It’s like the holidays in August. Activision and Treyarch are in the midst of giving players their first broadly available taste of multiplayer combat in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, and I’ve been diving into the core Team Deathmatch and Control modes on the PlayStation 4.
The Black Ops 4 multiplayer beta test continues until 10 a.m. Pacific time on Monday August 6, and it has six maps, 10 Specialists, and a familiar Pick 10 system where you can customize your loadout. The full game will debut on October 12 without a single-player campaign, but it will have multiplayer, three Zombies episodes, and a new battle royale map dubbed Blackout. Treyarch isn’t showing off battle royale yet.
In this multiplayer, you can’t run on walls or do “thrust jumps,” a superhuman ability to jump to the top of buildings thanks to exoskeleton technology. Players apparently had their fill of such wildly superhuman abilities with the relatively unpopular Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare in 2016, which took the Call of Duty universe into the science fiction realm.
Treyarch dialed the time frame back from the previous sci-fi setting of Black Ops 3, which was set in the year 2065. The story, such as it is, takes place between the years of Black Ops 3 and Black Ops 2, which was set in 2025. It is a return to “boots on the ground.” You can check out my gameplay videos in this post. As usual, I’m not a fantastic player. But I’m enjoying myself.
Back to duels
The return to infantry ground combat is a welcome change for me, as I really enjoyed last year’s Call of Duty: WWII. I found I could compete better and enjoy the realism of the fighting when someone wasn’t jumping over my head and shooting down on me. Most of the maps feel like they have fewer lanes.
That means you’ll run head-on into enemies. When you do, you’ll have a better chance of hitting them by spraying your fire while aiming, as your bullets are more likely to go exactly where you are aiming. That’s a little different from past games, where it seemed your bullets sprayed everywhere except at the target.
The mini-map is useful as it tells you where enemy fire is coming from, and you can head toward the part of the map where the action is unfolding. But it has fog of war. You have a ring of awareness around you and your teammates, but everything else is dark. If you have the Recon Specialist, you can put sensors up to light up certain areas.
When I ran into an enemy, I felt like it was getting back to a mano-a-mano duel. Most of the time, the person with the quicker draw and faster aim wins, and that’s usually not me. Typically, the match unfolds like this: You run into someone and fight it out one-on-one. Someone else sees you or hears you and then comes over to finish you off. Then someone finishes off that person. The gun noises and the tracers give you away, and you have to be a good player to break that cycle.
You can hang back and hide behind cover, but that makes you vulnerable from behind. If you’re running, it makes sense to hit a button so you can do a long slide into the action area, and then fire while you are sliding.
As for health, you no longer automatically heal, and it takes a while to remember that. You have to trigger healing yourself, and, just as in reloading, it means you have to disengage from combat at key points. If you get wounded in a first encounter with an enemy, you can hide behind a wall. At that point, you have a choice. You can try to get the jump on the enemy by rushing back into the fray, or you can hang back and heal yourself. Sometimes you can get the drop on the enemy if you make the right decision.
Maps that spread out the action
So far, I haven’t played any really tight maps where you’re always tripping over other players. The maps have some verticality, but they feel fairly large, giving players more of a chance to spread out and fight each other one-on-one. You can, of course, pair up and follow other players and try to get the drop on enemies as they shoot at other team members.
Seaside felt like the best map to me, as it has a central battle zone in a damaged church with a sniper’s window and a wide plaza below. It has lanes with indoor battle spaces on the sides for those who hope to run around the enemy and catch them from behind. So you can either rush forward with a group or outflank the enemy.
The Frequency map is a covert listening station in the mountains of China. Contraband is a jungle beach with a few short-range choke points that are good for Control battles, where you’re trying to take and hold a particular part of the map. You can swim underwater (and shoot underwater) to try to outflank enemies, but you’re vulnerable to fire from others who can spot you swimming. Overall, it’s a fairly large map where you can see (from the videos) how long you run on your own before you run into an enemy. It’s also quite hard to figure out where the front line is in a map like this, in contrast to Battlefield games, where that’s usually pretty clear.
Gridlock is a Japanese city map with a bunch of paths and short-range spaces, and a couple of lanes where snipers can have a field day. I kept hoping to hit some enemies by tossing out my cluster grenades around corners.
Specialists encourage team play
Black Ops 4 brings back specialists, who have certain unique special abilities. You can use the best abilities maybe once in a match, as they go on a cool-down timer before you can use them again. When a match starts, you pick your Specialist and your loadout, and hopefully your teammates don’t choose the exact same thing.
The Ruin character, for instance, is back and can kill everyone in a certain radius by pounding the ground with a Grav Slam explosive. He also has a grappling hook that he can point at and shoot. When the hook hits an object, like a window three floors above, it pulls Ruin to the location. It’s the closest thing to flying in the game, and it can be used to great effect when trying to get a vertical leap on rivals. But you can’t use it all the time.
I’ve enjoyed trying out Battery, who has a cluster grenade as a special accessory. You can toss it and it sticks to the target. Then it blows up, and sets off a few extra secondary explosions in the same area. It’s great to use when the enemy is holed up in a space with multiple soldiers.
Battery also has a grenade launcher that goes live when you earn enough points in a battle. The grenade launcher lasts for a short time and then it goes away on a cool-down. I liked using it as it reminded me of the good old “noob tube” grenade launcher that players used (too much) in previous Call of Duty games.
After leveling up a bit, I was able to create my own class of loadout. So I chose a Titan light machine gun, which is slower to draw but packs a punch at longer distances. So you get a fair amount of choice when it comes to picking one of 10 specialists and picking your loadout as well. Each gun has its own set of unique attachments. I liked how I could shoot at enemies far away and adjust my fire as needed.
When I had my grenade launcher, I realized that I could hang back and go up to a vertical position. My fellow teammates could attack on a front line, but I could pick where I wanted to help them out by lobbing grenades at entrenched enemies. That worked pretty well when we were in some kind of defensive position.
Each specialist has a purpose. Firebreak can drop a reactor core, a radiation gadget that denies a certain piece of turf to the enemy, as it emits radiation that harms the enemy soldiers. When you are trying to control a point, Firebreak’s reactor core can be useful. He also has a flamethrower that can scorch anything within a short range.
Crash is a medic whose Tak-5 ability can heal four allies at once, and it can heal friendly players through walls. Crash can also drop an assault pack to provide ammo for other players. I usually don’t survive long enough for this to be useful.
Nomad has a dog that is very distracting because it can kill you. If you shoot at the dog (yes, that made me feel bad), you may very well find that Nomad is hitting your from another direction. Another character, Recon, can shoot battlefield sensor darts at targets to give everyone on the team a better situational awareness of what is happening in the area where the dart lands. Recon’s ability is a “vision pulse,” which reveals enemies in the surrounding area and makes them visible to every member on the team.
Seraph has a deadly one shot, one kill revolver dubbed the Annihilator, and she has a Tac-Deploy beacon that lets teammates respawn to the beacon. Ajax is a tank with a 9-bang grenade that can stun you, and he carries a ballistic shield that can stop a lot of ordnance. Prophet has a tactical rifle that fires electrical shock rounds, and I was trapped plenty of times by Prophet’s Seeker Shock Mine, an automated rolling mine that seeks out enemies and paralyzes them with a shock. And lastly, Torque has razor wire that can damage or slow down enemies who run into it. And he can deploy a barricade for cover.
I’m enjoying what I’m playing so far, but I’m most curious about the Blackout battle royale map, which is naturally coming later. I can tell that the combat is going to be a lot harder than Call of Duty: WWII. That’s because the action is faster in Black Ops 4. It’s going to take me more time to get used to the Specialists and the weapons. Treyarch itself has said it is tuning the game based on feedback from the beta.
I suspect that will be good for players who like variety, but this game could prove intimidating to ordinary players who, like me, will have a harder time surviving on the battlefield compared to WWII. That said, I still see a common thread here. I can sit and camp with my light machine gun and try to survive using tactics I’ve used before in plenty of other Call of Duty games. So Black Ops 4 will feel familiar, even if it takes place in a very different time frame compared to last year’s game.
Treyarch will have one more multiplayer beta weekend on Friday August 10 at 10 a.m. Pacific until 10 a.m. Monday August 13. A PC-only beta will take place from Saturday August 11 at 10 a.m. until 10 a.m. on Monday August 13.