October 23, 2021

Xbox One X

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How well does Call of Duty’s tech handle the battle royale challenge?

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Is battle royale a good fit for Treyarch’s iteration of the Call of Duty engine? Black Ops 4’s latest beta provides answers. An early demo of the new Blackout mode rolled out last week, revealing that the developer is aiming to deliver a very similar style of game, but targeting a 60fps update in a world where Xbox One has struggled to achieve smooth performance in PUBG. At its core, Blackout follows the same beats of play; up to 100 combatants fly across the map, skydive down, scavenge for weapons and armour, and then duke it out to be the last man standing as the field of play narrows. We’re in familiar territory then – but what makes Treyarch’s effort stand out?

Well, unlike the Unreal Engine 4 backbone of PUBG and Fortnite, Blackout mode is a fascinating technical experiment for the Call of Duty series. It shows how the studio’s renderer and netcode scales beyond Black Ops 4’s usual online deathmatch games. Player counts of 5v5 are the focus there, taking place across far smaller maps. But here? By necessity, the engine loads in one gigantic, open sprawl spreading out for acres – showing the engine’s efficiency at asset streaming, and rendering shadow or foliage detail.

From high-end housing estates, factories, and prisons, this is the biggest battle arena in Call of Duty’s history. This thing is a monster and Treyarch claims it’s roughly 1500 times the size of the fan favourite Nuketown from Black Ops 3. What that leaves you with is a demand to render detail at a macro scale, as well as focusing on the small details – and it strikes a strong balance. The handful of maps in the previous deathmatch beta appear more detailed on the surface, and rooms in Blackout are relatively bare compared to the decorated spots of that earlier beta. Even so, Treyarch’s engine still gets a strong workout in Blackout. The tech is familiar; from the effects resolution, use of screen-space reflections through to its eye-catching water shaders, Blackout may be a standalone attraction within Black Ops 4, but the visual settings are similar to the rest of the package.

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