Impressions: Black Ops 4’s Blackout mode feels like a more refined PUBG

Now that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s Blackout beta is live, fans of the series can finally get a sense of what a Call of Duty-style battle royale game mode looks and feels like. Blackout is impressive in terms of how well developers Treyarch and Raven Software have adapted the signature Call of Duty style for large-scale battle royale matches. However, while Blackout certainly looks and plays well enough, it also doesn’t do a whole lot to stand out from the competition, leaving me to wonder how much long-term staying power it will have.

New car, same parts

If you’re at all familiar with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), a game which many would claim was the catalyst for the entire battle royale craze, then there’s a lot about Blackout that should instantly click for you. Much like in PUBG, players begin each Blackout match in an aerial transport (a helicopter as opposed to PUBG’s cargo plane) before they leap out and wingsuit-glide their way down to the ground.

Right off the bat, the wingsuit is a welcome change from PUBG’s more traditional parachutes since it gives players much greater control over how far they can travel while air-dropping in and where exactly they land.

Once their boots hit solid earth players have nothing in the way of supplies or weaponry so they must quickly head over to nearby buildings and other landmarks to find whatever randomized loot is waiting inside. Again, similar to PUBG, players can find not only weapons and health items but also weapon attachments, explosives, inventory-expanding backpacks, and body armor.

Players can also find consumables which temporarily grant perks similar to those found in the standard multiplayer experience (such as Dead Silence or Iron Lungs), a clever touch which mirrors PUBG’s consumable energy drinks and stims while still maintaining a recognizable Call of Duty flavor.

Players who are particularly good about scrounging for loot (or just plain lucky) can also find more distinct items which, if used appropriately, can help give them an edge in combat, or at the very least confuse the heck out of their opponents. The RC-XD remote-controlled car, a Black Ops series favorite, can help with scouting potentially unsafe territory, whereas the iconic Monkey Bomb explosive which Zombies fans should recognize summons a group of bloodthirsty zombies when detonated (because of course it does).

Smooth operator

Being a PUBG vet, I acclimated quickly to Blackout’s controls and overall match flow, a process which was helped immeasurably by the mode’s smooth gameplay and cleanliness. As PUBG players know, it’s not exactly the most stable or well-optimized game, so when I discovered that Blackout is basically a highly optimized, super-smooth version of PUBG’s core gameplay premise, I was naturally excited to dive in.

There were other ancillary features I appreciated as well such as how easy it was to drive Blackout’s various vehicles or how the mode’s UI provides clear visual and audio cues for when and where the map’s Nova Gas (Blackout’s version of the ever-approaching Blue Zone) will spread.

It also seems like Treyarch is trying to push Blackout’s team-based “Quads” (squads of four players) playlist as the default option, though there are solo and duo playlists for those who prefer a more traditional battle royale rumble.

The greater unknown

Blackout is certainly an impressive mode overall, but there are a few elements I wasn’t entirely sold on during my time with the beta. For the beta version of Blackout, there isn’t any sort of meta-progression system in place (though it’s clear from the beta’s UI that the final version will have progression) so it’s tough to say how much incentive the average player will have to keep playing over multiple matches.

Thanks to previous confirmations from Treyarch, we know at least that Blackout will have various challenges and missions for players to complete, and those challenges and missions will actually be how players can unlock most of the mode’s more iconic playable characters.

Along with recognizable faces such as Reznov, Woods, Richtofen, and the entire Black Ops 4 multiplayer specialist roster, Blackout also features a series of customizable stock avatars, though in the beta said customization was limited to their gender and a very small selection of pre-set faces.

I doubt that, even with the Call of Duty name recognition, Blackout will be able to dethrone the likes of Fortnite, but if Treyarch can layer satisfying progression elements onto the mode’s already solid gameplay, Call of Duty’s first stab at the battle royale genre could easily give games like PUBG a run for their money.

I’m also curious to see how long Treyarch plans to provide ongoing support for Blackout given the Call of Duty franchise’s annual release schedule, but at the very least, given how much clout the Call of Duty brand has, Blackout players shouldn’t have to worry about unpopulated servers for a good while yet.

The Black Ops 4 Blackout beta will run until Monday, Sep. 17, though currently it’s only available to those who pre-ordered Black Ops 4. If you’d like to give the beta a try without pre-ordering, a PC-exclusive open beta period will be held starting on Saturday, Sep. 15.