'Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War' multiplayer is smooth and slightly neon

'Cold War' brings fresh maps, new modes and familiarity.

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Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
Activision

When a few minutes of footage from a Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War multiplayer battle leaked online last week, the consensus on at least one Reddit thread was that it looked like an upgraded version of previous Black Ops games. “This is literally BO4 but with a new coat of paint on it,” user Dselbdt wrote.

Well, yeah. Cold War is the gaming world’s annual allotment of Call of Duty, arriving in the fall every year as dictated by the gods, bolstered by millions of marketing dollars and built by hundreds of talented developers working under the Activision umbrella. It’d be more surprising if the new Call of Duty didn’t resemble previous installments.

Also, it’s not like that’s a bad thing. Call of Duty remains at the top of the sales charts every year because Activision has perfected the formula for a blockbuster FPS, and players keep coming back for more. The main driver of this sustained interest is multiplayer, and with Black Ops Cold War, developers at Treyarch and Raven Software are on track to deliver another successful installment of online, rapid-fire entertainment.

Cold War introduces new modes to multiplayer, including VIP Escort, Combined Arms and Fireteam. In VIP Escort, two teams of six alternate on attack and defense, and one player on the attacking team will be selected as the VIP. That person gets a special loadout consisting of a pistol, smoke grenades, frags and a field mic, and they’re the main target for the defending team. On the attack, players must protect the VIP and get them safely to one of two exit points, where a chopper is hovering with a rope dangling below. It takes a few seconds for the VIP to rappel up to the chopper, standing still at the base of the rope, and this is often their most vulnerable moment.

I played a few rounds of VIP Escort during the Cold War alpha media preview last week, and while the premise was clear, my team’s communication was not, and that made the mode feel particularly haphazard. Rounds were quick, even on a large map like Crossroads, which has big abandoned buildings, wide-open fields and tanks to commandeer. Snipers took down my VIP (and me) multiple times with no warning, and the team around me moved more like a chaos mob than a regimented fighting force. VIP Escort requires coordination and communication, and it’ll be particularly interesting to see highly skilled teams tackle this mode in esports and streaming settings.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
Activision

The standout mode of my Cold War demo session was Combined Arms, particularly when played on the Armada map. Combined Arms Domination is a large-map mode supporting two teams of 24 players and five to six capture zones. Control the designated zones to earn points for your team, and the first side to 400 wins.

Armada is an oceanic map, with jet skis, half-sunken vessels and ziplines running between massive military ships floating on the Black Sea. There are endless perches for snipers on the ships, and securing a kill underwater is far more fun than it has any right to be. With multiple capture points scattered across the map, it feels like a fantastically high-stakes game of hide-and-seek. 

We didn’t get a chance to try out Fireteam, another new mode in Cold War. Fireteam supports 40 players, in 10 teams of four, on big maps only. It has various objectives and game types, including something called Dirty Bomb, which developers have promised to show off in the coming weeks. The spawn system in Fireteam operates by its own rules, allowing players to parachute onto the map, rejoin a teammate not in combat, or appear in the passenger seat of a squadmate’s vehicle.

Activision
Activision

Aside from the snipers, the AK-47u seemed to be the weapon of choice for most players in my demo games, offering smooth handling and high damage (sliding was also a common occurrence, though that’s not exactly a weapon). The loadout customization options in Cold War are robust, with eight attach points on primary firearms. There are four new Wildcards in the game, and one of them unlocks the ability to actually equip all eight attachments at once.

The map that someone accidentally streamed last week was Miami, during a VIP Escort match. Miami is an abandoned beach resort, bright pink neon signs lighting up the night sky and gaudy finishings in the lobby. Amid the rural battlefields and open-water environments, Miami serves as a reminder that this game is solidly set in the 1980s. Overall, though, that neon-tinged tone isn’t present in most maps.

Treyarch, Raven and Activision have promised Cold War will have Zombies, a Battle Pass system, free post-launch content and cross-play among PC, current-gen and next-gen consoles. It’ll also share a progression system with Call of Duty: Warzone, with some inventory items working across both games. Eventually, Activision’s battle royale will be infused with Cold War themes, location, weapons and vehicles. It’ll look like old Warzone, but with new stuff. Kind of like every Call of Duty.

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