A Unique, Slowed Down Approach to Warfare: Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Alpha Impressions

Illustration for article titled A Unique, Slowed Down Approach to Warfare: iCall of Duty: Black Ops Cold War/i Alpha Impressions

Image: Activision

Call of Duty has seen an unexpected resurgence this year. The March release of Warzone, the battle royale addition to last year’s Modern Warfare, has generated a wave of enthusiasm for the franchise not seen since its peak years during the Xbox 360-era. There has been much curiosity about how the Treyarch-developed Cold War would continue Warzone’s momentum and the alpha, released last weekend exclusively for the PS4, provided some answers.


The Black Ops series has always had a unique pace in comparison to the Modern Warfare games. Cold War reminds me vividly of the first time I played the original Black Ops. While Black Ops II-IIII (Treyarch’s stylization, not mine) continually sped up the gameplay, Cold War feels very much in line with the slower, heavier feel of the original Black Ops. Given that it’s being positioned as a direct sequel to the original game, that’s not surprising.

While it took me a minute to adjust to the much slower pace, once I fell into a solid rhythm I really found a lot to like here. First off, the game looks gorgeous on PS4 Pro so I can only imagine how good it’s going to look on the PS5 and Xbox Series X. The neon streets of ‘80s Miami and the brutalist architecture of Russia are brought to vivid life.


The three maps I played on during the alpha, Moscow, Miami and Satellite were all solid. Satellite and Moscow in particular really fed into the “deniable operations” feel the game is aiming for. While prior entries in the series just felt like standard run and guns, fighting through back alleys in Moscow and battling around a downed satellite in the middle of the desert really evoked a spy thriller feel for me.

The actual minute-to-minute gameplay makes some significant changes from its predecessors. Most notably, killstreaks are now scorestreaks. What this means is that even when you die, your score still counts towards your unlockable streaks. A cooldown timer has been added to scorestreaks to make this fair and ensure that more skilled players aren’t just spamming the map with airstrikes and attack choppers.

One of my biggest gripes was that time-to-kill felt a little too long in this game; it took a few too many bullets for me to take down an enemy. While I eventually got used to it and started racking up double and triple kills, I still wouldn’t mind a second or two being shaved off how long it takes to die.

While I tend to favor the faster-paced gameplay of the Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games-developed entries, Treyarch’s approach to loadout customization has always been great and Cold War is no different. The game gives players an incredible amount of freedom in crafting the ideal loadout and since the Cold War is rarely depicted in games, let alone first-person shooters, the use of ‘80s weaponry and technology creates a unique gameplay dynamic. The guns all feel great and I could see a good chunk integrating fairly well into Warzone.


This brings us to the elephant in the room: Cold War plays dramatically different from Modern Warfare and Warzone.

Deadass, I put the controller down after my first match of Cold War because it just felt so different from the gameplay I’ve spent the last year getting used to.


Players, high off the thrills of Warzone deciding to give Cold War a try, may struggle to get into the slower, more methodically paced game. I think specifically about my friend Andy, for whom Warzone was one of the first games they’ve really played extensively.

Warzone, similarly to Fortnite, has crafted a unique player audience where there are many folks who only play Warzone. Should you happen to fall in this audience I would suggest waiting to see both how extensively Cold War will factor into Warzone and how the game plays in general.


Judging from my time with the alpha, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is shaping up to be a fun, if potentially alienating game in the franchise. There are a lot of interesting gameplay ideas in Cold War and it boasts a truly unique setting with some solid production values. It remains to be seen how the game will change in the leadup to its November release but so far, Cold War looks to be a great launch title for next-generation consoles and a solid return to the franchise’s roots.


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