Hitbox First Impressions — Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War multiplayer beta

Graphic by Michaeline Collins.

Modern Warfare may have raised the bar too high for what is considered a good Call of Duty game. In many ways, Black Ops Cold War feels like a regression for the series.

Developers: Treyarch and Raven Software. Additional support by High Moon Studios, Beenox, Activision Shanghai and Sledgehammer Games

Release date: Nov. 13, 2020

Platforms: PC [played], PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S

Price: $59.99

I recently had an opportunity to play a few hours of the multiplayer public beta for the next Call of Duty game — Black Ops Cold War, but it didn’t do much to dissuade my worries about the follow-up to last year’s entry.

Modern Warfare’s gunsmith system, allowing players to radically customize their guns was an outstanding addition. Likewise, the new game engine it used revitalized Call of Duty’s core running-and-gunning gameplay. Without either of those two features, Black Ops Cold War feels very lackluster.

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My biggest surprise playing the beta was that shotguns have been moved from the primary weapon slot to the secondary slot, which is usually only reserved for pistols, launchers and knives. It was possible to accomplish this same thing in Modern Warfare, but it required you to use a certain perk over some of the most useful perks in the game. There was an important trade-off to consider before, not so much in Black Ops Cold War.

The best play is shown after each match. Screenshot by John Novotny.

A shotgun is going to be inherently more effective as a close-range secondary than a pistol. They’re easier to use and do more damage. Any time a player hears someone else getting close, they’re just going to pull out their shotgun. That’s exactly what I did during the beta. I never really had to consider the range at which my enemy was either. Both the pump-action shotgun and semi-automatic could kill at ridiculous ranges.

I can’t see any reason for this change. Maybe from a pure weapon usage statistics perspective it makes sense — shotguns never seem to be the most popular guns — but making shotguns a secondary is just going to lead to boring close-quarters fights.

My other big criticism of Black Ops Cold War is really just a bunch of tiny things rolled into one. Black Ops Cold War doesn’t feel as good to play as Modern Warfare, let me try and break that down a little bit.

Black Ops Cold War is not using the same game engine as Modern Warfare. The promise of a new engine for Modern Warfare was that it would allow developers at Infinity Ward to do a bunch of cool new things with the guns, such as make them sound different depending on the type of environment the player was in. For example, a gun would sound louder in a small room or hallway compared to a large open field.

The neon signs of the Miami map help remind you Black Ops Cold War is set during the ’80s. Screenshot by John Novotny.

While guns do sound different depending on where the player is on the maps, they never sound as intense and the differences are never as noticeable as in Modern Warfare. The best way I can put it is that the guns almost sound artificial. They sound flat and less dynamic than any gun in Modern Warfare.

An important but often overlooked aspect of making any first-person game feel good are the animations. In other words, how the character moves their body when playing in first person. Overwatch, the first-person team shooter, does an excellent job at making each character feel unique in how their arms and weapons jostle while moving.

Modern Warfare’s first-person animations felt very fluid, like the characters were moving how an actual person would. Black Ops Cold War’s animations feel stilted and unnatural. This could be an artistic decision, but if it is, I don’t think it’s the right one.

Perhaps the biggest regression from Modern Warfare is the lack of super sprint and weapon mounting. Super sprinting allowed players to hold their gun up and sprint even faster than normal, but at the cost of taking longer to ready their gun. Weapon mounting was incredibly situational and as such, rarely used, but it’s still a feature that is not being carried forward.

The only new feature being introduced in the multiplayer of Black Ops Cold War is being able to ping locations like in Call of Duty Warzone or Apex Legends. After pressing the appropriate button, an icon will show up where the player was aiming that may indicate danger or that an enemy is there to teammates without having to verbally communicate. While the ability to ping locations is a welcome one, it still doesn’t make up for the lack of other features.

The yellow ping marker also shows how far away it is. Screenshot by John Novotny.

On the bright side, I like every map available in the beta. Moscow in particular was very fun. It uses a traditional three-lane structure, but all the lanes converge to the center of a metro station. There are a mix of long to short-range sightlines as well, which makes almost any weapon category a viable option.

This Black Ops Cold War multiplayer beta took place about a month before the full release on Nov. 13. There’s still hope, some small changes, like weapon balancing, are still possible. However, I don’t think that anything short of a true follow-up to Modern Warfare is going to meet the high expectations it set.