Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s announcement caused quite a fanfare. In the wake of its official reveal, people road the hype wave and perhaps got swept away wondering what this next game could be like. The problem is, this new installment does not seem to follow the pattern of past games in the series. Rather, it feels like Treyarch and Activision could be throwing away the things that do matter about Call of Duty: Black Ops in favor of greed and getting in on gaming fads.
The first hint that something is not quite kosher is not bothering with a campaign. The Call of Duty: Black Ops line has always had these interconnected storylines that follow Cold Wars in different eras. We have grown with these characters and have a history with them. Then, all of a sudden for the fourth installment, this is gone. How does this point to a focus on making money and following fads? Well, campaigns cost a lot of money. Black Ops has always pulled in famous actors like Christopher Meloni, Sam Worthington, and Michael Keaton. They take a lot more time to build and create. They also are one-and-done affairs, where companies can’t keep making more money off of them. By removing the story, we lose a big part of what makes this line of Call of Duty games unique.
The changes to gameplay also point to alterations that might make Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 more generic. When I was playing through the multiplayer during the reveal event, I had a lot of fun! But, I also felt like I was not really relying on my own loadout and skills, so much as trying to play to my character’s strength. Basically, even though it was a feet-on-the-ground kind of experience, it also felt more like Overwatch than Call of Duty to me. I was playing around my skills being ready to trigger, rather than focusing on the guns I had brought with me into the match. I felt as though I was encouraged to be more active than strategic, as I went to capture or defend points. It is like Call of Duty may be trying to get in on the first-person shooter fad where all of the characters are these defined figures, rather than letting people be their own heroes in multiplayer. Perhaps we will have to buy new heroes? Maybe that is how Activision will make more money?
Blackout concerns me as well. Mainly, because at the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 reveal, all Activision and Treyarch did was say that a bunch of famous characters from the history of the Call of Duty series will appear in it as playable characters. Which is cool! That is an exciting development! But, the fact that all we know is it will involve a big, battle royale map like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite is not as great. That no details, beyond the playable characters, appeared at the official reveal is suspicious. It makes me think this mode was tacked on and developed after the fact, and the reason we did not see it is because it was only developed after those other two games became such huge hits in late 2017. Again, shoehorning in Blackout, something that can be continually updated and monetized, seems greedy and like a way to chase fads.
Then, there is Zombies. When I saw IX, one of the first Zombies maps for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, I wondered why Activision and Treyarch would want to copy For Honor. As a reminder, For Honor is Ubisoft’s first-person dueling game. The IX map puts four Call of Duty players in an arena with melee weapons, where they will end up facing zombies. Now granted, For Honor is lacking when it comes to the undead, but this map’s concept – ancient warriors fighting in an arena with melee weapons, calls that to mind instead of past Zombies entries.
It all comes together to result in a Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 that feels less cohesive. This is more like a marketing department sent a bullet-pointed listed of currently popular games, like Fortnite and Overwatch, then told Treyarch to make the latest entry more like them. Instead of having a campaign carrying on an established timeline and gameplay that feels familiar, we have elements and modes that might not be exact perfect fits. I hope I am wrong, but it all makes me feel like this next entry could suffer from an identity crisis.