Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, with its very serious music and dramatic flourishes, tries to give the sense of an experience with gravity. But what I’m actually playing is a virtual version of laser tag, in which I’m trying to eliminate players on the other team in order to score points and win the match. There’s a bit of a tonal inconsistency there.
The best way to relieve some of the dissonance is to turn off the gore.
Why does it make such a big difference?
War games use violence for differing effects and emotional responses, but Black Ops 4 isn’t about war at all. The single-player campaign that used to be mined for the aesthetic and assets of the multiplayer modes is now gone, and it makes those few moments of graphic violence that were left in the game feel strange and out of place.
I feel strange running around these levels, shooting at — and being shot at by — hulking, fantastic representations of future soldiers carrying garishly painted weapons. The aesthetic is part Rambo: First Blood Part Two But in 2029, and part sugar skull. There is a game mode in which eliminated players drop oversized, cartoonish dog tags that need to be picked up to score a point.
The central message isn’t that war is hell, it’s that running around the woods with your friends while changing the rules of tag every now and again is a whole lot of fun.
That is, until you get caught in an explosion and watch your arms and legs be blown off while your body trunk, now covered in bloody stumps, drops to the ground.
The option to turn down off the gore is presented at the beginning of the game, but you can turn it off at any time if you manage to miss it during the game’s opening moments like I did. It’s not an easy to setting to find; you have to go into the interface tab and scroll down to the content filters and set “graphic content” to “hide,” from “show.” No more random moments of shocking gore in your laser tag.
That sudden sense of whiplash I experienced when a fun, tactical game suddenly turned into a slow-motion shot of graphic violence went away. It’s a remarkable shift for what sounds like such a “little” detail in print. The disconnect between the game’s over-the-top tattoo-shop aesthetic and random splatterpunk-like violence is evened out.
It may not bother everyone, and that’s fine. I’m just happy there’s an option to turn it off. I found it a bit troubling to do so, but it undoubtedly makes the game better.
Update: The option to turn the graphic violence off is presented to the player when the game opens, as well as in the options.