A bit over a month in, and Call of Duty’s newest addition, Black Ops 4, seems to be continuing its success even without the standard single-player content. It’s a game that wholly relies on multiplayer experiences, with the lynchpin tied to its new Battle-Royale mode, Blackout. That’s not quite surprising, as it’s a year of battle-royale games. Any game that can fit the mode is trying out some form of large-scale free-for-all.
In such a cluttered market for this game type, Call of Duty stuck to the basics and just looked to polish the most standard of formats, but what will that mean for games a year from now?
To look to the future, we must first to understand the past, so let’s take a quick look at the current history of the battle royale craze. The first major game to come out of the genre would probably be H1Z1, even though it wasn’t the roaring success that its successors would be. It was the first time the masses were exposed to the 100-man rumble, and though it was a messy game, people were clearly hungry for more.
That’s when PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds came along. PUBG was the game that truly found success in the genre and sent it into the mainstream market. It was a better version of H1Z1 that made improvements in all the right places, and that’s all it really took to become the best-selling game ever to hit the Steam Store.
However, PUBG could only live at the top for so long until innovators would come along, and that occurred in the form of Fortnite Battle Royale. Though similar in goal and basic gameplay, Fortnite took the concept and added in some building mechanics, adding to the excitement and reducing the mid-game lul that would regularly happen in a PUBG match. That, along with the fact that Fortnite was a far more polished game, spelt the end of PUBG’s short reign at the top.
A cool concept, sure, but PUBG always lacked in its mechanics. This was a game made by first-time developers that had struck at the right time and had no idea what to do next. The graphics were dated from the outset, and the shooting never felt as clean as it should. Enter: Blackout.
Treyarch didn’t attempt anything flashy with their newest mode, instead opting to take the established format and cleaning it up to the level you’d expect from a Call of Duty experience. At its core, Blackout is practically a mirror image of PUBG’s gameplay, with only a few key differences to set them apart. But the real promise of this mode comes from the high level of quality in the visuals and mechanics.
Whereas PUBG can feel choppy and dated in its gameplay, Blackout demonstrates a competence that comes with being a franchise player. The guns handle well, firefights are tense but generally fair and balanced, and you rarely feel like you’ve been let down by something out of your hands.
As an example, my clearest memory of PUBG was also the reason I stopped playing. A friend and I had been wildly successful in looting our drop point, winning a couple of easy fights and generally getting everything you’d want to win a full match. We waded our way through the mid-game, and as the circle got smaller, we wound up in a nice house within the circle just at the border of the safe zone.
At this point, we notice a team coming up just in front of the cloud, so I whip out a semi-automatic sniper rifle and take aim through an upper window that can just fit my aiming reticle. I know I can see them clear as day, and so I take up shot after shot, hoping to at least pick one off prior to them arriving at our house, but not a single bullet lets out a hit marker. The return fire soon comes in and I’m forced to take cover, at which point I look back to my sniping spot and notice why I hadn’t hit anyone, every single shell had been stopped by the window frame just under where I was shooting.
Now, that may be just a learning experience that normally teaches you that bullets come out the nozzle and not out of the reticle, but that’s something practically no other game does because it feels terrible as the player. I had my sights on them, and yet I couldn’t even do damage because of a small piece of wood? Luckily, Blackout has years of shooting wisdom under its belt, and that makes for something much more satisfying than shooting window frames.
Still, PUBG has already proven to be no contender for the juggernaut that is Fortnite, and Blackout doesn’t reach far enough to make any meaningful changes to a genre that’s being reiterated upon once a week. If anything, Blackout may attract the already dwindling fans from PUBG’s Twitch page, but it’s certainly not going to convert those who love Fortnite’s building formula. We can hope that Blackout will have a story to tell in a similar fashion to Fortnite’s single evolving map, but most likely we’ll just get some new characters and equipment before Treyarch begins working on its next Call of Duty.
I was always hopeful that Black Ops 4 would give me the excitement that hasn’t really hit since Modern Warfare 2, and there’s a lot to love in this package. However, Blackout itself is a great mode that doesn’t really try to do anything special. Perhaps that was the biggest downside for it being from a major developer. Treyarch has a franchise to run, and Blackout didn’t need to be groundbreaking in order to be successful. All Blackout needed to be was a competent Battle Royale, and that’s exactly what they achieved here. On to the next one.