'Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War' Review: A Series Reborn
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Featured Image Credit: Credit: Activision
Treyarch-made Call of Duty games are renowned for their fast pace and traditional three-lane maps, which allow for that signature gameplay fans know and love, and it's certainly evident in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.
At launch there's a small selection of maps available in varying sizes, some of them larger to cater for the new Combined Arms mode. I must admit, I was a little underwhelmed at the map selection, having already played the majority of them during the PlayStation Alpha and Beta weekends. I feel like I've already seen all that multiplayer in Black Ops Cold War has to offer - but this is sure to change.
Cold War will support a calendar of free, post-launch content including MP maps and modes. What exists already is good, and really gives off the Treyarch vibe. There's new modes such as VIP Escort - basically Search & Destroy but with a randomly assigned player VIP on one team to extract. Fireteam: Dirty Bomb is another new addition, which pits ten teams of four against each other, with tanks and choppers available. I played it briefly during the Beta but didn't get a chance to experience for this review.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War reverts back to auto-health regeneration, and adds unlimited sprint, create-a-class and scorestreaks to the mix to make combat much more exciting and fast paced. Initially, the prospect of scorestreaks carrying on after you die is daunting, but the system is really well thought out and doesn't create as much havoc as you'd expect. It rewards both players who are capable of racking up kills and those who can't resist playing the objective.
Compared to 2019's Modern Warfare, the game is definitely a lot less tactical, with Treyarch clearly focusing on going back to basics and what they know fans love about their games over the years - implementing a refined create-a-class system with gunsmith, and bringing back prestige. The connected experience between modes and console generations really comes into play here, especially when players typically spend most of their time in multiplayer, and being able to bring your favourite classes and weapons into Zombies makes grinding through the levels even more worthwhile.
On a gameplay level, the multiplayer experience is exciting. Treyarch has clearly taken note from previous titles, and what they've added here really works. Although the game doesn't launch with an extensive map pool or any groundbreaking modes, I'm hopeful that Treyarch will rectify this throughout the seasons of post-launch content.
Now, it wouldn't be a Black Ops title if it didn't have a deadly dose of Zombies, would it? And thankfully, Treyarch has this covered. But don't be fooled into thinking they're retreading familiarly undead ground, as what they've got in store is different from what Call of Duty Zombies fans have come to traditionally expect from the mode.
After the culmination of the Primis and Ultimis storylines in Black Ops 4, Treyarch have embarked on a risky new journey with some familiar characters - including Grigori Weaver from the original Black Ops - leading Requiem, and an adult version of Samantha Maxis. The map Die Maschine is set in Morasko, Poland at an abandoned Nazi research facility, which is quite possibly the perfect location for a Zombies map.
Eagle-eyed fans will recognise the interior of the map to be from Nacht Der Untoten, but Die Maschine has a lot more to offer under the surface. The reimagined map gives you a unique perspective on an iconic Zombies location, allowing you to explore the surrounding areas and a freaky Projekt Endstation bunker underneath. Treyarch have completely reworked the mode, implementing a connected experience between modes, allowing you to bring loadouts and operators from MP, which will help newcomers progress through the earlier rounds.
But by doing so, it ruins a bit of the Zombies magic. No longer do you have to grind through the rounds with nothing but a starter pistol, knifing Zombies to get the most experience possible to open a door or buy a wall weapon. There's also an abundance of ammo around the map which renders ammo drops almost useless, and the rush of excitement when you see a max ammo in later rounds has vanished.
Visually, there's a lot to take in when you first load into Die Maschine, most notably a mini-map which shows Zombie positions, ammo crates, wall weapons and more. There's also the small matter of hit markers and health bars which make it look like a looter shooter, with Zombies dropping ammo and armour upon death.
While Die Maschine marks the start of a new Zombies journey, I can't help but feel like Treyarch has forgotten how it all began. With the best intentions, they've introduced features which make it easier for newcomers to progress to higher rounds, but arguably compromised elements of the core mode which fans loved the most. Over the years the Zombies storyline has been told through easter eggs, but in Cold War the storyline is at the heart of the experience, and I'm apprehensive as to how that will go down. I've always enjoyed the hunt, knowing there's easter eggs and a story flowing under the surface, and I'm sure Treyarch have some hidden secrets, but here it just feels a bit too in your face.
I can't be too harsh though, as there's clearly a lot of learning that's been done since Black Ops 4 Zombies, and it's great to see classic perks such as Juggernog and Quick Revive back where they belong. The sound effects and music throughout is also spot on, really capturing the terrifying nature of the mode, especially when you are descending into the Projekt Endstation bunker.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Zombies is a new and deadly journey with some familiar faces. Having started out as a bonus mode after the World At War credits, it's amazing to see how Zombies has evolved into this Black Ops Cold War iteration. Treyarch has created a really accessible experience which will delight newcomers - but I can't help but fear it might alienate many core Zombies fans, too.
After the previous Black Ops title shipped without a campaign Treyarch are taking no chances when it comes to Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. With Raven Software at the helm of the single-player portion, it's safe to say that going into the Black Ops (2010) sequel, expectations are pretty high. But just how does the highly anticipated campaign stack up when it embraces the Cold War era and everything that comes with it, including the fashion?
Although a decade has gone by since the Black Ops arc first began, within seconds you are thrown back into familiar territory with series mainstay Frank Woods, and new character Russell Adler by your side. A welcome sight for those itching to get back behind enemy lines and experience covert operations like the old days. The neon-lit back streets of Amsterdam are the first stop in this global adventure. What starts as a quiet rendezvous in a dimly lit bar soon takes a turn, and before you know it you're chasing down high-value targets across the rooftops. It's at this point that Raven Software's gripping single-player story springs into action and the global conspiracy starts to unravel.
It's clear from the start that Raven has attempted to put their own spin on the single-player experience, adding further depth and value to an explosive storyline. With multiple endings and dialogue choices woven throughout, the player actively shapes the campaign towards one of the game's conclusions.
Once you've picked up the basics, and racked up Mason's air miles travelling from Amsterdam to Turkey, you get to create your own character to join Adler's crack team of elite operatives. Even though the appearance of Woods and Mason here is great initially, they don't really add much to the overall story. Instead, it's more focused on CIA agent Adler and your custom character, who goes under the codename 'Bell'.
Unlike anything seen before in the franchise, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War lets you build out the profile behind your character, allowing you to input as much or as little detail as you'd like. You also get to pick two psychological profiles from a list of 15, which directly affects your campaign attributes such as ADS (aim down sight) speed, increased health, bullet damage, and so on.
Call of Duty players are no stranger to creating a class, but creating a character is completely new, and it makes you wonder if it really belongs in an FPS juggernaut such as this, especially because all you really see are your character's hands. At first, entering these finer details makes the playthrough a lot more personable - but as the Black Ops Cold War storyline roars on, you soon find yourself forgetting that it was even a thing.
With Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War being developed as we transition to next-gen consoles, there's graphical improvements all around, even on the PlayStation 4 version. It doesn't quite overwhelm with realism compared to last year's Modern Warfare, but there's definitely areas that come close. The character models and locales are extensively detailed, even down to the clothes the elite operatives wear, they really give off the 1980s vibe and, personally, I'm here for it.
The dialogue options and choices that shape the campaign are tastefully added throughout. Raven hasn't overdone it here, and when you come to make those choices, you do actually think about the consequences they might have. Some might affect just one mission, but others could change the entire ending.
Between missions you're briefed back in a CIA safe house in West Berlin, and from here you can launch into missions, review evidence picked up along the way, eliminate suspects and plan your next attack. Over the course of the campaign, players can take part in two optional missions that branch off from the main Perseus storyline.
The evidence board lets you decide whether you've got enough to work from in order to complete these optional side missions. If you've missed any, the game will tell you exactly which mission you can find it in, making you want to go back and try different dialogue options or search every room possible. But is it worth it? For the completionists among us, maybe. But they almost feel like an anti-climax, with all that sleuthing just leading to a large-scale gun fight.
Throughout the campaign, Raven rattles the player along on a global journey to East Berlin, Vietnam, Turkey, and Soviet-era Moscow, and all in a short space of time. But then Black Ops Cold War changes the pace between missions, allowing you to slow down and catch your breath, and take on a more covert play style - whether that's infiltrating behind enemy lines in Berlin or sneaking around the KGB headquarters.
During the KGB mission especially, you've got multiple options to complete what almost feels like something out of a Hitman game. You're given an on-screen overlay to help you navigate your way round the headquarters, accessing restricted areas, interrogating prisoners, and meeting with Soviet intelligence individuals. There's a lot of choice here, and it really stands out against the other, more typical Call of Duty missions. After the campaign culminated, I immediately wondered how much my choices affected the magnitude of each ending.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War takes us back to a historical period in time. It's certainly a welcome move, given the Black Ops franchise has been mostly futuristic. After the absence of a campaign in Black Ops 4, what Raven Software have produced for this latest instalment is ambitious, thrilling, and it certainly fills the campaign void. As a direct sequel to the original Black Ops and the wider Call of Duty franchise, the game features recognisable characters and terms such as Nova-6, which cements it at the heart of the Black Ops universe.
Even though the main campaign runs a little short, what's here is very satisfying to play, as you find yourself decrypting codes and seeking out evidence, all of which puts you at the heart of the global conspiracy. Raven really brings the heat to the Cold War era, plugging a key period in time and filling it with deniable operations which make it a must play title in the Black Ops franchise.
Regardles of some questionable areas in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, what Raven Software and Treyarch have put together this year (and what a challenging year 2020 has been) is excellent. It does make me wonder whether developing for next-gen launch as well as current-gen platforms has hindered the content a little, which might explain why the campaign runs shorter than players might be used to. But that said, Raven Software created a mind-bending storyline that perfectly complements what we've seen of Black Ops in the past - and there's even a few hidden ties to Modern Warfare, too.
In multiplayer, Treyarch have gone back to their roots rather than trying to innovate, and clearly learned from previous titles, with signature maps and a simplified create-a-class system. The Zombies experience is definitely a lot more accessible, and maybe Treyarch are appealing to newer audiences more with the addition of the mini-map and indicators. But under the surface, the Dark Aether storyline is waiting for die-hard Zombie fans to unravel it, upon launch.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is an all-round excellent sequel to 2010's Black Ops. Although a little light on launch content in places, it definitely is a must-play title in the Black Ops universe.
Pros: Great set pieces, signature combat and gameplay returns
Cons: Short campaign, limited launch content
For Fans Of: Call of Duty: Black Ops, Call of Duty: Black Ops II
Game was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with code provided by the publisher. Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is out now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC. Read a guide to our review scores here.