Sometimes, getting back to the basics just feels… basic. Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer aims to recapture what made the original Black Ops great by stripping back a lot of the mechanics that’ve been layered on in the past several games. It is fun, largely due to the gunplay feeling solid and familiar and the heavy burst of nostalgia with each pull of the trigger, but it doesn’t do too much to excite at launch, largely down to most of the new modes not quite hitting the mark and a general lack of content. I wonder if there is too much looking back going on in Cold War and not enough emphasis being placed on meaningful iteration, if not revolution. With longer time-to-kill, a visual step down when compared to last year’s gorgeous Modern Warfare, and a return to simpler map designs, this year’s Call of Duty multiplayer is somewhat of a backwards step for the series.Having put well over 200 hours into Warzone and Modern Warfare’s multiplayer over the last year, jumping into Cold War felt instantly different. The great-feeling gunplay is there, as you’d expect from Call of Duty, and it’s smooth and responsive as well. Each weapon sounds great when fired, too. Animations have been tweaked and improved upon since the Beta stage and each weapon has its own custom inspect animation. It’s these sorts of details that set Call of Duty apart from other shooters and is much appreciated. The addition of a field of view slider to the console versions is also a very welcome inclusion.Not all of Cold War’s design decisions strike me as improvements, though. It’s clear that efforts have been made to return to more basic map design (especially when compared to Modern Warfare) but at this point I feel like Treyarch may have gone a bit too far in that direction.There are also more subjective factors in play like time-to-kill, which is longer in Black Ops than in recent games and not to my personal taste. Thankfully, there are hardcore playlists (which play more realistically with fewer bullets needed to confirm a kill) – which is how I tend to play Call of Duty multiplayer anyway – so this sweetens the pill quite a bit for me and offers the option for everyone, regardless of TTK preference.
That’s not to say that when playing core modes there aren’t quick kills to be had, with sniper rifles posing a significant threat. One well-placed shot to the head or upper torso is enough to secure a kill in Cold War, and while snipers aren’t as prevalent as they were in the pre-release phases, they can still feel too dominant at times. These weapons, alongside the M16 and its satisfying burst fire, have been my choices at range, and I don’t appear to be alone in that regard as only a handful of weapons seem a viable competitive option at launch.
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Sub-machine guns are currently king in multiplayer. While the Milano is not the powerhouse it was pre-release, it is still more than effective due to its absurdly high rate of fire. Likewise, the MP5 appears very popular and has become my go-to weapon when playing on all of the smaller 6v6 maps. It’s currently an all-round monster that does significant damage at short-to-medium distances while allowing for maximum mobility. The MP5 is so good, in fact, that at times it feels fruitless to choose any other loadout. Imbalance can always be expected at the start of a multiplayer meta cycle, but it’s never a good sign when nine out of 10 guns you run over on the floor are exactly the same.
That’s not to say I haven’t been experimenting with different weapons though, and that’s something I’d recommend to anyone playing on PS5. The DualSense’s adaptive triggers really do feel different with each gun you wield and add an extra appreciated layer to the overall experience of a firefight. The rapid rattle of the controller when laying fire down with the MP5 is in stark contrast to slow thud of the Pellington sniper rifle, and both of these send shudders down your fingertips differently to the resistance of the combat bow as you pull back its explosive ammunition. These trigger effects, alongside the smooth 4K 60fps gameplay, are the most “next-gen” feeling aspects of Cold War’s multiplayer on console.The sheer number of different weapon builds available has me optimistic that many different metas will develop during Cold War’s lifespan though, and that it won’t remain as stagnant as Modern Warfare has at times. The amount of unlockable perks, scorestreaks, field upgrades, and gun attachments is impressive and should hopefully lead to more variety in playstyles in future. It’s just a shame that the slow level progression will mean having to wait so long to put these into effect.
In terms of modes, I’ve found myself sticking to the tried-and-tested suite of classics like Team Deathmatch. 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 and not trying to borrow from other more deliberately paced, vehicle-heavy shooters like Battlefield. Ground War never appealed to me in Modern Warfare for these reasons, but the new 12v12 Combined Arms modes have grown on me the more time I’ve spent with them.
It feels like these are the modes Treyarch wants people to play most, and many of Cold War’s key systems really come into their own throughout, whether that be focussing on objectives to help build your scorestreaks or indeed using those scorestreaks to help decimate the enemy team. The artillery and trademark RC-XD remote control car can be devastating if used accurately.
Currently playable on three larger maps, the new Combined Arms has two versions: Domination and Assault. Domination is (unsurprisingly) essentially the age-old 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 Assault variety of Combined Arms has been much more consistently fun in my experience. Assault differs from Domination in that both teams are only fighting for control of one point at a time rather than five simultaneously, but the active point 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. There’s enough in the Combined Arms 12v12 modes to make them regularly enjoyable, although vehicles and in particular tanks do still remain overpowered and a big issue unless you have multiplayer teammates wielding missile launchers; that seems like a lot of coordination to ask of us when we’re not playing with a team of our 11 closest friends.
A swing and miss for me is the introduction of VIP Escort mode, a tactical departure from the norm which 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 while their teammates protect them in order to win the round. 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. 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 – especially because they can freely parachute in 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.
I’ve found it very hard to enjoy myself in Dirty Bomb and more often than not just found myself returning to the familiar ground of Call of Duty modes I’ve been playing for well over a decade now, with staples such as Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed and Search and Destroy still proving to be good, enduring fun. There’s a reason these modes appear in every Call of Duty, after all.
Cold War launches with only eight multiplayer maps (with Nuketown 84 to follow shortly on November 24th) which isn’t a lot, especially when compared to the 14 that the last Black Ops released with. This would be fine if Treyarch were leaning on the “quality over quantity” mantra, but sadly they fall short in both of these regards.
A handful of maps are quite enjoyable, though. The standout being 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. Meanwhile, Crossroads’ snow-covered battleground has also provided some of my most memorable shootouts and allows for many different playstyles where no one class of weapon can dominate.
Of the smaller maps, 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, and benefits from the rural setting in this regard as the sun beams on crash wreckage and drench the already orange rocks. But on the whole, Cold War does look 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 year’s game.
Moscow is swamped with stern architecture and bountiful busts of Lenin. I enjoyed my time here as it felt the most classically “Call of Duty,” but felt it still suffered from similar issues to other maps: they just felt empty at times because they’re almost too large for the 6v6 game modes they house. In my time with Cold War I feel like I’ve spent far too long sprinting in circles around maps looking for enemies rather than firing my gun, which isn’t the most enjoyable experience.
No matter which map you’re on, enemy visibility is pretty poor overall. Players hiding in Cartel’s shrubbery remain an issue despite the bushes receiving a trim, but more than that it’s sometimes just plain difficult to see enemies even if they’re running out in the open as their silhouettes blend too easily in with their surroundings. Then there’s those dreaded dark corners; admittedly they aren’t an issue on every map, but they do provide campers with too many opportunities to obnoxiously capitalise on a handful of maps. The Miami map has secured its spot as my least favourite for this due to it being: A) set a night, B) full of buildings to hunker down in, and C) punishing for anyone trying to cross its central open area as bullets consistently rain down on you from overlooking balconies.
Checkmate and Garrison, which are sadly fairly bland visually when compared to others on show, suffer from similar issues. The worst offender being Checkmate, with its particular dark, shadowy corners and airplane interiors providing just too many spots for campers to sit and wait for people to run by.
I know that it’s not a requirement for everybody to play Call of Duty with a John Rambo level of blasé, but it also never feels good to be shot in the back by someone laying in the shadow of a cardboard box that you would’ve needed a flashlight to see. 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.
Across all of Cold War’s multiplayer maps, there are overarching issues that could do with updating. In general, they lack a little atmosphere and could do with some extra layers of sound design. For instance, 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. And 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.