Black Ops 4 Blackout Beta Impressions

Mark Gray
In Short
What happens when Black Ops meets battle royale.

Let's face it, the battle royale genre has dominated gaming the last couple of years whether you like it or not. Between PUBG and Fortnite friends and coworkers are always asking me to give them a shot. I did give Fortnite a go, but collecting materials to build structures felt like the primary focus and not shooting other players. The common strategy seemed to be to remain hidden until the numbers thinned out rather than to go all-out with guns blazing. I am a very aggressive player so my style just never seemed to lend itself to at least Fortnite. Admittedly, I never played PUBG, but I never liked the concept. It was only natural that the heavy FPS hitters would eventually follow suit because they had to get their own piece of the pie. Being a COD and Black Ops fan over the years I wasn't upset at the new addition, but I wasn't interested either. Why change a formula that has worked for so many years? However, when the beta came out of course I had to give it a shot.

Black Ops version of battle royale will be called Blackout. Before playing you can choose between 4 player (quad), 2 player (duo), or single player. I sunk hours into quad and failed miserably, but more on that later. The beta is currently running a single map with over 13 named locations to drop into along with sublocations in between. Identical to the other battle royale games you are brought in by air from a random direction and angle which will determine your strategy for deployment. Also identical is the objective, at first the map is completely open though after a few minutes you must make your way to a randomly generated white circle which is the safe zone. Outside of that there is a force field indicated by a blue circle collapsing onto the white circle corralling players into a tighter playing field. This keeps repeating until everyone is forced to play in close quarters to determine a winning squad or player. Loot system is identical as well. Scattered across the map are randomly generated weapons, mods for weapons such as stocks and scopes, health items from bandages to larger kits, armor from level 1 to 3, vehicles, and supply drops. Surprisingly, the total number of players on the map is only 80. That is smaller than PUBG and Fortnite, but again it is in beta so the numbers may increase down the road. It sounds like a lot, but the map is large enough that you can go for a while without seeing someone.

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Nothing new right? So what sets Blackout apart from the existing genre? Well for one there are helicopters. I personally haven't been able to get in one but I know they exist and I've seen people zipping around in them, and to me it's awesome you can navigate the map with that kind of vehicle. There are supply drops, but to set themselves apart from the rest they also added areas indicated by a blue beam with mystery boxes surrounded by zombies - now that's what I am talking about. Combine their already successful zombie mode with battle royale. The mystery box includes bizarre and strong weapons, though it comes at a potential cost. Not only is it a beacon for players to head towards and potentially get into an early unnecessary battle, but you also have to deal with the zombies. Which if you aren't careful can easily kill you. Though if you do get the opportunity to kill the zombies they also drop special loot that will go nicely with your mystery box arsenal. I have gotten a couple of weapons out of the boxes, however I never make it out of the zone successfully to really give them a go. Lesson learned, as a tactic you can let other people do all the work and try to kill them coming out then take their hard-earned rewards. Similar to their normal multiplayer they also included tactical equipment and perks. During my experience I had been able to get my hands on varying grenades like smoke and frag, a grappling hook to get into those hard to reach places, an RC car that acted as a recon device but didn't explode, a sensor dart that indicated on the map where players were within a confined area perfect for infiltrating buildings, to razor wire and barricades. I found myself not utilizing the equipment to their full extent and that's mostly because I forgot I even had them. I also didn't feel like I was on the other end of any equipment that was a game-changer. The perks fell into the same category. Similar to perks in normal multiplayer they would give a player a brief duration of resistance to damage, boost in stamina if crouched, silent movement, and seeing your teammates through walls. While it was easy to pick these perks up, I never really held on to them, but instantly used them up and felt they were wasted. When would I have the time to enable a perk during the heat of battle? Again, I never felt like I was on the losing end of an encounter and thought for sure they won because of a perk. Overall the additions sound simple yet it gives the genre more depth and tends to draw people out rather than taking a hide and go seek approach. This is just beta of course and they may be holding back on what's in store for the future.

So what works and what doesn't? I started out playing quad and always felt disconnected. Sure, there is mic support and a mechanic to indicate with your team where you all should descend, however it always seemed like I would never get into a group that would communicate or stick together. Starting with a disjointed squad already means the odds are heavily against you. I occasionally would get people that I knew were listening because they would respond to what I was saying, but it was hard to stay organized and strategize. After a couple of hours of failing in quads I decided to give duo a shot. This was a little more structured, but again felt disjointed if there was no communication. Regardless, I was able to pull out a victory in less than a couple of matches sans my partner. Duos for me led to a more intense experience. Quads also felt like I was outnumbered where in duos I felt like I had a chance even 2 vs 1. I didn't give solo a shot since I wanted some sort of survivability aspect and a partner to share the load, but I am sure some folks will gravitate to it.

The next issue I had was with the loot and item menu system. Not necessarily the loot itself, but the interaction and associated menu system. To interact with an item or even a door you had to press and hold a button, not just a single press. My instinct was to always press, not hold. In a game where seconds and split decisions matter, pressing and holding a button to try and perform an action is cumbersome. Sometimes you even had to be either right on top of the item and looking directly at it to pick up or interact with it. Same issue with doors, I felt like my face had to be right up against it to open or looking in the right spot of a door to open so if I was in a hurry to dash into a building it was almost impossible to queue up the press and hold mechanism. Hopefully with enough input this will get resolved and maybe even slimmed down to just a single button press. Not sure what the devs were thinking, but I am sure there is some explanation behind it. What I did like about the loot system is when I had a weapon and spotted a compatible attachment when it was picked up it automatically attached itself. My knowledge of existing loot system for PUBG or Fortnite may not be correct, but I remember having to add those manually. Once those attachments are in place it doesn't mean you are stuck with them, you can detach them in the personal menu system or even swap while interacting with another item on the ground. This interaction and menu system felt a little clunky to me and wasn't completely obvious. Maybe it is my lack of battle royale experience, but after playing for hours I didn't realize I could do this until I saw someone streaming detach and drop items. It made me wonder if I was really adding attachments to my weapon. I also didn't know you could drop items. This totally makes sense if you are working on a squad. This never really came up in my experience since they were all pretty chaotic, but I can see sharing med kits and attachments along the match. I think the menu just had a lot going on that I felt I couldn't quickly and efficiently make changes. Over time I am sure I will get better at navigating it.

In the end Blackout was a blast to play and a solid first impression. Despite some bugs, some much needed tweaking, and disjointed squad collaboration, it is a huge contender in the battle royale genre and has the potential of becoming the new king. Combined with my regular multiplayer beta experience the month before, Black Ops 4 is looking to be one of their best releases in years.

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Transmitted: 6/13/2024 8:37:58 PM