All aboard the battle royale gravy train! Next stop; Obvious Cash-In City! Show of hands, who was surprised when Call of Duty announced their own spin on the battle royale genre was coming in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4? “The Black Ops Way”, they keep telling us. Well Treyarch, we’ve seen your swing at Fortnite now so let’s talk about it.

Let’s run down the beats of a game of Blackout. You pick your character, pick your playlist and hit launch. Just like any other game of Call of Duty, you wait a short while to join a lobby and you’re away. Initially, you’re dropped onto the map while the game loads in players.

This is the standard pre-game walkabout you’ll be used to from the other battle royale games. Load times here were a bit long sometimes. The game would load up to around eighty-something players in before starting a countdown to the match. When the game starts in earnest, all players are flown in via helicopter. No view inside like PUBG, but a counter shows just how many players are still aboard.

You jump when you want, wingsuit down until your parachute deploys. so far, so standard. Once you hit the deck it’s time to start scavenging. Primary targets are guns, armour and healing items. As it is in the standard Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 multi-player, healing is now a player action instead of a passive occurrence.

Also available are little green boxes that give you perks for a limited time. Some make you tougher, do more damage etc. One particularly useful perk I happened upon was the ability to see items through surfaces, making the job of arming myself a quicker and more efficient one.

Once you’re geared up and armed to the teeth, it’s time to move. Now I know this might sound crazy, but in this game, a white circle appears on the map. A timer ticks down and once it hits zero a blue circle will close in around the map, until it matches said white circle.

At this point, a subsequent white circle appears within the now blue circle and the circle cycle continues. If you happen to be outside of the blue circle, you will periodically take damage until you get back inside the circle. Some groundbreaking stuff here folks. Like PUBG, there are an assortment of vehicles to get you quickly around the map. On the ground, you’re looking at ATVs and trucks. If you’re feeling fancy, you can take to the skies in a helicopter. While this does draw a lot of attention to yourself, it seems like a viable strategy even in solo mode for getting yourself to a better position. Also as standard are crate drops with high-quality weapons inside, one such crate I found was surrounded by zombies. Also, zombies seem to be a thing in this mode! Not sure how or why they just seemed to be hanging out. Still, that’s new!

While the overall premise is exactly what you would expect from a battle royale mode, the pacing and play style are different enough to stand out. Matches are fairly quick, in a familiar Call of Duty kind of way. Like other battle royale games, it’s entirely likely that you will die within seconds of hitting the ground.

Unlike other games though, there’s a snappy-ness to the pace and design to get you out of that game and into the next one before you have time to get frustrated. Again, it all feels very familiar, different but still well in line with the Call of Duty ethos. All that said, there are some stark deviations from the formula that Blackout has to take. The very concept of running around picking up gear, even having an inventory in a Call of Duty game is something that takes a little getting used to. Any fans of the classic multi-player will probably find the time to kill in Blackout quite jarring.

As mentioned earlier, one of the big changes in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is the move from passive healing to player controlled healing across the board. This makes plenty of sense in Blackout, healing oneself in a battle royale game is totally standard. Add on to that the addition of body armour and suddenly players become so much tougher, take so many more bullets than in the standard multiplayer. Over a decade of CoD multi-player hits a brick wall when you shoot an enemy for more than half a second and they’re still standing.

Overall feeling on Blackout is a positive one from me. My interest in the battle royale buzz has waned significantly, so my minor intrigue with this iteration could mean great things lie within for someone more enamoured with the genre. Is this curtains for Fortnite? Absolutely not. No matter how good Blackout is, it’s not free.

You can’t compete with free, especially when the majority of your audience isn’t old enough to qualify for a credit card yet. I don’t see a massive shift in the balance of power once Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 launches, more so a genuine treat for the Call of Duty fans out there.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 – Blackout wasn’t without its technical hitches during the beta, but Treyarch was quick to jump on them. Also, there seems to be plans to have varied game modes, like a close quarters mode that popped up during the beta. That might be the difference here, Blackout has expertise and money behind it. Expansion is a big possibility. Regardless, Blackout is imminent and I give it my hearty recommendation to any battle royale fans.

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