Random Violence: How Black Ops 4 Forgot the Call

Mines can sever legs in Black Ops 4. Walk over an explosive and the player avatar switches from first to third-person as to best capture the blood splatter on the walls and likely, the now separated legs rolling across the floor until inertia stalls their momentum.

There’s more detail in Call of Duty now, compared to entries on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. A lot of the new texture is in the gore. So great is the resolution, blood will stain gun metal when killing in close. Likewise, the dangling flesh from a lost limb protrudes a visible bone, surrounded by messy, flailing skin, sinew, and muscle.

In 2008, Call of Duty: World at War used similar methods – if not with the same resolution – to depict the Pacific font of World War II. Shoot an enemy’s limb and off it came. Gunfire from mounted turrets shredded bodies and flamethrowers sent Japanese forces to their deaths in a grotesque light show. As earnest as any popcorn video game, World at War used splatter effects to put forward an attempt at gruesome authenticity.

Note the United States voluntarily discontinued flamethrower use in 1978. Black Ops 4 brings them back, and gleefully. During a training mission narrated by frequent Black Ops character Frank Woods, he jokes, “Everybody loves a good barbecue. It just depends on who’s flipping the burgers.” He’s having a grand time watching off-screen, commenting on how awesome this all is. That’s a thing with Black Ops 4; it loves war, sells it and adores it. So much so, Black Ops 4 doesn’t even have a reason for this fighting.

Excising a narrative-driven campaign from the feature set, Black Ops 4 is a collection of modes that pay heed to trends. There’s Blackout. That’s how Call of Duty is entering the popularized Battle Royale genre where 100 soldiers drop into a context-less battlefield and aim to survive. The who/what/why isn’t made clear. It’s a showcase for mauling digital bodies. Legs still separate and flamethrowers still send digital people to their death amid chaotic screams.

Optionally, the gore aspect is removable. Upon booting Black Ops 4 for the first time, the menu asks if bloodier aspects need toned down, suited for personal taste. Without the legless corpses, Woods seems especially psychotic – as if he’s seeing the violence without it actually happening. Regardless, the option exists. Violence becomes less innate, with weakened inertia to the combat, to an awkwardly comical degree with the flopping physics keeping everything together.

A corporate cool hangs over Black Ops 4. It’s crass, really. Without cause, Black Ops 4 takes remarkable casualness about killing and maiming. Limbs sit in piles; Black Ops 4 celebrates by handing out post-game awards to dramatic music stings. Anything to keep players hooked, and this time regressing to a sour display of exploitative violence and rah-rah cheering from in-game dialog. Woods’ performance is appalling, jovial regarding what he sees, speaking as many expletives as players shoot bullets. He reduces people to “french-fried dip-sh*ts,” a means to dehumanize those to be shot. That’s propaganda, intermixed with a marketable, immature sheen.

As a product, Call of Duty the series turned away from being about the actual “call.” Infinite Warfare took things to a sci-fi setting in 2016, the last time this series thoughtfully used the blockbuster mold to draw parallels to sacrifice and why people serve. That, in a game with lasers and spaceships. In what seems now like an alternate timeline, death in Call of Duty once brought forward a quote about the horrors of war, historical context from Ghandi and Hemingway, used to offset the run-and-gun attraction. Black Ops 4 is so far removed from intellectualism. It’s an embarrassing, childish sideshow, so clearly bred from a pro-war stance that nothing resembles the series as it was. The unicorn and pure gold gun skins don’t help.

Of course, Zombies return. That’s where a group of friends make a stand against charging undead, each boarded up location given a thin backstory. And, in any order, each is more ludicrous than the last. In Black Ops 4, one of those standoffs is aboard the Titanic, where gunslingers battle well dressed (if rotting) passengers. All the while, the fated iceberg looms in the background. It’s all played for laughs too. How tone deaf and boorish Black Ops has become, no longer content with exploiting wartime tragedy, but historical incidences too.

At least there’s an unlockable unicorn gun to shoot people with, right?

Matt Paprocki is a freelance writer, with words at Variety, Rolling Stone/Glixel, Polygon, and so on. His views expressed in this article don’t necessarily reflect those of UFG. Fill free to debate the merits of Red Dead Revolver with him via Twitter!

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