

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is out now for PS4, Xbox One and PC