Call of Duty’s ‘Blackout’ is exactly what battle royale needed

I approached the graveyard quick and low, thanks to the Skulker mod that I’d acquired just a few minutes ago. The thick iron fence surrounding it provided great cover as I explored the cemetery’s perimeter. I soon spied a gap. Perfect, I thought. There’s no way anyone’s in here. Far from the drop zone and filled with stone-solid graves, the spooky terrain was an opportunity to traverse a desert otherwise sparse in cover. Without hesitation, I hopped the gap in the fence and sprinted a few dozen feet beyond the threshold it.

That’s when I heard a groan.

Ducking for cover, I spun in a circle to see what made the noise. Any sound could startle me in my mid-match tensions, but this was both sudden and unusual. A groan? Why would another player groan? Maybe if they’d fallen from a height, but I was in a graveyard. A nearby tree was the tallest thing in sight.

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A zombie sprinted out from behind a tomb and, for possibly the first time in any video game, I had the reaction you’d expect — I freaked out and ran. A zombie? In Blackout, Call of Duty’s battle royale mode? I didn’t expect it, wasn’t prepared for it, and had no idea how to handle it.

Luckily, I came to my senses, found another gap in the fence, and escaped unharmed. But the experience gave me a glimpse into the brilliance of Blackout’s map.

Variety is the spice of life, and battle royale

My surprise came partly from ignorance. I went into Blackout‘s beta with only basic knowledge. Still, the game itself didn’t do much to hint at the possibility. From above, the map looks like it could be ripped straight from PUBG. The terrain is realistic, though exaggerated, and is broken up into areas that appear industrial or agricultural.

Once you hit the ground, though, the difference becomes obvious. PUBG’s large map is made possible by the liberal use of copy-and-paste assets. Many buildings look the same. I’m sure there are some reused assets in Blackout too, but they’re not nearly as common. There’s a ton of different structures in different sizes, shapes, and heights.

That’s not only a visual concern. It deeply impacts gameplay. Blackout’s graveyard is a good option for people who want to take advantage of distracted players. It’s directly adjacent to what looks like a large, abandoned mansion that offers camping galore but is also, in some areas, filled with spooky sounds. In one room, I came across some malfunctioning electrical equipment. It didn’t shock me, but the intermittent buzzing could mask the sound of approaching footsteps, making it far easier to execute an ambush.

The map that’s not just a map

Fortnite is aware of how an interesting map is key to the battle royale experience. That’s why Epic constantly changes it with new events. Yet Blackout’s intent is a bit different. It’s a more tactical game, much closer to the tension of PUBG than the absurdity of Fortnite, and so the map purposely leans in that direction. It wisely sets up interesting and unique spaces that entirely change how a situation is approached.

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In Blackout, there’s a pair of massive warehouses that could be a sniper’s dream (if they arrive first) or nightmare (if they arrive last). There’s a collection of barns and farmhouses, complete with an irrigation system that annoyingly hisses at you and masks other nearby sounds. There are several tactically advantageous hills, but most are surrounded by trees or other kinds of cover that could be used to turn the tables in a match. There’s even a Silicon Valley mansion with a helicopter you can steal.

Just to be clear — a map doesn’t make a battle royale, but it can break a battle royale. If the clever design of Blackout’s map is any indication, the people building Call of Duty’s newest game mode know what they’re doing and have no shortage of good ideas. PUBG should be very, very worried.

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