With the rise of battle royale games over the last couple of years, it was no surprise when Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 announced Blackout, its own take on the genre, just as Fortnite was in the height of its popularity last year. The Blackout game mode is more grounded than precursor PUBG and focuses more on tactical strategy than extemporaneous skill à la Fortnite’s building mechanics.
But did the Call of Duty: Black Ops franchise really need to invest its resources into a battle royale mode? It depends on whom you ask.
Some longtime FPS enthusiasts consider battle royale games a passing trend. But this style of game is uniquely addictive given the high level of strategy and unpredictability inherent in the game mode, and Blackout is no exception.
In a sense, Blackout reaches a natural extension of the Call of Duty player base, people who may not have been initially intrigued by the battle royale format but are longtime fans of the Call of Duty franchise. There are also the battle royale diehards who were eager to try Blackout but haven’t bothered to touch the Multiplayer and Zombies formats.
But all and all, the desire to reach a crossover audience means Black Ops 4’s battle royale format isn’t grossly overcomplicated: Players drop in, grab loot including guns, shields, combat items and health, and then fight for glory. Unlike the Multiplayer mode, there is no Specialist play at hand here — everyone starts at nothing and has equal opportunity to reign supreme.
A tighter gaming experience than other battle royale games overall, one thing that sets Blackout immediately apart from competitors is its emphasis on mobility. With options that include ATVs, boats and even helicopters, players can traverse the map relatively quickly, giving them major positioning advantages. As a whole, the entire game feels faster than competitors, not because of the size of the map or speed of the circle, but because of the overall playability of your character — sliding, snaking, meleeing and the ability to smash through glass to quickly enter and exit buildings.
Gunplay is also a lot of fun in Blackout. While the guns in a game such as Fortnite feel as cartoonish as the game itself, the guns in Blackout come with a bit more realism around recoil, magazine size, and effects.
Gamers can turn mediocre guns into a great ones with the right attachments, which they have to seek out, often at areas of the map that will prove more challenging. These attachable items can make or break a person’s gameplay, with items like magazines and sniper scopes to help the player deck out their favorite gun. This becomes a matter of finding the right attachments — and typically requires seeking out the best loot, putting players deep in the heart of combat situations.
Blackout also introduces Perks, modifiers with their genesis in Call of Duty’s Multiplayer game modes. These are benefits that players can apply that last a limited time. For instance, Paranoia gives an audio effect when a player is being targeted, while Looter highlights nearby loot. Players can also pick up tactical items to help provide advantages in combat situations, such as a barricade to block damage.
Where Blackout crosses the line from pseudo-realism into the over-the-top gameplay Black Ops fans have grown to love is in its homage to the game’s Zombies mode. In certain zones, players can kill zombies, a process that will eventually spawn chests with better loot. However, people who choose to engage with the zombie spawns may find themselves not only facing off against the zombies, but against other teams. This makes for a complicated — and fun — dynamic.
Then there’s the battle pass, which exists as part of the game’s Black Ops pass and includes DLC for the game’s Multiplayer and Zombies modes in addition to Blackout.
Leveling through the pass requires completing in-game tasks and certain “quests” in-game, most of which deviate from the actual point of the gameplay: winning. While the rewards for these challenges are purely cosmetic, it still seems a little strange not to base rewards on challenges that are actually in service to the game’s objectives.
New battle royale modes within Blackout are tempting, but the new Blackout Alcatraz map seems stunted in its approach. While the idea is to feel very CoD-esque, incorporating respawns on a smaller map area and thereby satisfying players’ desires for faster-paced gameplay, the resulting game is a bit of a crapshoot, something not quite battle royale and not quite straightforward PvP match play, either.
Overall, Blackout is worth playing, particularly if a player is already familiar with CoD-style gameplay or has a preference for battle royale games. But by trailing on the success of other battle royale games, it’s easy to wonder whether Black Ops 4’s recent push for more gimmicks detract from what is otherwise a very grounded and compelling game.