Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War Beta Impressions: It's Call of Duty, All Right

The Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War Beta for PS4 showed us more of what the latest entry has to offer, but if you weren't already sold, you probably still won't be.

The Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War PS4 beta is behind us. There have been marked improvements over the alpha from late September, but many of the concerns voiced in our Cold War alpha impressions remain. 

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is still plenty of fun to play, but the newest FPS in the franchise does little to reinvigorate the series the way previous Treyarch games have. We’ll know even more after the PC beta, and when release comes, but even though I'm not completely sold, I think Cold War will do fine.

What Was New in the Cold War Beta?

The Cold War beta brought us a new map, a preview of the progression system, and two new/revised modes. All of the modes on offer are enjoyable enough save for the new Combined Arms mode, though that’s more a fault of the map design than the mode itself.

New Map: Cartel

Taking place in a drug cartel’s supply and distribution depot, the newest map isn’t as cumbersome to play as Miami (or sometimes Moscow), but it’s not nearly as good as Satellite, by far the best map Black Ops Cold War has so far shown us. 

Cartel makes heavy use of the traditional three-lane model and takes a few cues from 2019’s Modern Warfare with the addition of some rather potent power positions. 

In standard 6v6 play, where I spent most of my time, the map played reasonably well. Domination was a chaotic mess for the middle, as it should be, and Kill Confirmed and Team Deathmatch were a little on the slower side. Its smaller size worked well in Combined Arms.

Even a newer player could wrap their head around where to expect enemies, and which way would best serve their playstyle in just a few matches.

Don’t expect to be floored by Cartel, however. It’s not Slums or Summit or Nuketown and lives more in the middle of the quality scale for Treyarch maps. Like the rest of Black Ops Cold War, it serves its purpose admirably, and little more.

New Modes: VIP Escort and Combined Arms Assault

In VIP Escort, a variant on single-life, round-based modes, one player on the attacking team becomes the VIP, with only a pistol and a single UAV to defend themselves. The rest of the attackers must escort the VIP to one of two evac choppers, which shift locations every round. No one else has streaks of any kind.

Like Warzone, you go down rather than instantly die, and your teammates can revive you, but if you get taken out in a downed state, you’ll be spectating.

Playable on every map in the beta, VIP Escort is an interesting variation on the model codified by Search and Destroy. In essence, a player becomes the bomb. Rollout timing is key, as is solid communication if you want to win, but there’s still plenty of room for misdirection and heads-up play. 

Matches are quick, as well, especially on the smaller maps. Defenders win if they kill either every player on the opposing team or the VIP. One false move from anyone spells defeat, but like any other Call of Duty mode, a single player can turn the tide of an entire match. 

It’s a fun mode, but it’s unclear if VIP Escort will make a significant dent in the Search and Destroy player base. The concept is novel, but unless SnD is a trainwreck at launch, I don’t see this new mode being played except for novelty.

Combined Arms Assault doesn’t bear much mention. It takes place on the larger Combined Arms maps and asks both teams to capture a set of points starting with the map’s center, then one just outside their spawn. I experienced one of two outcomes: stalemate or steamroll, and I think that’s as much a fault of the maps as the playstyles Combined Arms incentivizes.

You don’t have to jump on the point if you can conveniently keep an entire team at bay from a hill, sniper or no. 

Progression and New Perks

Where we were stuck with just a few options in the alpha, the Black Ops Cold War beta introduced its leveling and gear unlocking systems in greater detail. If you’re familiar with 2019’s Modern Warfare, the same basic principles apply here.

You earn access to weapons, perks, streaks, and equipment based on your level. Weapon attachments are tied to a particular weapon’s level, and you earn them in the same order across weapons and weapon types.

Gaining the levels themselves works much the same as it always has, too. Early progression happens quickly, then drops off steeply around Level 20 or so. The same is true of weapon leveling. 

There is a set of new perks atop the nine we saw in the alpha. Most aid or deter detection in some way. From Assassin marking high-score players and rewarding their defeat to Paranoia alerting when someone aims at you, survivability over killing ability seems to be the name of the game in Black Ops Cold War

The problem is that while new perks are interesting, they seem more interested in novelty than in actual utility. Why would you want an alert with Paranoia when you can have resistance to tactical equipment with Tactical Mask or detect equipment and scorestreaks with Engineer? And that’s just the first slot.

With all the heavy hitters — Ghost, Ninja, Cold Blooded, and Gung-Ho — in the third slot, it’s almost smarter to load with the Perk Greed Wildcard and be effectively invisible.

What Else Changed From the Alpha to the Beta?

Hit detection

Hit detection was improved, which, while not a high bar to clear, was a welcome change. I felt like I had more control over where my bullets were going and more confidence that I’d actually get a kill after shooting an enemy for more than a couple seconds.

Whether that’s an improvement to my aim or the netcode, I can’t say, but I think it’s a bit of both.

Gun balance

Gun balance got a look at, too. Many of the best guns, from the MP5 to the Krieg to the AK-74u onwards, are still dominant, but poor performers like the LMGs were brought into the competition.

Snipers weren’t the enormous problem they were in the alpha, which was nice, though they still dominated at their proper ranges or in the hands of someone who really knew what they were doing.

Streak and objective reward systems

The streak and objective reward systems got tweaked, as well, with consecutive kills rewarding score based on the game mode rather than on a linear curve.

Domination and Kill Confirmed, for instance, saw their objective score values increase significantly while kill score progression was flattened about as much. TDM saw it’s kill score increased across the board without the fast ramp-up seen in the alpha.

You’re still better off going for kills if your team has the advantage, but you get quite as far as you once did.

Streak score values

Lastly, streak score values saw across-the-board increases, with a UAV going from 800 points to 1,000 points, and everything going up from there. High-level streak spam was down significantly as a result, but all were still attainable by a skilled player.

They were about as effective as they were in the alpha, though the few Attack Helicopters I managed to get didn’t do a lot. 

Final Notes

All in all, the Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War beta did little to change my opinion on the game. It's not the revolution we saw back in Black Ops 2, nor is it the earth-shaker that the earliest entries could boast. 

Map design and flow are still serviceable, and the game’s fundamentals remain solid. The new additions — progression, a set of new modes, and a new map — either do little to build or improve on the core experience or are genuinely unfun to play. Even the new perks don’t seem to be better choices than what’s been powerful in every other game in the series, and likely won’t see a ton of use outside of their novelty.

Combined Arms, in whichever form you’d like, is still a mess. Weapon balance and spawn logic need a lot more attention.

The sound design is good, but footsteps remain overly loud. And I still don’t know if I agree with kill streaks carrying over through death. There has been significant tuning to some of the largest issues the alpha faced: kill vs. scorestreaks and snipers specifically. 

Black Ops Cold War is, in a word, fine. It’s more than fun enough to warrant a purchase at its base price. We’ll need to see how Zombies and Warzone play out, and how predatory the microtransactions become, but if you’re getting tired of Modern Warfare 2019, I think Black Ops Cold War has everything you’ll want in a Call of Duty title, so long as you don’t expect anything more than exactly that.

Contributor

John Schutt has been playing games for almost 25 years, starting with Super Mario 64 and progressing to every genre under the sun. He spent almost 4 years writing for strategy and satire site TopTierTactics under the moniker Xiant, and somehow managed to find time to get an MFA in Creative Writing in between all the gaming. His specialty is action games, but his first love will always be the RPG. Oh, and his avatar is, was, and will always be a squirrel, a trend he's carried as long as he's had a Steam account, and for some time before that.

Published Oct. 13th 2020

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