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Is Call of Duty Black Ops 4 the Best Battle Royale Game?
December 4, 2018
A little history of video games
In the 1970s, Magnavox created the first home console video game system, called the Magnavox Odyssey. It introduced the idea of a device you hook up to your TV to play games. It was a novelty.
Then Atari built on this idea, taking the culture by storm in the late 70s, and soon Mattel and Coleco created their own consoles ; Intellivision and Colecovision respectively, and the idea of “home video games” was its own category of items. An industry was born .
In the 1990s, the runaway success of id Software’s first-person shooter (FPS), Doom, on the PC became a cultural phenomenon. It got so big that it was even featured as a plot point on an episode of Friends, then the number-one show on television.
Doom was an improvement and sequel to the more simplistic Castle Wolfenstein, but it refined the idea to a tipping point where everybody rushed to play it. And with that rush, a series of imitators rushed to flood the space and introduce variants on the theme. Every company was putting out their own “Doom-like” shooter game, and soon enough, the single-player first-person game became a genre of game .
The battle of the battle royales
Now, that same sort of cycle has happened to the battle royale.
The rise and success of PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds) in gamer circles led to the breakout, pop-culture viral copycat game, Fortnite: Battle Royale, which became ubiquitous across all manner of different gaming consoles and devices.
And now, the battle royale has become a category. The idea is the same across all games in the new genre. A large multiplayer drop puts people into a shared map where it’s a race for resources and weapons in an “every person for themselves” shootout on terrain that shrinks over time.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 joins the fray
The long-standing franchise institution of Call of Duty has now thrown its hat into the ring, with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 joining the fray and bringing the popular Call of Duty gameplay, look, feel, and mechanics to the now-familiar battle royale format. And it may be the most polished, refined version of the genre to date.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is the latest installment of the Black Ops branch of the larger Call of Duty series of games, and it’s a hybrid first-person-perspective shooter that switches over to third person when commandeering and driving a vehicle.
Black Ops 4 has forgone having a single-player campaign mode to focus on the new hotness: the battle royale, accessible in the “Blackout” mode of the game. There are other modes, but this is the selling point of the game and the thrust of development.
What Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Blackout mode brings to the table
The Activision Call of Duty series has been around since 2003 and boasts a successful library of 20+ games across a wide variety of platforms. This has evolved a certain “feel” that is recognizably a Call of Duty style of play. That style has been tweaked and dialed in, building off of what works and finding out what does not over the 15 years of the franchise’s development.
When Call of Duty became a battle royale game, it effectively became a mash-up, taking the familiar structure of what people have grown to love with battle royale games, and mixing it with a unique take on movement, equipment, shooting, controls, and aesthetics.
As a result, Black Ops 4 Blackout is the first battle royale game to be released as a fully functional, balanced, and smooth game right out of the gate. Both PUBG and Fortnite had a lot of growing pains and on-the-fly tweaking over their early releases. Activision has the advantage of a now-mature understanding of the mechanics and elements of the genre, and it shows.
The bells and whistles of just how fluidly the Blackout characters move, how the weapons animate and function, and the sheer number of different weapons and gear items feel like a more complete and put-together package compared to the other battle royale games. One gets the feeling straight away that this is a solid and well-thought-out game.
Blackout also has the advantage of a larger toolbox of already-developed gameplay items to add into the mix of a battle royale environment. Things like the specialists’ grappling hook or cluster grenades that spawn out smaller grenades in a blast radius as they explode add both depth and nuance to the strategies that emerge when 88 people are dropped into a map and tasked to kill each other until only one person remains.
Understanding the differences between Blackout, PUBG, and Fortnite
So what are the real differences in how the different battle royale games play?
Let’s start with the Blackout map, which is where Blackout really shows its thoughtfulness and development.
I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map
As Call of Duty Blackout is already a pre-existing franchise within a franchise, there are pre-existing maps and areas that players and fans are familiar with. What Blackout does is combine ALL of these areas from previous games into a kind of integrated super-map that presents unique and varied Blackout gameplay and strategies in different areas.
While the cartoonishly destructible zones of the Fortnite map offer different aesthetics, by and large, they all tend to play the same and feel procedurally generated and a little random. The different zones in Blackout feel like genuinely exciting locales that were crafted with care and thought.
And each offers differences that really call for different maneuverings and approaches, whereas Fortnite has a kind of generic feeling to much of the buildings and terrain. It also relies on the player’s ability to construct forts and shelters on-the-fly to add interest.
PUBG’s terrain can tend to feel generic after a while as well. Blackout has seemingly taken this into account and upped the stakes.
Movement and character models
Both PUBG and Black Ops are semi-futuristic “military style” games, with environments and equipment based on tactical military gear from history, tweaked to a game-version of reality.
As such, the two of these games feel more similar on the surface if you were to view them running side by side. But the polish and fluidity of Black Ops, along with the more solid and realistic characters, make PUBG look a little dated, in the way you might feel when a friend’s new cell phone makes your two generations-ago model feel clunky and boxy.
Fortnite offers a more arcade-style, comic-book-heroic caricature feel, with oversized pickaxes and harvesters, and weapons and gear that seem more from a Saturday morning cartoon than from a military arsenal. This is both its appeal and its limitation; it’s a very accessible but ultimately very shallow product. As it turns out, that lack of depth is more a feature than a bug for mass appeal.
Blackout is a game that isn’t quite as immediately accessible. There’s a learning curve on the more detailed controls and movements. For instance, jumping into water in Fortnite will just make your character splash and decrease his or her speed. Jumping into water in Blackout will trigger a first-person swimming experience that feels realistic, and can be used to your tactical advantage in moving around while running away from or chasing an enemy.
Another twist in Blackout is that while it is a “PvP” or “player vs. player” game, as is the battle royale way, it also has artificial intelligence (AI) enemies littering the map in the form of zombies who will attack any living player. The zombies guard big loot drops, but engaging them is dangerous since you’re also being hunted by the other players as you do so.
Sustaining injuries to armor and health at the hands of the zombies can leave you vulnerable when confronting other players, even if it means getting a better gun.
There’s always a trade-off of depth for ease-of-play. Blackout asks that you learn a little more, but once you do, you can do a lot more.
Gunplay and weapons
Battle royale games all have a bit of a race/scavenge element to the first stage of every match. Players drop in with nothing but their fists (or their pickaxe melee weapon, in Fortnite’s case) and must run around looking for “loot” of weapons and armor to fight the other players. Each game treats the distribution and availability of weapons differently.
In PUBG, there is a stricter rationing of loot. A player might be playing for quite a while without ever finding and equipping a rifle. In Fortnite, there’s a kind of randomness to the scatter of overpowered weapons, but common and semi-common ones are pretty readily findable in short order. By early mid-game, you’re passing up most found weapons because you already have your loadout all set, and you only swap when you find the weapon type that you really like.
Blackout is more liberal in the distribution of weapons to find. The early moments of a game drop can indeed be a race to find something before the others if you happen to drop into a spot with a bunch of other players. But if you’re relatively safe for a short period of time, you’re going to quickly find the kind of gun you want.
Both PUBG and Blackout have findable weapon modifiers/attachments like scopes and grips. Fortnite offers a simpler “find better or worse versions of the same weapons” model.
PUBG and Blackout, being more military-minded, use vehicles as a tactical and mobility element. The vehicles in Blackout are more fleshed out and actually include a helicopter. Being able to truly fly around the map is a new wrinkle to the battle royale genre that PUBG and Fortnite do not have. (Fortnite does have at least a nod towards this idea. There are instances and power-ups where a character can get catapulted and use the glider that they used in the beginning drop to cover big distances.)
Since Blackout is a true FPS - you see your hands and weapon as you move - and Fortnite and PUBG are both over-the-shoulder third-person games, the feel of gunplay is necessarily different between them. PUBG does have first-person options, but they’re more of a bonus add-on than a really developed part of the game. Add to the mix that Activision has created a new ballistics model just for Blackout, where players have to account for bullet drops over long distances; Blackout’s shooting feels more put together and intentional.
Special abilities and character perks
Fortnite has different cosmetic character models, with a lot of in-game-purchasable outfits and mods that don’t affect gameplay. It’s all just dress-up; everybody’s avatar is equal in statistics. Every player is able to rapidly construct walls, floors, and stairs from thin air and erect increasingly complex forts and shelters, impromptu bridges, and platforms.
PUBG is more of a game-i-fied “military sim;” no superpowers or magic abilities are present and gameplay is a little slower and more deliberate, based on a situational strategy of terrain, weapons, vehicles, and ammunition available.
Blackout takes the “Perks” and “Specialist” abilities in the larger Black Ops game and puts them into the battle royale as findable items. Specialist equipment like grappling hooks, barricades, or sensor darts are things you can find as loot to modify your character’s abilities for tactical advantage. Finding the “stimulant” perk gives a temporary boost to stats, and finding the “paranoia” perk grants you a timed ability of an audio-cue when you’re being targeted by an enemy.
So which should you play?
Each of the three big battle royale games has its own distinct gameplay style and feel. Fortnite is a looser, easier-to-pick-up arcade experience and a good place to start to become familiar with the conventions of the genre.
PUBG is more of a military sim, with vehicles, weapons, and armor acting as “realistically” as one might expect in a quick-paced action game. It’s also the original innovator, with a really big established community and dedicated developers who are always improving it.
Blackout takes the lessons from both Fortnite and PUBG and adds pre-established (and newly tweaked) Call of Duty elements for a deeper, more robust set of options. But this may come at the cost of immediate accessibility. You have to learn more to do more.
They’re all engaging, addictive experiences, each with their own feel. But for experienced battle royale veterans, and fans of FPS interfaces, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Blackout mode really offers the best of all worlds.
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About the Author: Jolene Dobbin is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Jolene is an East Coast-based writer with experience creating strategic messaging, marketing, and sales content for companies in the high-tech industry.