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Call of Duty's Blackout Raises The Bar of the Battle Royale Genre

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is aiming to offer the most radical departure from the traditional Call of Duty formula this year, becoming the first game to not offer a single-player campaign and instead double-down on multiplayer.

Trading one criticism (not really evolving year-to-year) for another (no story!), developer Treyarch seems to have landed on something rather impressive with their take on the battle royale genre - the big new thing the franchise is added in 2018. Titled "Blackout", players were first able to get hands-on with the largest Call of Duty multiplayer experience ever last week on PlayStation 4, and over the weekend on PC and Xbox One. And as the first triple-A battle royale game, it totally works.

Related: Call of Duty's Battle Royale Supports More Players Than Battlefield V's

For a franchise that's known for intimate, fast-paced, low player count multiplayer, it was a pleasant surprise to see a large-scale Call of Duty map and 80-88 players at once. That's more players than the Battlefield franchise has ever supported in multiplayer to put things in perspective. It's even more players than Battlefield V's "Firestorm" battle royale mode will support.

And it runs as well on consoles as it does on PC. Beta bugs aside - especially on PC - Blackout is very polished. Player movement is smooth and Treyarch kept to their promises of maintaining the Call of Duty feel and play style. They do this both with how quick it is to land, loot, and get into the action, and of course, with a map that’s chock full of very familiar locations from the Call of Duty: Black Ops series.

Longtime Black Ops players will find the latter at treat, and the former a refreshing bonus. And Blackout isn't just trying to replicate other battle royales, despite how evidently similar and inspired by PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds it obviously is. Blackout embraces weapons and gear found in Black Ops zombies and the PvP multiplayer and includes mods (weapon attachments), gear (various grenade types and equipment from PvP multiplayer), and supplies (health and armor) - even Perks are implemented in a smart way by being temporary buffs that can be held in inventory. Players can carry any two weapons at a time and there's even a bag to double inventory space.

Matches start with a lobby waiting area, before putting players in aerial vehicles (a fleet of military helicopters) flying over the map in a random direction (denoted by a flight path on the game map) that players can deploy (in a wingsuit) from. And of course, Blackout features the iconic battle royale compass at the top of the screen too. Beyond the obvious PUBG/H1Z1 battle royale staples that all of these games use, Blackout adds a few more twists on the standard formula.

On the vehicles front, there are trucks and two-person ATVs, boats and helicopters - something unique to Blackout. Players can find rare weapons for instance, that already come fully equipped, and yes, there are supply drops like PUBG  too. There are also various chests found in the game, whether they be weapon, ammo, or health supplies, or the more valuable zombies chests which include high value weapons and armor. And yes, there are actual zombies in these areas - denoted by beams of light coming from the sky.

While Blackout runs well, it's not without its issues. It is a beta after all but needs to be ready to go in a few short weeks. The PC version crashes frequently, and the invite buttons on the interface and socials screens randomly vanish. You can be in a party but be missing a friend when game loads. Sometimes, players cannot exit after match while stuck in spectate mode. There are occasional errors starting a match as well.

Blackout's Shortcomings

In terms of gameplay, Blackout runs very well but it does so by skipping on a few modern triple-A features that particularly standout when compared to Battlefield V and its game engine. Non-drivable vehicles (for some reason, players can't drive perfectly functional sports cars and other consumer vehicles scattered across the Blackout map) and environments aren’t at all destructible and it doesn't feel right seeing indestructible glass and thin walls during a skirmish.

Little details like seeing how many players are still on the helicopters during the drop phase (Blackout doesn't have a visual representation of seeing other players in the choppers) highlight the shortcuts taken to bring the Call of Duty play style to a large mode.

The biggest hurdle is the inventory management and interface, something all battle royale games struggle with on console, but Blackout can be confusing at first on PC as well since looting a downed opponent displays a grid of symbols and players must to go through items one-by-one even to fill ammo and health which should just slot additively into your inventory. Looting on the fly at the beginning though, is fast and smooth however since weapons are ready to go when picked up (no reload necessary) and attachments auto-attach if they fit the weapon.

As a beta, especially in an era of endless rushed “early access” battle royale clones, Blackout is impressive and polished and it makes us excited to see how it’s improved and expanded upon post-release. Blackout raises the bar of the battle royale genre and will force games like PUBG and future offerings (Battlefield V’s Firestorm mode) to step things up. It desperately will need a progression system and future content add-ons though to keep players playing - ideally one that doesn’t involve loot boxes/locked boxes or any of the other awfulness from PUBG’s reward system.

Key Release Dates
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (2018 Video Game) release date: Oct 12, 2018
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