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Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Alpha: The Great, Good, and Ugly

Another year, another Call of Duty title. And another multiplayer PvP shooting spree to look forward to later this year.

I spent a bulk of last weekend on Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Alpha which ran from September 18th – 20th. Needless to say, Treyarch’s offering – despite being only an Alpha test – was a breath of fresh air after almost ten months of Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare. And I really enjoyed last year’s Modern Warfare.

Now, if you’re expecting a piece glorifying Cold War (CW) while continuously dumping on Modern Warfare (MW), you won’t find it here. Instead, we are going to focus on my experience on the former as I dissect the quirks and potential improvements it could use come its beta phase scheduled for mid-October.

The Great

Casuals & Average Players Get A Fighting Chance

CW carries a distinct yet familiar feel. It’s like going to a KFC or McDonald’s when you’re vacationing overseas. It feels the same, but with enough change which warrants your visit. Returning Black Ops veterans would instantly feel at home thanks to the increased time to kill (TTK) compared to what was dished on MW.

This isn’t to say that getting hosed down instantly is a thing of the past. However, anyone being caught blindsided by opponents now have a fighting chance to return fire, survive and even win which was previously an unwinnable gunfight in MW.

Score Streaks May Be The Way Forward

I’ll confess: I’m not the best objective-driven team player out there. In MW multiplayer modes, my pursuit of kill chains to obtain kill streaks at times prove detrimental to my team’s chance of winning.

Of course if things pan out, it benefits the team – A VTOL pinning the enemy while we secure the points is always a good thing. However, the opposite could also happen. Which leads to Treyarch’s decision to greatly incentivize player who stick to the objectives. Scores snowball instead of being reset at each death allowing a more guns out, less-campy styles of play.

Gunsmith Feature Retained & Improved

One of the highlights of 2019’s MW multiplayer mode was the weapons customization system via The Gunsmith. As if customizing one’s weapon with five attachments wasn’t enough, CW allows you to bump it up to eight attachments when using the right Wild Card. The Gun Smith interface is now cleaner, easier to decipher and gives more flexibility when it comes to building your perfect weapon.

Again, it’s only the Alpha and I am sure that data crunchers and CoD Youtubers are going to find that perfect meta setup to dominate lobbies. I’m just happy that instead of overhauling the build-a-class system, Treyarch ported the good from Infinity Ward’s game, and improved it with their own brand. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, right?

The Good

Audio = Eargasm

CW features better sound. You are reading this so I’m assuming that:

  1. You play CoD regularly,
  2. Whilst not to the obsessive, pro levels of fastidiousness, try to eke every drip of advantage over your enemies in multiplayer,
  3. Have a decent headset. So boy, do I have some good news for you.

The sound in CW in general, is better than on MW. Footsteps are clearer allowing better directional awareness. Instead of a general “someone’s coming from the right”, you’d be able to determine their exact angle for example, the second door from the right upper floor.

This being an Alpha however, there were several inconsistencies which I am sure would be sorted once the full version of the game is released. Personally, I am not a fan of the weapon sounds. They felt a little too muted for my liking; hopefully they’ll be rectified soon in the final build.

Some Really Fun Maps

I personally enjoyed Satellite and Armada as both allow players of different playstyles flourish in their own specific ways. The ability to rush through the caverns to flank the opposing teams, use sand dunes as defilade whilst picking out enemies from a distance with sniper rifles or just using the satellite wreckage and smoke as ambush points makes Satellite my highlight for this Alpha weekend.

Meanwhile, Armada harkens back to the Call of Duty: World War 2 map “USS Texas” but with a twist – instead of gunfights on a single warship, how about several?

The Ugly

Miami Is Horrible

I’ll say it straight up.: I do not like the Miami map.

I initially had hopes for it as Treyarch featured it a ton during their reveal. Giving a similar tone and feel as the Piccadilly map in MW, well-lit, night battles are welcomed inclusions to any multiplayer map pool. But in truth, Miami is terrible. Imbalanced spawns, poor sightlines and poorly-lit corners makes it an aggressive player’s nightmare whilst also a bane for campers.

Most CoD multiplayer maps are balanced; some cater to specific playstyles. Miami caters to none. It felt as if they tried to build the ultimate after-dark map by mashing up a hodgepodge of features to create this monstrosity.

Ground War is Gone

Instead of bringing back the massive 32v32 mode we come to love in 2019’s MW, Combined Arms: Domination is put in place and in my opinion, is another downer from Treyarch during CW’s early days. Essentially a Domination mode on a slightly larger map with the inclusion of tanks (seriously. tanks!), Combined Arms failed to capture the vistas and grand scale presented on Ground War.

“But it’s only the alpha!” one might chime in.

Yes, a valid point. But public alphas should serve as grounds to test weapons balancing, sound mixing as well as how a map is to be played and received by the masses. I am a hundred percent sure that weapons and sound mixing will be improved throughout the game’s life cycle but as for maps? That’s definitely going to be in the pool, my friends. And dare I bet, that thanks to the map voting feature after each round, Miami will be the least popular one once we have enough data.

Skill-Based Matchmaking Rears Its Head

To the uninitiated, Skill-based Matchmaking (SBMM) has always been the bane of CoD players throughout the years. Gone are the days where you get to stomp lobbies. In MW, SBMM would group you with similarly-skilled players ensuring a more even playing field where everyone pretty much cancels out one another. There are some arguments on both sides for this. For casuals, there’s lesser chance of being dropped in a sweaty lobby filled with tryhards chasing kills (*cough!*). However for high-tiered gamers and content creators; creating a kill highlight won’t be as easy when going against other like-minded players.

In MW, it took content creators weeks to suspect SBMM was being in play and months before, thanks to a concerted effort to identify that SBMM was indeed involved when it comes to matchmaking. As for CW? It took them a weekend. One. Weekend. Even for me, it took me about six rounds to feel a remarkable change in the quality of enemies I face.

Honestly, I’m on the fence when it comes to SBMM but I think if Treyarch are adamant to impose SBMM this blatantly from the offset, they might as well create a special ranked mode where they can crank the SBMM to their heart’s content.

Long story short, the Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War alpha showcases a very promising multiplayer shooter. Technical issues notwithstanding, Treyarch seems to have a solid offering come this November and we should get a better glimpse of what’s to come via the beta sometime in mid-October.

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