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Black Ops Cold War Hands-On Multiplayer Impressions

Black Ops Cold War is two steps forward, one step back.

by Diego Perez

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Despite its meteoric success, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has proven divisive among the hardcore COD community. The game’s gorgeous graphics and lighting paired with Infinity Ward’s industry-leading sound design and animations have caused it to become one of the most popular first-person shooters in recent years, and of course, Warzone has propelled the game to new heights over the past few months. That being said, some of Modern Warfare’s multiplayer design decisions have pushed away dedicated fans. Map designs, spawn problems, and a slower pace have turned off many Call of Duty purists. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War feels like it was made with these people in mind – a much faster shooter with multiplayer that’s more akin to classic COD – but it remains overshadowed by Modern Warfare in a few key areas.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to play a few hours of Black Ops Cold War multiplayer, and I walked away mostly impressed. If you have ever played a Black Ops game, then you know what to expect with this year’s upcoming Call of Duty game. Just like the new Modern Warfare aimed to recapture the spirit of the original 2007 mega-hit, Black Ops Cold War goes out of its way to make itself feel like the original Black Ops. What I played feels like a mixture of Black Ops 1 and Black Ops 2, so fans of classic Black Ops will feel right at home in Treyarch’s latest.

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Maps and Modes

During my play session, I played several different modes across five maps. Map quality was one of the first differences I noticed between Black Ops Cold War and Modern Warfare. While Modern Warfare’s initial map pool was immensely disappointing, the five maps I saw in my time with Black Ops Cold War were all great. I only got to see a small selection of maps from the final game, but the handful I played on were immediately likable and easy to learn. I doubt Black Ops Cold War will have any overwhelmingly disliked maps like Modern Warfare did at launch.

The maps for standard modes were traditional three-lane affairs. Miami, which many of you caught a glimpse of during the recent gameplay leak, plays beautifully. There are plenty of flanking routes to take and there are just enough interiors to keep things feeling fresh without providing tons of spots for snipers and campers to catch you by surprise. Satellite was another favorite of mine, offering long-range firefights across sun-baked sand dunes on one half of the map alongside claustrophobic close-quarters encounters amidst rocks and canyons on the other. The third standard map I played, Moscow, honestly feels like it could have been a DLC map for the original Black Ops. Running TDM there with an AK-74u in hand felt like coming home.

The other two maps I saw were much, much larger, and with good reason. They’re reserved for one of Black Ops Cold War’s new modes: Combined Arms. Combined Arms ups the player count from 12 to 24, pitting two teams of 12 against one another in a giant match of Domination. Armada was the first Combined Arms map I played on. It’s set on big ships with zip lines connecting them. There are boats and jet skis to help you get around, and you can swim just like in Black Ops 4. Crossroads was the other large map I got to try. It’s a wide-open snowy map with plenty of sightlines, and it was my least favorite of the bunch. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it didn’t feel as inspired as the rest of the lineup. It didn’t help that the different parts of the map all blend together because of the same snowy aesthetic covering everything.

Other than Combined Arms, the other new mode featured in Black Ops Cold War is called VIP Escort. This pits two teams of six against each other as they attempt to escort a player randomly selected to be the VIP to one of two designated extraction zones. The VIP only has a pistol, but they have a spy plane they can call in at any time for intel. There are no respawns, but you enter a downed state before you die in which allies can revive you. The first team to win four rounds takes the match.

This mode didn’t make the strongest impression, but it’s heavily dependent on the map. We played it first on Crossroads, and I was initially feeling ambivalent at best regarding the mode. We then switched to Miami, and playing on a smaller map and being a bit more familiar with how the mode worked really helped. It’s definitely not for casual players, but fans of Cyber Attack and Search and Destroy will likely flock to it at release. While I don’t have much interest in revisiting VIP Escort at launch, I do really want to see two talented and coordinated teams competing in this mode though.

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Fast-Paced Action

From the first bullet fired, I could immediately feel the differences between Black Ops Cold War and Modern Warfare. To start, the weapons in Black Ops Cold War are absolute lasers. Modern Warfare’s punchy recoil is entirely absent, which is par for the course with Treyarch games. Black Ops Cold War leans much more heavily in the arcade direction than its predecessor, which is sure to excite those who love the fast-paced gameplay of traditional Call of Duty. Time to kill is also lightning quick, and the game is much more lethal than Black Ops 4.

Sprinting is unlimited and Black Ops 4’s manual healing is gone entirely in favor of automatic health regeneration. The mini-map is also back to normal, so you can see those red dots on the map and keep tabs on your enemies. These tweaks may seem minor, but they encourage aggressive play and make sure you’re always ready for an engagement. Modern Warfare placed heavy emphasis on positioning, meaning there were plenty of moments where you wouldn’t be able to react to getting shot (or you would just walk into a claymore). Black Ops Cold War still maintains some of that, but these changes, along with the new map designs, make gun skill a much larger deciding factor in who actually wins a firefight.

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Scorestreaks Are Back With a Twist

One of the biggest changes in Black Ops Cold War comes in the form of scorestreaks. Scorestreaks are nothing new for the Call of Duty series, but in this game, they don’t reset upon death. Your progress toward your next streak is carried over to your next life, meaning you can die several times in a row and still end up with a chopper gunner. To compensate for this change, the cost of scorestreaks across the board has been ramped up significantly. A multiplier system has also been implemented, granting you bonus score for higher killstreaks and playing the objective. Your third kill in a single life will be worth much more than your first, for example, and getting killstreaks is still required to earn the most expensive scorestreaks.

Even though it’s a bit more difficult to earn scorestreaks because of their increased cost, skilled players will still be able to get long killstreaks and end up with a ton of score as a result. In most of the matches I played, scorestreaks were constantly going off. I was able to score two chopper gunners within the short three hour period I could play, and several other players in my lobbies were calling in attack helicopters and napalm strikes way more frequently than I’m used to seeing them in other COD games.

Each scorestreak has a cooldown to prevent spamming, but streaks are still incredibly frequent in Black Ops Cold War. I like this change because it allows everyone to use most of the game’s streaks, but the costs could use some tweaking before launch. This system also aims to solve the age-old Call of Duty killstreak problem where bonus advantages are doled out to the players who are already performing the best, which almost always leads to a one-sided stomp. Now, average players can eventually work their way up to an attack helicopter over the course of a match, which helps to even out the playing field a bit. It doesn’t carry bad players though. You still have to be able to get multiple 3-4 killstreaks or one really long killstreak to be able to afford the most expensive scorestreaks.

An Audiovisual Step Back

While Black Ops Cold War nails so much in the gameplay department, the visuals and sound pale in comparison to Modern Warfare. Animations are noticeably less smooth. They’re not terrible, it’s just tough to switch from an FPS with some of the smoothest animations in the genre to a standard run of the mill FPS. Sprinting, sliding, shooting, and reloading just don’t have the same weight as they do in Modern Warfare. Audio is also noticeably worse, and I feel like that’s an even bigger downgrade than the animations. Modern Warfare’s guns roar when you shoot them. Most of the weapons in Black Ops Cold War sound like peashooters or airsoft guns in comparison. I went and played a few matches of Modern Warfare after the Black Ops multiplayer session concluded and I immediately appreciated Infinity Ward’s animation and audio work more than ever before. Again, they’re not awful. Modern Warfare is just a tough act to follow in the audiovisual department.

Overall, it’s shaping up to be a great year for Call of Duty. Black Ops Cold War ticks all the right boxes for me, and even though the animations and sounds might be a bit disappointing, the fast-paced gunplay and well-designed maps have me counting the days until November. It’s so reminiscent of the original Black Ops, and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into that style of gameplay with all the modern trappings one would expect like a battle pass and progression challenges. The tone and feel of this game are miles and miles away from the gritty realism of Modern Warfare, and Black Ops Cold War is a breath of fresh air after spending dozens and dozens of hours grinding camo challenges.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War launches on November 13 with next-gen versions following shortly after depending on the release dates of the PS5 and Xbox Series X.

- This article was updated on:September 9th, 2020

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