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Activision showed off the multiplayer alpha gameplay for Call of Duty: Black Ops — Cold War this weekend on Sony’s PlayStation 4. It’s coming out November 13, and as I played it, the five maps I played grew on me. But I agree with a lot of criticism on social media that there are tweaks that would improve the balance of the matches.

The alpha test will give much-needed feedback to Treyarch and Raven Software, which are running behind schedule in finishing up this year’s title. Normally, the multiplayer tests happen earlier in the summer. But this gives the devs some time to make some minor adjustments for the October 17 beta test.

Cold War is the new installment of the franchise that has sold more than 300 million copies over 17 years, and multiplayer is a big reason why players keep coming back. This year’s title is set during the Cold War, with each side staging black operations, or black ops.

The game is set in 1968 and 1981, but multiplayer doesn’t always feel like you’re playing with old guns and old equipment. You can call in artillery strikes when you have a lot of kills, but those strikes are way too accurate and fast to be realistic for the era. But hey, I get it. It’s a video game. And while the Cold War theme of the single-player game emphasizes stealth operations, these modes were all hot battles from the start. You play as Russian Spetnatz or U.S. CIA operatives, but you pretty much go in guns blazing on the maps that the devs have showed so far.


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Five maps in the alpha test

The five maps that went through the rotation over three days had a lot of variety, and I grew to like them all in different ways. I spent about half my time playing with new guns that were inaccurate and shaky. And the rest of the time, I played with fully leveled up guns.

It was more fun to play Domination, where each side tries to control at least three spots on a map, because of the way they revised how you take a flag.

In the past, you had to expose yourself in a small circle around a flag. But in the new mode, you can spread out behind cover more easily, as the flag area is larger and fits around spaces such as cars. That means there are more things to hide behind as you try to take a point.

While the alpha took place on the PS4, the multiplayer matches will be crossplay and cross-generation, meaning you can play with friends on different platforms, including PS4 players teaming up with PS5 players and so on. With cross-progression, you can switch platforms without losing your progress. The game will also have skill-based matchmaking.

The multiplayer modes include the new tactical 6-vs.-6 in VIP Escort missions. That means you have to guard one of your players with your life, making sure they make it to one of two extraction points on the map before the enemy kills the VIP. I played some of these missions in my earlier preview. This fits with the Black Ops theme of covert operations, but it wasn’t available this past weekend.

I enjoyed the larger 12-vs.-12 Combined Arms battles, where the object was something like Team Deathmatch (shoot the enemy as much as you can) or Domination (hold three points on the map). You can play Kill Confirmed battles, where you have to run over dog tags after shooting a rival in order to get credit for a kill. The Combined Arms battles include gunboats or Jet Skis in Armada or tanks and snowmobiles in Crossroads.

If there was a map where I couldn’t get the hang of it, it was the Moscow map, where there are a lot of buildings in a downtown area and lots of corners where others could shoot you down. Inevitably, I played poorly on the Moscow map, as there weren’t many safe spots for slow light machine gunners.

Create-a-Class customization

Frank Woods goes into the woods in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.

Above: Frank Woods goes into the woods in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.

Image Credit: Activision

During the alpha, I played around a lot with creating my own ideal loadout, as many of the upgrades were unlocked in the familiar Create-a-Class system. Gunsmith, the gun customization part of Create-a-Class, enables you to add as many as five attachments to your weapon. It was available for tinkering during the alpha test.

I maxed out the attachments that would improve the accuracy of my Stoner 63 light machine gun. I found that the ordinary gun with no attachments was nearly impossible to shoot because it shook so much and vibrated upward when I was trying to shoot somebody.

I leveled up the gun’s muzzle, barrel, under-barrel, and stock as much as I could. This helped make the gun more stable and accurate. Then I played around with the optical gunsights, which were all unlocked for me to analyze. The Quickdot LED was the lowest available upgrade, and it was far better than the basic gunsights. The Millstop Reflex and Kobra Red Dot were refinements on the red dot.

At the upper end, the Royal & Kross 4X was a sniper scope that magnified your viewing range. It turned the gun into a rapid-fire sniper machine gun. But it made me vulnerable to people sneaking up alongside me and taking me out, as it completely eliminates your peripheral vision. When I used that gunsight, I adjusted my behavior, playing more like a sniper than a charging attacker.

Sometimes I felt like it took too many bullets to bring down an enemy, as I was getting killed by players who I started shooting first. But when you run out of bullets, you have to switch to the shotgun. That’s good for short range firefights in a Domination hot spot. But the shotgun has a very short range, as I found out when I tried to shoot a guy from too far away.

Still, the tradeoffs were familiar and I felt like I found my gun. I gave the sniper rifle, submachine gun, and assault rifles a try as well, and all were pretty good experiences, given the tradeoffs between the weapons. Overall, I loved the Stoner 63, as it was a much better experience when it was leveled up.

Some slow animations

Street battle in Call of Duty: Black Ops -- Cold War.

Above: Street battle in Call of Duty: Black Ops — Cold War.

Image Credit: Activision

Once in a while, the game felt sluggish to me. I was trying to turn while aiming when an enemy was running across my path. But the enemy was so close that I couldn’t turn fast enough to keep up. That felt very unrealistic, as the game just seemed to move slow.

Other players complained a lot about the slow grenade animations, as it takes a while to get the animation going as you toss a grenade. I found myself dying occasionally while I was throwing a grenade, and of course I would say it’s not my fault and that the animations were too slow. Honestly, I can’t say whether this was a bigger problem for me than the overall sluggishness of movement.

Sniper havens

Lots of players said that the snipers should be nerfed in some way, such as adding a flinch or a delay in how fast they can shoot. I can testify that I got shot by snipers a lot on maps such as Miami, Satellite, Crossroads, and Armada. Moscow was the only map where I didn’t get sniped much because of the short range inside the buildings.

Some features of the maps made it easy for snipers. Armada is set aboard Russian vessels in the North Atlantic Ocean. The map has three big ships that are connected to each other via ziplines. You can ride on the ziplines back-and-forth and shoot enemies, taking some by surprise. But snipers could hang out at the end of a ship and stake out the line of players at the zipline points. That’s because the ziplines always required multiple button pushes or button holds to work. You had to expose yourself at the ziplines for a long time. In the meantime, the snipers would eat us alive.

In Miami, there’s a couple of balconies where snipers could perch and shoot. It was hard to shoot up at them because the automatic weapons shook so much, making it hard to get a kill on such a small target when you’re looking up at it. Or maybe it’s difficult because the aiming optics on the early guns (those that were not leveled up) aren’t that precise.

As for the sniper optics, they were quite good. I’ll wager that they used 2020 technology for sniper scopes and not what was available in 1968 or 1981. By contrast, the gun shake on other weapons seemed like it was from days of older weapons.

I usually don’t play as a sniper, but I gave it a try. The secondary weapon is a handheld Uzi, and that makes the sniper quite deadly at both short range and at long range. I managed to do OK as a sniper, but I got most of my kills in those rounds with the Uzi.

In the big maps, I found that there were some tactics to offset the sniper’s advantage. In Armada, I used the deck guns to hit snipers far away. And in Crossroads, I used tanks to blast the snipers off cliffs.

Is Miami too dark?

Lots of fans complained that Miami was too dark. But I liked the neon lights and reflections from the police sirens and other visual effects. Sure, you can’t see people far away. But that’s one of the things that protects players from being sniped all of the time.

I like the overall layout of the Satellite map, which is set in a rocky desert region in Angola. Here, a satellite has crashed and teams are trying to retrieve it. But the map seemed way to be for 6-vs.-6 gameplay, as I had to look at the minimap often to see where other players were fighting.

Tanks are fun

The Crossroads map is a big 12-vs.-12 map where snipers rule. But it does have snowmobiles that can get you across the frozen lake quickly. And it has tanks that are an awesome way to get back at the snipers. They’re easy to drive, and you can shoot the big gun at snipers on the cliffs or shoot into the windows of bunkers while the tank’s moving.

The only unrealistic thing is that you can take a tank out with sustained machine gunfire. But that’s just so the tank drivers don’t get careless and just sit in the open and mow everyone down. Each side gets two tanks that respawn in time. It was very satisfying to blow up other tanks, snipers, and snowmobiles. But it never lasts for long, as being in a tank makes you everyone’s target.

Some missing things

You can call in a tank in Call of Duty: Black Ops -- Cold War multiplayer.

Above: You can call in a tank in Call of Duty: Black Ops — Cold War multiplayer.

Image Credit: Activision

Some players missed having mountable guns, which means you can place a gun on a door or a window and stabilize it for accurate shooting. I didn’t use it that much in Modern Warfare even though I played with a light machine gun most of the time. There just wasn’t much good terrain to use for mounts. More often than not, I would pass by a door, and I would press a wrong button, and it would try to mount a gun where I didn’t want to mount a gun. So I don’t miss it.

Other players wanted execution cinematics for sneaking up behind someone and taking them out with a melee move. Since I rarely get the chance for a melee, I didn’t miss this either.

Normally, I grow tired of multiplayer maps that I play over and over. But over the course of the weekend, I found that I liked the five maps the more that I played, and I felt like I was continuously improving. I’m looking forward to the next tweaks in multiplayer, but I’m not worried about whether this game will be a good one or not.

It’s a Call of Duty game, alright.

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