Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s Blackout mode is like PUBG without the jank

Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is its own worst enemy. Only a year ago it was a phenomenon the likes of which the games industry only sees once or twice a console generation, but a rough transition out of Early Access, an ill-planned lawsuit against Epic, a flood of cheaters, and persistent bugs have chipped away at that impregnable position despite its ongoing popularity.

I don’t enjoy Fortnite though, and so far that’s kept me in the PUBG camp. There just haven’t been any alternatives that kept the same realistic aesthetic, the slow pace, the aspects I did like about PUBG—until now, that is. Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII is running a beta for its “Blackout” battle royale mode this weekend, and it’s a lot like PUBG.

Maybe too much.

Back in black

First thing’s first: If you’re reading this over the weekend, the Blackout beta is still ongoing—and at least on PC, it’s free and open to everyone. It’s a fairly hefty 17 GB download, so that’s a potential obstacle, but otherwise you should be able to grab it from Battle.net and test it for yourself if you’re so inclined.

Those who aren’t, feel free to read on of course. You can also watch us play Blackout in the video below.

I don’t know what I expected from Blackout, but it’s not what we got. Off the bat, I’m already impressed by the technical side here. Keep in mind Call of Duty’s never strayed much beyond its six-against-six arcade multiplayer. I’m pretty sure there are bits of netcode in the Call of Duty backend that date back to the Quake days.

Blackout is an 80-person mode, and as far as I can tell it runs flawlessly. It’s hard to know for sure without running a more in-depth network test, and I haven’t had the time or inclination to do so yet. But what I’ve played has been perfectly smooth, at least on my end. It’s amazing, for instance, to see players leap out of the helicopters at the beginning of a match and streak towards the ground without doing that weird judder-readjust-judder-readjust rubberbanding motion I grew accustomed to in PUBG.

It feels like a Call of Duty match on a grand scale, and that’s about the highest compliment I can give. Whatever else you might say about Call of Duty, its multiplayer is usually rock-solid. Blackout takes the usual framework and expands it six-fold without losing its technical edge. Aiming feels snappy, sprinting feels snappy, going prone feels snappy. Call of Duty is responsive in a way PUBG has never, ever been—and honestly in a way PUBG might find anathema to its ultra-realistic, Arma-based trappings.