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Call of Duty battle royale beta: Surprisingly tame, surprisingly solid

News about the latest annual Call of Duty video game has mostly revolved around what’s missing: a single-player campaign. Activision is rolling the dice this year on November’s CoD: Black Ops 4 by focusing entirely on online multiplayer, and your opinion on that may range from “wtf Activision” to “I only play multiplayer, anyway.”

Either way, has this shift unlocked enough major, online-specific benefits? So far, that’s unclear. Two of the upcoming game’s three modes—co-op “zombies” missions and traditional versus battles—look remarkably similar to what’s already come from the zillions of CoD development houses under Activision’s purview.

This week’s pre-release CoD:BO4 beta test, on the other hand, teases a tidal change for the series: a new “Blackout” mode. As in, CoD’s first shot at the 100-player battle royale genre, popularized by the likes of PUBG and Fortnite.

Normally, we go into beta tests with grains of salt wedged into our hands, and this Blackout test—which takes combat out of CoD’s traditional, enclosed arenas and into a massive, PUBG-scale world—was no exception. But, folks, if the PS4 test is any indication, Activision and its subsidiary studios have done the seemingly impossible: they’ve translated CoD’s tight combat into a gargantuan world without sacrificing either 60fps performance or combat depth.

PUBG with a pinch of Bruckheimer

The beta test launched on Monday exclusively for PS4 consoles, solely to players who pre-ordered CoD:BO4, following a week-long test of more traditional online-versus combat. (Windows and Xbox beta tests of Blackout will start on Friday.) Our impressions are based on a few hours of testing since the Monday rollout, during which time Activision has already pushed one patch.

If you’ve played a battle royale game—particularly PUBG—you know what you’re in for. At the start of a match, dozens of soldiers air-drop onto a massive field with no weapons or items to their name, and they compete to be the last man (or two- or four-person team) standing. Scour buildings in search of loose guns, ammo, armor, health packs, and more, then be mindful of an ever-shrinking “safe zone,” which slowly forces all combatants to face off in a tiny combat radius. (You lose health when standing outside the safe zone, and that penalty becomes more intense over time.)