Despite the fact that some will undoubtedly scoff at the idea, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War might be the biggest deviation the franchise has made in quite some time. That's in terms of both feel and gunplay inside its multiplayer suite, and we don't think the change is for the better. Last year's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and the subsequent Call of Duty: Warzone, completely revitalised the already uber-popular FPS series and so we were expecting something that would build upon those foundations going into Treyarch's latest effort. But it doesn't. It does not feel like a step forward whatsoever, in fact. The way Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War plays feels confused.
This past weekend's alpha test was short and not exactly packed with content, but it gave enough of a glimpse into what the Santa Monica-based developer is trying to do. The game, at least right now, is being stretched in two contrasting directions. Its general gameplay loop is quicker than ever (and that's saying something) while your character feels far bulkier and heavier. The two ideas don't really seem to work in unison, resulting in multiplayer matches that almost feel at odds with one another the more you play.
While we did move about the small selection of maps at a more rapid rate than before, there's so much more weight to your chosen Operator — sort of like a Killzone 2 situation. And that just doesn't feel natural, especially in a Call of Duty title. We're used to zipping about an area, racking up kills in just a few seconds and then be on the receiving end of the very same thing. It's the typical give and take of an online bout, and despite Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War still achieving that in spurts, it feels like there's something missing. It's honestly tough to pinpoint exactly what it is that's off about the latest Treyarch project — this is more of a feel thing than a feature that has gone rogue. A weighty character combined with fast-paced gameplay just isn't working on our end.
But what of the actual content within the alpha test? Traditional 6v6 action was available across three different maps and modes while a new take on Call of Duty's large-scale battles took the form of Combined Arms. The former is what took our fancy for the most part with a variety of locations to test your abilities across Team Deathmatch, Domination, and Kill Confirmed. Satellite has to be the standout map as players fight across sand dunes for control over the destroyed object, Moscow is a more traditional three-lane shootout, and Miami is a neon-lit arena that can be both satisfying and miserable.
In that sense then, it's typical Call of Duty warfare. The guns don't sound nor feel as powerful compared to last year's impressive effort, we're sorely missing the mounting mechanic, and the visuals are surprisingly lacklustre. However, it still just about gets the job done. Never has there been such a dramatic shift in design between entries though — there are absolutely going to be fans who prefer Modern Warfare over Black Ops Cold War and so stick with what they know.
And then there's the 12v12 Combined Arms mode that continues to make us question why Activision even bothers going after the Battlefield crowd. Call of Duty has always been about engaging in intense, quick-fire battles over and over again, and every entry has always struggled to properly translate that into something that fits the larger maps as well as vehicles. Black Ops Cold War is no different. Crossroads is a completely uninteresting stretch of land that could be considered a sniper's paradise, complete with icy lakes devoid of cover and bunkers which can become one's own fort. Meanwhile, Armada is a much more exciting take on the concept as the ocean plays host to a conflict between multiple ships. It has to be one of the most unique maps to come along in a while and Treyarch deserves credit for that.
As good as the concept may be though, these two locations are just far too big for their own good. The lacking player count means you could run about the battlefield for a good minute or two before finding anyone, or you'll just get picked off by a sniper hiding inside a bush 200 metres away. It can make for a truly rubbish time that sees you lose interest all too quickly. And at that point, are you really going to bother sticking around to try and improve your team's position? Probably not. With a player count that already doesn't feel large enough, those backing out of the experience are the ones saving themselves some sanity. Let's not bother with these big modes next time, Activision.
We're less than two months away from launch now so it's not time to make a final judgement just yet, but if Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War ships with the same feel and controls as this alpha test, we're fairly confident it will quickly become one of the most divisive instalments yet. There's something not quite right here and we can't help but wonder how much of a split there will be between die-hard Modern Warfare, Warzone, and Black Ops Cold War players. It's going to happen, but returning to the headline of this very article, maybe there's one more differentiating factor. Compared to Infinity Ward's incredible entry, maybe Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War multiplayer just isn't very good.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War comes to PS4 on 13th November 2020 and will be eligible for a free PlayStation 5 upgrade if you purchase the specific cross-gen bundle. Did you play this past weekend's alpha test? Do you agree with our thoughts? Share your full opinion in the comments below.