The Cold War; a conflict that would come to be characterized as a series of proxy wars and nuclear stand-offs between the East and the West. Treyarch Studios have taken us once again back to this era in their appropriately-titled Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, the newest installment in the franchise. From the blood-soaked jungles of Vietnam to the sweltering heat of Cuba and even to the heart of the KGB in Moscow, you’ll take the fight straight to the heart of those Commies with all the Star-Spangled Awesomeness you can muster, joined by a familiar cast featuring fan favorites like Woods and Mason. But does this title deliver the Black Ops experience everyone was hoping for into the next generation of video game consoles and graphics? Let’s talk about it.
Something Important To Keep In Mind
Before we talk about anything else, the one thing that needs to be kept in mind is that Cold War, like the Black Ops titles that came before it, is from a different studio than other CoD titles. And just like the Black Ops games before it, there’s more of an arcade-y style to the gameplay in contrast to titles such as 2019’s Modern Warfare. Where Modern Warfare took a dark, gritty and slightly more “realistic” approach to gameplay and combat, Cold War is geared towards players that are just looking for a fun time. While this isn’t a bad thing in the slightest, it does have a few drawbacks and CoD veterans who have been grinding out levels and Battle Passes on Modern Warfare are going to be in for a culture shock when they play.
Campaign: It’s Not The Fall That Kills You…
Just like the Black Ops titles that came before it (the one notable exception being Black Ops 4, which had no single player campaign), Cold War focuses more on the storyline in its main campaign than other CoD games. If there’s one thing that Treyarch has going for it over other studios, it’s that they know how to get their audience invested in the story. The game immediately drops you into a rooftop chase, pursuing a target with information on the whereabouts of another agent of the main antagonist, Perseus. Before long, you’re staking out targets at a runway in Turkey, tailing marks in Berlin and even infiltrating KGB Headquarters in Moscow.
While the campaign is enjoyable, it’s fairly short; I got through the main story in roughly 5-6 hours on Hardened difficulty, and that includes trying to do optional objectives and side missions. A cool feature that they added to the mix was the ability to create a dossier for your character, Codename “Bell,” where you put in whatever name, race, gender and perks you wanted for your character. The perks system was a fun little feature; I chose to give myself faster reload times and increased weapon damage, but there are fifteen different options to choose from. This allowed me to make the game fit my playstyle a little better than just hamfisting my way through waves of enemies.
Something that REALLY bugged me about the main story was both the pacing and the conclusion (don’t worry, no spoilers here!). The pace of the story was strange. One moment I’m in a pulse-pounding espionage scenario, the next I’m blasting my way through a warehouse. This was in the same mission with only a brief two-minute pause for transition. It did this more than once and left me feeling unsure about the campaign, not because I wasn’t having any fun with it, but because of how rapidly the same mission seemed to go from a silent game of cat-and-mouse to the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. This could be excused, however, if I had gotten a satisfying conclusion to the main story. But like the old saying goes, it’s not the fall that kills you; it’s that sudden stop at the bottom. Cold War suffers from the same problem. A pulse-pounding final mission ends abruptly without really doing anything. Mission complete, way to go, Bell!
It’s a problem that a lot of games and movies have been suffering from for a while now and everytime it happens, I feel a little cheated. I’m sure Treyarch is trying to set up for either Cold War 2 or some DLC down the road, but for a $60 AAA-title, it feels cheap and definitely took points away for me.
Multiplayer: A Master Class In Mediocrity
So we come to the meat of the review for a big portion of this game’s audience: the multiplayer experience. And again, if you’ve come here looking for Modern Warfare 2.0, you’ve come to the wrong place.
For starters, the pointstreak system is back in place, a big draw for a lot of players. Instead of being a requirement that you become Johnny Badass and kill multiple players in a row without dying, streaks are awarded from accumulating points throughout the match, delivering ordnance like cruise missiles, attack helicopters and napalm just from playing the objective. It gives players the ability to be able to turn the tide of battle without having to go full sweat.
Weapons feel good and come with a variety of attachments that are unlocked as you play with those specific weapons. One big advantage that Cold War has over Modern Warfare is that you can go into any weapon in the gunsmith and see what attachments are coming down the line instead of having to guess where and when you were going to get that upgrade. Skins, attachments and stickers are also available for you to customize your loadout, but as of the time of this writing, I’ve yet to unlock anything except skins so I can’t be sure what all is available.
Map sizes are fairly decent for six-versus-six matches and the eight currently available maps offer a variety of different feeling locations for players to experience. The layouts range from tight, narrow corridors in Moscow to a snow-covered Soviet bunker on a mountain side with plenty of wide, open areas for sniping. There never seems to be any point where there isn’t a frantic firefight to keep you engaged with enemies coming at you from all angles. In core gameplay, time-to-kill is good and feels slightly more balanced than Modern Warfare. Matches DO seem to drag on at points, though; I found myself more than once trying to figure out why the match hadn’t ended yet only to discover we were still 50 points away from winning. Part of this is due to the fact that I play on hardcore, where one or two bullets will take you down, so take this with a grain of salt.
There’s also a new game mode called Dirty Bomb, which is Cold War’s take on Modern Warfare’s Plunder. Teams of four battle it out on a snowy mountain side, looking for uranium and enemy targets to take down. Spread across the map are five dirty bombs that players must deposit uranium into in order to get the bombs primed for detonation. Once a bomb has enough uranium, teams must defend one of their players as they arm the bomb and detonate it. Doing so rewards the squad with a large amount of points and the first squad to 500 wins. It’s a fun take on Plunder and I really enjoyed it, but with a couple of notable issues which we’ll get to in a second.
So what issues does multiplayer have? For starters, the maps suck. That’s not to say that they aren’t good looking, because the game overall looks sharp and clean. But their overall design is just...meh. The one map I actually enjoy is Miami and I’ve only gotten to play on it once. There’s one map in particular that I just can’t stand and I seem to end up playing on it every fraking time; Cartel. It’s an open-air map but somehow manages to slap so many different buildings, objects and surfaces in the area that it feels far more closed off than some of the more tight-corridored maps. It’s an odd design choice and one that, for me, just doesn’t work. And you’re almost guaranteed to play on this map every other match thanks to Cold War’s map voting system in pregame lobbies. This almost ensures that fan favorites are going to be chosen every time and there’s nothing you can do about it except back out to the multiplayer lobby and find a new game to join (if the game allows you to do so; I’ve experienced three hard crashes trying to back out of lobbies). There are some fairly questionable design choices that are absolutely rage inducing. One map, Checkmate, takes place inside a hangar. The map itself is fine, but there’s one area where teams spawn in a back office. The other corner of the same side has an almost direct line of sight into this spawn point. Which means if you have the auto-turret and you set it up in said corner, you have the ultimate spawn-camping advantage and there’s nothing the enemy can do about it except hope your team pushes up too far and flips the spawn. I’m sure it was just a simple oversight, but it’s frustrating to be on the receiving end of that ass-whooping. This is one of the more extreme examples of mishandled map designs, but it does need to be mentioned.
Another issue with multiplayer is that the somewhat limited number of weapons and the very limited number of maps make for an overall repetitive experience after a while. It’s definitely an experience that leaves one satisfied for only a few games before starting to feel slightly burned out. Most players that I’ve encountered are running one of three different weapons (yes, one of them is the MP5) and it leads to rather predictable gunfights. It becomes even more frustrating in hardcore mode. To test how effective the MP5 was in that mode, I ran a game on Armada using ONLY that weapon. Even without ADS, all I had to do was walk in a room, hold down the trigger and keep firing until I was empty and added 3 more kills to my score. It’s this kind of mind-numbing repetition that had me thinking of other games I could be playing at that moment and that’s not a good thing for a title that just came out. Add on to that multiple connection issues where I couldn’t connect to friends, couldn’t join games or even find one and it’s easy to see why some players are already complaining.
My overall experience in multiplayer so far has just been slightly above average. It follows the basic structure of its predecessors and doesn’t really do much in terms of advancing the franchise. It’s eight maps of going in, finding the enemy and killing them over and over until one team is declared the winner. It’s a fun experience, but it’s not really pushing boundaries here. The one different game mode besides Dirty Bomb is called VIP Escort, which has been done in other games with varying success. It’s not my favorite game mode and not one I think I’ll willingly seek out, but it’s a different option for those wanting to experience it.
As far as Dirty Bomb is concerned, it’s an enjoyable change to standard multiplayer games but my experience with it was made with random squads who all but refused to work together. Prime example, we landed in close proximity to one of the bomb sites with very few others around us. I pinged the bomb to indicate that I wanted to go for the capture on that point (I was having issues with voice comms in game). While I was busy taking down two other full squads, my team was spread across the map, no where near my position. I had loaded enough uranium into the bomb to begin the detonation sequence but I couldn’t arm the bomb while continuing to fight off numerous enemies. So all of the hard work I put into trying to complete our objectives was for nothing. If you’re going to play Dirty Bomb, bring at least one other friend, otherwise this mode is pretty trash. Imagine dropping into Warzone quads as a solo and you have the general idea.
Let me go ahead and head off the complaints: yes, I realize that there is eventually going to be more content coming out for this game that will expand or enhance the overall experience I’m describing here, but I can’t review a game based on missing content. I have to review what’s here and what’s here is exactly what I’ve described above.
Zombies: Something Old, Something Older
Zombies mode is back and let me start by saying I really enjoy Zombies as a fun, cooperative break from the standard CoD experience. All of the familiar mechanics are back; purchasing better weapons during the match, picking up cool personal upgrades and getting game-changing drops from zombies like Insta-Kill or x2 Points. There’s even a fun little easter egg that pays tribute to one of the best memes on the internet at the moment (no spoilers!). Like the other modes, this one is best experienced with friends and it helps if you play with people who will communicate and coordinate with you.
But like everything else here, it’s business as usual. There’s nothing exceptional here; it’s fun, it’s enjoyable, it’s Zombies. It’s World at War Zombies with a couple more bells and whistles. Some players will sink hours and hours into the game for this mode alone and there’s nothing wrong with that. For me, however, it’s almost no different than any other Zombies mode from previous entries. In this hyper-competitive market, that just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Cold War is your standard CoD experience with a good story and decent multiplayer options. It’s not a bad game, but it’s also not an amazing one, either. It’s a very average experience that plays it safe and doesn’t take too many risks. For me, the developers played it too safe. With the many amazing titles that have come out recently and with others looming ahead, this is a very plain experience that doesn’t feel like it’s worth the price tag. If it goes on sale in the near future, I’d definitely recommend picking it up, but if it’s going to be choosing this title over another, you might wanna take a moment to consider other options.
Campaign Score: 6/10
Pros - Good story, likeable characters, engaging missions/level design
Cons - Short campaign, pacing issues, disappointing story conclusion
Multiplayer Score: 5/10
Pros - Balanced TTK, fun experience, solid gunplay
Cons - Poor map design, too few variations, boring/repetitive continued gameplay
Zombies Score: 5/10
Pros - Fun experience w/ friends, enjoyable gameplay
Cons - No new features, very repetitive