To be quite blunt, Black Ops 4’s new Blackout mode isn’t breaking ground for the genre. It’s not trying too hard to explain what a Battle Royale is for newcomers (and let’s be honest, it doesn’t need to at this point), it’s not shaking up the formula, it’s just got the fast, snappy, responsive Call of Duty shooting and taken the shackles off from the series’ traditionally closed in multiplayer offerings. And you know what? Treyarch’s take on Battle Royale is pretty damn good.
So, we all know what Battle Royale is, right? A certain number of players are flown over a large map – 88 in Blackout – they jump out and parachute to a landing zone of their choice, scrounge around for weapons, attachments and other resources, and then fight to the death while being herded into ever smaller safe zones. That’s the gist, whether you play solo, duos or in a squad, and it leads to some deliciously intense gunfights interspersed with periods of calm.
The map that Treyarch have created is nice and compact, to the point that unless the path the helicopters take is all the way to one side or corner of the map, you can probably wingsuit and parachute to any location you fancy. Of course, some places are always going to be more popular than others, and you can easily drop into some hell hole that gives you 20 seconds flat to find a gun before someone springs out around the corner and shoots you in the back. The size of the map pushes you to more of these early game encounters, rapidly winnowing the field into the mid-game, before the tense, climactic battles at the end.
What’s particularly impressive, to me, is just how good the game looks and how well it runs. It’s not the sharpest of images, and distant detail noticeably suffers, but the engine loads the map in quite rapidly, disguises some of the detail load in with light cloud as you dive toward the ground, and performance holds up very well, even on base PlayStation 4. It looks an awful lot better than its other pseudo-realistic rivals, H1Z1 and PUBG on Xbox One, and a big part of that comes down to the lightly stylised art, taking a step away from absolute realism.
As you dash to pick up anything and everything you can, the Quick Inventory becomes key to get to grips with. Press up on the D-Pad and you see all the things you’re carrying that aren’t equipped laid out in a row, with everything neatly grouped around the different HUD elements they relate to. On the left you have healing items, on the right you have grenades and gear next to weapon attachments, while the middle is where you can activate temporary perks and buffs that can boost your time underwater, punching power, highlight pick ups, and more. The only issue is the need to scroll through all of these horizontally, which can take a few moments more than you’d like.
More of an issue is just not having a foggy clue about the hierarchy of guns in the game, or if there even is one. You’ve got pistols, SMGs, assault rifles, machine guns, snipers and even rocket launchers which will be useful in trying to take down the occasional squad-filled helicopter, but they’re all just random things to me when I’m picking them up. Certainly, there’s no common, rare, legendary colour coding or divides, and they seem to be fairly well balanced, as through the regular multiplayer. With a dozen matches under my belt, though, I still don’t have gun names lodged in my memory and feel like I’m fumbling to find guns that suit me. Additionally, inventory management isn’t deep enough that I can remember what I have attached and invariably lose time picking up worse attachments then having to switch back.
Much more obvious are the vehicles in the game, which are a real and meaningful addition to the series, whether they’re quad bikes, trucks or choppers. They’re all simple and straightforward to control, though it will always feel odd to me to have FPS controls applied to ground vehicles, but they importantly don’t feel too overpowered. The helicopter was one I was most concerned about, but it has no weapons of its own and your teammates are sat on the outside, making them easy targets, even if they do have the height advantage.
And then there’s the little surprises that Treyarch have sprinkled throughout. Touching down in a graveyard to try and grab a care package that had dropped, we were surprised by zombies suddenly digging their way out of the ground, forcing us to burn through our ammo and health until a second helicopter swung by and started attacking us from above! I managed to hit the passenger with a throwing axe, but this match went badly.
Blackout boils down to Battle Royale with Call of Duty gunplay slapped into it, but that’s exactly what it needs to be, and it shows what having an established dev team and game series can do for the genre. There’s no spending years in Early Access, no struggling with a game engine that isn’t your own, no loss of identity while tackling a new subgenre. Treyarch make it look easy, as you’d expect them to, and while there’s the traditional retail price to get through the door Blackout could ensure Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is an even bigger hit than usual.