Activision has been playing it safe with Call of Duty for years now—they've added new gadgets and sent it into the future, but it's hard to call any of the games an overhaul. This year's a bit different: Not only will Black Ops 4 not be releasing with a traditional singleplayer campaign, it's sliding onto the battle royale bandwagon with its Blackout mode, which went into beta this week. It may be more of the same as far as modern trends go, but not as far as CoD goes.
The PC beta hasn't started yet (early access starts Friday, and it's open on Saturday), but to get a sense of what CoD battle royale will be like, we've picked out a few video highlights from those playing on PS4 today. (You may want to keep them muted, or at least turn down your volume to avoid streamer outburst recoil.)
The 'traditional' battle royale game starts with players dropping from the sky, parachuting into the open world. Call of Duty does the same, but introduces a wingsuit, granting players better range, precision, and speed on their drop into the map. Above, Dr. Disrespect demonstrates the glide in the game, and on camera, as is his way.
The basic shooting still looks like Call of Duty shooting, nice and quick, with one-hit kills when using specialty weapons such as Black Ops’ trademark tomahawks.
Call of Duty’s maps have always been small, especially in contrast to competitors like Battlefield's, making snipers who aren't qualified in close-quarters quick-scoping mostly out of luck. In Blackout, players are going to get a lot more opportunities to put CoD's sniper rifles to use at the range they were meant for.
One of the reasons Call of Duty remains so successful is because Activision’s trio of developers work so hard to make their shooting feel smooth and precise. That formula doesn’t seem to have changed much here. It’s still the same weapons, shooting mechanics, and ragequits you know and love (or hate).
There’s basketball. I like that Treyarch has included little touches that aren’t strictly necessary for a battle royale game, but manage to catch your attention regardless. It's something that makes Overwatch's maps so endearing.
Is the Ray Gun OP in #Blackout Mode 🤔 pic.twitter.com/pImwudQ4isSeptember 10, 2018
Treyarch differentiated its Call of Duty games from Infinity Ward’s grim n’ gritty World War 2 and Modern Warfare games with the inclusion of a silly zombies mode. That mode included all sorts of weird weapons that never made their way into the main campaigns, including the ridiculous raygun. It’s good to know that Black Ops isn’t taking itself too seriously here. Being willing to include silly weapons gives the game a really pleasant sense of personality.
I'd say my first helicopter experience in #Blackout went well... pic.twitter.com/mS3aWhVJrPSeptember 10, 2018
Unless I’m mistaken, the last Call of Duty to include vehicles like this in multiplayer was 2008’s World at War, which included tanks. We’ve got helicopters here, which look like they’ll provide plenty of opportunities for shenanigans.
What’s interesting about this clip is the apparent inclusion of anti-vehicle weaponry. The player gets shot by a rocket, which knocks him off his ATV and leaves him downed. The ATV then slams into his partner, killing them. Call of Duty has experimented with new weapon types off and on, but adding vehicles and anti-vehicle weapons seems like it expands the game’s possibility space, leading to surprising and funny moments like this—staples of PUBG highlights.
Okay ... @OpTic_DKarma #Blackout pic.twitter.com/OXdirWcigmSeptember 10, 2018
Every game benefits from grappling hooks. It’s a scientific fact. Here, we see a player pulling himself to the cover his opponent is hiding behind, getting a sick kill while flanking him. Tools that let players approach encounters creatively are always awesome, and it's nice to see some of that playfulness here.
Fast forward to the end of @OpTic_Crimsix's #Blackout game. GG! pic.twitter.com/FVHPmN3MQfSeptember 10, 2018
Based on viewing, and not playing yet, Blackout’s biggest strength appears to be its sense of personality, which it brings through its gadgets and unique weapons. I’m not sure the final screen has that same panache—compared to a victory royale or chicken dinner, it’s somewhat lacking.
Blackout looks like an interesting inclusion to the bizarre experiment that is Black Ops 4. While I’m not confident that it’s the game a die-hard Call of Duty campaign player will enjoy, it does seem like Treyarch is working hard to create a great battle royale mode and not just another one. We’ll have our own impressions for you soon.