Platforms: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Having fallen off of Modern Warfare as it wasn’t my cup of tea, I was happy to find that Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is more my jam. Though the launch of the game isn’t as strong as it could be, Treyarch and Raven Software have crafted a great entry in the series that more than makes up for my issues with previous titles.
Unlike Black Ops 4, Cold War is a complete package with its single player story, online multiplayer, and the latest Zombies experience. Though it stumbles in some areas, the overall package is a true return to form for the series that is welcoming to new and old fans alike.
Black Ops Cold War’s Campaign Is Fresh and Fun
One concern I had with Black Ops Cold War was the idea of returning to the 1980s and its single-player story being a sequel to the original Black Ops game. I’m typically a fan of the modern and more futuristic games in the series, like Call of Duty 4 and Black Ops 3, but Cold War has a unique feel to its story and gameplay that feels fresh.
Though we are going back to the older days with familiar characters like Frank Woods and Jason Hudson, Raven Software reinvents the single-player story campaign by making it much more personal to the point where you create your own character.
The character customization is limited to skin color, gender, and some backstory details but it does actually affect gameplay, too. In my case, I chose to be an ex-KGB agent, causing characters in the story to comment on this matter about the special insight I have into the shadowy struggles between the United States and the Soviet Union.
You’re able to select your personality, too, which affects stats like how much health you have, how much damage you take in certain situations, and so on. These personalization details extend to the gameplay as well as there is some level of choice in conversations and missions.
There are moments sprinkled throughout the campaign where you can choose to kill someone or capture them, sneak around or go guns blazing, and so on. The choices have little consequence on the actual story but it is a welcome system that I hope leads to much more in the future.
As for the campaign as a whole, it does have a bit of a generic Call of Duty feel to it with the added benefit of looking amazing on PS5. The various locales from Germany to Vietnam and much more vary considerably and have a level of detail, lighting, and quality that makes Cold War the prettiest shooter I’ve ever played, especially in the campaign.
But it does lack substance when it comes to the story. Most of the missions are there to have the cookie-cutter examples of how to sneak around, how to pilot a helicopter, the on-rails shooting segments, and so on. The twists and writing feel like a fairly generic blockbuster plot as you hunt down the elusive Perseus but what I did like about the story is its pacing.
This might be the first Call of Duty campaign where it nails the natural ebb and flow of an actual plot. It has the bombastic crazy sections you expect but also the quieter, more character-driven moments and the flow between them is nice. While the execution needs more work with the writing and characters, there is a solid foundation here that could bode well for future games.
Black Ops Remains the Gold Standard for Multiplayer
Like many past games, Black Ops Cold War excels the most when it comes to the multiplayer portion. The gameplay is the finest to date, making good on the speed and precision that is necessary for a Call of Duty game while mostly nailing the time to kill and weapon balance.
The general movement and feel of the title are great as every shot feels purposeful and fair. Even though there is a lack of weapons at this time, it does help each gun to have its place and feel valuable in combat if you are good at it. Not every new map is made equal but there is only one bad map in my opinion.
Satellite remains the worst addition to the roster with its unbalanced design and a heavy focus on sniper rifles, making it terrible for Domination and other objective-based modes. Other than that, though, the maps are generally good or at least decent enough to not be frustrating to play on.
Armada, Crossroads, and Moscow are standouts of the map roster, each one providing totally different locales and working for most game modes. Even though I had issues with Miami and Cartel in the beta, they feel much better in the full game and aren’t nearly as frustrating as they were.
Then there are the final two maps of Garrison and Checkmate that weren’t available until now. Neither one is especially great nor my favorite but they are good enough additions that feel like standard maps. As for the game modes, even these have been adjusted some to feel better than in the beta. Especially in the case of Combined Arms: Assault where the total match time has been adjusted to feel right compared to how it was in the beta, even if I’m still not a fan of the overtime method when a tie happens.
The game modes for six-on-six matches are the standard ones like Team Deathmatch, Domination, and Search & Destroy with a heavier emphasis on large team matches with new modes like Combined Arms: Domination and Fireteam: Dirty Bomb, the former of which has become my go-to.
The larger team battles feel right in Cold War, offering a different gameplay style that is sometimes slower-paced and has vehicles. It’s different from what I’m used to in Call of Duty but a nice change of pace from the same repetitive cycle of run and gun, die and respawn that is in the base modes.
The addition of hardcore game modes from the start is nice but the lack of a traditional ranked playlist is disappointing for those who prefer that highly competitive scene. I also didn’t have as many connection issues as I've seen others have online since launch but the occasional disconnect and lag did happen a couple of times across several dozen matches.
As for progression, it feels purposeful and surprisingly fast in Black Ops Cold War, making the slog through match after match to level up worth it since I always saw something in the results screen that I unlocked, be it a new perk, weapon, or attachment.
Customizing the loadout is simplified and welcoming, too, having as little or as much depth as you want it to. You can stick to the default loadouts for starting out in the game or customize every little detail from the perks you have to equipment to the various attachments you want for your weapon in the Gunsmith.
Zombies Mode Lacks Content
In the trifecta of Black Ops Cold War game modes, the final one is Zombies, which I found to be the most disappointing of all. Like the rest of the game, it makes incremental changes to the overall formula that feel nice but the mode lacks in other areas. There is a single map, Die Maschine, available in normal Zombies.
It’s a remake of the very first Zombies map from World at War, it is large and complicated, evoking feelings of playing the wave-based zombie game back in the early Black Ops days. It feels and looks great with a more simplified progression system for turning on the power and unlocking new areas that work well.
The return of the fan-favorite Pack-a-Punch machine and mystery box is engaging and brings me back to the golden years of Zombies in the process. The quality-of-life improvements like being able to bring in a gun from multiplayer from the start, having shared progression so you’re unlocking stuff no matter which mode you play, and being able to finish the match early go a long way towards making Zombies feel more substantial and important.
But these welcome improvements only make it suck more that there is only one map to play on. Even though I only checked it out a handful of times, seeing the same location over and over got old real fast, especially when compared to past games that had multiple maps right out of the box. The same can be said for Dead Ops Arcade 3 that has that classic top-down wave experience but not enough variation to be worth grinding over and over.
Onslaught is an interesting addition, though, that takes Zombies and puts it on the normal multiplayer maps. It does shake up the formula quite a bit but the singular two-player option is disappointing, especially as the later rounds feel built for four players.
While the Zombies mode feels incomplete at this time, the rest of the Black Ops Cold War package is a great foundation for the seasons and content to come. It returns Black Ops, as well as Call of Duty as a whole, back to its roots in a next-gen take that feels and looks right on PS5.