There are two words in gaming right now probably even more divisive than “loot boxes”: battle royale. They are everywhere, much like survival games were before it and military shooters before that. Just like every Hot New Thing in the industry, battle royale games have been overexposed to many gamers with so many franchises jumping on the bandwagon.
As much as it may want to suggest otherwise, Call of Duty is doing exactly that. Black Ops 4’s version of battle royale, named Blackout, recently began a private beta on PS4 with many touting it as the main rival to Fortnite’s ridiculously secure throne. Having played it, it’s clear that it will be competing pretty earnestly with Epic’s monolith, though it’s also clear that it won’t convert the unconverted.
Anyone who’s played a battle royale will be immediately familiar with the setup of Blackout. Players drop from a helicopter to an isolated island and must fight to be the last one alive. A circle constantly closes in, forcing players to stay on the move and not shy away from confrontations. Blackout has more in common with PUBG than Fortnite with it mainly being about the shooting over the building a pyramid of shame to trap your enemies in.
It does have some silliness, though, which extends to players being able to use RC cars to scope out areas, zombies, and perks that seem somewhat out of place. Losing out in a firefight because your opponent had fairer loot RNG is commonplace in battle royale games and really just part of the experience, but it feels slightly more imbalanced in Blackout.
Take, for instance, the Paranoia perk. You can find this as a consumable and it allows you to know when an enemy has you in their sights. Even more wildly, the Stimulant perk increases your HP by a wholesome 100 points, which if found early on can give you a considerable advantages during your first encounter(s). Those annoyed by battle royale games and their need for luck just as much as skill may be put out even more by Blackout.
No battle royale game is complete with loot, and Blackout certainly has it — a lot of it. Just like every other battle royale, more densely populated areas means more loot density, meaning that you can find the best weapons, perks, and armour by not being a coward. Looting feels laboured as things stand, meaning that it’s a bad idea to even loot as you’ll be left vulnerable. Picking up items from the ground also feels a bit lethargic, though there’s time for that to be fiddled with.
The mode also caters specifically to existing Call of Duty fans by including many memorable areas and features of the franchise as part of Blackout’s map, which is actually one of its brightest spots. It’s a smorgasbord of Call of Duty’s greatest hits, including the infamous Nuketown. Everything is spaced out well and it’s always fairly easy to obtain loot, RNG gods be willing. It’s a medium-sized map, which means that there’s no trotting through fields for minutes at a time — you’re always near another firefight.
The combat itself is as fluid and twitchy as you would expect from a Call of Duty game, feeling far smoother and reliable than most of its battle royale peers. I wouldn’t call myself a CoD devotee, but I know what it’s all about and was able to rack up a few kills each match before inevitably being shot by a third-party.
I’m yet to win a game, but the time to wait between matches is short enough to give Blackout that “one more try” appeal that’s made Fortnite so addictive. It’s clear that the developers have been doing their homework on what makes their competitors succeed and have taken the best bits of both and concocted a mode that’s bound to please fans.
And that might be where your enjoyment begins or ends with Blackout. Despite its frills and fan service, it’s ultimately yet another battle royale in a sea of them. Having played just about each and every single BR spin-off or cash-grab conceivable, I’ve become fairly dulled to them. The rush from being in tense situations has long gone, the thrill of being in the final throes of a match non-existent. Blackout doesn’t reinvent the wheel enough to make me excited for the genre again, just applies a coat of Call of Duty paint and attaches a spoiler instead.
Still, it’s refreshing to play a battle royale game with so few issues. It was a relief to see how responsively I could punch a guy in each asscheek in the pre-game lobby without the framerate dying on its ass, or being able to jump out of the helicopter at the beginning without it looking like a stop motion animation from the 1920s. Blackout is the first “true” AAA game to try its hand at battle royale and that shows in its technical quality. No amount of shiny can bring back that long-lost adrenaline for me, though.
Preview code provided by publisher
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