Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War – Review

Last updated:
Release Date
November 12, 2020
Publisher
Activision
Developer
Treyarch
Platform
PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Reviewed on
PS4
Review copy provided by
Activision

The year is 1981, the Cold War is at its height as tensions run high across Europe. But unbeknownst to either the U.S and the Soviet Union, a plot to turn the Cold War into an outright Nuclear one is in the works. A dark figure lurks in the shadows, looking for something. As the mastermind of some of America’s greatest failures during the Cold War era, Perseus resurfaces again after nearly two decades under the radar. He will outstretch his hand once too often, and now the C.I.A. is hot on his heels once again. But is it too late to stop him from dealing the death blow to civilization?

Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War is a first-person shooter whose single-player campaign incorporates both action-heavy combat sequences with stealthy spy sequences. Its multiplayer mode, on the other hand, is most akin to a slower-paced arcade shooter with a heavy emphasis on positioning and quick reactions. To round out the experience, there’s the ever-present Zombies mode – with a few changes to the formula.

The main campaign starts with series favorites Woods and Mason, but players soon find out that the focus of the story is neither of them or the spy ring they are part of. Instead, the story mainly focuses on the custom character the player creates after the opening sequence of the game. Players create a file that includes their name, agency, and a couple of perks that they’ll use for the rest of the game. The first 2 are personal touches, the last one is a reason to try different perks over multiple playthroughs. Codename Bell, this new agent is assigned to Russell Adler’s team as some sort of codebreaker.

No empty threats.

Story progression is pretty linear. However, there are a couple of side missions that require finding collectibles to start properly. But even after collecting the right items, the player still needs to do a series of decryption mini-games to get the whole story. The clues change per playthrough, making it so that you can’t just plug in values, expecting to make progress without putting in the work.

During the main missions, the player chooses the fates of certain targets of interest. This branching story approach doesn’t really affect the overall story. In fact, the only choice that changes everything happens all the way at the end where there is a choice for a heroic ending, or a darker apocalypse one. The outcomes of the side missions also do not affect the ending. The most they’ll get is brief mentions of how they were handled, as seen through which side you ultimately chose.

Gunplay is as satisfying as ever in the Cold War. The weapons in the game feel impactful and rarely do they underperform at the ranges they are designed for. Enemy A.I. does its job well, for all intents and purposes. They’ll break cover when necessary and seldom do more than act like dummies in a shooting gallery. At higher difficulties, they are more accurate and deadlier to boot. Just don’t expect them to rush in within knife distance; that might be asking too much.

The Call of Duty Black Ops series is historically a fast-paced first-person shooter from start to finish. But this year’s Cold War campaign introduces a few new features never before seen in the series. Most notably there is an emphasis on spy sequences. This is in contrast to Black Ops’ nonstop shoot outs and brief moments of respite. The sequences themselves are alright for the most part. My only problem is how wonky the A.I. is when responding to player actions during stealth sequences.

There is a segment in the East Berlin mission that requires to not draw attention. Everything was going fine like clockwork… up until I reached a point when the guards just busted out through a building, intent on killing anything in the area. this seems to be a glitch or a broken sequence. A second run of the mission went exactly as intended. Even so, that one glitch left a sour mark on my overall experience.

Meeting Agent Park

In between missions, the player returns to a safe house where Adler’s team is hard at work tracking down Perseus. Aiding Adler are Park, Sims, and Lazar – all spies whose task is to provide support for the strike team. Talking to them reveals more about their character. A breath of fresh air for the series, in my honest opinion. For more fun things to do, there is a backroom somewhere that houses an arcade machine and a computer terminal. To access it, the player needs to input a hidden code from bits and pieces found around the building. It’s quite a task to be able to play Atari 2600 games and the opportunity to input commands on a terminal. I wonder if it’s anything like the terminal in the first Black Ops game?

Using the Evidence Board, players can select to start the next mission in the story or replay the past missions to look for collectibles. They can also use this space to examine evidence that is crucial for the side missions. As much as I wanted to get to the next firefight, I found the investigation aspect to be very appealing. It’s just a shame that the game could only have a couple of missions that require investigations. Fun fact, I did get great satisfaction in figuring out the hidden messages. So much so that I wished there were more.

What I really like about BOCW is how they tied the story with the first Black Ops title. Locations like Da Nang and Mount Yamantau brought back so many memories and that hit in nostalgia made me like the game even more. Heck, even serving under Jason Hudson was even fun for a change. I still feel the need to punch Mr. Ice Cube in the face to remind him that people aren’t expendable pawns, but that’s another issue entirely.

Ghost of the Past

Unfortunately, this brings us to the big plot twist near the end of the game. I’ll try to remain as vague as possible, but no guarantees if it’s too obvious. For anyone who knows what Black Ops is all about, this is nothing more than walking back on familiar grounds. I’m not saying that it wasn’t good or anything. I’m just saying that Black Ops did it first, and did it very well. The new game tries to put a new spin to it, but I wasn’t buying into it. I guess it was supposed to be an ‘Ahhhhh’ moment, but the build-up towards it felt underdeveloped. It’s a good thing this one part didn’t spoil the rest of my experience.

Some things I thought I’d never do in a mainline Call of Duty game, namely taking pictures of intel and lock picking. But in this game, they are very much present. They don’t do anything special with the ideas. The things you need to photograph light up enough to draw your attention and the lock picking is rotating the right stick around until something pops. Not the most interesting, but hey, they’re in the game.

One of the best sequences of the game is found in the KGB headquarters level. Our mole in the building is tasked to acquire a key card from a certain general. The game leaves it up to the player to decide how they wish to go about doing it. Several lethal and non-lethal methods are possible, allowing for creative freedom for once. What amazes me about the sequence is the fact the building doesn’t lack in the number of lockers to stuff bodies in. It certainly was fun enough to warrant replays.

Players create a file that includes their name, agency, and a couple of perks that they’ll use for the rest of the game. The first 2 are personal touches, the last one is a reason to try different perks over multiple playthroughs.

STAY BACK!

BOCW’s multiplayer feels like a missed opportunity for me. After playing a fair number of multiplayer matches, I can confidently say that the dev team wanted to retain the feeling of the older Black Ops games, specifically the 1st game. They did achieve this feat but at the cost of any innovation pushing the series forward. After playing Modern Warfare for the better part of the year, I wasn’t exactly a fan of the time to kill at first. But slowly, I managed to get used to it and even starting to favor it. Suddenly, support items like the stim inject are instantly valuable. It won’t help with a sniper headshot, but for everything else, it does.

Long story, short, Cold War’s multiplayer is in need of improvements. The mode launched with fewer maps than last year’s Modern Warfare and maps like Moscow and Miami is too large for 6v6 game modes. I do like that they try to keep the maps somewhat even. But there’s going to be Nuketown ’84 for that mirrored madness. In my opinion, just keep leveling weapons and farming levels in deathmatch, kill confirm, and seek and destroy. And wait patiently for the other modes to develop.

Zombies returns back to its roots. The first map, Die Maschine, is almost like the Nazi theater in the first Black Ops game. Players have to shoot zombies to earn enough points destroy obstacle to open up the map. The goal is to make to the heart of the underground facility and to turn on the power. Along the way, players can invest their points in crafting stations and soda machine buffs.

The first change to the Zombies formula is the addition of loadouts. No longer do players jump in with just a pistol and their courage. The loadouts make it so that you can create a formidable fire team with specialist roles off the bat. And you need all the firepower you’ll gonna get when the BIG zombies come barreling down on you. Thankfully, you now have the option of doing other things after completing the main objective. Players can call in an extraction every 10 rounds. You can either escape or stay a little longer to farm points. The mode is very intense, especially during encounters in close quarters. Even in open areas where you’re supposed to have the upper hand, I still felt dread and apprehension at the sight of a horde.

The other 2 modes in the Zombies are Dead Ops Arcade and Onslaught.

Different perspective, same objective

Dead Ops Arcade is what I would call a spiritual successor to the first Dead Ops Arcade of Black Ops. Essentially, it is a twin-stick shooter where you mow down a never-ending horde of zombies. The objective is to kill enough zombies to open up the door to the next arena. If a zombie gets close, then your character is dead. To compensate, there is an instant dash and bombing run to use as a last resort. Some notable changes are the usage of keys to unlock secrets and a pick up that changes the camera perspective to first-person. It’s a lot of fun for a pick-up and plays game mode.

Finally, Onslaught is a straight forward game mode that sees the team starting around a floating orb. A death barrier surrounds the orb so keeping within its Area of Effect is key to survival. Zombies spawn within proximity of the orb and the players must keep killing to make the orb move to the next location. A special zombie called the Megaton appears from time to time to mess the team-up. It’s all about surviving with game mode. The thrill comes with having to deal with unexpected difficulty spikes.

In terms of visuals, it looks uniquely Black Ops. Brighter color pallets as compared to last year’s Modern Warfare. The real stars of the show, however, are the big action set pieces. To me, they’re almost like the ones in Black Ops, but a boom for a boom the explosions look a lot more detailed this time around. The gun noises and other sound effects are on par with series standards. Nothing much else to say there.

Can’t be 80’s without Neon Lights

Black Ops Cold War tried some new things the series has yet to do. The whole espionage aspect has potential to it if only the game didn’t feel like it needed to fall back to its strengths of big explosive battles and run-and-gun corridor shootouts. Nevertheless, the game succeeds in parts of the game that’s nearly neglected in practically all past games – the quiet segments where talking is involved. Getting to know the crew for once was more interesting than I initially thought. Maybe this is something the series might want to revisit in later games. Hopefully refining the experience.

The multiplayer aspect is lackluster. The maps in the current pool are very well designed but they feel like they’re mostly redesigns of past maps. Except for Nuketown ’84. That is a COD classic since its first appearance back in Black Ops. The weapons take a very long time to level up, but hopefully, there are more double XP days coming in the near future. The Zombies game modes are light on content, but I’m expecting that to change as the year goes by. In the meantime, it’s good for a weekend. Just to round out the BOCW experience.

For the most part, the short-ish campaign can be rushed over a long weekend. Fortunately for the Black Ops Cold War, there are enough choices that might entice most players to go over the campaign at least one more time. For gameplay enthusiasts, there is always fun to be had messing around with perk combinations and higher difficulty settings. All-in-all, it’s a highly polished experience that plays it a little too closely on the safe side.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War – Review
Score Definition
We tell you, it’s a good game! It’s not average! It might have some problems here and there, but you have to admit it is a “Good” game.
Pros
Solid gunplay
Intense moment to moment gun fights
Intriguing new direction in the way stories are told in the franchise
Collectibles have actual value this time
Decipher mini games were quite fun
Cons
The big story twist near the end is no surprise to anyone who's played Black Ops
Stealth is either hit or miss. Mostly miss.
The spy segments felt underdeveloped compared to the action segments
Short campaign length
7
Good