It’s confession time: I’m terrible at Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. But I’m better at Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s Blackout battle royale mode. I gave PlayStation 4 closed beta a try yesterday as Activision and Treyarch started testing their much-anticipated last-man-standing mode of this year’s Call of Duty.
I don’t really know why, but Call of Duty feels better. The guns are familiar, and I can’t jump all over the place like in Fortnite. Indeed, with Fortnite, you have to master building wood fortresses and jumping around to evade, all the way sniping at enemies from a mile away. And with PUBG, I had an awful time hitting anything with its weapons, and I never really invested much time in it. It was hard, very hard, for the battle royale games to pull me away from Call of Duty.
But with Blackout, I have some natural affinities. I’ve played Call of Duty ever since it came out, and for the last few years, I’ve been playing it on the PS4, which gets the content first. I also played quite a bit of the Black Ops 4 multiplayer beta last month. That prepared me for Blackout, which has the same weapons and gunplay. So when I picked up a gun in Blackout, I already knew how to shoot it. I could focus on a target, spray some fire, and squeeze the trigger until the target reticule turned red. You can see my gameplay from the past day in the videos in this post.
Granted, I’m still a lousy shot and in the grand scheme of things, and I’m probably in the bottom third when it comes to skill and speed. I’m pretty terrible with sniper weapons, but I have a chance when I’ve got a light machine gun or assault rifle in my hands. If someone has their back turned to me, well, I can usually take them down without them making the embarrassing move of spinning around and shooting me. I also recognize a lot of the objects, terrain, and building types on the map, which is about 1,500 times the size of the Nuketown map from Call of Duty: Black Ops.
And so, for this particular battle royale, I have a fighting chance. When the game starts, 80 players jump out of helicopters and parachute onto the map. I generally wait for a while before jumping out, so that I can avoid the spots that are overrun with other players. To further isolate myself, I avoid landing near the big buildings or complexes, and I try to go sideways as much as possible upon jumping. But I don’t try to jump to the edge of the map, since that can really screw you when the world starts shrinking.
So yes, Treyarch designed Blackout in a way that mimics other battle royale games, and steals some of their best ideas. As with the other games, you have to play inside of an ever-shrinking circle. Otherwise, outside the circle, you take damage and eventually die. So you have to pay attention to the warnings of where the circle will shrink, and you have to run toward the center of it, eventually.
If I’m isolated, I can spend more time methodically picking up health, ammo, gear, and guns. It’s always a bit tense when you land and don’t have a weapon. You have to go into the buildings, scrounge a gun, and then be ready for an enemy to appear at any time. You pick up gear, but if you stay too focused on that task, you won’t see an enemy coming at you.
The minimap is useful in letting you see where the circle will shrink next. You can place a waypoint in the center of the circle, so that you can see it at all times on your heads-up display. Then you can head toward it when you are on the run. I try to go to the center of the circle, hide there, and wait. It takes patience, and most players would much rather jump into combat. But once you fire, you give away your position. And one of the many other players can close in on you.
So I find a spot to camp and stay there. Sure, that’s kind of chicken, but I want a chicken dinner. At least I don’t hide in bathrooms and see if I can win while everybody else shoots each other. I look around in a paranoid way, and then try to get the jump on the soldiers who are still running to stay inside the shrinking circle. Ultimately, it comes down to a one-on-one duel. And whoever gets the drop on the other one will usually win.
Mostly, I lose that last battle. But I’ve tasted near victory already. I got to number two, as you can see in the top video. I’ve also been killed when all that were left were 4, 5, 6, or 14 players left. For sure, I’ve also been beaten to death with somebody’s bare fists at No. 70, and I’ve had plenty of deaths right when I landed. But the game reloads reasonably fast and gets you into the game quickly. So far, I am enjoying myself a lot. It’s a very tense game once the number of survivors gets down to a handful.
Activision has the jump on Electronic Arts, which pushed its Battlefield V debut to November 20, while Call of Duty comes out on October 12. And EA won’t have a battle royale mode ready at launch, from what we hear. So that means Activision will start training players to get addicted to Blackout, and that could prove decisive. I’m hooked on this battle royale mode already, and if I invest a sufficient amount of time in playing it, it’s going to be hard to pull me away from it.
Of course, the graphics for this game look absolutely nothing like the screenshots that Activision released. Well, at least not on the PlayStation 4 that I played on. Maybe they look pretty good on a high-end PC, but that version isn’t available yet.
Ultimately, I have to say that this Blackout mode is accessible. And yes, it’s still Call of Duty, which has one of the hardest core fan bases in gaming. But Blackout mode is surprisingly easy to pick up and play. I’m looking forward to playing a lot more of it.