Treyarch is back with Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, a direct sequel to the 2010 classic that seeks to build upon the storied history of Woods, Mason and company as they once again seek to save the world from an unknown threat.
It takes the backdrop of the Cold War and turns it into something scolding hot, with the silent paranoia of nuclear annihilation being replaced by explosive warfare fueled with Ronald Reagan and RC cars.
But enough about the campaign, since my hands-on impressions come from the recent multiplayer alpha, which dropped onto PS4 this past weekend to the surprise of everyone. Featuring a selection of different modes and maps, I spent a number of hours sampling exactly how this new iteration in the shooter franchise sets itself apart, and it comes with a few welcome changes and surprises.
Now it doesn’t rewrite the rulebook and exists in a very similar template to last year’s Modern Warfare, but is clearly intended as a continuation of the service model Activision has been honing for a while now. As a new entry in the blockbuster series, it teases enough major iterations in setting, mechanics and moment-to-moment gameplay to keep an eye on as we usher in the new generation.
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The alpha featured a number of modes across several different maps, all of which are the larger, more ambitious battlegrounds we’ve come to expect from Treyarch over the years. Satellite is a heated desert battleground taking place in the shadow of a downed satellite, allowing players to shelter behind scattered debris while camping points in games of domination. It’s also a sniper’s paradise, long expanses of sand making journeys out into the open a very dangerous affair.
Armada was a personal favourite of mine, taking place across a selection of military vessels alongside a stationary submarine. You can explore the map on foot, with vehicles or by launching yourself across a selection of vehicles linking everything together. It’s marvelously designed with a mixture of claustrophobic corridors and wide-open spaces, both of which work wonders for producing sudden yet satisfying firefights.
Even compared to Modern Warfare, each map feels positively massive and more versatile in the approaches you can take with each situation. Granted, this does accentuate the moments of quiet between each explosion of action, but I appreciate having time to familiarise myself with new surroundings before melodically picking off each foe I come across. Or being bodied myself, which was more often the case if I’m being honest.
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Time to kill has also been increased, with health now being represented by an energy bar above each player. At first it was a jarring immersion breaker, but I quickly began to appreciate the more arcadey approach to what is a fairly bombastic shooter. Knowing when the opposing team would bite the dust alleviated the frustration that normally comes with being stubbornly convinced I had filled them with enough bullets for a kill.
Elsewhere, this is the Call of Duty experience you know and love, albeit with the formulaic changes we’ve come to expect from the Black Ops subseries over the years. Scorestreaks make a welcome return, meaning your eventual rewards are based on a score from kills, taking objectives and assisting teammates instead of a bodycount alone.
I’ve always preferred this approach, since it means players who aren’t too skilled still have a chance of unleashing an attack helicopter every now and then. Increased time to kill also accommodates the wider map size, meaning it’s far easier to escape a skirmish and save yourself from returning to the action after an untimely death. While some weapons, such as snipers, feel overpowered right now, the overall balance feels relatively solid.
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Operators have been simplified, and provide a more aesthetic distinction than the abilities and super moves that made them stand out in past games. It’s a welcome alteration, meaning victory is now far more about pure skillful accuracy than finding the right time and place to activate a devastating ultimate. Being able to use robotic abilities to disintegrate the competition wouldn’t really mesh with the setting, either.
This also folds effortlessly into the Warzone mode, which will likely be adding new operators and skins as part of its seasonal updates long after Black Ops Cold War has released. Much like Modern Warfare before it, Warzone will be a fundamental part of this entry, folded into the main menu along the campaign, zombies and traditional multiplayer. If it’s not your bag, it’s easy enough to ignore and you can still make ample progress through the game without it.
Black Ops Cold War incorporates all of the traditional modes you’ve come to expect from the series. Team Deathmatch, Headquarters, Domination and others are all present and accounted for. One newcomer is Dominion, a twist on Domination which introduces a higher number of players on each team on spacious maps which encourage the use of vehicular teamwork.
It’s excellent, and I loved the wider sense of perspective applied to a mode which normally accomodates tight maps with even smaller objectives to defend. Dominion widens the playing field significantly, and works to the strengths of Treyarch’s map design. I’m curious to see how the full roster of maps will leverage such modes, and how the mysterious Fireteam mode will shape out given it’s confirmed to support 40 players.
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Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is yet another solid entry in the shooter franchise, a declaration which will please the faithful cabal while also doing nothing to convince those who have swore off the series for good.
While I’ve only sampled a small portion of the multiplayer, moment-to-moment gunplay is fast, fluid and feels simplified compared to the bloated reputation Black Ops has garnered in recent years.
Time will tell how the campaign, zombies and Warzone implementation will shape out, but we don’t have very long until we find out.