I’m pretty sure I’ve purchased every Call Of Duty at launch since Modern Warfare 2. I’ve always been a fan of the series, with the gunplay reaching heights I hadn’t seen since the old Medal Of Honor franchise (may it rest in peace). I’ve always been invested in Call Of Duty, but the truth is, I’ve not always been “invested” in Call Of Duty. What I’m speaking of here is time, not money. I would grab them, play the campaign (usually), play a couple multiplayer matches with friends and then discard it for the next game that came along. I always intended to play it more, but that was just the way it went.
Then a pandemic happened. Sad that it took that to make me really get into one of the greatest FPS’s of all time in the 2019 Modern Warfare. I was stuck at home, away from family, so we decided if we couldn’t meet in person we could at least shoot up some bad guys and chat online. Since then I’ve put over eight days and fifteen thousand kills into the game, so if you can’t tell by those numbers I’ve become “invested” in what I have invested in.
The question November 13th will present me with is, “Are you ready to invest in Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War?” Well, I’ve gotten hands on with the game, so let’s take a look and see what Treyarch has done to pull us in.
While I shouldn’t have to say this, Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War does indeed feature a campaign. The reason I even have to bring it up is Treyarch’s last outing, Black Ops 4, did not. Studio co-head Dan Bunting said at the time, “That was just not part of our plan”, but things change as you get feedback from the community, and I’m glad Treyarch reintroduced something they do extremely well.
The campaign starts with a montage of news from the 80s. This game aims to add a little bit of history into your Black Ops experience, even though we obviously wouldn’t know about these dealings. The focus is the Soviet infiltration of the US, and the team that is tasked with dealing with that. You’ve got the standard, “bad guy wants to cripple the world and build a new order” kind of storyline here, and that’s okay. We’re used to these from our time with previous Call Of Duty titles.
Black Ops Cold War however gets really intriguing with something we’ve never seen in the Call Of Duty franchise before, character creation. While you do spend some time with Mason and company, you mainly play as a character dubbed Bell that you have a bit of choice in customizing. I really liked the backstory choices, which can influence your health and reload speed, as well as other traits. It may not even be an lite RPG by these standards, but it’s something different and I appreciate that. This also works its way into the story, but I don’t want to give that away.
Speaking of the campaign, it’s about as long as you’d expect from a Call Of Duty game, but maybe a bit shorter. I say shorter, but I wonder if I just enjoyed my time with it and wasn’t ready for it to end. Treyarch jumped straight into the spy angle that’s been hinted at in previous Black Ops games, and it works tremendously in Cold War. Some of the levels even bring to memory Medal Of Honor: Frontline with its espionage storylines. If you love 80s spy movies, you’re bound to love this. One of my favorite levels is Brick In The Wall, and there’s definitely a feeling of accomplishment to be unnoticed as you sneak through the streets of East Berlin.
The bad guy you’re chasing through this campaign is an enigma, Perseus. I’m not going to go into any spoiler territory, but I have to say the villain was a disappointing part of the story. It was almost like a Marvel movie set up, the focus is so much on the main cast they don’t flesh out the bad guy. The narrative is good mind you, with some great reveals and even cameos you don’t expect, but Perseus isn’t a good villain in Black Ops Cold War.
As for the gunplay, this is a Treyarch game, so expect it to be fast and furious. I thought I tend to fly around the map when I play Modern Warfare, but Black Ops Cold War is in a league of its own. If you don’t want to just run, the campaign doesn’t punish you for it, you can just sit back and take your shots at your own pace. I never felt overwhelmed by what was happening around me, and muscle memory seemed to continue to kick in as I used each weapon. By the way, these things straight up shoot beams, since as with most Black Ops games there’s rarely recoil. Treyarch seems to favor power fantasy over realism, and while I love Modern Warfare and the kick of it’s armory, the effortlessness of Black Ops Cold War has grown on me since the beta.
Speaking of kick, we need to talk about the DualSense implementation on the PlayStation 5, because it is glorious. The team at Treyarch have embraced the capabilities of Sony’s new controller, making every round feel impactful. Even running and then sliding to a halt, you’ll feel a slight bump as you whip to a halt. Holding a sniper rifle aloft is a harder pull on the left trigger, followed by a sharp crack from the right trigger pull, whereas a LMG has a thump that feels somehow “deeper”. Every weapon has some slight nuance that makes them feel unique, and it’s impressive to see this level of dedication for just one platform.
While there are many things to compliment Black Ops Cold War on, there are still criticisms I have. Modern Warfare set a standard when it comes to visuals, and even though Black Ops Cold War looks good, it doesn’t exactly meet that. Understandably Treyarch didn’t have as much time as Infinity Ward to assemble the game, and they’re reworking a previous engine as opposed to Modern Warfare’s overhaul, but Black Ops Cold War is just not as crisp on a PS4 Pro as it’s predecessor. I know for a fact once I see this thing on PS5 it’ll be gorgeous, but not everyone will have that experience.
Similarly the loading for current generation owners is also not so great. The initial startup for the campaign has you in the dark, and it starts with a lighter firing up. I almost restarted the client it took so long to load that beginning scene. Next-gen SSDs are the future, and I can’t wait to play this on PS5, but anyone who is stuck right now is going to be disappointed.
The last criticism I want to bring up is the ending. Like Black Ops 2, you’re going to have a few endings, and the game does have a mission select to make it very easy to get to them. It’s even pretty obvious what one you’ll get with the dialogue choices you’re presented with (even though dialogue is largely pointless in this game). But here’s the thing, the good ending is not an astounding feat of design. You play the level, and it’s all over. This ending definitely ranks in the lower half of Call Of Duty’s I’ve played. That said, the bad ending? Honestly, they should’ve gone with this one, but there’s definitely a reason why they went the way they did for canons sake. All I will say is, play that ending, I had a blast and it made up for the drabbness of the good ending.
As much fun as Black Ops campaigns are, we know why most people jump into Call Of Duty, and that’s the multiplayer. As I mentioned in the intro, I’ve put a ton of that time into Modern Warfare. My concerns with Black Ops Cold War were always founded in a singular idea, “Will I enjoy a different type of gunplay?”. These are two games that may look similar but play very different, and I’m happy to say that Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer has continually exceeded my expectations since the beta.
One thing developers never get enough credit for is tweaking existing systems up to launch in order to have everything run as smoothly as possible. The things that annoyed me and I’m sure others in the beta have definitely been worked on, and I’m enjoying every second of this multiplayer. It’s not easy for a guy who plays hardcore exclusively to get into core modes, but Black Ops Cold War has such fast gameplay I don’t even mind it. I haven’t been able to try the hardcore mode as of yet, but I already feel like my head’s going to have to be on a swivel constantly. If it isn’t obvious from what I’ve been saying throughout this review, Black Ops Cold War can operate at a blistering pace, and that is more than evident in the multiplayer.
Something that many will be excited about is the return of scorestreaks. If you’re like me, you constantly die, and killstreaks leave no margin for error. Scorestreaks on the other hand allow the player to earn spy planes, care packages, and more whether they did or not. I was worried initially this would cause there to be too many streaks on the map, but Treyarch again has tweaked this system to allow good players to prosper, while more casual players can at least get a streak in to feel like they’ve accomplished something.
One of the things most refined in Black Ops Cold War is the meshing of the old “Pick Ten” loadout system into the Modern Warfare loadout system. Modern Warfare did this one right, and I’m glad Black Ops Cold War is following in their steps. While some things have changed others have returned, like Wildcards, which give you the ability to change the rules of the loadout to your advantage. One of the ones I can see plenty of people using is the Gunfighter wildcard, which allows for three additional attachments on your primary weapon. This is the key for this entire system, including create-a-class, a ridiculous amount of customization. Going big was going to be the only way to match the fidelity of Modern Warfare, and it’s nice to see Treyarch didn’t sit back on their laurels and just insert the exact same system into the game.
Somewhere Treyarch didn’t go as big is the amount of maps for the initial launch. There are ten total, albeit with variations of them for different game types. I know there are some who won’t be as excited with the map total, but with a robust post-launch plan featuring completely free content, it’s hard to be annoyed with what you’re getting upfront. I’ve played all of the maps, and so far there aren’t any I don’t like. I think Garrison is probably my favorite right now, a large military warehouse with lots of cover and the classic three lane design. All of the maps sport a different look, from the flashy neon of Miami to the jungle foliage of Cartel, and I love how unique each map feels, even if the flow of them can be very analogous. Sure, we’ve probably played similar maps in previous Call Of Duty titles, but I’m looking forward to learning each one and their spawns.
Where Treyarch didn’t skimp out is the sheer amount of modes you’ll be playing. You’ve got all the classics, Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Domination, Hardpoint, and even more. But the real winner is three new modes in Combined Arms, Fireteam; Dirty Bomb, and VIP Escort.
Combined Arms is more or less a smaller scale version of Ground War. You and your teammates will be fighting to control several points on the map in a domination style battle. The reason this mode works so well is both the lower soldier count, but also the addition of vehicles. Utilizing snowmobiles, tanks, and ATVs could be the difference in whether or not your team takes the victory. I always get Battlefield vibes playing this mode, but it’s much faster paced and fits the Call Of Duty style in a unique way.
Fireteam: Dirty Bomb is one of the more interesting new additions. Ten teams of four spawn in Warzone-style and drop in toward several bomb sites, and as you kill enemies and search the area you find uranium which is then used to “fill” these bombs. The way to win? Fill the bombs and detonate them. There are a lot of similarities to Warzone in Dirty Bomb, but it’s like taking the best of a large scale Ground War match and making it different by adding those properties. It’s easy to tell you’ll want to play this with a team, because coordination will be what wins this one for you. It does run a bit long, as the bomb sites respawn once detonated, but this will definitely be a great entry point for a Warzone newbie who wants to start small, or a Warzone veteran who wants something different to play.
VIP Escort is my favorite new game type in Black Ops Cold War. I’m already a fan of Search and Destroy, but this takes it to another level. VIP Escort plays largely like S&D, but with one of your teammates being the “bomb”. If you’re attacking, you’ll be running to one of two extraction sites to get your buddy out, with the enemy team most likely splitting up to combat said extraction. The VIP is equipped only with a pistol, smoke grenade, and a spy plane, and the avatar change is pretty obvious to the defenders, so protecting them is of the utmost importance. The defending team truly has an advantage, all they have to do is kill the VIP and it’s match over. The amount of strategy involved is amazing, and I’m sure anyone who enjoys S&D will be more than ready to jump right in. This is how you make multiplayer fun; take existing modes, modify them, and use your creativity to make them shine.
Now Zombies, while iconic, has never been a draw for me. After playing Die Maschine for awhile in Black Ops Cold War, that’s probably going to change, and I can’t wait to see how this feels playing with my group of friends. This is a horde mode at it’s finest, with a deep progression system that is definitely more than just shooting zombies until you die.
Die Maschine is the first chapter of the “Dark Aether” storyline, which features the return of Nacht Der Untoten. As part of the Requiem team assigned to learn the dark secrets hidden inside an abandoned WWII bunker, it’s up to you and three others to fight your way through the waves upon waves of Zombies. Honestly, the Zombies mode doesn’t have to do much to be awesome. They have a perfect formula that only can use tweaking from time to time, so the key is finding ways to keep current players engaged as well as make it more inviting to new players.
In talking with Corky Lehmkuhl, Studio Creative Director of Treyarch, making the game more accessible to new players is definitely a focus for the Zombies team. I technically fall into the group they’re trying to engage with, and I’m very impressed with their efforts. One of the main things I noticed is the ability to bring your loadouts from multiplayer with you into Zombies. For a new player, this makes the mode much less intimidating being able to bring your trusty customized MP5 or XMR with you. Fear not, weapons and mystery boxes are still available around the map, so if you get bored with what you have or want to try something new, you have plenty available for you. The pace is also as frantic as you may remember if you’ve played before, with the zombies getting tougher and tougher as you fight them away. The rate at which Die Maschine expands is incredible in and of itself, with a big map getting larger once you find the lower levels, and the changing that ensues once you figure out the secret of the facility (no spoilers here, play it yourself!).
If you get to a point where you’ve been playing for awhile and need a break, you also don’t have to die as the new Exfil option will let you duke it out with a few more zombies in hopes of making it to the chopper. There are also rewards for successfully getting out, so it makes the experience more fluid as well as manageable. I mean, there’s nothing worse than having to die just to go to the bathroom.
Something else super beneficial to players who don’t want to spend their precious time away from multiplayer is a global progression system. I totally understand only having so many hours in a day to play a game or two, and doing this allows you to earn weapon, personal, and battle pass experience no matter what you’re playing. Being able to level up my MP5 whether shooting online or zombie opponents is a boon to all of us who have to make very specific choices with the timeframes we have. Another benefit? That fantastic cross-play that was introduced with Modern Warfare is back, so your buddy on Xbox or PC or even a new PS5 can still join you. I’m impressed by how the Call Of Duty franchise has gone from paywalling everyone into corners to one of the most inclusive experiences in gaming.
The last thing I want to talk about in regards to Zombies is the Onslaught mode. Sure, it’s exclusive only to PlayStation, but it’s a whole lot of fun. It follows the same rules of Zombies, with multiple rounds and progressively tougher zombies, but it throws in multiplayer maps as your playground and reduces the player count to an intimate two player group. You also have an additional guideline, stay inside a circle (similar to the circle in Warzone) projected by an orb that you follow around the map while killing zombies to feed it energy. Each time it fills, you make it to the next round. There is also plenty of Zombie goodness in random perks, ammo dumps, and bonus drops like Max Ammo that you have the chance to grab. Onslaught is a wonderful change of pace, and it moves even faster than the already quick Zombies mode.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
Black Ops has absolutely returned with a vengeance. The fast, frantic pace is still there, and the gunplay is still just as great as you remember it. While the campaign may be the weakest part of an overall phenomenal package, it’s still very satisfying and the espionage narrative packs a punch. The modes people are going to play the most, multiplayer and Zombies, are the strongest parts of Black Ops Cold War, and offer the best first person shooter gameplay in video games. PS4 and Xbox One players may be missing out on several improvements offered by the next-gen systems and PC, but it’s not enough to detract from an amazing experience. My appetite for Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is definitely growing, and like Duran Duran, “I’m hungry like the wolf”.