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Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's battle royale mode could be the next big thing

Commentary: See you later PUBG, there's a new military battle royale in town.

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There's a new battle royale in town.

CNET screenshot

When it was announced that Activision and EA were bringing battle royale modes to their respective Call of Duty and the Battlefield first-person shooter franchises, I wasn't terribly surprised. Playerunknown's Battlegrounds and Fortnite had already proven games built around the battle royale mode could be mainstream hits. Still, the just-released beta for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's Blackout mode marks the first time one of the world's biggest gaming franchises has taken a swing at this wildly-popular game mode. And after playing a few matches of Call of Duty's Blackout private beta, I can say it's good. Really good.

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Dropping for the first time, the frame rate looked great and the scenery was top notch.

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

It has all the battle royale elements and gameplay you expect, plus a couple of cool additions. You start with 80 total players, who dive down to the Blackout map in wingsuits, search buildings for gear and then wait for the storm to close in. After a few games, it's apparent there are plenty of weapons, ranging from LMGs and grenade launchers to assault rifles and pistols. The game even has tracking darts and ray guns.  

As in PUBG, you can mod your weapons with various sights, hand grips and accessories. Inventory management is about as intuitive as you'd expect from a Call of Duty game. There's no clicking-and-dragging or complicated menus to deal with, at least from our early Playstation 4 impressions. A PC beta is opening up later this week. As for appearances, the game runs smoothly, but that PC beta will really show how good this mode can potentially look. On a PS4 pro, there was still occasional pop-in and the textures won't amaze. But the high frame rate that's maintained throughout play is the most important thing to get right in a battle royale game.

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A helicopter? Score!

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Though Blackout mostly follows the battle royale formula we already know, there are those already-mentioned twists that help it stand out. I'm not sure how frequently they appear on the map, but I was surprised and excited when I came upon a small helicopter. I jumped in and started it up successfully (as my jaw dropped to the floor), but was shot before I could get it off the ground in what is a typical battle royale experience. I did see someone successfully flying a helicopter later, so we'll have to wait and see what a game changer such a powerful vehicle might be.

You can also find and use temporary perks. They're shaped like a generic military container, and activating them gives you strengths such as temporarily improved melee abilities. Another I saw gave you improved hearing so you could hear footsteps from further away for a short time. These will be interesting to see put to use as players begin to integrate them in the familiar mix of guns and grenades. I envision these being especially useful when there's only a few people left and any advantage could be the key to victory.

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Getting to the circle in style.

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

High-value supply drops are also scattered around the map, which is a trope of the royale game genre. In Blackout, however, they're guarded by zombies. These zombies, which will be familiar to anyone who's played any of Call of Duty's popular zombie game modes, will roam in close proximity to powerful gear and weaponry. That weaponry includes some of the more fantastical guns included in the zombie mode, like a potent ray gun.

Overall, I'm more impressed than I thought I would be. It was reasonable to expect a game with the Call of Duty name to have more polish than PUBG, but so far it's much more fun than anticipated. And with additions we haven't seen in the genre before and rock-solid fundamentals, there's a good chance Blackout could be the next big battle royale game. We'll just have to wait and see when Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is released in full Oct. 12, and when we get our hands on Battlefield 5's much-anticipated competing battle royale mode.

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