Video game review: ‘Call of Duty’ brings new addition to lineup

Phoenix Burnett | Contributing Writer

Anyone with even an iota of video game knowledge should be familiar with the “Call of Duty” series. With 16 games in 16 years, it has cemented its name in the annals of the most influential video game series of all time. At one point, it had the same kind of trend-setting, culture-crossing reputation that we see nowadays with “Fortnite,” but nothing lasts forever. With a yearly installment where innovation is minimal—and when changes are large, the fanbase complains about it until the next game comes out, then those changes are seen more favorably—one gets tired of playing “COD” in general. Due to the decreasing yearly sales, the suits at Activision have shifted the series from being the leaders (the concept of choosing your weapons pre-match in online shooters is one of the innovations from this series) to the followers in game design. So, four months after the newest version was released to the public, have Treyarch, this year’s developers, been able to synthesize current gaming trends with the core design of “COD?” Nope. The essence of “COD” must be sacrificed in order to properly utilize elements from current gaming trends—hero shooters and battle royales—but it isn’t. If you, the reader, do not go beyond this paragraph, I want to point out that this game lacks a proper identity; it does nothing to help it stand out from other shooters. For this review, I will be breaking this game into three different sections, since each game mode caters to different (usually not intermingling) communities.

Battle Royales

I believe “Blackout,” “Call of Duty’s” Battle Royale mode, is the worst feature in the game. Although I do not like the genre, I respect how they were able to put the game together, at least when the game was first released. Back when “Blackout” was announced, it was speculated that Treyarch was forced to develop this mode at the last second because they showed very little at E3, the biggest gaming convention of the year. Considering Treyarch is known for their stories, it was perceived as out of character for them to dedicate all their resources to making a purely multiplayer game. Once the game debuted, it was clear that this mode was rushed. Textures did not load properly, matches often experienced lag and the game was extremely unbalanced. This is not to mention the fact that the mode was not able to achieve 100 players per match, which was considered the standard for battle royale games back in October 2018.

But why is it bad? “COD” has been popular for a long time because of the rapid confrontation facilitated by high lethality and map design. The best maps, according to the community, were small in scale and feature many corners and hallways, resulting in winners of skirmishes usually choosing the map with faster reflexes and instinct. If you died, you immediately respawned and found another firefight to engage in. “Blackout” changes this by stretching the map to 1,500 times the normal size and making most of it open fields. Despite raising the player count to over 80, the pace of a match is slowed down drastically, especially when considering the fact that each player only has one life. The favored strategy is more passive, hiding until you hear a firefight in the distance and then picking off whoever won (which is generally the strategy in this genre) and demanding more tactical awareness, which the standard multiplayer mode does not require.

In sacrificing the essence of “COD’s” multiplayer, gamers are given nothing new or unique, unless you include the temporary buffs and guns that come from the multiplayer, which I don’t. “Blackout” is a more polished version of “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds,” going for a more “realistic” approach where gun attachments and bullet drop matters greatly, but this genre is already passed saturation. The only reason “Blackout” is popular is because it took “PUBG”’s audience by being slightly less glitchy and not having a hacking problem. (“PUBG” has literally millions of Chinese hackers exploiting their infrastructure.) It took four months for “COD” to catch up to “PUBG” and, having played it again a day before writing this, it is still a frustrating and slow game with an audience that continues to act single-mindedly, as if they are playing the multiplayer mode on a larger map.

Multiplayer

Whereas “Blackout” applied “COD” to the battle royale genre, the multiplayer mode applied it to hero shooters, and, somehow, I find it even more disgusting. “COD” is a lone-wolf game. Although players play on teams—Team Deathmatch is consistently the most played rule set—every member is functionally playing alone against a group of enemies also playing alone. The only time team members are able to assist each other is by getting a certain amount of kills and using a UAV, an ability that reveals enemies on a mini map. Therefore, the mindset of the general populace is a selfish one with tunnel vision. Hero shooters, on the other hand, rely on players’ unique abilities that interact with each other. This game design encourages and requires teammates to work together and utilize strategy. “COD” and hero shooters are diametrically opposed.

As a result of this, the original design would have to be drastically altered to accommodate hero shooters, but instead, “Black Ops 4”’s multiplayer is in a state of limbo. On one hand, it has made attempts to be more like a hero shooter: Players have more health; killstreaks are now based on points (meaning you can earn them by playing objective rather than simply killing enemies); weapon loadout choices are more meaningful; team matches went from six vs. six to five vs. five; and players control unique characters. Although this is the third game in the past four years to feature “specialist” or unique characters, it is clear that they design them with the intention of characters working together. The specialist now brings two unique abilities that serves a specific purpose, usually with the intention of helping the team, such as Crash’s abilities to heal teammates and boost how many points a player gets per kill (making killstreaks easier to earn). The new maps and game modes are designed around these specialists, because otherwise they would be useless. Maps need corridors and hallways or Torque and Nomad, who can set razor wire and trip mines, will be useless; they also need verticality or Ruin’s grappling hook would be useless. It is immediately apparent why certain parts of the new maps are designed the way they are.

On the other hand, it does not fully commit to being a hero shooter. While there are 10 default specialists (two more were added, but you would need to play the game during the season they were added in order to unlock them), most of them are not played. The most played specialist is Prophet, who has a drone that chases one enemy and stuns them and has a long range lightning gun that can jump onto different enemies. His skills do not offer the team any utility, while the specialists with high utility, including Zero, Torque and Recon, are some of the least used, but it doesn’t matter. The recharge time for abilities and ultimates are so long that, unless you are using the passive ability that reduces the time it takes to charge, you will only be able to use an ult once a match on average. Since specialists do not affect the primary way to kill opponents, that is, shooting them with a gun, they do not contribute to how one approaches the game the majority of the time. Everyone has access to the same guns and passives, which neutralizes any real diversity in gameplay experiences one would expect in hero shooters. Therefore, the only specialists that matter are ones who leverage your advantage in a firefight, such as Ajax’s 9-bang that blinds and incapacitates any enemy caught in its series of flashes. So, why bother if they won’t commit?

Zombies

In comparison, I think zombies is the only mode that has benefited from gameplay changes, and, as my intention is to criticize the game, I have very little to say about it. In this current edition for zombies, players can create loadouts they can bring into a match, which affects their starting weapon and grenade, what power-ups they can get and what ultimate ability one can use. The storyline you choose, Aether or Chaos, will affect which set of ultimate abilities you have access to, guns or melee weapons, respectively. I find the Chaos weapons more enjoyable, as there is nothing in the game more satisfying than summoning Mjolnir, Thor’s Hammer, and turning zombies into glorified golf balls. In either choice, the ultimate abilities are meant to be used liberally as a get-out-of-jail-free card since they become stronger as more zombies are killed with them. Ignoring those new aspects, the game is still the same somewhat casual experience one would expect from zombies. Start up a match, run around, shoot zombies, die and repeat.

“COD” is currently having an identity crisis. Activision’s publishing strategy of releasing a game every year is coming back to bite them. At some point, the audience will get tired of playing the same game over and over again, especially if it lacks complexity. Therefore, I want to offer some advice to them: Bo trend they chase nor “classic” they remaster will prevent the death of their series, especially with their yearly releases. Once they acknowledge that, they can focus on keeping the current population faithfully engaged in their series.

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