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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Warzone in Cold War: Season 2 is two games for the price of none

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There are two different Warzones at this point, with very different volume settings. Verdansk is a slow crescendo, like the main theme Nine Inch Nails wrote for Black Ops II, with unexpected spikes of sound that build to a dramatic climax. Rebirth Island is more like the Nine Inch Nails theme for Quake: a wash of white noise and screaming that begins the moment you touch down, and only quietens once you’re sat atop a pile of bodies—or become one of the bodies yourself.

Over its opening weekend, Cold War: Season 2 has only pushed these two poles further apart. Rebirth Island’s default Resurgence mode—which lets players quickly respawn on their teammates, so long as one is still alive—has been temporarily replaced by an even faster and bloodier variant. Named Resurgence Extreme, in apparent recognition that it might all be a bit much, the current mode must be the design of a budget airline: cramming extra seats onto an already packed plane, and leaving the tiny Aral Sea island crawling with competitors. While Rebirth was designed for 40 players, it’s now hosting 90, presumably breaking international regulations on organised murder.

In regular Resurgence, a wise strategy was to lock down and defend a single building until enemy numbers were whittled down to a more manageable level. Only then could you think about addressing the rapidly closing circle. Extreme’s population bump has seen this territorial struggle shrink still further—in multiple matches, I’ve found myself fighting furiously to establish a scrap of space no larger than a broom cupboard. In that sense, the mode feels much more like COD multiplayer standard Hardpoint than anything resembling battle royale. Stealth players are advised to hole up in the prison, the only building with enough walls to save you from being spotted by players hunting just a few metres away.

Wherever you land, you’re likely to trip over an opponent within seconds, and still be killing them five minutes later as they drop in repeatedly for their chance at instant revenge. Extreme’s signature scenario is a recurring teamfight, most likely against whichever group of players you happen across first. With neither side able to land the definitive blow, both continue to regenerate like Prometheus’s liver, ready to be eaten again and again by Zeus’s eagle. Not that you’d be able to share any mythological metaphors with your squadmates over the constant rattle of Milano fire. Some do consider it a form of torture, though: at least one Resurgence diehard I know has renounced Extreme already over its endlessly looping scenes.

I suspect developer Raven is well aware of what a desperate and daft scramble it’s created, and don’t imagine Extreme will last even for the length of Season 2. That’s probably just as well—a handful of self-replenishing gear caches aren’t enough to prevent the drain of ammo, turning victory into a matter of attrition. And the mode seems to have pushed Modern Warfare’s tech slightly beyond its limits, causing some killer lag in my sessions over the weekend. But whatever its fate, Resurgence Extreme is testament to just how far apart Rebirth and Verdansk are: not just separate maps, but separate games.

In theory, the arrival of a zombie ghost ship on the shore of Verdansk should close the gulf between the two experiences—pushing players toward a single spot at the beginning of the match for messy engagements. It’s impossible to miss, the word ‘SHIPWRECK’ crossed out with a nasty red gash on the map as you parachute in. The potential rewards for visiting are large, since the undead drop not only wads of cash and armour but an access card for a supply box that could set you up for the whole game. With that lure, you’d expect to be swabbing the deck free of fellow players immediately upon landing.

In reality, the bad ship Vodianoy is often spookily sparse. That’s largely down to its position right at the edge of the map, where squads risk condemning themselves to an entire match of sprinting inward with the gas at their backs. Depending on where the plane spawns, it’s not necessarily even possible to reach the ship by ‘chute. Players have to make a concerted effort to get there, lining up their trucks and quadbikes on the beach as if queuing for the ferry.

Once inside, they tend to creep around each other, waiting for the telltale sound of shotgun blasts. When Halloween’s Haunting of Verdansk event brought zombies to Warzone before, they were all player-controlled. The crew of the Vodianoy, by contrast, act nothing like players—shambling around the belly of the ship until uncovered, at which point they throw themselves en masse at the intruder. Killing all 40 on the manifest is feasible for even a single exterminator, but caution is necessary—they’re quick and numerous enough to overwhelm you in the cramped hold, and some of those that fall continue to claw at your legs below your eyeline. All the while, you’re cognisant of the fellow players that might be drawn by the growling and gunfire.

It’s a dynamic reminiscent of Hunt: Showdown, Crytek’s Warzone-adjacent shooter, in which players compete for the rewards of AI boss fights. As in Hunt, killing the zombies yourself is an option, but letting another squad do the work and jumping them for the spoils afterwards is just as valid. Competing with both at once feels genuinely novel, and true to the spirit of battle royale in Verdansk—a nervy game of caution and opportunism.

I’d love to see the zombies spread beyond this cursed corner of the map, and if Season 2 has an arc, then perhaps they will. In the meantime, I recommend exploring the Vodianoy in Solos, where any clang on the ship’s steel stairs can send your heart racing.

Right now on Rebirth Island, you wouldn’t stand a chance of hearing a footstep over the clamour. But maybe that’s as it should be. Didn’t you hear? There are two Warzones now.

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