I love Call of Duty: Blackout for the same reason that I loved PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds when it first released in early access. Blackout gets straight to my favorite part of Battle Royales – using what I’ve found for an all or nothing skirmish with an equally desperate opponent – with the least amount of B.S. in the way. The combination of smooth, intuitive FPS gameplay, creative but remarkably practical pickups, and the lowest barrier for entry in a Battle Royale yet leave little doubt in my mind that Blackout will be on the tip of everyone’s tongue come October. My experience wasn’t completely devoid of issues, and I have my concerns of whether Call of Duty’s annualized release cadence can facilitate the frequency and longevity of post-launch support that I expect of the genre. But I’d be lying if I said that my time with Blackout was anything other than the best Battle Royale experience I’ve ever had.
I was immediately struck by the silky smooth transition between free falling, parachuting, and landing, and unsurprisingly most of the experience follows suit in terms of fluidity and polish. Blackout also offers a vastly increased suite of mobility options compared to its MilSim counterparts. You can fire while grappling or mantling, heal while sprinting, shoot underwater, and even pick up ammo on the fly without filling up valuable inventory space. Some of these quality of life changes could be perceived as a step in a more casual direction, but frankly who has ever enjoyed dying outside of the zone because you couldn’t heal and run at the same time. The overwhelming rush of victory and the debilitating self-disgust that comes with defeat are still as visceral as ever, and that’s what I’m here for.
Call of Duty: Blackout also absolutely nails the concept of loot. I never would have imagined that I’d be excited to pick up something so impractical-sounding as an R/C car in a Battle Royale game, but lo and behold, it’s actually effective! By the time the beta was over I had fallen in love with the Grapple Gun, 9-Bang, and Sensor Dart, as well as a few of the temporary perks like Awareness (which amplifies the sound of footsteps) that I had initially written off. Weapons are varied and interesting, too. The basic array of trash to god tier assault rifles are still there, but there’s so much more beyond that. The gold-tinted weapons like the “Titan Operator” scattered across the map are already equipped with a full set of attachments. Then there are nods to Black Ops Zombies like the Ray Gun, MP40, and an all-new Zweihänder that spawn in zombie-infested areas which are randomly designated with a pale blue column of light. And of course, airdrops are more attractive than ever thanks to the promise of game-winning armaments like the War Machine grenade launcher.
I immersed myself in the brilliant and beloved loop of looting, fighting, and surviving that is better in Blackout than it is anywhere else.
The end result here is a map littered with appealing variables that each offer distinctly unique gameplay opportunities. The map itself is a sort of greatest hits of the Black Ops series. Iconic locales like Nuketown, Array, and Estates (previously known as Raid) lend an unprecedented level of design fidelity to the map’s overall offerings. Though it didn’t always happen, I absolutely loved it when the final circle closed onto one of these locations as it effectively turned the game into a sudden death match on a tried-and-true Black Ops map.
Blackout will undoubtedly appeal to players who want gunplay (and not some other mechanic) to take center stage in their Battle Royale experience. And in that sense it largely delivers, the responsive and forgiving “hitscan” feeling that’s synonymous with Call of Duty is intact at close ranges in spite of Blackout using what appears to be a projectile-based damage calculation system complete with bullet drop and travel time. Though the recoil is supposedly predictable, I couldn’t discern any consistent pattern on weapons like the Rampart 17 or Spitfire, and overall felt the recoil to be more random albeit less pronounced than in PUBG. Time to kill varies drastically on a number of factors but for the most part felt fine. Nerfed or not, the controversial level three armor certainly conveys a feeling of protection (especially when coupled with the max health boosting trauma kit,) but at no point did it feel like a game breaking advantage in the context of the lightning fast arena that is PC gaming. The fact is that armor is generally good for one or at most two direct engagements and is therefore finite, furthermore, armor is visually readable before you start the fight.
I experienced numerous crashes during my time with the Blackout beta which were doubly frustrating due to the lack of reconnect functionality. The ability to rejoin a game in progress is, as far as I’m concerned, mandatory especially when playing with friends, which itself proved to be a chore. On more than one occasion I simply gave up on trying to connect to a friend’s lobby after exhausting every possible option including relaunching the game. These problems could reasonably be attributed to the game’s beta state, but there are some issues that appear to be inherent to the game, too.
Will Blackout be receiving patches in two years? What about five years?
Despite the success of the varied map elements and loot, I found that Call of Duty: Blackout did a poor job of randomizing vehicle and zombie spawns. Landing in Nuketown often devolved into a predictable loop of looting through the underground portion, checking for a boat or helicopter spawn on the north side of the island, and then hoofing it across the bridge to the zone that was inevitably on the other side. Similarly, zombies almost always spawned at Asylum, the graveyard, and the diner to the west of Array. While I love the risk and reward dynamic of going loud to fight zombies or the “Blight Father” I wish they were less predictable. And all of these issues are compounded by the fact that you can reach almost anywhere on the map via immediate wingsuit deployment regardless of where the “bus” helicopter spawns. The helicopter needs to be faster, or the wingsuit’s range needs to be decreased in order to mix up possible landing locations.
The Battle Royale genre is the embodiment of games as a service. I struggle to think of a title that has received more frequent post-launch support than Fortnite. And in that sense, the conventionally monetized and annualized release cadence of Call of Duty is a concern. To its credit, the Blackout beta was patched incessantly, and the changes were significant. For example, the maximum player count increased to 100, and a monster called the “Blight Father” was added but patching at this pre-release state is a given. Will Blackout be receiving patches in two years? What about five years? Will the Blackout population be halved when a new Call of Duty Battle Royale releases? These things are worthy of consideration if you plan on investing your time and money into Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and the inevitable cosmetics associated with Blackout.
But whatever the futures holds Blackout as we know it now is worth playing. My connectivity issues and concerns became a distant thought as soon as I immersed myself in the brilliant and beloved loop of looting, fighting, and surviving that is better in Blackout than it is anywhere else. Whether you’re a Battle Royale fanatic or just a casual shooter fan who wants to try something new, Call of Duty: Blackout is the best Battle Royale around… unless you love building.