Blackout: What Call of Duty Needs

Courtesy of Treyarch

Since “Black Ops 2” (2012), developers Treyarch, Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games have disappointed year after year with titles that didn’t bring enough excitement and innovation to the franchise. Games like “Advanced Warfare” (2014) and “WWII” (2017) — despite some enjoyable quirks — were pathetic attempts at reinventing the series and failed to hold my interest for even a few months. But Treyarch’s Blackout mode in “Black Ops 4” has brought a new light to the franchise as a spin on the battle royale genre.

Treyarch released their “Black Ops 4” game mode, Blackout, in a beta preceding its full release on Oct. 12. The beta took place from Sept. 10 to 17 for PlayStation 4 and Sept. 14 to 17 for Xbox One and PC. Blackout’s overall gameplay is similar to other battle royales, such as “Fortnite Battle Royale” and “H1Z1,” in that players glide down from helicopters onto a massive map and attempt to eliminate opponents while avoiding a looming deadly storm. However, its pioneering items, faster pace and top-notch audio set it apart from other battle royales.

Blackout’s primary defining feature is its map. Along with original locations, such as a train station and construction site, Treyarch reimagines classic fan-favorite maps for Blackout, including a destroyed Nuketown Island and the grassy Array. Each location allows for fast-paced gameplay and makes for a combination of close, mid- and long-range battles. Some locations include zombies that sprout of the ground and reward players with various weapons and equipment when killed. Most importantly, players are always near cover when traversing the map — buildings, trees and rocks dot the landscape, allowing for quick protection from enemy fire.

Smooth and responsive game mechanics also supplement the map. Player sprinting, sliding and jumping are flawlessly executed, making for fast-paced movement and allowing for quick reflexes. Even diving from the helicopters is enjoyable — wingsuits are speedy and it’s easy to get the hang of landing precisely. Newly introduced vehicles, including an ATV and helicopter, are easy-to-control and give players a quick way to navigate the map, reducing the chance that they’ll get caught in the storm.

These mechanics are complemented by a plethora of weapons. Each one can wield certain attachments and complement a certain playstyle, whether offensive or defensive — the Paladin HB50 sniper rifle is hard-hitting and pierces through armor while the GKS submachine gun has low recoil at the cost of low damage. Treyarch has even included the ray gun from “World at War” (2008), a nostalgic addition that serves as a strong and viable choice. To top off the variety, Treyarch has refined weapon balance — everyone can enjoy their favorite setup without fear that they’ll be at a disadvantage if one weapon dominates.

Along with weapons, Treyarch has included novel equipment that improves gameplay — the grapple gun allows players to briefly zoom around like Batman and obtain high ground on rooftops, and the sensor dart highlights a circle on the map that exposes enemies — a perfect counter to players who hide in dark corners. Old equipment, such as the combat axe (a throwable tomahawk) and the trophy system (a projectile reflector) also return in Blackout. The equipment goes beyond basic necessities and gives players opportunities for creative and intelligent plays, adding to Blackout’s fun factor.

The new health system in “Black Ops 4” works perfectly in a battle royale mode. With more health, enemies can be hit with more shots. Players are thus rewarded for good accuracy. Although battle royale games inherently contain a luck factor, Blackout’s health system minimizes misfortune by giving players a chance to duck for cover, quickly use medications and re-engage with confidence. To my pleasure, this small change made for aggravation-free losses, as I always knew why I’d lost.

Engagements in general are altered by the game’s audio. Players can hear others’ footsteps, reducing the chances of getting snuck up on, and vehicles and gunshots can be heard far away, so players must be careful when firing or driving. Gunshots pack a deep bass and the headshot sound is one of the most satisfying I’ve heard in any shooter. You can hear every detail, making for an immersive and realistic experience.

Treyarch has also found a way to include Call of Duty’s longtime trademark feature: perks. Scattered around the map, along with other weapons and equipment, perks offer various limited-time skills, such as Looter (which reveals item locations) and Dead Silence (which reduces the sound of players’ movement). Other perks affect healing, awareness and movement speed. If used correctly, perks can change the course of the match, but they are not overpowering — they simply give an edge that smart players know how to maximize.  

Despite its many pros, Blackout also has a few negatives, most notably its armor system. Level three armor, the most rare and protective, gives a ridiculous advantage to players, decreasing the advantage of player skill that the game has otherwise carefully cultivated. It also takes far too long to loot, leaving players exposed and unsafe — to combat this, ammo should be automatically picked up when a player runs over another player’s loot. This would reduce long looting times.

Overall, Blackout molds “Black Ops 4,” which is already phenomenal despite being in its beta phase, into a fun, competitive and well-balanced battle royale. Both classic fan favorites and novel additions make “Black Ops 4” a strong component of the franchise. Blackout will, no question, be a game-changer and revamp the excitement that once was ubiquitous with a new Call of Duty release.

Grade: A-

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