Another year, another Call of Duty–such is the video game landscape. This year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is trying some new things on the single-player campaign side, but in terms of the multiplayer component, you might be wondering what’s in it for you this time, and whether you should leave Modern Warfare‘s robust multiplayer suite and breadth of content updates behind for something different.
I was able to experience Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer alongside other members of the media through an online hands-on preview event held by Activision. We played multiple matches that included the new VIP Escort mode and a 12-on-12 Domination mode called Combined Arms on a seafaring map. This is in addition to the expected suite of modes like Hardpoint, Team Deathmatch, Control, and Kill Confirmed. I also got a look at how loadouts have changed this time around with its roster of guns, perks, attachments, scorestreaks, and wildcards.
With all that in mind, let’s dig into what’s new with Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer, how it changes up the experience, and if it’s worth jumping into (you can also watch the video above).
The aforementioned Combined Arms mode was a major focus during our multiplayer session since we played it three times, specifically on the map Armada. This is the map set in the ocean between battleships, where teams of 12 fight Domination-style. Here, you have sea-based vehicles like jet skis and patrol boats that help you get to and from several points on the map, otherwise you’d have to swim to traverse the waters. You can also go between ships quickly through ziplines, which is where most of the firefights take place, although there are two capture points at sea where you can expect some underwater shootouts.
It’s almost like a mini-Battlefield, akin to Modern Warfare’s Ground War mode (but on water and not on the ground of course). The map isn’t necessarily large, but it does feature multiple layers that make matches more enticing than simply holding down certain sightlines or lanes. It’s a bit more chaotic in that regard. For example, holding down capture point C is indicative of that, as it sits atop a submarine nestled within the main ship. You’re vulnerable since enemies can pick you off from the ship decks above, assault you on boats, or emerge from the water unsuspectingly.
It’s good to see risks being taken, or at least a distinct change of pace. We also tried Combined Arms on Crossroads, which had a few tanks and snowmobiles on this more traditional style map with some open areas and bunkers–but this experience, while good, was quite familiar to your standard Call of Duty fare and a bit cramped for vehicles. I hope that the complete Black Ops Cold War package leans more into approaches like the fresher Armada map when it launches or as it evolves with it’s free ongoing support and content updates.
The other notable addition coming in this year’s game is VIP Escort, a six-on-six, one-life per round style of mode–one team transports the VIP (a player on the team who’s chosen at random) to one of two exfiltration sites, and the other team has to hunt down the VIP. Players can be revived after being knocked down, but once the VIP dies, it’s over–keep in mind that the VIP only carries a pistol and is easily identified wearing civilian clothes, too. Sides switch each round and the first team to four wins takes the match.
I found this mode to be yet another good change of pace from the chaotic big-team Domination, since VIP Escort is much more calculated and slower-paced. It’s reminiscent of Counter-Strike style of play, which requires more coordination and situational awareness. The Miami map was best suited for this mode, too; it sports an urban design washed in neon lights to emphasize the ’80s setting, but the tight corners and buildings provided more tactical considerations.
The other map, the aforementioned Crossroads, wasn’t exactly great for VIP Escort since snipers can sit in safe spots and watch exfiltration points to either take out the VIP target or call out enemy movement for quick team rotations. I did exactly that when on the offensive team and found assured success in my experience.
This is the kind of mode that lives or dies by the quality of the maps designed for it. And if there are more down the line like Miami, then this could certainly be a mode worth putting time into.
The Standard Warfare
As I mentioned, the suite of standard issue modes are featured in Black Ops Cold War as well. Kill Confirmed, where you have to collect the tags of those you kill before counting towards your team’s score, provides familiar and reliable thrills. Hardpoint, which has constantly shifting control points a la King of the Hill, makes for some really intense, hard-fought battles. Control, where respawns are limited and one team has to hold onto two capture points, gets you those butt-clenching moments if you’re not completely overrun by the enemy team.
They’re all safe bets if you just want straight-forward FPS multiplayer action. It’s Call of Duty’s bread and butter, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. One standout map was called Satellite, which takes place on a desert with caves, trenches, and open areas which was a bit different from basic Call of Duty designs, and the city-based Moscow map has a dense atmosphere.
Your arsenal of weapons to create a class with are reflective of the era in which Black Ops Cold War takes place, with low-tech being front and center. The AK-47, XM4, M16, AK-74u, and Type 63 rifle, among many others, make up the core firearms, but it’s the dynamic range of attachments that will make your guns a deciding factor in a match. By default, you can select five attachments from the eight slots available; scopes, grips, stocks, magazines, sights, and barrels are among those options. Each attachment has their specific stats communicated in-menu with percentages on how much it affects attributes like ADS speed, effective range, recoil, stability, reload speed, magazine capacity, etc. With clear gains and trade-offs, leaning into the Gunsmith meta in loadouts could be a fun aspect for tinkering.
Furthermore, wildcards return to grant players one passive ability for their class. From what I saw, you have options to carry two primary weapons, open all eight gun attachment slots, or even equip six perks in total. Speaking of perks, series staples like Cold-Blooded, Ninja, Ghost, Scavenger, and are also mixed into the fold to help customize your playstyle further.
And the last notable feature included in your loadout options is scorestreaks; the other form of killstreaks but instead tied to the match score earned to encourage objective play. From what I saw, these were your standard set of streak-style abilities like the Spy Plane (basically a UAV), Artillery, Attack Helicopter, and Napalm Strikes (the inclusion of which will no doubt require further scrutiny given Cold War’s post-Vietnam War setting for multiplayer).
The Smaller Details And The Big Takeaway
With all that said, Black Ops Cold War is, well, reliable–it’s Call of Duty with some new features and a few twists backed by a solid FPS foundation. Its audio/sound cues for enemy activity seem sharper than Modern Warfare, while offering similar quick time-to-kill that feels tuned for a slightly more tactical approach to combat. Health regeneration is part of the game, but without a stim-like ability. You also have unlimited sprint at all times, there’s no mounting your weapon on corners, and you won’t be peeking through or kicking down doors. It’s as if the game is streamlining gameplay variables to place a bit more emphasis on how you build your guns and class abilities.
It doesn’t set out to reinvent the series, but in a world where Modern Warfare built itself as a strong service-style game, Black Ops Cold War has a lot of work to prove that it’s worth your time and money. Some folks play Call of Duty routinely every year like it’s Madden or NBA 2K, and that’s fine, but if you’re on the fence, Black Ops Cold War hasn’t provided a clear reason to leave last year’s experience behind just yet.
Keep in mind that while I had about 3 hours with the game, there’s still more in store for the full release. We still haven’t seen the objective-based Fireteam mode that pits 10 teams of four against each other in land-sea-air combat scenarios. And there are sure to be more maps that could bring out the best in its game modes. Currently, we’re a bit unclear on the details of how this new game will integrate with Warzone too, other than the fact that there is cross-progression, exclusive items, and narrative tie-ins for the free-to-play battle royale, but these could be neat incentives.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War launches for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on November 13 and for next-gen Xbox Series X/S and PS5 sometime this Holiday as well. And we have much more coverage of the game to tide you over, such as all the details of the conspiracy-laden single-player campaign that looks to be doing some new, wild things for the franchise.
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