Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's Blackout mode doesn't exactly break the battle royale mold, but Treyarch has certainly elevated the genre with a handful of creative twists. Thanks to those clever additions and a healthy amount of polish, Blackout proves there are plenty of ways to keep 100-player battles interesting, and I've got a feeling this new mode is going to steal the show when the full game launches on Oct. 12.
Okay, no, Blackout doesn't actually sport 100 players like most battle royale games, but I'm not going to split hairs when they're currently rocking a roster of 88. The entire mode actually follows a similar path, offering an experience that's similar to what players have grown to expect in games like PUBG and Fortnite, while peppering in just enough new tweaks to set it apart from the pack.
If you look at Blackout from 30,000 feet, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's "just another battle royale mode." Players are dropped onto the map from high altitude and, once they hit the ground, the objective is to find gear and outshoot the competition. Useful items are scattered all over the map, which is itself broken into several biomes and littered with landmarks and structures of varying sizes. Planes occasionally fly overhead and drop crates full of helpful loot and, yep, a deadly circle closes in on the map, forcing remaining players into a smaller battlefield.
But while Blackout nails all of those basics, There are five things that really help distinguish it from the competition.
The Walking Dead
I'm just going to go ahead and start with zombies because it's such an unexpected addition to Blackout. Other battle royale games have featured AI baddies in the past, but I'm pretty sure they've been completely dropped at this point. Treyarch wisely uses the shambling dead sparingly in Blackout, introducing a unique hook that doesn't require their tech to keep track of a hundred extra AI enemies.
In Blackout, the map is marked with a handful of glowing blue lights directing players to specific locations. If you head to one of those locations, you'll notice an item pulled directly from the series' popular Zombies mode, a Mystery Box. Your first problem will be that those boxes are typically guarded by a handful of zombies. You can try to sneak past the undead and grab the gear unnoticed, but they'll overtake you with a quickness if you aren't super careful. Your other option is to take out the zombies first, but your gunfire is likely to serve as an additional beacon to other players.
The zombies themselves drop loot when they get shot down and the Mystery Box typically holds some top-tier gear, including unique weapons like the freaking ray gun. If you can manage to get in and out without being eaten or shot down by other players, you'll be rewarded with a leg up on the remaining competition.
Blackout also features a Monkey grenade that, when thrown, goes off and draws a small horde of zombies toward your enemies. Like most of the items on this list, zombies don't drastically change the battle royale mode, but they certainly introduce some great risk/reward scenarios.
A Mountain of Gear
A lot of Blackout's strengths come from the fact that Treyarch has been making Call of Duty games for a long, long time. So while the mode is new for the series, the developer is by no means starting from scratch.
When PUBG and Fortnite first launched, those games offered a small supply of gear for players to track down that, over time and through countless updates, grew exponentially. If you've ever played a Call of Duty game, you're aware of the vast amounts of gear already present in the series that Treyarch was able to draw from when making Blackout. While the mode will certainly do its own evolving over time, this storied past means they get to hit the ground running with a whole bunch of loot for players to pick from on day one.
Firearms are numerous and broken down into key categories including assault rifles, snipers, SMGs, shotguns, pistols, tactical rifles, LMGs and even a rocket launcher. On top of those weapons, you'll find attachments in every corner of the map such as foregrips, extended barrels, silencers, various types of scopes, stocks and the like, giving players the ability to build some of Blackouts best gear rather than find a rare "golden" drop somewhere on the map.
Those firearms are complemented by a variety of explosives including molotovs, frag grenades, cluster bombs, concussion grenades and a throwing ax. Furthermore, handy tools can be found such as a deployable shield, RC bombs, tripwires and darts that let you know when enemies are near.
Variety goes a long way in a battle royale mode, and Blackout offers a heck of a lot of it right out of the gate.
By Land, Air and Sea
While other battle royale games offer vehicles, Treyarch took their inclusion as another way to distinguish Blackout from other similar modes. Keep in mind that the series has never really had a big emphasis on vehicles in the past, especially in multiplayer modes, which makes their fantastic implementation in Blackout all the more impressive.
At launch, Blackout offers four vehicles for players to take control of, assuming you're not counting the wingsuit everyone gets (and that can be utilized when leaping from tall structures). These include the ATV, a cargo truck, helicopter and boat.
The ATV is nimble, but not so fast that you are impossible to shoot at. It also sports an extra seat, making it a must-have commodity if you like to play Duos. The cargo truck, though, allows for a single driver and sports a large bed that your teammates, or enemies, can pile into. What's great about this truck is that it doesn't force your teammates to stick to specific seats, as they can move around the bed freely, making this rolling bruiser much easier to defend.
The boat seats up to two and allows players to cruise around the rivers and shoreline at a decent clip. These come in handy if you're in the wrong part of the map when a storm is closing in and your clearest path to safety is aquatic in nature.
Finally, there's the helicopter, which can carry a full squad. There are only a couple of these bad boys available on the map and, while they can certainly give you a leg up in getting around the map quickly, they also offer their own challenges. For starters, while everyone else is trying to be stealthy, a chopper is pretty much impossible to miss. Also, they can be shot down and are magnets for rockets.
Given the size of the Blackout map and the speed Call of Duty fans are used to playing at, the inclusion of these vehicles makes perfect sense.
Perks have been a part of the Call of Duty formula for some time now, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that Treyarch decided to include them in Blackout. Still, these game-altering items are so helpful and make so much sense that I'm kind of surprised other battle royale games haven't already implemented them.
I assume more Perks will be introduced either at launch or down the road but, in the beta, about seven are available for players to snag on the fly. Perks are spread across the map just like all of the rest of the gear and can be activated from your inventory. They're all on a timer, too, meaning you'll want to be strategic when deciding when and how to use them.
Once you activate a Perk, it grants a special ability that should give you a slight edge over the competition. Nothing here is unfair, but they're definitely useful enough to make them worth seeking out.
Paranoia, for instance, will give a player an audio cue when they are being targeted by another player. The Stimulant Perk, on the other hand, will temporarily boost your health by 100. Combine that with upgraded armor and you'll be especially difficult to take down in a firefight. There's also a Perk called Outlander that lets you take less damage while outside the safe zone, and the Looter Perk shows you where items are located on the map. If you're looking to be a good teammate, the Consumer Perk will let you heal faster, as well as revive your teammates more quickly.
Polished to a Sheen
One of Blackout's most attractive features is the fact that it was developed by Treyarch, meaning it has received an insane amount of polish even in these early stages. Everything mentioned above benefits from the care and attention they've clearly poured into the mode, which typically runs very smooth despite this being pretty new territory for the development team.
While playing most other battle royale modes, I've frequently found myself thinking, "This would be great if things were on a level of, say, Call of Duty." Given the fact that many battle royale games have been developed by smaller teams, some of which have never made a shooter, a certain degree of jank is almost expected from the genre. What's great about Blackout is that it comes from a seasoned developer that has already nailed down the basics like map design and mechanics. The shooting in Blackout is absolutely dialed in, something I wish more battle royale modes could claim.
Maybe that's not a super fair comparison considering how many people worked on the mode -- with far more resources than other developers -- but I also can't pretend like there isn't a clear difference in quality at basically every turn.
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Staff Writer for CinemaBlend.
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