Black Ops Cold War is a wildly inconsistent experience.
Ever since Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare came out in 2014, the Call of Duty franchise has operated on a three years, three developers cycle, with Sledgehammer Games, Infinity Ward, and Treyarch each getting their turn to pump out a new game in the series once every three years. After Treyarch’s Black Ops 4 in 2018 and Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare reboot in 2019, it was supposed to be Sledgehammer at the helm this year for their third game in the series, but following development troubles, Activision had to alter their plans.
Black Ops Cold War sees Raven Software leading development on a CoD campaign for the first time ever, while Treyarch pull an early shift to shoulder the responsibility of the multiplayer and Zombies modes- and the final game very much seems to have suffered as a result of that confused development cycle. Where Raven Software have delivered an interesting and one of the more unique Call of Duty campaigns I’ve played in some time, Treyarch’s efforts on the multiplayer front are much more inconsistent, and at launch, sort of disappointing.
"Where Raven Software have delivered an interesting and one of the more unique Call of Duty campaigns I’ve played in some time, Treyarch’s efforts on the multiplayer front are much more inconsistent, and at launch, sort of disappointing."
Acting as a direct sequel to 2010’s Black Ops, Cold War’s campaign sees Mason, Wood, and Hudson returning, with newcomer Adler thrown into the mix as well, for what is a short but varied and very enjoyable single player campaign. Player choice is a greater focus here than you’d expect from a Call of Duty game. You start off by creating your own character, choosing your gender, some of your background details, and a couple of permanent gameplay perks. Missions often present you with narrative choices that determine whether certain characters live or die, cutscenes are often dominated by dialogue choices, and the campaign even flirts with the idea of letting you complete objectives one of multiple ways.
The narrative choices themselves don’t end up making too much of a difference in the long run (which of the multiple endings you get boils down to a pretty binary choice in the end), and other gameplay-centric choices could certainly have been fleshed out more, but I appreciate the fact that Call of Duty has even attempted something like this. I certainly hope that these ideas are emphasized even further in future campaigns, but what I still liked what I saw in Black Ops Cold War.
Mission variety in the campaign is also strong. You have your typical, bombastic missions and firefights, and as you’d expect from a Call of Duty game, they’re high-octane, thrilling set pieces that deliver just the right amount of adrenaline. Where the campaign really shines, though, is in the quieter moments. Some of the missions put a greater emphasis on stealth, leaning more heavily into the corny Cold War-era spy thriller setting of the story, and these are by far the best parts of the campaign. From sneaking past enemies to hiding bodies to tagging them with binoculars, these missions feel like a breath of fresh air in a Call of Duty experience, and I sincerely hope that we get more of these in future games.
"Black Ops Cold War offers a short but varied and very enjoyable single player campaign."
The campaign also offers a couple of side missions, which involve using collectibles you’ve picked up from across several main missions and using clues attached to them to solve puzzles, and the missions that these clues lead to tie into the story in interesting ways. I do wish there were more side missions to tackle, because I really liked the idea of tying main mission collectibles into puzzles, and tying puzzles into side missions- and the execution of that idea is just as solid. Meanwhile, between missions, you can explore a warehouse where you can interact with members of your Black Ops squad. It’s a great place to exist in, allowing you to dive into emails or clippings on the evidence board to gain further insight into the story, or interacting with a mostly strong cast of characters to learn more about their pasts and their personalities.
But as is ever the case in Call of Duty, the real meat and potatoes of the experience is the multiplayer- which is a bit of a double-edged sword here, because the meat and potatoes here is rather lean and inconsistent, at least at launch. All told, there’s less than a dozen multiplayer maps, and it won’t take long before cycling through that small selection leads to repetition in maps. It doesn’t help that the actual map design itself is a bit inconsistent. There are certainly a few good ones in here, and I particularly like playing matches in the likes of Moscow and Crossroads, but then there are others that present problems that Call of Duty fans will be familiar with.
Armada has a lot of interiors and tight corridors, but set across three separate ships connected only by ziplines, it also has a lot of large open spaces, making the map a bit of a haven for snipers. Meanwhile, there’s Checkmate, which is chock-full of blind corners, tight corridors, and cramped interiors, and is basically a breeding ground for campers. Black Ops Cold War is, of course, going to receive additional maps over the course of the coming year (and hopefully, they’ll be more consistent and better balanced in terms of design), but at launch, its offerings are lean and erratic.
"As is ever the case in Call of Duty, the real meat and potatoes of the experience is the multiplayer- which is a bit of a double-edged sword here, because the meat and potatoes here is rather lean and inconsistent, at least at launch."
When it comes to the modes, all of the Call of Duty classics make a return, from Team Deathmatch and Search and Destroy to Domination and Kill Confirmed, while there’s some new modes as well. There’s Fireteam (which only has the Dirty Bomb variant available right now), which sees multiple squads of players collecting and depositing uranium at certain points in the map and detonating bombs to score points, and there’s Combined Arms, which puts the focus on capturing objectives in large-scale matches between two teams with a particular emphasis on vehicles. Fireteam didn’t make much of an impression on me, though I have really enjoyed my time in Combined Arms.
There are some more granular changes that Black Ops Cold War makes that might not sit well with some, most notably how it swings the gameplay style’s pendulum back in favour of fast-paced, arcade-style matches. TTK is much lower, weapons don’t have the sort of weight that they did in, say, Modern Warfare, and mechanics such as being able to plant weapons have been removed. Meanwhile, scorestreaks are the name of the game again, leading to almost relentless chaos at times. The Create-a-Class system has seen some neat improvements though, including picking wildcards for your class and being able to equip field upgrades as part of your loadout. They’re iterative changes, but they work out well enough.
This being a Treyarch-developed (or at least co-developed) Call of Duty game, Black Ops Cold War also has a Zombies mode- which is really beginning to show its age. It takes a back-to-the-basics approach, but it feels a bit too basic. The wave-based mode feels more repetitive and stale than ever, offering only minor iterative changes (such as allowing you to use your custom multiplayer loadouts), and while I imagine Zombies is still going to be fun when played with a group of friends, by and large, the mode mostly feels like an afterthought, included more due to some unspoken obligation to the Black Ops series and fanbase than anything.
"This being a Treyarch-developed (or at least co-developed) Call of Duty game, Black Ops Cold War also has a Zombies mode- which is really beginning to show its age. It takes a back-to-the-basics approach, but it feels a bit too basic."
2010’s Call of Duty: Black Ops is probably my favourite game in the series, so when I heard that 2020’s game would be serving as a direct sequel to that Treyarch masterpiece, I was excited beyond belief. Having spent plenty of time with Black Ops Cold War, though, I can conclusively say that I’ve been let down. The multiplayer feels like a step back from recent years in terms of mechanics and map design, and is surprisingly lean for a Call of Duty game in terms of content. Zombies is in desperate need of a reinvention. And though I really enjoyed the campaign (in spite of some ideas that I feel needed a bit more time to breathe), I cannot recommend a $60 purchase (or $70, if you’re on the newer consoles), purely based on the brief campaign, especially not when the excellent Warzone is available to everyone for free.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
The campaign has a lot of interesting ideas; Solid mission variety, with stealth missions being particular highlights; Some well-designed maps; Create-a-Class system sees some neat improvements.
The campaign doesn't emphasize choice and stealth as much as it should have; Multiplayer is much more chaotic and arcade-like; Not a lot of maps available at launch; Inconsistent map design; Zombies desperately needs a reinvention.
While the single player campaign has some interesting ideas, Black Ops Cold War is let down by anemic content offerings, a Zombies mode that is starting to show its age, inconsistent map design, and some odd regressions, all of which makes this an unfortunately easy recommendation to skip, at least at launch.