We’ve gotten our hands on early builds of the Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War multiplayer mode thanks to its recent alpha and betas, and from what I’ve played, it feels like a major regression for the series — especially after 2019’s critically acclaimed Modern Warfare. At first glance, Cold War seems fine and even has some nifty new features that we’ll get into a little later. But the more I played, the more I realized that a laundry list of little issues kept popping up — amounting to an overall diminished product.
There are a slew of problems that make Black Ops Cold War multiplayer feel like a step backward, but the most apparent is that the visuals are lacking. The art direction makes it look muddy, with less refined detail and a bland color palette. Modern Warfare isn’t the best-looking game in the world, but it’s practically night and day when compared to Black Ops Cold War.
Visuals aside, there are so many little regressions, like the inability to mount your weapon atop surfaces as introduced in Modern Warfare. Doors are also gone — which were one of the most intriguing and dynamic aspects of Modern Warfare. The inclusion of doors makes the gameplay much more tactical, as you can use them as a tool for surveying an area or to hear if someone is coming towards you. With doors gone, you’re left with matches that play out more aggressively, but haphazardly so.
Another huge issue with Black Ops Cold War is the fact that reload cancellation is virtually nonexistent. Reload cancellation is a feature in most modern FPS games, in which you can exit out of the reload animation to finish off an enemy that unexpectedly gets the drop on you. This is a mechanic that you probably instinctually utilize without thinking of it as a standout feature. But when it’s missing — like in Black Ops Cold War — it leaves many of the engagements up to luck, simply because someone happened to be nearby while you were reloading. A skilled player would normally have a fighting chance to survive by canceling out of the reload animation to finish their opponent off with the remaining ammo left in the clip.
Along with that is the fact that when you go into a prone position while aiming down sights in Black Ops Cold War, the game automatically makes you fire from the hip, meaning you have to press the left trigger again to aim back down your sights. What this means in the grand scheme of things is that you’ll likely lose a firefight against someone at medium-to-long range if you go prone, since your shots will briefly be less accurate while firing from the hip. In other games, you can keep the left trigger held down to aim down sights, while going into a prone position without interruption. The lack of this mechanic in Black Ops Cold War messes with the flow of the gameplay and causes you to get eliminated unnecessarily.
The weapons in Black Ops Cold War also feel and sound like toy guns compared to those in Modern Warfare. Again, it’s night and day — and you can test it out easily. Black Ops Cold War’s weapons sound like plastic, cheap knock-offs — unlike the heavy realistic counterparts found in many other entries. This breaks immersion and, again, messes with the flow.
The list goes on and on. C4 is overpowered, as evidenced by how far you can throw it and the fact that it doesn’t arc. The maps are forgettable and arguably lacking in creative design (looking at you, Satellite), and in general something simply feels off about the game.
Does Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War have any redeeming qualities? Of course. I actually really like the new scorestreak system, which allows you to continue progress towards acquiring killstreaks, even after death. It’s not as overpowered as it might seem, feeling balancing thanks to the more useful killstreaks requiring a high score to obtain.
There’s also a new Wildcard system that grants you additional abilities — one of which gives you eight weapon attachments. It’s also a relief that Ninja is finally a perk again, allowing you to silence your footsteps while sprinting at all times — not just when you earn the ability like in Modern Warfare.
Still, while these additions do help, the game’s problems are too abundant to ignore. Part of what Call of Duty fans love so much about the series is how the games feel. This feeling of fluid movement and responsiveness is lacking in Black Ops Cold War — amounting to a major setback for the series — at least based on what we’ve played so far.
Keep in mind though that all of these criticisms are based on a pre-release build — meaning Treyarch can implement fixes prior to the game’s official release this November. However, I fear many of these issues will remain — marking a serious decline in quality compared to past installments.
We’ll find out when Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War launches on Nov. 13.