|Developer||Treyarch, Sledgehammer Games, Raven Software, High Moon Studios, Beenox|
|Platforms||PS4, PS5, Xbox One (review), Xbox Series X|S, PC|
|Release Date||November 13th, 2020|
Even before the release of 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, we learned that Treyarch would be moving up in the development cycle over Sledgehammer Games, very shortly after releasing Black Ops 4. That news created concern over the franchise and the development teams, especially as crunch time became an important topic of discussion. The final result was that Call of Duty would return to a two-team development cycle between Infinity Ward and Treyarch. Additionally, Sledgehammer added to the army of studios that play supporting roles in producing these annual releases. Then, earlier this year, we learned through leaks and rumors that “Call of Duty 2020” would be known as Black Ops Cold War.
The Modern Warfare reboot of 2019 was a massive success and one of my favorite games of the year. A great campaign, improved multiplayer experience, and the addition of the Warzone game mode left me pondering the monumental task that Treyarch had ahead of itself. With such a high-quality act to follow, how was it supposed to measure up to or even surpass its predecessor?. Now that Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is finally here, the fear remains that it may not live up to the expectations of its audience, nor my own.
Spiritual Themes: The zombies mode has players fighting for their survival against hordes of undead creatures. It also features some interdimensional travel.
Violence: Black Ops Cold War includes large amounts of violence. Players engage in many gunfights, using a variety of firearms and explosive weapons. Shooting enemies causes blood splatter effects as they scream in pain. Some explosives will cause an enemy’s body to burst into chunks. In the zombies mode, dismemberment often occurs as players shoot through the undead hordes.
Language: Characters use the words “f**k” and “s**t” quite frequently in dialogue.
Sexual Content: One location features signs that say “peep show” and “XXX,” including pictures of women in lingerie.
Drugs/alcohol: There is a mission that asks players to infiltrate a cartel and features packages of drugs and piles of cocaine in a warehouse. One of the main characters in the story often smokes cigarettes.
Other: The campaign of Black Ops: Cold War has several moments where players are forced into challenging dilemmas where they must make a choice. It is up to players whether they will make decisions based on their own personal morals. These decisions can affect the way the story plays out, with one that changes the ending of the game.
Campaign: The campaign is easily where Black Ops Cold War stands out the most. Instead of a fast-paced story that takes place around a particular war, we get a slower one that focuses more on stealth and espionage. One of my favorite missions was “Brick in the Wall,” in which you must plant a tracker in the briefcase of an informant, while also obtaining some vital information that moves the story forward. Cold War features familiar characters such as Woods, Hudson, and Mason, along with the introduction of a few new faces.
As for the protagonist, you take control of a character with the codename “Bell”. You get the chance to personalize them by naming them after yourself, along with choosing a few perks to take with you through the game. Your character is part of a team led by Russell Adler, whose objective is to bring down a soviet spy ring. Along the way, your character is faced with several moral choices that are made through dialogue options—a first for the franchise. Most of these choices show up in a series of stills at the end of the game, like Fallout or Dishonored, but one of them drastically changes the ending of the game. Another franchise first, there are two separate endings, each with a unique final mission to play through.
The campaign also includes some side missions, but these aren’t particularly consequential and mostly act as filler. Within the mainline missions, you can collect evidence that helps you crack some codes for those optional missions, but I was able to complete them whether I solved these mini-puzzles or not. Thankfully, these distractions were fairly minor and didn’t do much to bring down what feels like one of the more creative campaigns in the series.
Ultimately, the campaign includes a well-crafted blend of new ideas and set-pieces, neatly mixed in with classic gunfights. The time I spent with the Vietnam missions felt very familiar but became increasingly interesting as the story developed. On the opposite spectrum, the espionage missions were the highlight of my experience, with some truly impressive stealth mechanics. The Call of Duty series is usually guilty of shoe-horning stealth sections into an otherwise action-packed campaign, but these parts are crucial in Black Ops Cold War and the game as a whole benefited from the extra work put into them.
Fans of the Black Ops series will be pleased, as there are several callbacks to the original game—including missions that feature Mason and Woods. While many Call Of Duty players don’t touch the campaigns, there are quite a few of us out there that look forward to them. If you fall into the latter category, I can confirm that this is a campaign that is worth playing. When considering everything the game has to offer, Black Ops Cold War has some issues, but the campaign stands above the rest of it as the most unique part of the package.
Multiplayer: Not much has changed about the Multiplayer, and it even takes a step back in some ways. There have been multiple updates to the balancing of weapons, so I never knew what my favorite guns would feel like when I sat down to play. Overall, content seems to be lacking with a limited variety of weapons and game modes as a whole. Even so, it’s still Call of Duty multiplayer and proved to be just as much of a good time as it’s always been.
One change that significantly helped me out is the addition of life bars above the opponents’ heads. This mechanic let me know the status of an opponent’s vitality and helped inform questions like whether I should retreat or move in for the killing shot. A feature that seems to be missing is the mounting mechanic from last year’s Modern Warfare. That mechanic helped me learn to slow down when I play these games, and it encouraged me to take cover much more often than I normally would. It feels as though the goal is to go back to basics, and while not a wrong decision, it makes for a sometimes dull experience.
Black Ops Cold War includes some new modes: Fireteam and Combined Arms. The only match type in Fireteam at the moment is Dirty Bomb, where matches quickly devolve into pure chaos as multiple squads collect uranium and try to fill bombs with it to score points. The other is Combined Arms, which has two teams of 12 people battling on large scale maps—my personal favorite being Armada. Besides those, the game offers the usual match types such as TDM, Domination, Kill Confirmed, and many more that fans have become accustomed to seeing in Call of Duty‘s multiplayer.
While some of the maps feel like they could appear in any game in the franchise, others have the potential to be very memorable. Armada spans across multiple ships at sea and makes an excellent setting for those massive and intense Combined Arms battles. Satellite, Miami, and Moscow are the most visually appealing and my personal favorites of the core selection. Another map I also enjoy is Checkmate, which feels like a spiritual successor to Firing Range.
The multiplayer in Black Ops Cold War doesn’t advance the genre or franchise in any way, but it does aim to appeal to fans’ sense of nostalgia. While I wish there were more to it, fans of the Black Ops series will feel right at home, especially if they have been away from Call of Duty for some time. For me, I don’t know that it will have the staying power if my friends are all still playing Warzone, but I look forward to seeing what the season 1 update brings to the table.
Zombies: The Zombies mode throughout the Black Ops series is something I have struggled to enjoy with every entry—though I did appreciate how Black Ops III zombified its campaign. The wave-based combat and fight for survival have never appealed to me, but Black Ops Cold War makes some exciting changes that I can get behind. However, dedicated fans may not be pleased, as some changes might detract from the experience they know and love.
The first significant change is also likely the most controversial. Players can now take loadouts with them to hunt the undead; these are customizable carry over from the game’s multiplayer. They then can pick a character from their list of available operators instead of one built for the scenario, which had me missing the personality and dialogue displayed by the characters in previous entries. Unless we get future content that says otherwise, it seems like players will be stuck with their empty shell of an operator for this particular rendition.
I was pleased to learn about the addition of one particular feature: the option to call for an Exfil—short for exfiltration. For me, it can get somewhat discouraging when my team finally meets its end at the hands of an unbearable horde. Now, for every five rounds the team survives, the game presents an option to evacuate the map. This new mechanic adds a fun risk and reward system for you to either take a risk or know when to fold. Of course, you get more XP and rewards for surviving longer.
In the zombies mode, we get one map called “Die Maschine,” the return of Dead Ops Arcade, and a mode called “Onslaught,” which is currently locked exclusively on Sony platforms for one year. I have not played Onslaught since I was playing through the series on a One X, but I did spend plenty of time on the new map. To clarify, though, Die Maschine is not entirely new, but rather an expanded version of an original map from World at War. It has since been significantly expanded and has multiple layers with plenty to do and lots of secrets to discover. Just don’t get separated from your teammates, since it might be a while before they can get to you if you need a revive.
Some of these changes feel half-hearted, while some make an enormous impact on this popular mode. Unfortunately, this version of Zombies feels like it didn’t get the time and dedication that its predecessors had. Even though I’m not a huge fan of the mode, it feels like a significant part of what brings people back is gone. This is a case in which I’ll have to keep an eye on the pulse as future updates come along to see how the dedicated players feel about it.
Conclusion: Now that I’ve broken down my thoughts and details on everything Black Ops Cold War has to offer, I need to address some issues. First, the campaign’s cutscenes have a lot of synchronization issues. It often feels like I’m watching a slideshow before the video speeds up like a VHS tape fast-forwarding to catch up with the audio. The second issue I had was that this game crashed my Xbox One X multiple times, and I’m not the only person to have that same problem. These and other minor bugs have hindered my experience, and I hope they get sorted out. I can’t speak to whether these issues occur across all platforms, but a triple-A title releasing with glaring problems like these is a massive oversight.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War as a whole isn’t a superb package. It focuses on taking us back to a simpler era, while also feeling like a weaker addition to the franchise—especially with the bugs. The multiplayer and Zombies modes are not far from what we get out of Call of Duty every year, but the campaign is where this game goes in a bold direction. I might still recommend last year’s Modern Warfare over Black Ops Cold War, but there’s no denying that fans of the Black Ops series, in particular, will feel right at home.
Review copy kindly provided by Rogers & Cowan PMK
The Bottom Line
While suffering from technical issues, the campaign treads new ground as the rest of the game does little to evolve the franchise.