First Impressions — Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War Beta

October 20, 2020
Also on: PS4, Xbox One
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Another year, another Call of Duty beta. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been buying Call of Duty games at launch, and recently I’ve even started to participate in their testing phases. Although the franchise has certainly had its ups and downs, each year I spend £45 on a series that I’ve come to think about in the same way I think about a beer that’s drunk in between cocktails. It’s a set of filler games, something for me to play when I’m not playing better shooters or worse RPGs. It’s not exactly an obligation for me to play these games, but depending on the year, it can feel like one. After playing this year’s Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War beta, though, it looks like I’ll have to force myself to play it when it comes time to write a full review in a few weeks. 

In this year’s entry, you take control of a spec ops soldier in a cold war gone warm in the 1980s. Unlike with the more recent Call of Duty games, the beta throws you back to a time when disco was hip and communists were evil, and this setting is undoubtedly the game’s greatest strength. Being set in what boils down to an ‘80s action movie means that the game absolutely oozes style, from its colourful maps to its actually fun soundtrack. I don’t doubt that the game will end up being as “serious” as last year’s Modern Warfare, but there are a lot less browns and melodramatic notes in this one, which is refreshing for a franchise that generally has less colour than a business suit store.  

The introduction sequences to missions are a nice touch

It certainly helps that the maps themselves are fantastic to play on, too. The beta offered about 10 maps across 20v20, 12v12 and 6v6 modes, and each one of them is honestly just great. Visuals aside, they simply play better than most of the maps in previous Call of Duty titles. A large map set on a handful of large battleships offers numerous flanking routes (including ones that can only be accessed by swimming underwater) while also having places for snipers to camp. The Miami map, too, allows players to either sneak around the entire map or to simply charge head-on into a small urban environment. And finally, the one set in Moscow is ideal for every type of weapon and has some funny satire on Soviet culture. This is presumably just a small glimpse at what’ll be in the full game, so it’ll be nice to play a Call of Duty game that launches with a full set of good maps for once.

However, for as great as these maps are and for as colourful as the game is, my overall experience in the beta was generally negative thanks to a number of changes to the tried-and-true Call of Duty formula, starting with the time-to-kill. Although I’m no stranger to long TTKs, as I’ve spent my fair share of time in Warzone and The Division, the beta’s simply feels terrible. Unless I was using one of the handful of overpowered guns, firefights would result in me and my enemy both shooting one another with a full magazine to drop both of our health bars down to nothing, then charging at one another with our pistols and rolling the dice to determine who would win the fight. This is frustrating to say the least, as it all but forces you to use the handful of stupidly overpowered guns if you want to not get destroyed in literally every fight.

The water map, called Armada, is one of the coolest I’ve ever played in a Call of Duty game.

This is something that’s exacerbated by the infamous inclusion of skill-based matchmaking, too. Like in Modern Warfare before it, Cold War’s beta includes something akin to Rainbow 6: Siege’s ranked mode, where you’re supposed to only be put into matches with people that the game thinks have the same amount of skill as you. The problem is that, at least in the beta, this system is entirely broken. In the dozen-odd hours that I spent with the game, I almost exclusively got into games where I was able to dominate the entire enemy team or ones where I’d be lucky to get a few kills. When combined with the game’s terrible time-to-kill, I was only able to play the game effectively if I constantly used the best gun in the game, which doesn’t exactly make for a fun afterwork activity.

There are also some other small issues I found with the beta that made the experience not very fun. The biggest one is that movement in the game is eerily similar to Black Ops 4’s exosuit combat. Although you can’t quite double-jump or wallrun, you can slide ridiculous distances and jump insanely high over obstacles. For a game that’s presumably trying to be more realistic than its predecessor, this is something that often killed whatever immersion that I was able to find while playing, and it really needs to be tweaked prior to launch.

Seriously, matchmaking is broken.

Outside of that, though, the final thing I found annoying with Cold War’s beta was how the lack of gun porn the game contained. It’s long been a staple of the Call of Duty franchise to put insane amounts of detail into its weaponry, but this year’s entry simply lacks the nuance that games like Modern Warfare 2019 or even the original Black Ops had. For instance, using a jungle magazine doesn’t discard the magazine when you reload. Another example is that the game’s rendition of the FN FNC is incorrectly modelled as the Swedish AK5C, and the M16 has a 30 round magazine while it visually uses the traditional Vietnam-era 20 rounder. You also can’t modify your guns to the extent that you could in last year’s title, with most of the attachments being limited to scopes or grips that are unlocked stupidly slowly. None of this is game-breaking by any means, but the fact that there are so many errors with guns that don’t feel particularly good to use in the first place means that I was quick to stop playing the game once I’d seen all that needed to be seen to write this article. 

Overall, then, I’m not particularly looking forward to playing Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War when it launches on November 13. Although the game has style in spades and the maps are fantastic, the long time-to-kill coupled with a lack of gun customisation makes for a frustrating experience. It’s possible that all of this will be tweaked prior to launch, and I’m hoping that the campaign and zombies mode will be as fun as they were in the original Black Ops. If they aren’t though, I’m just glad that November’s going to see the release of Cyberpunk 2077 and that I can still play Microsoft Flight Simulator

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Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.