Another year, another Call of Duty game. Somehow, the game manages to work its way into relevance just like the yearly release that is NBA 2K. Both games draw a lot of similarities – each year showing a “new” campaign, iterative multiplayer gameplay. The usual stuff.
The franchise has almost always been consistently good, with this year’s installment Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War being no different. Featuring the usual suspects as players would expect, Call of Duty games shine with its multiplayer offerings, but this year it is the other way around, as it treats players to a fantastic campaign that leaves you wanting more. The payoff? Multiplayer that doesn’t quite push the needle.
First of all, what the hell is up with that name? Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. That’s a freaking mouthful. Let’s just refer to it as Cold War or CW for this review.
The previous Black Ops game (BO4) didn’t see a single-player campaign and instead solely focused on the multiplayer experience, which was great, but also lacked that familiarity that players got accustomed to seeing from a Call of Duty game.
Cold War brings back the single-player campaign, and the game is all the better for it, with one of the best (and shortest) stories in recent memory, clocking in around 5-6 hours at most. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 holds the distinction of arguably having the best campaign story, but Cold War can definitely stand on its own.
The premise revolves around the hunt for “Perseus”, a Russian spy that has infiltrated the ranks of the US agents and it is up to you to find out who Perseus is and stop him from doing (more) damage. Within the first 10 minutes, the game will have you jumping from rooftop to rooftop culminating in a slow-motion sequence and even blowing up a plane using a remote controlled explosive device. It’s outrageous and very movie-like, and the set pieces are really quite something to behold, which is par for the course of a Call of Duty title. The action is fast and intense, but the various levels will have you switching gears often that it doesn’t feel like you’re just mowing down hordes of enemies until you get to the next checkpoint.
I’m playing this on a PS4 pro and if anything, the guys behind the Call of Duty games know how to put out a good looking game, and Cold War isn’t an exception. I guess that’s really the thing with these current and next-gen “transition” games, as they look outstanding even with the current hardware, enough to make you want to experience the whole thing again with the new hardware.
Missions in Cold War will take you to a range of locales, which will walk you through the various ways you can wreak havoc in the game. You’ll man a helicopter turret or rain silent death with a sniper rifle, but none of these will compare to a personal favorite where you infiltrate the Lubyanka Building, the KGB headquarters. Most of the mission will have you figuring out how to get the objective done through non-lethal means (aka not killing everybody with your firearm), which will lead you to framing a KGB officer or poisoning his drink, if that’s your thing. It is in essence a stealth mission, but there will be multiple ways to go about it, and even though the ending is still the same, the process of it all was a nice experience. The mission ends with a frenetic battle as you try to escape the KGB headquarters, turning a full 180, blowing everything away compared to a rather peaceful start. Other missions can’t quite reach the highs that this mission does, which can draw comparisons to something that’s straight out of a Mission Impossible movie, but overall the Cold War campaign is a huge win for the game.
To be or not to be
A new element that the campaign introduces is choice – you get to “create” and name your character, choose your traits which will give you certain advantages in battle like faster reload or faster movement… you can even choose your gender, even be non-binary if you choose to be. The gender choice will really be just how you are referred to in the game, which is not much, but its a start.
You’re also offered dialog choices scattered throughout the campaign, and while the branching paths don’t really offer a fully different scenario, it was a nice touch that the game gives you that illusion, which was particularly refreshing.
In between missions, you’ll reconvene in your safe house, where you’ll be able to choose your next mission, review evidence collected, and take on side missions. Evidence is a pretty cool feature in Cold War. In previous Call of Duty games, you’ll go around a map collecting “intel” or whatever it is the game will have you collect for a trophy. Cold War makes the search worth while, as you’ll stumble upon pieces of evidence scattered around missions that will give you a clue on how to solve the next mission. One side mission will have you pick out 3 suspects from a group of individuals, and if you haven’t completed all the pieces of evidence from the other missions, it’ll be pretty impossible to single out the suspects. This system adds a bit of replayability to missions, only to find the piece you may have missed out on, but not enough to make you want to play through the whole campaign again.
Same old multiplayer
Cold War is supposed to be the Call of Duty title that ushers in the franchise into the next-generation, and while it does that on the graphical and performance front, the multiplayer modes remain mostly the same, which was a slight disappointment due to how fresh the single-player campaign felt. Multiplayer still plays and feels great, but that’s also a good and bad thing depending on how you look at it.
The good first. By saying that the multiplayer in Cold War is mostly the same only means that you get the classic traits of a well built shooter – snappy and accurate gunplay, crisp audio and visual feedback, steady performance… You name a good thing about shooters and Call of Duty most likely has it, which is a product of year after year of solid installments. Gameplay and mechanics-wise, it’s Call of Duty through and through.
The usual modes are here as well. You’ll have team deathmatch, free for all, domination, combined arms… To be quite honest, I’m fine with just TDM and Domination, but I’m also not the most hardcore FPS player out there, so choice in terms of multiple available modes is always a good thing.
The bad thing about Cold War multiplayer lies in the limited number of maps available. Apart from the various modes, the strength of a multiplayer game relies heavily on the map rotation and you’ll be getting a frustratingly low number in Cold War. Although as with any Call of Duty game, which will improve over time, what’s here now is a little bit too limiting for what players have come to expect. You’ll also only get 1 zombies map, which is a stark contrast to the 3 maps immediately available for Black Ops 4.
Speaking of Zombies, the current Zombie map named “Die Maschine” leans more on the outrageous rather than the scary and creepy settings from the previous Black Ops title, with portals to the otherworld and such mechanics. I personally loved the previous eerie settings over this one, and it may really boil down to a matter of preference.
It plays mostly the same as previous iterations, but the feel isn’t quite there yet due to the setting and story of the scenario, which didn’t evoke the same emotions as before. Black Ops 4 had 3 great zombie maps, with each being scarier than the next.
We’ve heard so much about how the next-gen hardware will boost the Cold War experience and it sounds quite enticing. We have not yet played this on a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, but suffice to say that improved visuals along with the capability to play at 120 frames sounds utterly delicious.
What we are hoping to see will be how well the experience is translated to the DualSense controller. It has been reported that each firearm will have individual adaptive trigger settings, which sound fantastic, but I’m imagining that it is something I’d turn off during multiplayer, as the added resistance could mean life or death during a skirmish.
We’ll be looking into a fuller next-gen experience soon, so expect an update when that’s available!
What we liked:
- Great single player campaign with fresh new features
- Gameplay quality is what you’ve come to expect from a Call of Duty title
- Visual quality is incredible
What we didn’t like:
- Limited maps and content available as of writing
- Branching campaign storyline could be improved
Verdict: Wait for it.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a good game, and it can only get better, but at the moment it doesn’t feel like a must-buy just yet. This is by no means the fault of the developers, but more of an effect that the pandemic has brought about, disrupting schedules here and there across every industry.
You’ll get a great but short single-player campaign, bare-bones multiplayer and zombies, as well as the trademark Call of Duty gameplay that everyone has come to know and love. That’s not a bad deal at all, but seeing as most players will tend to spend majority of the time in multiplayer, the single-player campaign cannot fully save the day for this installment.
You can wait for it in the mean time, but rest assured that more content will be on the way, and by the time that happens, Cold War will be a staple in every FPS fan’s library.
*Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War was reviewed on a PS4 Pro via a review code provided by the publishers.