Hands-on: Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War alpha test provides a glimpse of great new maps and classic gameplay

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War has a lot to prove after the mixed reception to Modern Warfare’s multiplayer metagame decisions and the lack of single-player story in Treyarch’s previous title Black Ops 4. But if our recent hands-on experience with Cold War is anything to go by, the future seems fairly bright for Call of Duty’s next game.

Black Ops Cold War takes the gameplay that you remember from beloved games like Black Ops 2 and even 2019’s Modern Warfare and refines it with that signature Treyarch touch. Though the alpha test this past weekend only let me get a sneak peek of the multiplayer, it is safe to say that I am hopeful for what’s to come.

Gameplay is all fun without the fluff

When it comes to multiplayer, the gunplay is far and away the most important part. If that fails, then it doesn’t matter how good the maps or modes are. Fortunately, I am happy to report that the gameplay in Black Ops Cold War retains the classic Treyarch feel but in a modern way.

The gameplay never fails to have that frenetic, fast-paced feel that Call of Duty is known for. The weapon categories all feel different and pretty well balanced, unlike Modern Warfare, where the SMGs were too powerful. However, the one problematic exception to the balance was the sniper rifles.

Sniper rifles felt a little bit too powerful and unmatched in the alpha but, fortunately, developer Tony Flame already confirmed that won’t be for long. Other than that, though, I felt that I could run around with an assault rifle and compete against the other players without having to hold an SMG in my hand at all times.

In addition, the other weapons like rocket launchers, shotguns, and pistols each filled a different gap without having any weapon feeling too overpowered compared to the rest. Running around the various maps was paced well with scorestreaks and perks that didn’t break the experience no matter the game mode.

Longtime fans might be happy to know that a traditional minimap returns in Cold War, allowing you to actually see when an enemy is close by and shooting at you or your teammates. This brought back the older Black Ops feel without slowing everything down or losing the buttery smoothness in performance and weapon handling.

I did encounter some strange visual and performance bugs but they were understandable given the alpha build. There were times that textures on the walls or ground wouldn’t load in until a couple of minutes into the match or never at all. And then there were a few matches where I kept disconnecting even though my internet was fine.

Regardless, after about 30 matches or so across multiple game modes and all of the maps that were part of the alpha, I am feeling much more positive about the Black Ops Cold War multiplayer than before getting hands-on. A large part of this was due to the new game mode: Combined Arms.

Combined Arms is my new favorite game mode

Out of what was offered this past weekend in the alpha, Combined Arms was the sole new game mode available and even it wasn't totally new. It is basically the replacement for Ground War, offering large-scale takes on beloved modes and more Battlefield-like maps.

The Combined Arms mode in the alpha was Domination, offering up to 12-on-12 matches, instead of the normal 6-on-6. The doubled player count and bigger maps of Armada and Crossroads offered some Battlefield-like experiences in Call of Duty that I didn’t expect to love as much as I did.

Vehicles are thrown in there as well with gunboats on Armada and snowmobiles and tanks on Crossroads. Depending on the map, there were a lot more points in Combined Arms: Domination compared to the standard version. Having a team of 12 divide their attention between five to six different points made it a complicated and lengthy experience where strategy and teamwork were key.

Some players would defend the existing points where other players like me would sneak into enemy lines to capture their points while still, other players would distract the opposition by blasting at them with tanks or the gunboats.

Most of the new maps are great

The new Black Ops multiplayer took place on a selection of five new maps that were mostly great. With the exception of one map that was pretty lame, the four were solid additions, if not excellent ones. Starting with the bad news first, one of the three normal 6-on-6 multiplayer maps was Satellite.

Taking place in the desert, this was the first map I played on and certainly my least favorite to the point where I avoided it as much as possible. Satellite is a smaller map than most but the issue with this was that it was so open, with roughly half of it being open space while the rest is filled with cave-like sections.

The problem is that most of the action happens in the open space and the lack of cover makes it so that snipers will almost always reign supreme here. The lack of balance made Satellite not that fun if you aren’t a sniper. Fortunately, the other two 6-on-6 maps were great.

Moscow is a standard cityscape where there are streets, open plazas, and buildings to explore. There is a lot of variation, appealing to a wide range of playstyles including close-range, mid-range, and even long-range in certain areas. It didn’t do too much to stand out but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it is well balanced.

And then there is Miami, which is my favorite of those three and stunning to look at. Taking place in the middle of the city, it takes full advantage of the 1980s neon lights style. The streets of Miami are gorgeous with brilliant lighting effects that contrast the nighttime setting and colors that reflect off of the realistic water. This map had me very interested to see the game taking full advantage of the PS5’s power in the future.

When it comes to Combined Arms, there were only two large maps offered for that mode. Armada was just fine, taking place in the middle of the ocean across multiple huge ships. It is an alright map, feeling very unique compared to everything else but also feeling too complex at the same time. Due to the large ocean and the multiple ships, it felt a little overwhelming and it became easy to get separated from the group and lose focus of what you were doing.

On the other hand, Crossroads is a phenomenal map that became an instant classic for me. It is a massive snowy wilderness that is pretty evenly split into two halves with three control points on each side. It felt instantly recognizable, despite the massive size, and each of the six points felt perfectly placed. All manner of playstyles felt welcomed on the map from tank drivers to snipers to even close-range.

Crossroads was the best example of what I like about the Black Ops Cold War multiplayer thus far. It appeals to a wide range of players, rewarding for those teams who work together, and well suited for the general speed of the game. The alpha has me excited to see more of the multiplayer game modes and maps when Black Ops Cold War launches on November 13.