Hands-On With Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s Multiplayer Alpha

Hands-On With Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s Multiplayer Alpha
Image: Activision

An early look at Black Ops: Cold War’s multiplayer unveils new game modes, promising maps, and plenty of opportunities for scorestreaks.

Thanks to an online preview event held by publisher Activision, I was recently able to get hands-on with the multiplayer for this year’s upcoming Call of Duty. Developed by Treyarch Studios and Raven Software as a direct sequel to 2010’s Call of Duty: Black Ops, the next Duty delves into conspiracy theories and declassified intel around the Cold War in the early 1980s. This transitions us from the bland colour palette of war seen in Modern Warfare’s maps to more vibrant scenery with the 80s espionage.

The online event let press outlets customise classes and get paired up for about three hours of matches. Only a handful of maps were shown, but there was a lot of variety. We fought on snowy terrain, in the deserts of Angola, through urban Moscow, and even under fireworks in Miami. “Miami” was one of my favourite maps, and not just for all the neon lights and palm trees. I usually prefer the pace of small 6v6 maps.

There was also a large Battlefield-esque map called “Armada,” which is a naval fleet map with tons of smaller ships and capture points. This is built perfectly for Cold War’s new “Combined Arms Domination” mode, which holds five to six capture points instead of just the three capture points normally featured in Call of Duty’s Domination mode. This larger Domination is played in 12v12 matches, and navigating the map feels fluid, with several places to use a zipline or rappel to reach another area.

While we weren’t shown anything larger than 12v12 Combined Arms, Treyarch did announce other game modes are coming under a new category called Fireteams. Fireteams will host 10 teams in squads of four, who will face off against each other on large-scale maps to compete in various objectives.

With Cold War’s new large-scale additions comes the nuisance of vehicle warfare, so be prepared to arm yourselves with rockets and C4 explosives. Combined Arms and Fireteams matches will feature deadly vehicles such as tanks or boats with mounted turrets. There are also small transport boats for “Armada” and the snowy “Crossroads” map has snowmobiles to help you zoom to your objective. Tanks weren’t very popular in Modern Warfare’s Ground War mode, and now we’ll have the addition of deadly boats in Black Ops: Cold War, but I didn’t let the enemy vehicles hinder my playstyle.

Armada Map (Screenshot: Activision (Kotaku) Armada Map (Screenshot: Activision (Kotaku)

The only Cold War location that really frustrated me was a 6v6 map called “Moscow,” with most of the gunfights taking place within small building interiors. You could fight outside on the outskirts of Moscow’s buildings, but the map felt too claustrophobic and frustrating to navigate.

On the upside, everything shown felt like a classic Call of Duty map. Black Ops: Cold War steps back from the controversial map design and the myriad of doors Infinity Ward introduced with Modern Warfare. None of the maps previewed had those loud and interactable doors.

I noticed variety in the map design in other ways. Some maps will have the three-lane map design Treyarch is known for, but some maps feature a more unique layout. Larger maps like Crossroads have a little more randomness with the building placements and wide open areas exist for the tanks to prowl.

In addition to the new large-scale modes previously mentioned, Black Ops: Cold War has the expected Call of Duty game modes like Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, and Hardpoint.

A new tactical “VIP Escort” mode is also introduced. VIP Escort is a 6v6, round-based game of attacking and defending. The attacking team must protect a randomly chosen “VIP” teammate, and escort them safely to one of two exfil sites on the map. The defenders must prevent the VIP from extracting. Each player has one life per round, but fatally shot players will go into a “knocked” state, and can either be revived by teammates or finished off by the enemy.

I love 6v6 tactical play, and VIP Escort has potential, but I think it needs some tweaks to work for the smaller maps. On Crossroads, VIP played really well with the larger map space. Players had time to creep around and actually play tactically. On the much smaller Miami map, the exfil sites were just too close and easy to access. It felt like the attacking team could take just a few steps and the VIP would be exiting the map. The matches were unfathomably quick, and the rounds never felt rewarding. Hopefully the developers can find a way to make VIP Escort work better for the small maps.

There were 10 different “Operators” for me to choose from in Cold War’s preview, and just like Modern Warfare’s Operators, they’re just cosmetic soldiers who don’t possess any superpowers or overpowered weapons like the Specialists from the last two Black Ops games. I’m sure we’ll be able to unlock or purchase some absurdly colourful Operator skins and gun camos once the game actually releases.

Cold War Operators (Screenshot: Activision (Kotaku) Cold War Operators (Screenshot: Activision (Kotaku)

The gun selection I previewed was limited, but it was a pretty familiar selection for each class type. The AK-47 assault rifle was present, along with submachine guns like the MP5 and the AK-74u. Most importantly, Cold War keeps Modern Warfare’s excellent Gunsmith feature, and I’m really happy to see this return. The Gunsmith allows for greater weapon modification, and constantly swapping out the different stat-based attachments can make a gun feel completely different with each change.

Fan-favourite perks return, including Cold Blooded to make you less visible by thermal vision and scorestreaks, Ghost keeps you off the radar of spy planes, and Ninja makes your footsteps quieter. Wildcards, as previously seen in the Black Ops series, return to let you choose extra bonuses, such as allowing for more gun attachments or the ability to equip extra perks. Field Upgrades, the chargeable item or ability that was introduced in Modern Warfare, will also make their way into the Cold War era. For my custom loadout, I liked to have the SAM Turret field upgrade to help shoot down enemy air support. Each custom class loadout can be equipped with three perks, one wildcard, and a field upgrade.

And you’ll probably want some of those perks and field upgrades that help you counter enemy choppers and airstrikes, as Black Ops: Cold War revamps the lethal streaks that you earn in-game. Modern Warfare used a Killstreak system that let you earn powerful rewards for obtaining a certain number of kills before dying, but Cold War brings back a renovated version of the Scorestreak system from previous Black Ops games.

Black Ops: Cold War’s Scorestreak system no longer punishes you for dying. You’ll earn score multipliers for achieving multiple kills in the same life, but you’ll also continue to earn those scorestreaks after death by helping your team play the objective. There’s likely to be more air support earned in Black Ops: Cold War than Modern Warfare, but at least each scorestreak goes on a 90 second cooldown after it’s used, so you can’t just spam lethal streaks all over the map.

Domination on Miami (Screenshot: Activision (Kotaku) Domination on Miami (Screenshot: Activision (Kotaku)

On more minor topics, the sliding mechanic returns. I don’t know if this will be tweaked before launch, but it feels like you can slide really far. All players have health bars that will show above their heads for a total of 150 health, but this bar only appears when the player is taking damage. The time to kill feels a little slower than Modern Warfare but not by too much.

Overall, the hands-on with the alpha build ran really smoothly for me. You’d never guess by playing it that it was created on a shorter development cycle, or that much of Black Ops: Cold War was built under the unusual conditions created by a pandemic. Certain modes might need tweaking, but the maps offered seemed mostly solid. I hope to see more of the new game modes when the beta rolls around, and I’m going to remain hopeful that will include Modern Warfare’s 2v2 Gunfight, as it’s a really great mode.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is scheduled to release globally on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on November 13. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X versions are set for a Holiday 2020 launch, ultimately depending on when those specific consoles release.

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