“Call of Duty: Black Ops 4” is, misleadingly, the fifth game in the half of the "Call of Duty (CoD)" game series that is being made by Treyarch. It stirred up massive speculation after the game was announced a few months ago and revealed that first, it would no longer have a single player campaign, and second, would instead focus on a new battle royale mode in an obvious attempt to cash in on the success of “Fortnite” and “PUBG.”
Many have come to both sides in a slow burning flame war amidst accusations of abuse of pre-order culture, special editions, saturated microtransactions, and blatant pandering to the mainstream. But who cares? Its the "Call of Duty." At this point you either treat it like the inevitable coming of winter or have written so many YouTube comments bashing it that now you’ve given up.
Instead, I am going to be analyzing the one and only thing "CoD" still has left: the zombies mode. Yes, beneath the repetitive and tired formula of the annual "CoD" release lies a surprisingly lively and utterly unique little oasis within the game’s ongoing zombies mode and storyline. Personally I have been following Treyarch’s zombies storyline with the utmost interest since it first dropped in 2008’s “World at War.” It has featured a deceptively depthful storyline told through an engaging series of clues and enigmas, leaving the community picking apart its pieces to unravel it all; as well as some amazing characters, great design, addictive gameplay, and a genre of overall aesthetic and atmosphere it essentially created itself.
So I will be looking at how "Black Ops 4 (BO4)" continues this tradition, how it holds up on its own as well as how it compares to its ancestors. And let me start by saying that in regards to new stuff, "BO4" zombies feel like a reboot. As opposed to the usual one or two, the game features four zombies maps on launch: Voyage of Despair, taking place on the Titanic after the iceberg hit and taking the title for worst zombies map title from Shadows of Evil; Blood of the Dead, the remake of the fan-favorite Mob of the Dead from "Black Ops 2 (BO2)" that Treyarch has been teasing for a long time now; Classified, only available via pre-order bonus, a remake of the map Five from the original "Black Ops" zombies; and IX, a map set in ancient Rome, and presumably pronounced “9” as per the Roman numerals, so we have a five and a nine now.
In addition, the story has now been split two ways, with the “Ether” storyline following the Primis versions of the original four characters: Tank Dempsey, Nikolai Belinski, Takeo Masaki and Edward Richtofen; and the “Chaos” storyline following four new characters: Scarlett Rhodes, Bruno Delacroix, Diego Necalli and Stanton Shaw. The Ether storyline appears on Blood of the Dead and Classified, whereas the Chaos storyline features in Voyage of Despair and IX. I could talk for hours more about each of these maps, particularly Blood of the Dead which has seen the classic map get a huge overhaul, but we would never get to the rest of the game.
Aside from the maps, the biggest changes have come in regards to the gameplay and mechanics. Zombies now essentially has a class system, with you being able to customize your perks, gobblegums (now elixirs), talismen, mutations, loadout, and specialist weapons; you earn experience to level up and unlock more stuff, and each item has a big role to play. Let's start with elixirs, the replacement for the "Black Ops 3 (BO3)" gobblegums. Rather than equipping a set of five gobblegums that you could be given at random from a gobblegum machine, you now just choose four elixirs and you can activate them at any time. Aside from the basic ones there are still only a limited number of each you can have, and you’ll need to grind or pay to get more; but the interesting thing is that the elixirs feel kinda underpowered. There are no longer the busted gobblegums like near-death experience or power vacuum from "BO3," and overall lends to more game balance and much less of a pay-to-win system.
Mutations are another big thing, allowing you to customize virtually everything in a given zombies game, from enemy speed to whether or not the game will let you open doors. Playing with mutations removes the ability to go for leaderboard runs and go for the easter eggs, but allows for a nice bit of variety to the games. Talisman act as essentially one-time buffs active for the entirety of a single game, and for loadout you can modify your starting gear so you begin with more than the standard pistol. As for the specialist weapons, they’re a bit of an oddity. You remember the special slot wonder weapons from "BO3" like the skull of Nan-Sapwe or the Annihilator? Well the specialist weapons are just that, except Treyarch decided that actually having to earn a wonder weapon was way too much of a hassle, so instead they just give you one. You can pick from one of four different weapons, with a different set of four weapons for the Chaos characters and the Ether characters, and you are given that weapon from the word go.
The specialist weapons are absolutely broken, in particular the hammer for the Chaos characters that gives you infinite Wunderwaffe and the Takeo’s katana for the Ether characters that gives you invisibility and an insta-kill dash attack that lets you slide around the map like you're Sonic. As a side note, the death machine powerup drop has been removed because it is now one of the specialist weapons for the Ether characters, in its place is a powerup that looks like two crossed swords that instantly ends the cooldowns on your specialist weapons.
The DFG-Ragnarok from Der Eisendrache also makes a reappearance as a specialist weapon, but you can no longer fly around with them so don't even bother. But by far the biggest change has come to the perks. The perk-a-colas of the zombies series have become so iconic and such an integral part of the series that merchandise relating to them is more plentiful and recognizable than any other "CoD" related trinkets. In "BO4," they have been removed. Instead, each map now has exactly four generic perk machines, and through your loadout you can choose which perks appear in which machine, from a total of 14. That means no more uniquely designed perk machines, no more free perk bottle drop, and worst of all no more perk jingles. Three of the original four perks; Speed Cola, Double Tap, and yes, Juggernog have all been removed entirely.
The only one that remains is Quick Revive. St min-up, Mule Kick, Deadshot Daiquiri (now called Deadshot Dealer), Electric Cherry (now called Electric Burst), Widow’s Wine (now entirely revamped into Winter’s Wail) and finally PhD Flopper (now called PhD Slider) all have made a return. On the plus side, Treyarch has finally added a number of perks people have been asking for, Quick Revive for instance now has the added effect of quicker health regeneration, just like the fan demanded “Regenerade” perk.
Timeslip reduces the cooldowns on everything, your specialist weapons, elixirs, and even shortens the time for a mystery box weapon to appear. Death Wish allows you to go into a berserker mode for a few seconds instead of going into last stand, but you come out of it with 1 health. Stone Cold Stronghold gives you extra damage and armor for standing your ground. Victorious Tortoise allows the zombie shield to protect you on all sides when held, and explodes when destroyed. Bandolier Bandit allows you to hold more ammo, Death Perception allows you to see enemies through walls, and Secret Sauce gives you a random perk not in your lineup.
As you can imagine, removing Juggernog means the game is now significantly harder, leaving you at a permanent 3 hits before death. The only way to counteract this is with certain perks, especially Stone Cold Stronghold, and specialist weapons like the scepter and minigun. By extension this encourages players to camp rather than training the zombies, something so integral to the game as a whole it just feels wrong to discourage it. By no means is training no longer viable, and in certain maps there just aren't any good camping spots, but the way the game is set up really discourages it.
Alright, enough about all that, what do I like? First and foremost the design. Not the graphics, though being a triple-A game they are of course as you’d expect, I'm talking about the actual design for the maps, layouts, and weapons. The weapons in particular are great, they are all pseudo-modern looking, almost steampunk-ish guns that all just look really cool and unique, and it adds a lot to the game. Probably my biggest complaint of "BO2" and "BO3" zombies was that most of the weapons just weren't all that cool, and just felt like you were holding a Nerf gun. The wonder weapons as well for "BO4" are all incredibly well designed, including the specialist weapons for all their faults, for instance the wonder weapon for Voyage of Despair, the Kraken, is some kind of rotating three-barrelled mobile ship cannon that I absolutely love. The new characters are also very enjoyable, despite my worries that we would end up with another Tranzit cast.
But overall, "BO4" zombies just doesn’t feel like zombies. It feels more like Exo-zombies or "Infinite Warfare" zombies than it does the classic Nazi Zombies mode. It has just lost the utterly unique dark but humorous electropunk charm that made zombies such an instant classic, from the chime of the mystery box to the pack-a-punch machine making weapons into laser guns that make pew pew sounds when they shoot. So much of that has been reduced, cut back or replaced that it just does not feel the same.
The trend of this happening has been a slow but sure one, ever since “Black Ops” zombies things have been going downhill, but the games had still managed to maintain that pure originality that zombies came with. But with "BO4," I can say with fair certainty that it is now faded, and it looks like the “Call of Duty” series no longer has anything worth my or anyone else's time. While future downloadable content (DLC) maps have always been a saving grace of the zombies modes of yesteryear, the drastic shifts to the core mechanics of the mode as a whole seem to ensure that not even they could bring redemption. And so I sing a sad farewell to, yes, believe it or not, one of my favorite video game series of all time.
Final score: 4/10: There is honestly a lot of positive within the game, but compared to previous entries it has just lost its spark.
Image courtesy of Treyarch Studios