Don’t be alarmed by any cracking or dripping noises you may hear—Call of Duty’s Cold War has been thawed this week by the warm glow of nostalgia. After frontloading the game with ambitious new ideas like Fireteam: Dirty Bomb and VIP Escort—to varying degrees of success, depending on who you ask—Treyarch has begun to relent and introduce some beloved modes from previous entries in the COD canon.
Gunfight, the low-player-count skulking simulator first seen in 2019’s Modern Warfare, has been ticking away successfully in Cold War since December. And now we have Gun Game, a mode that might be older than some of Cold War’s players, based on some of the prepubescent voice chat I've heard bouncing off the walls of Nuketown. Parents, come on: it’s rated 18.
Rooted in a classic Counter-Strike mod, Gun Game looks like a shootout but is actually a race. Every player starts with the same, single weapon—a piddly pistol—but once they bag a kill, that’s replaced by two pistols, one in each hand. And the next time they off someone, those guns are swapped out for a shotgun. The cycle continues until one player has rattled through the entire arsenal of 20 weapon types, at which point they’re declared the winner.
Like any decent race track, there’s a challenging curve to Gun Game. The opening cornucopia of handguns and spread weapons means early encounters tend to be close and messy—at this point, it’s anyone’s game. Then one or two players tend to take an early lead as they reach the mid-range automatic guns, cutting through the competition like grumpy butter. But the distance between players almost always closes as the leaders hit the sniper rifles, which require either a decent map position or a talent for noscoping. And the final two hand-to-hand kills are typically excruciating work, asking for patience just as you’re dying to rush over the finish line. But the win is worth it: one of the finest highs COD can bestow.
Psychologically, Gun Game is fascinating. Running hamster-like around the weapon wheel, players tend to lose their sense of self-preservation, perma-sprinting across the map in pursuit of their next target and ignoring threats in their peripheral. That effect is heightened by a quirk of Cold War’s interpretation: the Spy Plane scorestreak is permanently applied, which means the location of all nearby enemies is pinged on your minimap throughout the match. That’s a change from Modern Warfare, and leads to even greater aggression.
Personally, I miss the potential to surprise opponents the way I could in Modern Warfare, but Cold War has thrown me one small mercy. The Spy Plane only updates your position every few seconds, leaving a little room to throw off pursuers or come at a target from an unexpected angle. Of course, they can do the same, so there’s good reason to remain alert to footsteps and glimpses of enemies through the trees—whether they be real trees, or the repurposed timber of the Mall at The Pines.
The Pines, released in December as part of Season 1, may well be the best map to play Gun Game on. It’s a testament to Treyarch’s continued ability to design spiralling, satisfying mazes with no dead ends, a decade on from the original Black Ops. I’m a particular fan of the lift shaft that lets you drop in right next to some unsuspecting mug—very handy for those final melee kills.
Apocalypse, the new Season 2 map, also shows up in Gun Game playlists and is perfectly serviceable in that role (watch out for the many windows and oblique viewpoints that can catch you off guard). But it has to be said that Nuketown remains a guaranteed good time with this mode, a perfect pairing of hyper-aggressive flavours.
Ultimately, that’s what you have to face with Gun Game: it’s far from the cutting edge of Call of Duty. For that, you want Rebirth Island’s Resurgence Extreme or Verdansk’s zombie ship. Then again, neither has fully won over the PC Gamer team in their current forms, so if you’d prefer a ride in which all the kinks have been long worked out, you could do far worse than a couple of laps on a classic track.