Even though Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is the trillionth entry in the series, it still manages to spice things up with Blackout simply by doing Battle Royale better.

The annual Call of Duty title is upon us. Despite the rotation between three different development studios, the series was starting to tread the same ground, with each iteration feeling less innovative than the last.

Luckily, Black Ops 4 introduces Blackout – a Battle Royale mode that breathes new life into the formula. Pardon the pun, but for now, it completely overshadows the competition.

Even before the game’s official release, it was clear Black Ops 4 is something different. After going hands-on with the multiplayer modes at Gamescom 2018, and taking part in Blackout’s closed beta, we understood that the Call of Duty title of this year isn’t “just another COD.”

Battle Royale with a Call of Duty Spin

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Blackout is Battle Royale through and through: between 88 and 100 players jump from a plane into a massive map with big open spaces peppered with confined areas (towns, factories, etc.). Players scramble for weapons, armor, and items, and fight each other to the death. As time goes on, the arena shrinks, and anyone caught outside the “ring” starts taking damage.

To help you stay in the ring, ATVs, trucks, boats, and helicopters are scattered around the map. You can use them to cover long distances quickly, but on the other hand, they tend to give away your position.

However, the Black Ops universe brings its own spin on the genre’s staples. Players use a wingsuit (first introduced in Black Ops 2) when jumping out of the plane, which gives them move maneuverability while in the air. Weapons, items, and perks are the same as In the game’s multiplayer modes, and most skins are based on characters from the series’ past.

But what separates Blackout from other Battle Royale games is less about the actual gameplay and more about Treyarch’s brand of insane action.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Blackout Battle Royale

All the areas in Blackout are actually maps from previous games in the Call of Duty: Black Ops series. Although they are not exact copies, everyone who played them will feel right at home. You can find what’s left of Nuketown, and might even recognize the diner from Tranzit, and many other locations. All of them have plenty of Easter Eggs, hidden rooms with better equipment, and secret paths that let you get the drop on an enemy.

Oh, and there are zombies too.

If you linger in a specific area for too long, zombies are likely to appear and add a layer of PvE to this otherwise PvP experience. Killing them gives you powerful weapons, and you can sometimes find “mystery boxes” near where they spawn with even better guns.

We dare to say that the addition of zombies is a game-changer. There were more than of a few times where we tried making a hasty retreat from a firefight, only to stumble on an undead horde that tore us apart. At other times, when trying to clear a group of zombies, the noise attracted other players who took advantage of the situation.

You Better Learn How to Handle Your Rifle

Like in every Call of Duty multiplayer mode, the various weapons and gadgets allow for a variety of tactics, flanking maneuvers and mind games. Most guns are futuristic variations real-life ones, and the gadgets are the same as the ones used by the multiplayer Specialists characters: a deployable shield, a barbwire barrier, a stun grenade that can be charged from an extra oomph and more.

Also faithful to the Call of Duty series, firing your weapons doesn’t fill as realistic as in games like PUBG or Battlefield, but it still feels nice. It takes skill to hit an enemy, especially under the pressure of a fast-paced firefight.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Blackout maps

We’ve reviewed the game both on the PlayStation 4 and PC. On PC, switching weapons, equipping attachments, etc. if far quicker thanks to the keyboard and mouse. With a controller, it’s slightly more cumbersome.

Using a controller isn’t very comfortable when sniping either. To hold your breath and steady your sights, you need to hold down the L3 button so it can be difficult to control your movement while aiming down sights. Unfortunately, none of the available control schemes on the PS4 lets you change the “hold breath” button, so if you’re like us, you’ll find it pretty annoying.

On both platforms, moving and transitioning between the different stances, and using gadgets, are intuitive and work much better than in other BR games, like PUBG. In truth, everything about Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Blackout is polished to perfection, and what isn’t gets patched very quickly. The game already showed remarkable stability in the beta, and now that it’s out it feels even more so. Treyarch seems to be doing everything they can to show us what a AAA Battle Royale game can be.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Blackout squad

Between Darkness, Light, and Shadows

Despite its name, every match in Blackout takes place in broad daylight and looks spectacular while doing so. The game’s engine can really handle the action, the number of players and visual fidelity. You can spot another player running across a filed from miles away, but if they lay low and hide in the shadows, there’s a good chance you won’t spot them until it’s too late.

Some other Battle Royale games let you “cheat” and pick around corners in third-person. Black Ops 4 was guilty of that by switching the camera to third-person when using emotes. However, Treyarch quickly fixed the issue by limiting the time you can be in third-person, so you actually need to rely on your skills and senses.

Case in point: in one match, we were hiding beneath a short cliff, while another player stood atop it, trying to snipe at yet another player. The shadow they cast on the ground below told us exactly where they were standing and what they were doing. All we had to do is study the shadow, wait for the right time and take them out with a short burst.

Sound also plays an important part in any match. You can easily tell which directions gunshots and explosions are coming from and even estimate their distance. Difference materials and surfaces create different sounds when players shoot at them or run across them, and the weapons and gadget all have distinct audio cues. It all comes together with doors bursting open, glass shattering and motors roaring to create a battlefield symphony.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Blackout visuals

Some elements do make disproportionately loud noise compared to their distance away from you, but as you play you realize they are crucial to the fight; they usually indicate when something major has happened or changed. Of course, zombies and mystery boxes have their own audio cues, which can be really stressful if you’re using headphone (and you should definitely use headphones).

Stepping Into the Spotlight

Although Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Blackout is “more of the same,” it manages to innovate and create a tight and polished Battle Royale. The time you wait to start a new round is very short, and there are almost no bugs or communication problems that hurt the experience.

All weapons behave as you’d expect, and the various gadgets only add to the mayhem and allow players to be original and creative. You also get all the features from the Black Ops series that made their way into this new mode. The graphics and soundtrack of the game are excellent, adding to the overall experience as they should in a AAA game.

When you add three more friends into the mix and create a squad, Blackout becomes instantly even more fun. The randomness in which items and weapons spawn, together with the unpredictable human element make each round radically different from the one before it, preventing the game from going stale.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Blackout is an excellent contender to games like PlayerUnknown Battleground and Fortnite, and even learns from the latter’s success when it comes to in-game purchases. Right now they are all for cosmetic items, and some can even be unlocked by playing the game (you’re shocked, I know).

It would be interesting to see how far Activision can take their new Battle Royale, but for now, Blackout makes Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 one of the best in the series.

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