It’s that time of year again. The great shift from one Call of Duty title to another. Treyarch’s Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War has debuted and has given us a new offering of blockbuster moments in the campaign, competitive gameplay in multiplayer, and high tension strategy in Zombies.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold is a bit of an unprecedented game. For starters, the game has broken the typical three-year cycle relegated to Treyarch, Infinity Ward, and Sledgehammer Games. Raven Software, a studio that usually acts as a support for many Call of Duty titles has collaborated quite closely with Treyarch on the development of Black Ops Cold War. Enough so that Raven Software is prominently displayed in the boot sequence in-game. The two studios brought a lot of high-quality gameplay elements to the table. However, after dedicating time to the various modes, there are aspects of the game that feel incomplete for the time being.
There’s an undeniably solid foundation built into the game. From the smoothness of gameplay to the impressive mix of modes. However, when coming off of what could be considered Call of Duty’s strongest year this generation, Black Ops Cold War’s entire package may seem underwhelming in a couple of ways. Though, there’s a lot of 80’s flair and style in the game to patch those holes to make it a fun rollercoaster ride nonetheless.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War acts as a soft reboot of sorts. Set after the original, Black Ops Cold War takes place in the neon-kissed era of the 80s. Black Ops characters Frank Woods, Jason Hudson, and Alex Mason all return in this followup to 2010’s game. The campaign opens up with the introduction of Russel Adler, a CIA operative inducting you into an off-the-books investigation of a Soviet spy named Perseus. The game is ripe with political conspiracies right from the get-go. Filtering through files, cassette tapes and infiltrating high-level compounds, the campaign acts as a love letter to 80s thrillers of the past. With Adler’s gang in tow, Ronal Regan sits down and greenlights a mission to find Perseus using any methods necessary.
For the first time ever, Call of Duty allows you to “create” your own character. It’s a really novel idea. You can choose one of four gender options: classified, male, female, and binary. In a progressive move for the franchise, choosing the binary option has characters refer to you as “they” and “them”. You can also customize your character’s backstory and ticks. These are very akin to perks, giving you buffs to reload times, movement, etc. Unfortunately, you’re not able to customize the look of your character. This isn’t a major issue but it did create a comedic moment. As I was existing in this beautifully, detailed world, at one point, my objective was in a bathroom. I ran up to the mirror to finally see myself and just like a vampire, there was nothing staring back at me.
The game is set up where specific dialogue options and character choices dictate how the story progresses. On paper, many can be construed as being impactful. In one early scene, you chase down a figure associated with a terrorist ring. Upon catching up to him, you have the chance to interrogate him for info, capture him, or kill him. I chose to kill him, assuming I would see the ripples moving forward. However, the act just happened and the game moved on. Many decisions only briefly impact the story and are otherwise only brought up at the end of the campaign. This system was ripe with potential, though I believe Treyarch and Raven Software only scratched the surface.
The most compelling component of the campaign is the mission structure. Adler’s team has set up an HQ in Berlin. This acts as a hub between missions. Within, you can launch into the next mission and take on side missions. While you can head into the next mission without a second thought, there’s an additive component that’s worth investing time into. As you complete independent missions, you’ll amass a collection of evidence into Perseus and his plans. This thereby expands into a multi-layered puzzle. You’ll have to decipher codes and find the true identity of some of the people involved in the overarching plot. Puzzles incorporate some random elements so the solutions in my game will differ from yours. Surprisingly, I found myself sitting down with a pen and paper, solving these puzzles. It was something I never imagined doing while playing a Call of Duty game.
The campaign itself is rather short. It never overstays its welcome during its 5-6 hour run. It does culminate in a few different ways which encourage multiple playthroughs. Again, not anything I was expecting from a Call of Duty campaign. From a thematic standpoint, the game doesn’t really offer anything beyond the crux of the KGB is bad, go stop them. There are a few highlights in the story, including a mission where you infiltrate a KGB headquarters. This mission lets you branch out and complete the mission in various ways. Another mission sees you squaring up against KGB operatives as Pat Benatar’s ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ blasts in the background. There’s a bit of camp involved, but overall, I quite enjoyed the campaign as a whole.
Locked and Loaded
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer is a bit of a mixed bag. It certainly improves on some aspects over last year’s Modern Warfare reboot. However, in some instances, it feels like it’s taken a step back. The map designs and balancing has been greatly improved. As someone who quickly dropped out from Modern Warfare’s camp-heavy multiplayer, I was delighted to see the maps encourage fluid team rotations and incorporate close quarters with open spaces.
The multiplayer component offers the usual suspects in terms of modes. TDM, Kill Confirmed, Domination, they’re all there. My favourite of the bunch is the new VIP Escort mode. Taking a popular community-driven concept from other competitive titles, VIP Escort sees one team have to protect and escort a member of their unit to an exfil site when the other team tries to stop them. It involves a lot of coordination. Knowing flanking positions and the overall map layout is incredibly important to succeed.
There are also larger-scale modes available as well. Fireteam: Dirty Bomb reworks the battle royale concept in a few unique ways. Lobbies are bigger so you’ll be up against more teams while completing the objective. It’s largely forgettable only because Warzone did such an impressive job with that style of gameplay. Combined Arms is another, which sees 16-24 players storm a map for victory. Here is where the vehicles come into play. These modes tiptoe across the border of being more similar to Battlefield. All in all, there’s a lot of variety in the 11 modes.
The multiplayer is a little light on maps. Each is unique in its own right, but there are only eight of them. Unfortunately, the iconic Nuketown map is not readily available yet. From the current slate, Miami, a dense neon strip, is my favourite despite some of its shortcomings. It has a good mix of open areas and tight quarters within the hotel and alleyways. Though, there are some disadvantages to enabling players to camp in the hotel rooms, sniping across the map. Armada is another highlight. The map is created around two large-scale ships with a smaller one in the middle. It’s a very narrow map with lots of opportunities for vertical firefights.
The gunplay remains some of the best as far as FPS games go. Though, there are some notable differences in terms of handling between Black Ops Cold War and Modern Warfare. For instance, the audio of each gunshot is greatly improved. There’s an audible punch that flows through a speaker or headset with each shot. Though as loud as the guns may be, there’s a lack of recoil in many guns. There isn’t that moment of gratification when you lead the reticle towards an enemy’s head while firing. I’ve found that the guns also appear cleaner, especially on Xbox Series X. It almost seems as though some of the realism was stripped away in some capacity. On PlayStation 5, Treyarch and Raven Software took advantage of the DualSense’s adaptive triggers and haptic feedback. The triggers require more pull, simulating a gunshot. This adds a brand new layer of immersion. While this component works for campaign and Zombies, in a competitive environment, it’s almost a deterrent. When playing competitive, you want as little resistance as possible when firing the weapon. Though it’s worth mentioning, the game runs remarkably well on both of the new consoles. 4K HDR looks stunning even though Black Ops Cold War isn’t hitting that realism vibe outside of the uncanny valley cutscenes.
There are also elements of the multiplayer that feel incomplete. Black Ops Cold War has an established framework in place for a future Battle Pass. The game’s integration into Warzone won’t begin until December. As a result, the Operators tab is hollow. Currently, there are only a few Operators to unlock by completing tasks in multiplayer and Zombies. Throughout the first week, the vast majority of players were using the default Vargas skin as the game offers no real incentive to unlock additional Operators. Within the menu tab, you can open up a selection page to customize the skins of each Operators. However, there aren’t any available. This also extends to the weapon selections. Currently, there are less than 30 guns available. Black Ops Cold War adopts Modern Warfare’s loadout and customization methodology. I was delighted as I think customizing your loadout is incredibly streamlined and easy to tweak between matches. Though, as far as balancing goes, if you’re not using the MP5, you’re at a massive disadvantage as it is ridiculously overpowered with the right attachments.
It feels as though a lot of content is being held back until the full rollout of Warzone content. Call of Duty’s battle royale mode was an obvious success and had some real stickiness as far as maintaining a player base. As it currently stands, Black Ops Cold War feels bare bones in this regard. I was left with the feeling that the real experience won’t arrive until the first season kicks in.
Brains Never Tasted So Good
Zombies mode is by and large the star of the game. The heart-racing cooperative mode returns in classic fashion. As someone who has felt as though Zombies became too heavy-handed with catering to the easter egg-focused community, Treyarch struck a nice balance this time around. Currently, there is only one map available. The Die Maschine map is coated in flashy graffiti covering half the map before it transitions into an old war bunker.
As someone who has taken a break from Zombies over the years, I feel like this one is very accessible. In a group of friends or teammates who can coordinate properly, fighting through the hordes is satisfying. As always, the meat of Zombies is completing the easter egg objectives. This map has an extremely fun easter egg, focusing on alternate-dimensions. There are aspects that are quite reminiscent of Stranger Things in many ways.
Progress from multiplayer carries over into Zombies. Though, that means we lose out on seeing movie stars incorporated into the cast. Now, Operators that have been unlocked can be used in Zombies. The same goes for any weapons unlocked through multiplayer. It gives deeper incentives to grind towards unlocking new weapons and Operators, knowing that all will carry over. This is especially true when knowing that Warzone will work in a similar fashion as well.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War maintains the high-level quality we’ve come to expect from the franchise. Treyarch and Raven Software have delivered an exception campaign which took some strides to set itself apart from previous narratives in the series. There are entertaining elements throughout that never come as a sacrifice of spectacle. Zombies is a true return to form with a compelling easter egg to boot. In multiplayer, Black Ops Cold War has given us a unified progression system that encourages players to work towards creating their preferred loadouts and setting personal goals on what to unlock.
However, the multiplayer does seem shallow in the grand scheme of things. It seems as though these issues may be rectified once the first season kicks off with the game’s Warzone integration. From there, more weapons will likely be added as well as Operators to unlock. Warzone’s profound success may have impacted the rollout of content. As we’ve seen this past year, each new season brings many new additions to the battle royale and core multiplayer component. I believe Black Ops Cold War will be built out over time to become a well-rounded title in the franchise.
A review copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War was provided for review purposes.