Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's Best Plays Keep Focusing on Mundane Kills While Missing Amazing Highlights

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's Best Plays Keep Focusing on Mundane Kills While Missing Amazing Highlights

Like Overwatch's Play of the Games, Black Ops 4's Best Plays don't always reward the actual best.

When Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 launched in October 2018, it brought with it one new feature to the series that hardly anyone seemed to talk about at first. That is the Best Play highlight, a brief video clip that shows at the end of a match, showcasing whatever the system's algorithm determines was the most clutch play of the round. Ideally, this would be an excellent showing of skill, luck, and use of Specialist equipment. In actuality, the selected Best Play always seems to be unimpressive.

What it's modeled after is obvious. With Black Ops 4's hero shooter-like Specialists, Call of Duty has turned its sights towards the Play of the Game feature in Overwatch, where a stellar play is showcased at the end of a match. Yet Play of the Games in Overwatch have been contentious since day one. In November 2016, Blizzard told Kotaku that it was gearing up for a big overhaul of the video highlight system to better accommodate the less flashy plays, like a good run with a support character. Well over two years later, we're still waiting for Play of the Game 2.0.

Nuketown is one of the few free new maps added post-launch. | Treyarch/Activision

Black Ops 4's own version of the highlight reel, perhaps unsurprisingly, has also faced backlash. On the Black Ops 4 subreddit and on social media, you'll find players sharing clips of what end up as the generated highlight, and usually it's pretty silly. In one recently, I saw a player give themselves a stim shot to heal, shoot a single person after, and that was that. Many others are just unexciting plays in general, the sort where one person takes down another, and no one else. In my time playing Black Ops 4, I've definitely seen a mix of solid "why them?" to "wow, that person sure killed a lot of people there in a few seconds." Even when I feel like I made a good play that should earn such honor, I've only been featured once.

Earlier this week, one of the top posts on the Black Ops 4 subreddit was a sarcastic title that read, "Why are people complaining about the POTGs [Play of the Games]? I mean, I see no problem with it." The attached video was hilarious. The user, MikeFlowYo, downs a whole team basically at the last moment of a final round, securing their team's victory. It's the sort of play you might expect to see as the Best Play of the game. And yet, the chosen Best Play is instead just one person killing one other. The end of Best Play-slow motion bullets pound into the downed foe, and then the clip is over. The post racked up nearly 400 comments and 11.6 thousand upvotes because it signaled one thing: Black Ops 4 has a Best Play problem.

Overwatch, similarly, has had the same issue. Overwatch's Play of the Games favor damage-focused heroes, the ones who have strong Ultimate abilities and can net a lot of eliminations. The other heroes that aren't so kill everything-focused are left on the sidelines as a result, save for the occasional solid Mercy play that gets a feature. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's problem is a mix of that—in favoring getting a lot of kills in one-go—and in ignoring the integral Specialist side of things entirely.

Black Ops 4, I've said in the past, is the first Call of Duty game to really hook me in years. I credit that mostly on the fact that for one, the Specialists and their unique cooldown abilities (from a grappling hook to a stationary shield with built-in radiation) were vaguely familiar to me, as someone who played Overwatch regularly for about two years. The second reason is for Blackout, a mode that brings the battle royale genre to Call of Duty, making for a fast, but well-designed map. Seeing the Best Plays issue has felt like deja vu though, like I'm sucked back into the problems Overwatch had and still hasn't fixed.

The biggest weakness to Black Ops 4's Best Plays aren't the baffling weak plays that somehow get picked; it's that even the best ones usually have nothing to do with the Specialist the player's using. In Overwatch, a strong use of an Ultimate ability or some other quick weaponplay, combined with abilities on cooldowns is a strong part of what determines a Play of the Game. In Black Ops 4, it's relegated to just killing with guns, with no other abilities like Crash's ammo pack nor Nomad's attack dog usually getting notice from the algorithm. Not even Scorestreak specials factor in. While skill in gunplay should definitely still be a top consideration, what sets Black Ops 4 apart from the vast majority of its predecessors is left on the sidelines. It's like Specialist abilities, and everything those abilities help make happen, don't really matter.

And then there's the fact that Black Ops 4's Best Play doesn't even highlight a player's loadout. When a clip is introduced, all we see is their usually dolled up Specialist and the player's username and emblem, and nothing else. If you play a lot of Call of Duty it's easy to tell what gun they're using is, but an indicator at the beginning of what perks they have equipped, in addition to what attachments are on their gun would be a welcome addition. After all, it'd be great to know what kicked my ass so I could replicate their load out and try some ass kicking of my own sometime.

Of all the Call of Duties, theoretically Black Ops 4 is the most prime for a Play of the Game system. With Specialists, unlockable equipment, plenty of loadouts to customize, Scorestreaks, over a dozen modes with different goals, and a lot more to jazz up the typical run and gun formula, it's a bummer that Black Ops 4's Best Play system has disappointed players for months on end. It's not the only complaint either, with Black Ops 4's microtransactions, segregated new map playlists for Season Pass owners, and the desire for a No Specialists mode all remaining sore spots. For the foreseeable future, we may be stuck relishing in our own killer plays alone, watching the undeserving get the spotlight in our place.

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Caty McCarthy

Senior Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's Senior Editor.

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