[Editor’s Note: We’re kicking off our review in progress of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer mode with impressions of the first Alpha weekend and now the extended Beta period from our reviewer, Simon Cardy. Given that we have yet to see the breadth of content that will be available at launch we certainly won’t be drawing any conclusions just yet and won’t be issuing any scores until we do, but this is where you’ll find his ongoing thoughts on Cold War’s mechanics, maps, and modes as they evolve into the final multiplayer review at or soon after launch on November 13.]
Progress! On the whole, Cold War’s multiplayer is a more balanced and smoother gameplay experience in the Beta when compared to the uneven Alpha from last month, with tweaks to movement and weapons going a long way. The new map and modes that have entered the mix don’t all hit as well as I’d like though, and that further drives home the point that the Black Ops series is at its best when sticking to its core, stripped-back principles.
The most welcome change from the Alpha has been the noticeable nerfing of snipers. It’s great to be able to run 10 yards across the dunes of the Satellite map without being picked off by one of many waiting marksmen. Sniper rifles are now only one shot kills if a headshot or upper torso bullet lands, which instantly gives a better balance to the class. This has led to fewer snipers on the battlefield and thus naturally encourages a more run’n’gun approach to matches, and that suits Cold War’s map design much better.
Armada has quickly become my favourite of the maps due to the number of different flanking routes available. Moving around the multiple hulking ships is a more fluid experience thanks to ziplines feeling snappier and consistently more responsive when triggering. Thankfully, the smaller, pilotable boats now take considerably less damage to destroy and no longer require you to unload all of your ammunition into them to produce results.
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This map, combined with the new Assault variety of Combined Arms (the large-scale, 12v12 mode) has made for my most consistently fun time with Cold War so far. Assault differs from Domination in that both teams are only fighting for control of one point at a time rather than 5 simultaneously, but it moves around the map. It’s fairly similar to Hardpoint and just makes for more exciting encounters as both sides are forced into one area instead of being spread out into small pockets of action.
The same can be said when playing on the new map introduced in the Beta, Cartel, which is set in the Nicaraguan jungle. It’s a fun map at times, especially when playing the larger Combined Arms modes, but isn’t without its faults. Most prominent of these being that it falls afoul of the same feeling of emptiness that maps like Miami and Moscow evoke when playing any of the 6v6 modes. It’s simply too vast for that few players to be operating in and often results in running loops of the same areas before being picked off just as you see an enemy. This leads onto another one of the faults with this map, which is an issue that bleeds into Cold War in general.
Cartel is the only map I’ve encountered so far where camping is an active issue. Sure, you’re always going to have people who like to play that way in Call of Duty, but on the whole Treyarch have done a good job at making this difficult on most of the maps. In Cartel, though, there are many, many bushes to hide in and many, many players who seem to enjoy doing it. They’re so prevalent that at times I’ve just chanced my arm and thrown explosives into the undergrowth or sprayed bullets across the shrubs, and I’ve gotten hit markers more often than you’d imagine that way. This, coupled with the general lack of enemy visibility, at times can make for a frustrating match; while this doesn’t occur on every map, it can just lead to you shooting below red enemy nametags more than detecting the bodies themselves. That’s not my favorite way to play.
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Along with a new map, a handful of new modes have been thrown into the mix with the Beta. VIP Escort is a tactical departure from the norm and requires a level of teamwork not often associated with CoD multiplayer. One team member is designated as the titular VIP and must make their way to one of multiple extraction zones in order to win the round while their teammates protect them. Rarely does a match ever make it to the final stage, though, as one team is almost always wiped out before the objective can be met. It’s not a mode I can say I enjoyed too much, partially because of all the flashbacks it caused in my mind to playing Hostage in Rainbow Six Siege (a mode that, incidentally, is rarely ever played when compared to others in that game).
Another big new addition is Fireteam: Dirty Bomb, a sort of Frankenstein’s monster mashup made up of mechanics from Warzone and a healthy sprinkling of Battlefield-sized action. Essentially a smaller scale version of Warzone’s Plunder in which cash is replaced by uranium, 10 teams of four players battle it out to reach the top of the scoreboard by depositing the radioactive element in different bomb locations, detonating the dirty bombs, and of course, getting kills. Vehicles are also dotted around the map along with boxes containing killstreaks, and the armour system from Verdansk also makes its way over. The problem is that none of it really comes together like it does in Warzone and each round regularly ends up being a bit of a mess.
The time it takes to actually detonate a bomb is excruciatingly long and at times feels impossible to complete as the enemies rain fire down on you from every direction as they freely parachute without warning. It may be down to the relatively small size of the map when compared to Warzone but it rarely feels like you have time to actually complete the main objectives, which is a bit of a problem to say the least when they are your primary source of points. Maybe a slightly longer respawn delay would aid this or a decrease in the detonation time, but at the moment it isn’t quite clicking for me. There is, of course, time to fix these issues (that’s the point of a Beta after all) and I can see myself playing this mode with my Warzone squadmates when the full game releases if it all comes together.
That being said, Cold War is at its best for me when it sticks to providing fast-paced action and satisfying gunplay on maps that (mostly) encourage a run’n’gun approach. Not all of the new map and mode additions quite hit the mark with the Beta, but the general feel and balancing of the multiplayer feels in a much better place than it was just a few weeks ago. So far, Cold War is shaping up to be a divisive entry into the series for fans of Call of Duty multiplayer, with the thin line between an old-school feel and an outdated one still being walked precariously. All in all, I’m enjoying it currently and am hopeful based on what I’ve played, although it still feels a tall order for Cold War to wrestle my time away from Modern Warfare and Warzone in its current state.
Alpha Impressions – 21st September 2020
After spending the weekend with Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer Alpha on PlayStation 4, there’s plenty to be excited about in the next Call of Duty – but I’ve seen equally as many things that have given me reason to be wary. The gunplay is solid and familiar, offering heavy bursts of nostalgia with each pull of the trigger, but I wonder if there is too much looking back going on in Cold War and not enough emphasis being placed on revolution. With longer time-to-kill, a visual downgrade, and a return to simpler map designs, it remains to be seen if this year’s Call of Duty is a backwards or forwards step for the series.
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Having put well over 100 hours into Warzone and Modern Warfare’s multiplayer over the last year, jumping into Cold War felt instantly different. Provided this Alpha is giving us a small taste of all of Cold War’s systems, it appears Treyarch is attempting to strip back this year’s multiplayer of all the concepts that were layered on in the past three games in the sub-series in an attempt to rediscover the core of what made the original Black Ops so popular a decade ago. For one, the time-to-kill is noticeably longer than recent entries – unless you’re using the currently overpowered sniper rifles, that is. Thankfully, Treyarch has already confirmed that the damage output of both the Pellington and Tundra snipers will both be reduced by the time of the beta, which is welcome since it seemed like 80% of players were equipping them during my time online. (The beta will first open for players who preorder on PlayStation on October 8 – see the full CoD Black Ops Cold War beta schedule.)
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When I wasn’t sniping myself, I mainly opted for the MP5, a staple of mine throughout my years of playing CoD. I enjoy the mobility it offers, but found myself having to adjust the way I played in comparison to how I use it in Modern Warfare because multikills are harder to achieve in Cold War (largely due to that longer time-to-kill) which makes the larger magazine attachment all but a necessity.
By the end of the Alpha weekend I had assembled a build I was happy with that took full advantage of the returning Wildcard system, which fully kitted out my gun with eight attachments rather than the standard five. I enjoyed tweaking my loadouts and accompanying perks; Ninja, which makes your footsteps near-silent, became an early favourite. I look forward to experimenting more when all of the options are made available. The sheer number of different builds available has me optimistic that many different metas will develop during Cold War’s lifespan, and that it won’t remain as stagnant as Modern Warfare has at times.
Elsewhere, there are elements that don’t have me quite excited but mostly feel minor enough that Treyarch still has time to adjust them before launch. Among them is the frankly ludicrous length of time it takes to hurl a frag grenade, which effectively incapacitates you for a couple of seconds and, in my experience, ends up with you being shot more often than it does a successful throw. The previously mentioned sniping, although highly satisfying, needs to be adjusted as well; not just on a power level, but also with a slight increase in the amount of glint produced when you aim down sights to make camping snipers more visible. You also can’t mount your weapons this year and tactical sprint has been removed, further stripping back the gameplay even more. Mounting isn’t a huge miss for me as I never tend to use it outside of Warzone, but the latter’s removal is a little frustrating when you’re so used to gaining that little speed boost normally.
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On larger maps vehicles can be used, and while it’s fine to sit in an attack boat with your hands holding a chattering machine gun, the same can’t be said when fighting against them. They currently take several shots from a rocket launcher to take down and don’t feel balanced at all. It never feels great to see just a fifth or so of a vehicle’s health bar go down when you were expecting a huge explosion.
These boats and tanks were found in the two larger maps where the new Combined Arms: Domination mode takes place. It’s essentially the age-old Domination mode, where two 12-player teams must attack and defend five capture points to earn points, but on a slightly bigger scale. It’s by no means revolutionary (point capture on a large scale with vehicles in play is basically the Battlefield series in a nutshell), but does allow for Treyarch to stretch its legs and build bigger and more interesting arenas.
The standout map is Armada, a level consisting of three large ships between which you can swim, sail, and zipline. It’s expansive, and allows for some great flanking maneuvers, catering well for all types of players due to its tight points of contestation and multiple sniping positions. My only criticism of it is that it’s almost too expansive; getting around it can become a slight chore, and a lonely one, especially when there are only 12 players on each side. This inflicts a feeling of emptiness every now and then.
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The maps in general lack a little atmosphere and could do with some extra layers of sound design, which hopefully is due to early development rather than designer intent. A timer very quietly ticks away before a “Victory” or “Defeat” graphic appears with little accompanying fanfare, which makes for a strangely unsatisfactory finish to a match. While the lack of ambient noise does aid on a gameplay level, allowing you to hear footsteps and enemy gunfire, it doesn’t help in making each location feel unique and distinct from one another.
Crossroads is the other 24-player map available in the Alpha, but it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. This snow-covered Soviet wilderness turned into a snipe-off more often than not, which emphasised the current issue with telescopic rifles. This situation often resulted in not many capture points being taken, and thus the objectives of the mode being ignored in favour of kills. I’ve historically found Call of Duty to be at its best when it’s fast and frantic, and not trying to borrow from other more deliberately paced shooters like Battlefield. Ground War never appealed to me in Modern Warfare for these reasons, and I can’t see Combined Arms: Domination being a mode I consistently play in Cold War either.
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I feel much more at home in a Team Deathmatch setting, or playing a personal favourite of mine: Gun Game, which was first seen in the original Black Ops. Sadly the latter wasn’t available in the Alpha despite its Treyarch pedigree, but I did manage to play a healthy amount of Deathmatch on the three smaller maps available. My early impressions of each of these are that they are solid, if not spectacular. The urban Miami and Moscow maps harken back to old-school Call of Duty map design with clear corridors and lanes to fight in, with no doors to open and limited verticality.
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The Miami map offers an appealing visual identity complete with a neon-lit beachfront and glowing pool, while Moscow is swamped with stern architecture and bountiful busts of Lenin. I enjoyed my time in them, but felt they suffered from similar issues to their larger counterparts as they just felt empty at times because they’re almost too large for the 6v6 game modes they house. The third map, Satellite, is my pick of the bunch, and where I found the majority of my fun coming from as I picked off enemies with my sniper rifle as they peeked over yet another Angolan sand dune. It stands alongside Armada as the most graphically impressive map of the Alpha bunch, and benefits from the rural setting in this regard as the sun beams on crashed wreckage and drenches the already orange rocks, but on the whole Cold War currently looks to be a significant visual downgrade when compared to Modern Warfare. This is most visibly seen on the Moscow and Miami maps when looking at the textures of the building faces and in the detail of the gun models, which just don’t stand up when placed next to polished weapons from last-years outing.
Although my time with Cold War has been limited so far, I have reasons to be hopeful that Treyarch is recapturing some of what hooked people on the original Black Ops back in 2010. I’m a little wary of some aspects being stripped back a bit too much in an effort to please those yearning for an experience almost 10 years old at this point, but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what innovations the developers have yet to show, and indeed how Cold War will tie into Warzone. With some weapon balancing on the way, and hopefully more maps and modes available during the upcoming beta, I’ll have a better understanding of which way this year’s multiplayer is heading. There’s a very thin line between a nostalgic experience and an archaic one, and it’s a line that Cold War is carefully dancing on at the moment.