This week’s test-run is the first time we have had a proper look at Blackout, which currently drops 80 combatants into a huge map, each of them vying to be the sole survivor by collecting equipment and eliminating enemies.
Developer Treyarch recently revealed some new details about the game, including the presence of zombies across the map, but for the most part the beta has players going in cold to learn how Blackout is hoping to differentiate itself from the competition. Most notably Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
We have been playing, digging into the game’s systems to bring you our initial impressions of the mode. Here is what we have learnt so far.
When is the Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Blackout beta and how do I play?
The private beta is currently exclusive to PS4, Xbox One and PC players that have pre-ordered the game. In order to join the beta, you need to have a pre-order before Activision provide with a code to download the client. There will be an open beta for PC players from Saturday 15 September. No open beta for console players has been confirmed. The beta for all platforms ends at 6pm on 17 September.
Fortnite Battle Royale fans will feel right at home
One thing is for sure, Treyarch are not looking to mess with the Battle Royale formula too much when it comes to Blackout. Anyone who has played Fortnite or PUBG will recognise the drill.
You and the 79 other players, whether you are playing solo, in a pair or as a quad, are flown over the sprawling map in a military helicopter (no party buses here) before you jump out at your leisure. You then hurtle to earth in a wingsuit, targeting a specific area if you wish, before deploying a parachute and floating to the ground.
You then must search nearby buildings to find equipment to take down other players and protect yourself. All the while the map is shrinking, a circular area collapsing in on its players to draw them together as the match progresses.
For the moment, it is as classic a Battle Royale structure as you can imagine, to the point of overfamiliarity. You get the impression this is deliberate, however, Treyarch making the base rules as accessible as possible for players as they adapt to Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s other mechanics.
It makes sense, with Call of Duty keen to tear players away from the phenomenon that is Fortnite. While it might feel uninspiring, to alienate that base might be foolish, particularly when they have to adapt to Call of Duty’s more grounded and impactful gunplay.
The Call of Duty shooting is uncompromised
In the hands is where Blackout develops more of its own personality. Unlike other games in the genre, which tend to favour a third-person view, this is Call of Duty’s slick first-person-shooting transferred lock, stock and barrel to a sprawling Battle Royale setting.
This means that encounters are fearsomely quick and demand lethal precision. None of the bunny-hopping and sprayed fire that can mark the battle-dance of amateur Fortnite players. Call of Duty has made its name on that shooting and it isn’t about to give it up here.
There are some tweaks needed; shotguns feel underpowered even up close, for instance, and picking items up is too fiddly, but the core of Call of Duty is as effective as ever.
While skirmishes might not be over quite as fast as in CoD’s more traditional multiplayer battles, you have a longer health bar that can be replenished with first-aid kits, it still requires players to be keenly aware of their surroundings.
Footsteps feel exaggerated, but that is your only regular source of help, with the first person view giving you a narrower field of vision than the expanded one of Fortnite’s third-person. If an opponent catches you on the hop in Fortnite, there is a reasonable chance a good player can turn the tables. Here it is over far quicker, with foes often putting you down before you have even had the chance to turn.
This may prove frustrating for some, but it is unlikely that Call of Duty would want its shooting compromised. So it is about movement and cover, using the game’s baseball slide to stay out of trouble and keep your head down.
The map fits
The maps facilitates that movement rather well, too. To not put too fine a point on it, while the map is eerily reminiscent of Fortnite’s outposts and small towns, it is like several miniature Call of Duty multiplayer maps stitched together with countryside.
As such there is plenty of cover and verticality, maze-like building formations to circle and flank opponents. As well as smart sightlines for you to exploit. The huge map is sniper-friendly too.
Long range experts aren’t always CoD’s most catered for community, with its maps traditionally tighter and more suited to quick movement. Here you can scale a tower and take out opponents a town over. If you can find a sniper rifle in the first place, of course.
Is it lacking a ‘hook’?
If there is a note of concern, it is perhaps that Blackout doesn’t quite have a hook beyond the fact it is, well Call of Duty: Battle Royale. That sets up the basis of a game rather well, but part of Fortnite’s appeal is down to an aspect such as the building, which gives its players something to focus on in the often considerable stretches before encountering opponents.
I wouldn’t suggest Blackout includes building, absolutely not, but in its current state it can feel somewhat bare without an objective beyond the core combat.
Presumably the hope on Treyarch’s side is that the Call of Duty flourishes will be enough. That gunplay, the plethora of military equipment --from roaming recon cars to special perks and grappling hooks-- and perhaps most notably the vehicles.
There are plenty of vehicles scattered around the Blackout map with ATVs, trucks, boats and even helicopters to hop into and take for a spin. Vehicles are a feature in other Battle Royales, of course, most notably H1Z1 and PUBG. Blackout seems to make them more readily available than the latter game, for instance, but whether that is enough to differentiate itself, I’m not so sure. But that might just be because I’m annoyed I can’t fire my SMG while driving an ATV. What’s all that about?
Early game needs more jeopardy
Perhaps one of the issues that can occasionally leave Blackout feeling a little empty is the implementation of the collapsing circle.
As in Fortnite and other Battle Royales, the circle closes in and if you are caught outside it, a mysterious electrical fog will sap your strength. The balance of how this kicks in doesn’t seem quite right at the moment, with the game warning you to retreat to a smaller area indicated by a white circle, before a larger blue circle then closes in.
The initial collapse creates a small circle, but then takes a long time to actually close in on its players, which can contribute to a lack of urgency in the early stages of a game. I might be wrong on this and it is aiding exploration at the beginning of games. But one of the quirks of Fortnite is the need to be aware of your position on the map at all times, lest the storm swallow you up.
As it stands in Blackout, it is all perhaps a touch leisurely, which feels off-message for a game all about bring its players together for a dust up.
Zombies are tough and tempting
At the moment, zombies are restricted to certain areas, such as the asylum. Players are tempted into these areas to fight these tough swines (who seem much tougher than your average zombie) with special equipment and a mystical mystery box that coughs up special items.
You can get the ray gun here, for example, a delightfully silly and very powerful limited use weapon. The zombies are arguably the hook that the game is missing and a terrific distraction. There is a chance that the game will collapse the circle on the asylum, making for delicious battles as the undead try to bite your face off.
Though I haven’t seen that yet and it would strike me as a highly rare occurrence. It sounds great though, and might be one of the ways Treyarch can exploit its map in the future.
Different objectives across the map could be really exciting
Because while the base Battle Royale is slick, tense and thoroughly enjoyable, combining the established mechanics of the genre with Call of Duty’s exceptional shooting, it is already the wider potential that excites me the most.
Fortnite itself has proven that Battle Royale maps can incorporate any number of playstyles, as most recently demonstrated with the Getaway limited time mode, and Call of Duty has a wealth of modes to draw from across its illustrious multiplayer series. I am already imagining map-wide capture the flag games, zombies spilling out from their holes and other match-ups that can take advantage of both the huge map, COD-quality shooting and the last man standing format.
I am getting ahead of myself here, of course, as the beta test has only just begun. But Treyarch has told The Telegraph that they will be experimenting with the playlists, which is a good sign for what Blackout can become.