Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 could have been a disaster. Battle royale games from rivals came out at a very inconvenient time: during the middle of development of Black Ops 4. Fan expectations changed completely. Activision’s Treyarch studio responded by dropping the Black Ops 4 single-player campaign, tripling the Zombies co-op experience, and adding the Blackout battle royale mode to satisfy the fans heading to Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. It might have been a rush job.
But the game debuts today on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC with a delightfully solid multiplayer experience that will be fun for both veteran Call of Duty fans and battle royale loyalists. Treyarch has pulled off a hat trick, finding a space for Blackout squarely in between the free-to-play craziness of Fortnite and the military sim experience of PUBG. I think Blackout will be huge.
I played all of the pieces of the game, and I love it. I thought I would hate it, as I have been a dedicated player of all of Call of Duty’s single-player campaigns over the last 15 years. And while I still miss the campaign, I can see the fun of Blackout, which does battle royale in Call of Duty’s unique style.
For me, this change was hard, and it required me to open my mind. But Treyarch’s team has captured the thrill of battle royale and made it easy to play for those who are familiar with the action, weapons, and gameplay of Call of Duty. The multiplayer campaign and Zombies mode are also well executed with that familiar heart-pounding Call of Duty action.
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Wonderful Blackout moments
Blackout is peppered with many tense and funny moments. Crazy things happen, and they break the tension, making you laugh out loud. In Blackout, anywhere from 80 to 100 players will parachute out of choppers onto the largest Call of Duty map ever created. Then they fight until only a lone survivor or single team remains. Like other battle royale games, you are unarmed when you land. You feel naked, feeling that “fear of no gun.” You have to scavenge for weapons as fast as you can. Then you can gear up more and move to stay just inside an ever-shrinking play circle.
I had some great moments when I was playing Blackout in the same group of four people. Like the time we all thought we were lucky when we found a helicopter and all piled into it, even though it was smoking from damage. We flew to the center of the circle and waited in the air to pick off survivors below. But the damage from ground fire and the weight of our crew made it hard to fly, and our pilot crashed, killing all four of us. We laughed it off.
I also was down to a half-dozen survivors in another match. I found a rocket launcher and saw another player moving in front of me. I refrained from shooting, as the player didn’t see me, and I wondered if the player would draw fire from someone else. As I watched that player, someone else came up behind me and took me out. I was aghast that I didn’t get to use my rocket launcher. One time, I fell out of a speed boat, swam to land, and revived a friend who fell out of a lighthouse.
My team of four players got one victory in battle royale. I parachuted into a house and found nothing at first. Then I ran, feeling naked and unarmed, to the next house, where I got a pistol. I joined my colleagues feeling quite under equipped. I ran to a third house, where I got a second pistol. My survival was looking grim, but at least I was with my comrades. After about seven tense moments, I got my real weapons after looting an enemy that my comrade shot.
Against the odds, we moved to the small circle and survived to the end. Four of us and a few others were left in a small circle. My comrade Toby got shot by a sniper while we were both lying in the grass behind a tree. I healed him. Then the sniper shot him again. Without getting up, I crawled to him and healed him again. Then he got shot a third time by the same sniper, and I healed him yet again. Finally, as the circle shrank, our other guys figured out where the sniper was and took him out. We got a sweet victory as all four of us survived. I never saw the sniper. But I was happy to savor my first battle royale victory. I’ve since gotten a couple of more.
Multiplayer sets up duels between Specialists
Each multiplayer match is like a grudge fest between Specialists. You always find that you’ll go head-to-head against another player. You’ll peek around a corner and see an enemy. You could invoke your special ability, like Battery’s grenade launcher, or stay behind cover and heal yourself. If your enemy comes out on the attack as you heal, you might not be able to pull out your weapon in time. The multiplayer experience of Black Ops 4 is just one duel of wits after another.
I found that I could hold my own in early matches with press comrades, but I’ll see how I can do in the general population. In some matches, I did well, getting above a 1.0 kill/death ratio (a measure of how many kills I can get for every death). But in others, I was humiliated. That’s just the way the matches go.
I did OK once I leveled up enough to around 10 or 12. At that point, I was able to level up my light machine gun (LMG) to the point where it had full-metal jacket bullets that could kill with one or two shots. I also stabilized it with a stock and had a basic Reflex gun sight so that I could hit targets from either close range or far away. But I liked how I had to think about the other player in the duel before I took any actions of my own.
The Specialists add variety to the combat
The Specialists have their own back stories and come with special abilities that they can use once or twice in matches. I loved playing as Battery, who can earn a grenade launcher and spray death and terror on the enemy side. Ruin has a grappling hook that can carry him into a third-story window. I actually managed to grapple into a building and shoot the enemy inside it. Nomad can loose an attack dog. Each one of these abilities takes time to master, but if you release it at the right time, it can help turn the tide of a match. Mastering each Specialist could take a long time.