Truth be told, we weren't all too enthused about the idea of playing battle royale in Call of Duty. Following on from the success of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Fortnite, it seemed like everyone and their uncle was trying to ape the formula and come up with their own hit game where dozens of players would fight to the bitter end in an ever-shrinking arena.
It's played out like it did years before in the MOBA space in the wake of the huge popularity of League of Legends, with waves of imitators trying to grab their own piece of the action, except this time it's the same process on steroids because so many developers already have shooters that can be retrofitted with PUBG-like mechanics with relative ease. So yeah, Blackout, the battle royale experience set to land as part of the package in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (arguably in lieu of a single-player campaign) didn't strike us as much more than a quick and easy attempt to grab a slice of that sweet, sweet battle royale-flavoured pie.
That may well still be the case, but what has become clear after spending a week playing Blackout is that Treyarch's take on the battle royale genre is certainly not a quick and easy landgrab. It's quite the opposite, in fact, and facing off against 87 other players (we didn't get to try it when they bumped it up to 100 players at the very end of the beta) on a giant patchwork map has meant that we've enjoyed Call of Duty more this week than we have done in years. If you're the kind of player who prefers to play PUBG's first-person mode over any of those third-person shenanigans, then you'll probably be interested to hear that, based on our time with the beta, Blackout seems to offer the premier first-person battle royale experience.
That's a bold claim indeed, so we should probably elaborate on that praise a little because no doubt a number of you are going to be as skeptical as we were before heading into the beta. For starters, the signature gameplay of Call of Duty is present and accounted for. It takes a while to adjust to the new, more open surroundings of the Blackout map, but there are enough scopes and attachments that can be easily added to the weapons that you pick up that it won't be long before you're equipped for both close quarters and mid- to long-range combat.
The essence of CoD makes the transition with relative ease, and despite the fact that we haven't played the series extensively for a number of years, we slipped right into the groove in a matter of minutes. It won't be long before you're sliding into cover, popping headshots, and jumping through windows as you run in terror from incoming gunfire. As per, the pacing of the action is fast, and that translates nicely in this case, because not only are you in the thick of the action rather quickly (unless you head for the fringes of the map at the start) but if/when you bite the proverbial bullet, it doesn't take long before you're back in the next game.
The UI has already seen some improvements over the course of the beta. The main sticking point was the slowness of the item/weapon pickups, but that time was seemingly cut down during the beta and it now feels snappier to grab gear from the ground. Upgrading your weapons on the fly is obviously a touch quicker on PC, and perhaps things could be streamlined further on console, but our impression of both the PC and PS4 versions of the UI was largely positive. It's straightforward to use, it's easy to pick up and upgrade your gear, and you won't have to spend too long staring at menus when you should be scanning the horizon for potential threats.