For as much as we all enjoy some good old action set pieces in a Call of Duty game, I’ve personally always felt that the campaigns in this series have been at their very best when they slow down the pace a bit and experiment with different types of unique scenarios and mechanics.
And in that spirit, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War might just have the most interesting and unique single player mode in the franchise in many long years.
It has a much more measured approach to storytelling, and focuses a significant portion of it’s time to scenarios that do not involve any combat at all. There’s just a lot of talking, observing evidence and basically just taking in the atmosphere of the era the game takes place in.
The main plot is fun, if about as predictable and clichéd as you’d expect. It focuses on you and your secret little covert ops unit working to take down a shadowy figure known as ‘Perseus’, who’s actions could bring about yet another series of doomsday events. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before in a dozen different spy movies and games.
And just like last year’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, my issues with the writing are still present here as well, as Cold War refuses to actually take a concrete position on any of the themes and issues it tackles.
This game is trying so hard to impart upon its players the dangers of warfare, and yet it refuses to actually come out and turn that into a meaningful message. It makes you feel bad about the things that happen during the story, and yet it still wants you to admire this deeply flawed concept of patriotism we see on display.
If you jump into this game expecting some profoundly deep anti-war message, then you’re not going to find that here. The best you can expect is a nudge and a wink.
That being said, if, unlike me, you can turn your brain off for a while and just give into the absurdity of it all, what you’ll find here is an enjoyable campaign that uses it’s setting to lay the groundwork for some really memorable missions.
There are the standard shootout scenarios here, but more importantly, the game devotes a significant amount of time to letting you live out the fantasy of being a covert operative. You’ll take a lot of pictures, pick locks, and even perform stealth assassinations.
The best mission in the entire game doesn’t even make you use a gun for the vast majority of its runtime, as you infiltrate the KGB headquarters and attempt to blend in with the locals. It’s honestly more Hitman than Call of Duty, and it’s fantastic.
Multiplayer is more or less what we’ve come to expect from the series so far, and it works really well for the most part.
The traditional selection of game modes like Team Deathmatch, Free-for-All and Kill Confirmed are still present here, and they function as well as they ever have.
The maps available in these modes make excellent use of the era to bring about a lot of variety in the locations, but they are fairly limited in number at launch and players are bound to get tired of them if new maps don’t drop soon.
Combined Arms is the new 12v12 multiplayer mode in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War that places an emphasis on bigger maps and vehicle use. It’s very similar to last year’s Ground War, but the maps are more dense and have a lot more charm to them.
At launch there are three different maps available; Armada, Cartel and Crossroads, with the first of the three, Armada, being the absolute standout. It takes place in an arena of navy ships attached to each other by ziplines, and offers up lots of opportunities for stealth and flank maneuvers.
Zombies makes a return in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War as well, but it functions a bit differently this time around.
First off, players can now actually bring their multiplayer loadouts with them into Zombies, meaning that a lot of the scavenging that they had to do at the start in previous entries is all but gone here. This takes away a lot of the tension that I personally loved about this mode, but having your trusty weapons by your side more than makes up for it.
There’s also the addition of skills like Healing Aura that can heal you and your teammates, or Frost Blast, that can slow zombies down in an area. These charge up over time, and provide a much needed trump card when things start to get really tough.
Some issues that plagued previous iterations of Zombies are also back, such as the extreme difficult spikes during boss encounters. These radioactive enemies soak up an ungodly amount of damage before falling, and it just isn’t fun having to waste so much of your time and ammo on them.
There’s only one map available at launch, Die Maschine, but it’s a really well thought out area to be fair. Players are not likely to lose track of each other a whole lot, and the relatively simple layout means that memorizing different pathways and objective locations is not a chore.
In terms of the new consoles, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War looks absolutely stunning on the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, but we already expected that after how good last year’s Modern Warfare looked.
No, the real truly next-gen addition here is being able to play this game with the new Dualsense 5 on the PlayStation 5. It feels revolutionary to me just how good this controller feels.
With the adaptive triggers and haptic feedback, the controller functions differently for each and every weapon in the game. The resistance on the L2 and R2 buttons changes depending on the recoil of different rifles and shotguns, and the intensity of the vibration changes to sync up with different fire rates.
It’s honestly something that needs to be experienced first-hand to really understand, but what you should know is that this controller makes you want to experiment with as many weapons in the game as possible just to see how it will respond. It’s a great experience.
In conclusion, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War has a fun new campaign that takes a much slower approach to storytelling in order to emphasize the more espionage heavy aspect of it’s cold war setting.
It still unfortunately faces a lot of the same narrative problems as its predecessors, with its inability to actually decide what message it wants to convey.
Multiplayer is decent, if predictable, and the number of maps available at launch are going to be a big issue for a lot of players. The game hasn’t really added anything revolutionary this time around either, and that’s perhaps what most of us were already expecting anyway.
Zombies is also back, and it switches up the established formula in a few new interesting ways. The new map is very well designed, but this game mode still suffers from extreme spikes of difficulty that bring the pace of matches to a grinding halt.
All in all, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is yet another decent entry in the franchise.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is out now on the Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and the PC. It was developed by Treyarch and published by Activision. This review covers the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 versions of the game.
The review code was provided by the publisher.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Review
With a great new campaign and the return of Zombies mode, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a decent start to the next generation.