2018 is the year where skeptics can't deny Activision took a risk and did something different with the annualized Call of Duty series. They let developer Treyarch throw away the single player story campaign planned for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 during development, and replace it with another type of the multiplayer mode - the biggest the series has ever seen.
You'd be forgiven for referring to Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 as simply, "Blackout," since there are most certainly a contingent of players only jumping into Black Ops 4 for the all-new and heavily publicized Blackout mode, the Activision's first ever take on the mighty popular battle royale genre that's stolen attention away from games like Call of Duty.
With Black Ops 4, Call of Duty now competes with modern gaming juggernauts PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Fortnite directly, and hopes to earn similar attention and online popularity among influencers, streamers, and YouTubers. Blackout mode, representing one of the three core pillars of Black Ops 4 alongside its regular multiplayer suite and zombies co-op missions, is much more polished than PUBG and the countless "early access" battle royale games on the market. It's especially impressive given that Blackout was a relatively last minute addition to a franchise and game engine that has never supported large player counts and maps. The devs told us directly that Blackout didn't really being active development until earlier this year, and as a rushed project and a major pivot for the game, the decision to go for it totally paid off.
Black Ops 4's Blackout Battle Royale Mode is Familiar But Addictive
Blackout sees up to 100 players drop onto the largest ever Call of Duty map - comprised of familiar locations, assets, and scenery from all of Treyarch's Black Ops games - without any gear or weapons. Players, either playing solo or in duos/quads, must rush to gear up with weapons, equipment, perks, armor, first aid, and modifications for their weapons and take out other players with the goal of being the last alive. There are vehicles and random air supply drops too. Once you die, you're out of the game and can spectate or head back to the menu. Blackout does the same stuff PUBG does but adds in certain Call of Duty staples, like a version of perks that can be picked up and used as temporary buffs, scorestreak pickups, or certain map locations which feature AI zombies and mystery boxes (with rare weapons).
Where the traditional story campaigns gave Activision the chance to include celebrities in Call of Duty games and marketing materials, and blockbuster gameplay clips to showcase, the missions themselves never totaled more than a few hours. And from a business perspective these campaigns weren't monetized beyond the retail value of the base product every year. With Blackout, Activision has the chance to bring in a new base of fans, bring back some old fans, and it positions Call of Duty among the most talked about shooters on the market - where it used to reign supreme in the franchise's prime. It also gives them a whole new esports segment to explore, a new pillar of the game that can be monetized and evolved as a live service over time, and most interestingly, it makes Call of Duty a real player for the PC crowd again.
For that reason, while we spent countless hours on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game, it's Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 on PC where we're basing our review. Call of Duty has always been a shooter designed for consoles first, and it showed over the years. Compared to most shooters, we'd argue previous Call of Duty entries actually played better on a controller and on the console ecosystems - a stark contrast to games like Battlefield and Rainbow Six which absolutely should be played on PC.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, thanks in part due to inclusion of the 100-player Blackout mode, was given its fair shake on PC - more than most Call of Duty games. Developer Beenox, with support from Raven Software, was tasked with making a PC version of Black Ops 4 that PC gamers could love, and they nailed it.
The in-game controls and interfaces, the amount of options, and the overall performance and presentation is top notch with Black Ops 4 even if a few things are hard to find at first without exploring the menus. The more intimate and tactical competitive multiplayer suite featured in Black Ops 4 runs well on PC, and the polish of Blackout mode raises the bar of what gamers should expect from triple-A battle royale experiences going forward.
We should note that, Blackout runs amazingly well on PlayStation 4 (and not just the Pro model, but on the launch version of the console). On consoles, you can see where sacrifices were made however, on texture pop-in and on the general lack of environmental destructibility. In that respect, Black Ops 4 is miles behind what we saw from visuals, animations, and physics compared to what we've played from the Battlefield V alpha and beta sessions. But for Call of Duty, Blackout is an achievement given its development period and the game engine and now we suspect this mode will become a necessary staple for all future Call of Duty installments. Fans will demand it.
Our only gripe with Blackout is that it lacks meaningful rewards and progression. Players earn merits through victories and other accomplishments, but unlocking characters - currently the only way players can change their appearance - is tedious and there's not much else to strive for at the moment. With in-game events, more unlockable content and goals, Blackout could have legs, but at the moment, it's basically another PUBG that's smoother and faster, and it may not have the legs for battle royale enthusiasts who got a year or two from the latter.
- Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (2018 Video Game) release date: Oct 12, 2018