When Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 announced Blackout — the franchise’s battle royale mode — it seemed like a late-breaking entry into an already aging trend. With Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds having entered and left the spotlight within a year (and taken over by Fortnite as the seemingly most popular thing in existence), Blackout seemed like a needless addition.
Despite reaching what seemed like the end of my rope with battle royale games, having sunk hundreds of hours into PUBG and Fortnite, I’m now back in. And I never expected a Call of Duty game to be the one to recapture the magic for me.
The 100-person fights of battle royale modes were the most exciting thing in the world to me in 2017, but after winning some chicken dinners — and losing hundreds of others — that catchy tune began to bore me, not move me to my feet. By the time Fortnite came around, I was so tired of the whole concept that I couldn’t be bothered to spend much time inside the goofy, charming world.
With Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, I entered with the intention of playing a lot of the returning Zombies mode, as well as some multiplayer. Instead, I’ve spent more time in Blackout than both of those other modes combined. It removes the tedium of fighting the game’s controls and systems, and just lets me hunt people — my favorite part of battle royale.
Other battle royale games — and there are just so many now — have shown that the game type itself is fun enough to create a massive success. Turns out, jumping out of some kind of sky receptacle, plummeting to the earth and then spending the next 30 minutes trying to waste 99 other human beings to prove you’re the best is satisfying. But none of them — not even Fortnite — have felt smooth to play and shoot.
Blackout doesn’t really re-invent the wheel of its genre. Instead, it’s like a standard Call of Duty game on the biggest scale imaginable. The way you mantle, run and even grapple all feel similar to what you find in the game’s fast-paced multiplayer modes. Through years of fine-tuning and spending unimaginable amounts of money, Treyarch has developed crafted movement that feels fabulous — like you’re in perfect control of every action.
When I started playing games like PUBG and Fortnite, I spent just as much time fighting the controls as I did learning the map. Blackout removes that step. From the start, I feel responsible for every kill and every loss — and that kind of agency is exactly what I want from a battle royale game.
I no longer feel the tedium of dropping into the same situation over and over again anymore, and the battle against the controls is no longer part of my mission. When I lose in Blackout, I’m excited to drop again, not hoping someone in my squad will have to call it quits for the night and give me an easy way out.
The best thing I can say about Blackout is that it reminds me of all the fun I had playing PUBG in the game’s opening months, when it felt fresh and exciting. Over the past year, I’ve grown cynical about that game, though, because of the holes that continued to peek through and grow larger. It may be early on, but I don’t think Blackout will suffer that same fate. I thought I was past battle royale — that the last year was enough for me. But Blackout has pulled me back in, and suddenly it feels like I never left.