December 6, 2018
New year, new Call of Duty — the wildly popular first-person shooter franchise has returned with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. And just as every iteration of Call of Duty presents a new change to the game, Black Ops 4 presents the boldest transformation yet — its own battle royale mode called Blackout.
It’s not shocking game developer Treyarch (owned by Activision) added a battle royale mode to Black Ops 4, considering the massive success of PlayerUnknown’s Battleground (PUBG) and Fortnite. The video game market was taken over by demand for these last man standing, survival-style games and it does not look like they are disappearing any time soon.
According to SuperData (superdataresearch.com), PUBG (released March 2017) has already sold 50 million units worldwide across PC and Xbox, while Fortnite has passed $1 billion in sales since its September 2017 release.
So how does Black Ops 4’s Blackout mode stand up to these established juggernauts? And does Treyarch’s battle royale mode have any staying power or will it be forgotten after the next, annual Call of Duty release? Let’s take a closer look.
The addition of a massive battle royale map is new to the game, but longtime fans of the Call of Duty: Black Ops series will quickly feel at home in Blackout since it is made up of previous Black Ops multiplayer maps, including fan favorites such as Firing Range and Nuketown (called Nuketown Island in the Blackout mode).
Some might say this is “lazy game developing” by Treyarch, but it is easy to understand their mindset here – capitalize on nostalgia and allow hardcore fans to enjoy classic maps from the Black Ops franchise in a whole new way.
Blackout borrows a few ideas from the other battle royale titles. There’s a grappling gun, similar to the version found in Fortnite, which a player can use to zip line to the top of a building – allowing you to experience that adrenaline rush that comes with being the Batman! There’s also the sensor dart. Do you think an enemy is nearby? Plant a sensor dart, and it will trigger a radar near your location.
Also, like PUBG, there are many vehicles available to help players easily get around the map. But Blackout offers a unique version of transportation not found in the other games — a helicopter! It lets players create chaotic, air combat situations where they can wingsuit out of the vehicle onto unsuspecting players below.
Blackout works in other long-time Call of Duty features – such as the perk system. Players can pick up perks such as Dead Silence (which makes you completely silent to the enemy) or a new addition such as Paranoia (you are alerted with a unique sound when an enemy has you in their crosshairs).
Because perks only work for a limited time, Blackout adds a unique layer to the battle royale format and forces players to choose carefully before equipping one of these tactical advantages.
Finally, Black Ops 4 integrates weapons found in the core multiplayer into Blackout. This allows players to practice using the weapons — such as the ICR and its smooth, long-range fire rate — in multiplayer game types such as Team Deathmatch or Domination. Players can then move over to Blackout when they feel comfortable with the guns.
This gives Black Ops 4 a distinct advantage over PUBG and Fortnite where you can basically only practice with weapons by randomly picking them up during a match. On top of this, the auto-aim (aim assistance that helps players shoot targets easier) in Black Ops 4 is very high, making it easily accessible to the casual player who does not have time to hone their skill.
Treyarch plans to deliver “constant updates” to keep the game fresh and exciting. This will keep the game on par with the other popular battle royale games that receive continual patch changes. Treyarch studio design director David Vonderhaar has an active social media presence on Twitter (@DavidVondehaar) — he uses the platform regularly to address the community and, most importantly, collect feedback from players.
Vonderhaar stated in an interview with Game Informer: “When we ship the game, it’s halftime at a football game. You’re just starting. You’re not ending. This map will evolve. The modes you can play within it will evolve.”
So far, Treyarch has followed up on this promise and has delivered weekly patches that address known bugs and modify weapon balance.
Some significant changes coming to Blackout have already been revealed. Weapon camos will be added, so if you want your gun to look stylish with that Red Tiger camo while dominating on the battlefield, your wish will soon be granted.
Treyarch has revealed they will not be adding a new battle royale map. Instead, they will build on the current map. Vonderhaar has already hinted at this. When a fan asked when the Blackout map change was coming Vonderhaar said, “I am not allow to say, but it *is* happening. I’ve played it.”
Popular requests are the addition of a night setting and interactive weather such as fog or rain (similar to what was added to PUBG). Treyarch has big, ambitious plans for their battle royale mode that should keep gamers coming back.
One significant reason older games such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike, and Super Smash Bros. remain relevant are their strong competitive gaming scenes. Blackout will have to establish its own esports scene to give it staying power.
The Call of Duty franchise has already dived into esports with the creation of the Call of Duty World League, which is a series of tournaments from the most recent Call of Duty games involving the best teams from around the globe — but this is for classic multiplayer game types and not the battle royale mode.
Blackout would be a great addition to the league and allow the game type to get more exposure on streaming platforms, such as YouTube or Twitch, where esports competitions are regularly aired. Treyarch needs to keep the hardcore Call of Duty fans engaged because they will ultimately keep the game alive after the casual players move on to the newest title.
Twitch (owned by Amazon) gives Blackout the biggest chance to pull in more fans due to the streaming platform’s success with gamers. According to statistics from Twitchtracker.com, the streaming service averages around a million viewers per month and offers over fifty thousand different channels gamers can enjoy. Right now, Black Ops 4 is a relatively new game, so it remains as one of the top channels on Twitch.
Big battle royale streamers, such as Shroud — a retired Counter-Strike professional player that got popular streaming PUBG — has been playing Blackout frequently after its release and giving the game a lot of exposure among his massive Twitch fanbase.
During one of his live streams, Shroud this to say about Blackout: “I like it, it’s not like PUBG… but it’s fun; I enjoy it, it’s a little different, change of pace from most BRs nowadays…it needs a lot of work, it’s still very early, like it doesn’t feel perfect, it doesn’t feel like a perfect battle royale launch, they’re still missing some key things in my opinion.”
Competitive tournaments for Fortnite and PUBG are already taking place. If Blackout can establish a similar esports presence and maintain its popularity among video game streamers, it will stick around for a long time.
Blackout needs to make its way onto the iOS and Android platforms. Another reason why Fortnite and PUBG remain so popular is due to the availability of smartphones and tablets — both have already made millions on mobile platforms. Gamers can simply pull out their phones and enjoy the battle royale experience away from home.
This makes the games trendier to the tech-dominated youth of today that are constantly glued to their phones. Considering the strong financial support behind the Call of Duty franchise and the resources available to the developer team — it should not be hard to make this transition. And it will be necessary if Blackout wants to remain competitive with the other battle royale titles.
As of right now, there are no plans for Blackout to come to mobile, but there is a strong possibility we could see it soon. In August 2018, Activision announced a Call of Duty Mobile game was being developed exclusively for the Chinese market.
This title being exclusive to China will obviously disappoint the millions of North American fans, but once again, this demonstrates that Call of Duty could be making a strong push to mobile sooner than later. After reviewing some of the feedback David Vonderhaar received on Twitter, there were many requests for a mobile Blackout mode — and gamers should continue to voice their demand for it!
Blackout will remain popular for at least a couple of months because Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 was a massive success. According to Activision, the title made over $500 million at launch in October 2018 and broke all sorts of digital sales records.
Even if someone bought the game just to enjoy the classic Call of Duty game types, one would imagine they would at least try the battle royale mode, so it’s safe to say a lot of people are playing it right now.
All these factors show Blackout has significant staying power, and it should still be played even after the release of next year’s Call of Duty. If Blackout sees a large drop in players, it will not be due to issues with the quality of the game, considering Treyarch’s dedication to constantly improving their creation. It would signify that, much like fans moving away from the Guitar Hero gaming craze of the past, gamers finally moved on from battle royale titles and onto the next big, gaming genre.