Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Review

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is the latest installment in the long-running Call of Duty games, and the fifth entry to the Black Ops series. Developed by Treyarch and Raven Software, it features the return of a campaign(after being absent from Black Ops 4), the fan-favorite zombies mode and a more arcadey back to the roots approach to multiplayer.

AT A GLANCE
Developer: Treyarch, Raven Software
Publisher: Activision
Platform: PC(Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Release Date: November 13, 2020
Final Score: 8/10

The Campaign

Black Ops Cold War’s campaign brings back some of the og characters from the previous Black Ops games including Alex Mason and Woods. Majority of the game takes place during the cold war era, but there are some sequences set during the vietcong.

Although the campaigns have always been a part of the Call of Duty games, they have rarely been a highlight, except a few exceptions here and there. Cold War however changes all of this, by introducing quite a few changes to the flow of the narrative and adding in branching decisions. You are also able to customize your own character, including their psychological profile and other details. You are able to set their gender, skin color, and other distinctive traits of their past, and the psychological profiles act as perks that give you bonuses in-game.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War coming Nov. 13 for $60 -- sort of - CNET

Most of the campaign still plays out like a high budget Hollywood war movie, with fantastic action set pieces and explosive scenes. Tightly choreographed vehicle chases and chaotic gunfights return, but the levels themselves are a bit more open-ended. You are able to choose different options throughout the campaign that will have an impact on the narrative, for example, you may choose to spare a terrorist you just captured, or let him fall to his death. Your choices might not always have a visible impact, but there are crossroads in the story where your choices will be important.

You are also able to go over evidence before missions and this can influence how you might approach a certain mission or your decisions. The downtime also lets you read up on the various and find out more about the other characters, which becomes a welcome change of pace from all the action. You will also be able to launch various side missions, given that you have enough evidence, and are able to solve a puzzle. These side missions rarely are worth doing but it’s nice that the intel and evidence scattered throughout the levels feeds back into the game loop.

The mission variety is good as well, and there are some missions that will allow you to stealth through them for a huge chunk of the level. There are also multiple paths to achieve a goal, which is impressive for a COD game but nothing too groundbreaking.

The campaign takes you through a wide variety of locations, and it never gets bland for a moment. One moment you are chasing a plane through an airport and the next moment you are sneaking through the KGB headquarters.

Overall the campaign feels solid, and it’s the best campaign I’ve played in the series since Modern Warfare(the original). The introduction of branching narrative paths is a great choice, and although it’s a bit short, around 5 hours, the different choices give players some replayability.

The Multiplayer

The multiplayer is the bread and butter of the Call of Duty games, no matter how good the campaign or other modes might get. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War ditches the semi milsim like gameplay that the Call of Duty Modern Warfare reboot introduced, in favor of a more action oriented arcadey experience that Call of Duty is known for.

Sadly, however, the entire multiplayer experience feels a bit lackluster and barebones at the moment. The map choices are pitifully small and there’s not a lot of weapon choices at launch. What is already there feels a bit out of polish but when all the mechanics are working well, Cold War is a mighty fun experience.

The main issue I had with the maps is that in the smaller 6v6 game modes, the maps felt a bit too large and campy. Combined with the poor visibility, this caused for some irritating moments in multiplayer, where it often lead to a game of cat and mouse. Some of the scorestreaks are also rendered useless by the indoor maps and the huge layout meant that action would be too far inbetween.

In maps that were felt better designed for the modes that Cold War had to offer, for example in the excellent Satellite map, there were some excellent adrenaline-pumping moments. The combined arms mode, a toned-down ground war mode, was also heaps fun, with vehicles and mounted weapons adding to the chaos. But again, this would vary with the map modes, as the reduced player counts meant that far too much time would be spent getting from point A to point B, if you don’t get picked off by a camping sniper or blown up by a tank. The map design could have benefited from a tighter experience, or the player count should have been increased to counter the much larger map sizes.

The gun choices in Cold War is not impressive, but the excellent gunsmith mode returns, so you can customize your weapons to quite some degree. The issue here is that the guns don’t have the same level of detail visually or in terms of audio that Modern Warfare had brought to the table. The TTK has increased, and that might be a good thing or bad depending on the player, but I personally enjoyed the fact that you can now actually have gunfights instead of being plucked unaware without a chance to retaliate. There’s quite a bit of balancing required for the guns as well, as some of the options felt more viable than the others, resulting in players spamming the matches with one, particularly notorious gun, leading to irritating monotonous matches.

The scorestreak system replaces the tried and tested killstreak system, which rewards players who play the objective instead of just being aggressive. You see, instead of rewarding players for racking up kills, Black Ops Cold War rewards players for increasing their score and does not reset when you die. This means that someone can focus on capturing objectives, in something like the Domination mode and not get penalized for not being on the frontlines. I personally think this is a good chance, but its implementation needs a bit more work. Veterans might be grumpy and complain that kills are no longers as rewarding but changing together kills is still rewarded because of the score multiplier.

Fireteam Dirty Bomb, Black Ops Cold Wars largest mode in terms of map size and player count is the best highlight of the game. 40 players divided into 10 teams drop into a large level and must detonate the bombs, in order to gain score. Despite having a large map, because of the mode’s objectives requiring players to be active in order to get scores, the action tended to gather at hotspots, as players would gun each other down in order to get to the bombs. For once the open-ended nature of the maps works out well, as they allowed a wide variety of tactics in order to approach an objective. The high player count also meant that you were never alone for too long, and getting comfortable in one place could mean death, as short respawn times meant that the squad you just gunned down could fly down on your head raining vengeance.

The multiplayer as of right now feels lacking but at the same time offers some really fun moments in some of the game modes. Activision has promised a lot of free content drops, and the battle pass is going to drop soon, so hopefully, the complaints about variety and balance are going to be addressed soon.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Zombies

Zombies modes in Call of Duty games have always been a fan favorite, with some gamers buying a Call of Duty iteration just to play the latest Zombies mode. Black Ops Cold War brings back this beloved mode and makes some very interesting changes to the age-old formula. But much like the multiplayer, it feels lacking in content, with only one map available on launch.

The story of Zombies is similar to the previous games, another crazy organization is trying to mess with powers beyond their understanding, and people are returning back from the grave. You can play as any of the unlocked generic operators from the multiplayer, and there’s no unique character exclusively for Zombies. Two operators, one on each side of the factions are unlockable only by accomplishing certain feats in the Zombies mode, however. It’s a bit disappointing that there’s no unique playable character for the Zombies mode, but all the multiplayer operators have some quirky dialogue when playing in the Zombies mode.

For the first time in the series, you can bring in a primary weapon from your multiplayer loadouts. Any XP earned from the Zombies mode is added to the overall progression of your weapons, so it’s rewarding bringing in a particular weapon you like or grinding for weapon levels with a weapon that’s underleveled. This also means that you can drastically change how you approach the hordes of Zombies that will be thrown your way, and it’s totally up to you to decide the rules of engagement.

You also carry with you a unique field upgrade, that gives you a powerful ability to help out in a pinch. This can range from being able to freeze zergs, or becoming invisible, or just a good old mine to blow any horde that gets too close for comfort. You can also craft equipment such as medkits or grenades, and weapons may still be bought from the walls with essence.

Once you clear 10 levels, and every subsequent 5 levels, you can call for an exfil chopper to escape. If you successfully exfil, you will be given bonus XP and rewards, but keep in mind, once you call that chopper, a huge horde of zombies will be on your tail. These exfil attempts create a very adrenaline pumping risk vs reward scenario, where you have to decide whether you want to fight more hordes or attempt to escape for a bonus early on.

Sadly despite all these fun mechanics, the game feels a bit stripped down. For starters there’s only one map – Die Maschine, which to be fair is multi-layered and quite big, with tons of easters eggs. But it still gets old, you can kill only a finite number of rotting Z’s before the map gets to you. There are also no bots, which were present in Black Ops 4, and solo players will either have to rely on matchmaking or go at it alone. There’s only one mode and the Dead Ops Arcade mode is a half-baked novelty at best.

Thankfully, Activision has confirmed that there’s a lot of content coming up down the line, so hopefully the Zombies mode is going to get some love later on.