I've been saying for the past year that although Fortnite and PUBG are both popular battle royale games, the only thing that might take away PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds' core audience is if another military-style battle royale game comes along with triple-A levels of polish and performance. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's new Blackout mode is that battle royale game.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 barges into the battle royale genre with Blackout. Blackout is an 80-player, last man standing mode that's currently available in early beta for PlayStation 4 players. It offers quads, duos, and solo multiplayer modes. Unlike Fortnite Battle Royale, Blackout is first-person only, veering closer to PUBG's military realism than Fortnite's zaniness–though there are some caveats.
What's surprised me most about Blackout is how stripped down it is and how much it adheres to the formula laid by PUBG. There's no regenerating health, items must be looted from buildings, and players must improve their inventory, health, and weapons by finding backpacks, bandages, and gun attachments respectively. There are also random drops with special gear. Players even start matches by dropping from the sky from a helicopter—although instead of parachutes, players drop in with wingsuits that can be redeployed from tall places.
There are elements in Blackout that feel like they were added to remind players that this is still a Call of Duty multiplayer mode, and not some battle royale imitator on Steam. So, you'll find littered around Blackout's massive map things like ray guns which disintegrate enemies, or a section of the map protected by zombies, because fighting for survival against 79 other players just isn't enough.
The map itself is also a strange Frankenstein's monster of a creation that's stitched together from bits and pieces of famous Call of Duty multiplayer maps like Nuketown, along with new elements such as a massive, in-construction skyscraper. But these elements don't alter the map in a drastic way, to be honest. While the zombies are a fun touch, the rest of the map is largely a tan desert surrounded by water. It's honestly what I imagine an Arizona golf course might look like.
But callbacks and ray guns aside, it's an experience that feels very similar to PUBG's first-person mode, only with the focused polish of a triple-A studio. There were no problems during my time with the Blackout beta, everything just worked and jumping in will be incredibly easy for anyone who's put in any hours into PUBG.
So, the question is: Is Blackout a PUBG killer? Well, when I first started playing Blackout I would have said, 'yes.' The look and feel of the two games are very similar and Blackout and PUBG are separated only by a level of polish and sheen. PUBG, as you know, is currently working hard on improving the quality of its game with a highly-publicized "Fix PUBG" campaign, but here's Blackout looking ready to go on launch day.
I came to realize however the question of the "PUBG-killer" is very 2017. Fortnite is already the most popular battle royale game on the market, and yet PUBG is neither dead nor buried. In fact, PUBG just celebrated a milestone as the first Steam game to consistently have over a million players for a whole year.
As a friend of mine put it, gamers have been asking whether a new title will be the Halo-killer, or CoD-killer, or Battlefield-killer for years, and yet those franchises are all alive and well. And each year there's a new franchise that just adds to the market. Some find success while others fail, but they do so largely independent of other games.
I don't think we need to ask whether Blackout is going to be a PUBG-killer, despite their initial similarities. Because on a closer look you'll find that Blackout is still a bit more arcade-y in terms of its shooting and mechanics, and weapons like the ray gun and environmental elements like zombies will turn off players looking for a realistic, sim-like experience. An experience that's still only really offered by PUBG.
Instead, Blackout marks the beginning of the post-PUBG battle royale genre. Where before it felt like there were only two viable battle royale choices: the serious PUBG or wacky Fortnite. Yet now there's the kind-of-serious, kind-of-wacky Blackout. Joining them soon will be Battlefield 5's own battle royale mode Firestorm, which I'm sure will be decidedly Battlefield-ish. So presumably a little more serious and less wacky than Call of Duty and Fortnite, and probably more beautiful than PUBG.
What I believe from what I've played so far of Blackout is that Call of Duty offers a battle royale game for players who want a triple-A experience like Fortnite, but still retains the military-focus of PUBG. Ultimately this will cut into both games' audiences (PUBG's more than Fortnite's, I imagine), but what Blackout really marks is an exciting new entry into the battle royale genre, as finally, there are now three viable games to play instead of just two.
For more on Black Ops 4's Blackout beta, check out our Blackout guide for how to access the beta, and release dates for other platforms.