Hands-On: Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

Hands-On: Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

*PS Nation was invited to an event in Los Angeles, California by Activision for a hands-on preview of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Travel was paid for by the studio. The game was played on PS4 Pro.


Every year Call of Duty plays a delicate balancing game of trying to innovate while still catering to their most loyal and hardcore fans. This often leads to the same struggles annual sports titles fall into, where the changes are marginal and the experience for outsiders seems stagnant.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 manages to cater to the base audience while changing things dynamically enough that an outsider like me is more interested in a Call of Duty game than I’ve been in years.

I have always had a hot and cold relationship with the franchise being an avid player from Modern Warfare to the first Black Ops, only to fall off over the last couple years from both franchise fatigue and the emergence of other shooters like Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. And this year’s Call of Duty almost seems like they aimed it directly at me with the changes they made, borrowing from those franchises among others.

The first change to Black Ops 4 is a walk-back of the traversing abilities, using the motto “Boots on the ground,” Treyarch has done away with the boost jumps and wall-running the previous Black Ops 3 introduced.

The developers found that the added abilities in the last title slowed the game down. It sounds odd, but it’s true. Often while playing Black Ops 3, I found myself focusing on my movement rather than the action, with my gun being somewhat unusable during traversing. Treyarch realized this and now boots are on the ground and the flow of combat feels like it should, fast and intense with little interference in travel.

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This brings us to Treyarch’s next motto, “Guns up,” which refers to the fact that your weapon will always be pointed out and ready to use. You no longer find yourself in a compromised position due to jumping or running. Your gun is always ready, allowing for a smooth flow of combat.

Specialists return with some new additions and tweaks, featuring special abilities and an “ultimate ability.” For example, one character has the ability to place down a barricade and another can heal with their ultimate ability. This adds another layer of strategy to the games. Your team might find better success if you have a more balanced approach to specialists that take advantage of the special abilities.

By default matches will only allow one specialist per team, so you won’t end up with a team of all the same character. It very much feels like this year’s game is leaning towards a hero shooter similar to Overwatch. It doesn’t go full on in that direction as you can equip whatever gun you want on your specialist and in modes like Team Deathmatch you can still win without using abilities, but you might find wins easier to achieve by using all the available tools.

The final major change is to the health system. No longer will your health auto-regenerate! Now you have to heal yourself after taking damage. Healing is now done with L1 and it’s limited by a cooldown. I cannot reiterate enough how much of a welcomed change this brings to the gameplay. We have all come to expect the same old health system year after year and this adds a whole new dynamic to the gameplay. You can no longer rely on your health regenerating automatically, you have to be aware of it and it’s yet another layer of strategy to the combat.

You have to decide when the best time to heal will be. Are you going to heal immediately after taking damage and risk not being able to heal right away if you run into a crazier situation? Are you going to engage in combat with time still left on the healing cooldown? It’s a layer of tension that Call of Duty multiplayer needed and something other games have been doing for years.

It’s been a few years since I have enjoyed a Call of Duty title. My departure from the franchise was due to a combination of the series feeling stagnant and other games coming into the spotlight and surpassing Call of Duty as the big man on campus.

I spent roughly two hours playing Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and as someone that walked away from the series years ago I was surprised how easily I was able to jump back in and have fun.

All the changes and additions mentioned above are most notable in the non-Team Deathmatch modes. My gameplay session featured three modes, Control Hardpoint and Team Deathmatch and three different maps. Control and Hardpoint are two modes Black Ops fans will be familiar with and the new elements only improve them.

The specialists shine in these more strategic modes since defending objectives successfully requires the full use of a team’s various abilities. Countless matches were saved when players would use their abilities at the right time either by stacking the abilities with each other or saving them for the last push. It was one the first times I felt that communication was a necessity in a Call of Duty game.

I know that might sound blasphemous to some. Yes, communication and teamwork was always useful in Call of Duty, but oftentimes a lone wolf could dramatically change the dynamic of a game and now teamwork can possibly trump those elite lone wolves.

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Once my team was communicating, not just pointing out target locations, and using their various abilities in conjunction, we were able to win matches.

Treyarch clearly took notes from others on the market and decided to take the franchise in another direction. Don’t worry though, it’s still Call of Duty. The shooting is still the best in the business, but they’ve just added new layers to make for a more compelling experience to compete in today’s market.

Now the big question is whether Treyarch can make Call of Duty work in the crowded battle royale space with Blackout.

Published by Activision and developed by Treyarch, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is scheduled to be released on October 12, 2018 for PlayStation 4.

Written by Michael Cwick

Michael Cwick

Just a nerd from the Windy City. I’m actually really bad at describing myself because I get all self-critical and self-conscious. Follow me on Twitter, @The1stMJC, to see my borderline insane rants on tv shows and other non important subjects. If I’m not tweeting I’m probably just watching Buffy or Firefly for the millionth time.

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