A Brief Recap
Coming off the end of Chaos and Ancient Evil, many were wondering what was in store for the final two maps for the Aether story. It’s no secret that Black Ops IIII had a rocky start (which has been covered in the Ancient Evil review), among the poorly received decisions and stability issues was the fact that Treyarch had been radio silent on the Aether story.
During the nine months leading up to the release of Alpha Omega, there was only one hint towards where we might go in the future (outside the information within the game itself), but it didn’t come from Treyarch or Activision. A disgruntled former QA tester leaked the fact that they were working on a remake of Nuketown Zombies from Black Ops II.
There was no issue taken with it, as people assumed it would be part of the long rumored Zombies Chronicles 2 DLC pack. This was backed up by the fact that the ex-QA tester said he had no idea how it would be released, seemingly implying it would not be part of the regular DLC cycle.
In their February 19th, 2019 livestream, Treyarch had finally opened up about Aether and announced that the final two DLC maps will be about the Aether story and its conclusion. However, it wasn’t until late June that they finally started teasing what the next map might be in their usual cryptic fashion.
We hadn’t gotten the confirmation on what the map was exactly until yet another unceremonious leak showed the Zombie Rush thumbnail of the map. As a few people feared, the next map was a remake of Nuketown Zombies. The backlash was quite vast, especially from the codzombies Reddit.
For the penultimate Zombies map, many fans expressed their interest in a completely original Aether map, which hadn’t been made since Gorod Krovi in July 2016. If that wasn’t enough, the audio for the intro and outro cut scenes were leaked soon after the Zombie Rush thumbnail was found.
There were other little things that contributed to the backlash Alpha Omega received, such as a tease that the wonder weapons of the map would be some variation of the classic Ray Gun Mark II. The general impression before the map even came out was that it looked cheaply made with reused assets.
After almost nine months since the release of Black Ops IIII, the next chapter of the Aether story was released on July 9th, 2019. Did Alpha Omega shatter expectations or was it doomed from the start?
Does Alpha Omega Hold Up?
Alpha Omega takes place in Nuketown, but right away you notice that the context is a bit different. You are in Camp Edward, a Broken Arrow facility that’s been abandoned for more than 50 years. What sets it apart from the map it was remaking is the fact that it takes place prior to the nuclear explosion that had been detonated in the original Nuketown Zombies. Everything is intact and looks more ordinary and yet simultaneously more sinister than usual.
The color palette starts out drab and reminiscent of the original, but after you turn on the power, it becomes a lot more vibrant and a lot closer to what you’d expect classic Nuketown to look like. Unlike most of the Zombies maps featured in Black Ops IIII, there are no Heavy or Mini-Boss enemies. The structure is more in line with Classified, as you fight Zombies and variations of the Hellhounds and Nova Crawlers.
The visual style of Alpha Omega is nowhere near as beautiful or unique as Ancient Evil, which already set the bar high. It is, however, a lot more stylized than the other Black Ops IIII maps. What it lacks in gorgeous landscapes, it more than makes up for in story. It’s eye candy for the hardcore fans and theorists, jam packed with Easter eggs and answers to long time questions.
On your way to the power switch, you may find what befell Yuri Zavoyski AKA the Pentagon Thief, an American Pyramid Device, the infamous mechanical bus driver known as T.E.D.D., and even a room where Marlton Johnson from the Victis crew is hiding.
It’s got a heavy 50s aesthetic (which is to be expected from Nuketown) mixed with an atmosphere straight out of the Fallout games. The environment really sucks you into the world. It’s the only Aether map in this game to really accomplish this feat.
The map conveys a lot in terms of visual storytelling and, even for a casual player, it’s relatively easy to find an audio player to give some context behind Camp Edward. But even if you don’t, you could probably deduce what really went on. You can also get more information by activating Rushmore, a ridiculously patriotic A.I. that oversees Camp Edward, portrayed hilariously by Breaking Bad’s John de Lancie.
Another thing to note is that Alpha Omega unites both Primis and Ultimis for the first time, leaving 8 different possible characters you could play as! Each of them are well written and better yet, there are countless lines shared between them. With 8 different characters, there are a lot of lines based on the different possible interactions.
While that is very nice to see and it’s always fun to have Ultimis Dempsey interacting with a less evil Richtofen, it does not allow you to have two of the same characters, such as both Ultimis and Primis Dempsey on your team.
It’s a huge missed opportunity, especially when you hear lines from Ultimis Dempsey in-game saying how he hasn’t gotten to talk with his other self much despite them both being present canonically speaking. If both Ultimis and Primis are playable in the final DLC map, I hope they rectify this missed opportunity, but it doesn’t seem likely.
A final note on the map’s atmosphere is the mannequins that surround the map. Depending on where you might stumble upon information in-game, you’ll quickly find out that they may or may not be sentient. If you do try to shoot them, be warned that it’s possible they will turn to face you. It gives the map a more sinister and creepy element, which is always appreciated.
The Map’s Gameplay
As I said in my Ancient Evil review, looks aren’t everything. Does the map hold up gameplay-wise?
The map plays like a more thought out and expanded version of Classified. It’s very close-quarters heavy, with not a lot of room to kite the zombies. If you know what you’re doing, it can be a lot more forgiving or a lot more punishing. One thing’s for certain, it plays nothing like the original Nuketown Zombies.
Utilizing the Rushmore codes can make things easier and quicker, as he can be used to make certain perks cheaper, make a door completely free, give you points, etc. One aspect I greatly appreciate is that it’s very straightforward. The code for making the Cola perk cheaper, for example, is just spelling out COLA on the number pad. Same goes for the rest.
Depending on whether you choose to knife the mannequin heads or shoot them, you can either receive a free perk or an extra revive which is always nice to see. Though the bullet sponge nature of the mannequins (or A.D.A.M. units) is quite tedious to get through.
Speaking of tediousness, while activating Pack-a-Punch might seem easy at first, you quickly realize how tiresome it becomes having to do it every game. What makes this aspect infinitely worse is that at any point in the higher rounds, the Pack-a-Punch can deactivate and you have to go through and reactivate it yourself. It’s a bit time consuming and it spawns in a few zombies to make things more difficult.
Worse yet, it’s not fun. It would help if that occurrence didn’t happen at all, at least you’d have to go through it once per game. Sadly, this is not the case.
As hinted at earlier, the wonder weapons of the map are elemental versions of the Ray Gun Mark II. You can obtain the classic version or get 4 different versions by going on a quest, making a total of 5 different versions. What can be said about reusing the Ray Gun Mark II instead of making a new wonder weapon is that it does fit the aesthetic.
And there are aspects of them that play differently. There is a certain wish fulfillment when you know you can obtain an akimbo Ray Gun Mark II or a shotgun Ray Gun but the novelty wears off eventually. And in all honesty, it can be tedious to obtain most of them.
The shotgun variant, known as the Ray Gun Mark II-Z, requires precision accuracy to throw your equipment on a chimney. Depending on how lucky you are or how good your aim is, you can get it within a minute or you can spend the entire game attempting to get it. It’s the worst offender of the different variants of being quite annoying to get through.
Another aspect to them is the lack of ammo. There is a certain irony in saying that considering one of the different variants literally has infinite ammo, but that doesn’t go for the other 3 elemental variants. You quickly go through it and the damage isn’t up to par in the higher rounds.
The wonder weapons aren’t this map’s strong suit but they aren’t the worst thing ever. If you can obtain one without much hassle, you’re guaranteed to have some fun in the relatively lower rounds. Especially if you can somehow get the Mark II-Z variant easily, it’s very satisfying to use.
Some minor notes is the M1927 returning from Blood of the Dead, it is a small aspect of the map but it’s one I appreciate and helps it stand out. The Galvaknuckles are also an unexpected addition but it’s satisfying to see them return and better than ever.
These aspects aside, the gameplay is still straightforward and plays like Classified. You can choose to ignore Rushmore and the elemental Ray Gun quest to go for a regular Ray Gun Mark II in the mystery box. If you’re familiar with Classified, the enemy types are similar.
The Lightning Hounds are only visually different to the Hellhounds. The Jolting Jacks are enemies that will annoy you to no end, shooting electricity at you from the rooftops. But by far the worst enemy type in the game is the Nova 6 Bomber.
Not only do they have traits from both Nova Crawlers and Jolting Jacks, they can make the Zombies around them stronger which is one of Alpha Omega’s more irritating features. While you try to restore Pack-a-Punch, for no reason in particular, Zombies infected by the Nova 6 Bomber will spawn to try and kill you, leading to a more frustrating time.
The Story of Alpha Omega
The final thing to cover in Alpha Omega is the story and Easter egg quest.
The story of Alpha Omega is the map’s strong point. The amount of lore and story information crammed into this map is a dream come true for a lot of long time theorists. Finding out the origin of T.E.D.D., the Avogadro, pieces of Russman and George Barkley’s backstory, why Marlton was at Nuketown, how Yuri Zavoyski died, how the cycle works, finding out who the fourth marine in Verrückt is, the list goes on.
There are some oddities in the map, particularly with the creation of the Avogadro in the timeline and how he’s presented in-game. But despite errors like that, it holds up pretty well. One of the more shocking twists in the map is that Peter McCain is alive and well! Relatively well, I should say. His interaction with Ultimis Dempsey is a highlight of the map’s quest for sure.
My favorite of which is the Maxis radios. There’s a narrative going on in the background as you progress in the map, Dr. Maxis goes from questioning why the souls haven’t been delivered to looking into Dr. Monty and his sinister schemes. All of this leads nicely to the ending cut scene of the map.
I cannot stress enough how good the story is here. Craig Houston, the lead writer, has said that the writing going into Alpha Omega is double that of the other Zombies maps and it shows. The main caveat of the story being good is that it doesn’t make much sense and it isn’t as satisfying if you aren’t hardcore into the story. More casual fans won’t get much out of it.
I’m going to come out and say it, Alpha Omega has one of if not the best easter egg quest in any Aether map. It’s straightforward, the right amount of challenging, humorous, even slightly emotional at points. What I especially love about this quest is how it parallels Gorod Krovi in a lot of ways. In that map, you had to do a series of quests for S.O.P.H.I.A. to get a battery.
In Alpha Omega, you do a series of quests for the A.I. Rushmore to get the elemental shard, but he’s far more enjoyable and the steps are not ridiculously hard at all. It’s all so satisfying. Even if you’re not paying attention to audio reels, the reveal of Avogadro is something truly special.
If I had to offer one criticism, it’s mainly logic-based. Avogadro is trapped within the nuclear bunker and a nuke goes off above and it’s somehow meant to hurt him… yeah, that’s a bit awkward. I couldn’t say if it was due to budgetary constraints or laziness to animate him above ground, but I can say it’s awkward. The boss fight with him is mildly challenging, if not slightly underwhelming.
The main challenge is more based on getting him away from canisters and fighting off A.D.A.M. units rather than fighting him. Once he is defeated, you get one last bit of sweet story information and how exactly he ended up at TranZit. After you obtain the elemental shard from the APD, the final cut scene plays and the map ends.
The final cut scene itself is also pretty awkward. For some reason, Ultimis and Primis are now outside despite a nuclear detonation not far from them and the way they explain how Camp Edward is destroyed is really quite unnecessary. Especially when you consider Samantha teleporting in from the bunker would make a lot more sense logically.
They had a valid explanation with a nuclear explosion but they show Samantha’s weird shockwave powers. Despite the oddities, it’s quite a suspenseful cut scene and seeing the death of Dr. Maxis for what’s presumably the last time is a bit emotional.
With the design aesthetics, gameplay and story now out of the way, it’s time to answer the question proposed by the title. Is Alpha Omega more than the sum of its parts?
The map received a lot of backlash going into it just for merely existing and a lot of people took issue with just how cheaply made everything looks. Another major thing people took issue with is “reused assets”, which isn’t really valid in retrospect. It would make more sense to call it a reused concept than anything.
Design-wise, it’s a very nice looking map and it’s got a lot going for it in terms of subtext. Not everyone will dig the aesthetic, but I personally did. Gameplay-wise, it’s nothing special. The Rushmore codes are a great addition, but the enemy types are annoying at best, unlocking Pack-a-Punch by draining pipes isn’t a fun thing to do more than once. The wonder weapon quests are tedious and barely worth an underwhelming reward.
But by far, the map’s strong suits are the story and Easter egg quest. Both are at the top of their game and Treyarch really went all in on those aspects.
Is the map really worth it for those two exceptional aspects? Especially when they’re no strangers to telling their story through comics and the story of Alpha Omega would certainly fit. When you consider everything the map has to offer, I can confidently say that the vitriolic reaction is unjustified. It’s nowhere near as bad as people claim and for being a remake, it certainly feels nothing like the original at all…
…But, then again, I can’t confidently sing praises. The gameplay aspect makes it closer to a middle of the road map. If you enjoyed Classified’s gameplay, you’re guaranteed to enjoy Alpha Omega. It’s a lot more layered and you can tailor it the way you want, to make things difficult or easier.
If you were one of those people who gave the map unfair vitriol, I would ask that you give the map a chance with no expectations. It’s certainly not a bad map by any means, there are weak elements but you could say that about most Aether maps.
If you’re not looking for story, the best thing I can say about Alpha Omega is that it’s worth a try.
The images used in this article are sourced from PlayStation LifeStyle, Gameranx, CharlieIntel, and the Call of Duty Wikia.