Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War13th November, 2020
PlatformPC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X
DeveloperLead: Treyarch & Raven Software. Support: High Moon Studios, Beenox, Activision Shanghai & Sledgehammer Games.
One song that I always turn to if I'm in for that life-affirming feeling is Just Older by Bon Jovi. Why am I mentioning that song at the start of this review of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War? That's because if any song could ever represent this game, it's that song. Maybe not the life-affirming part, but certainly saying that the series is happy with the skin it's in.
Call of Duty, as a series, lost me seven years ago. Ghosts was a load of rubbish, as was Advanced Warfare and Infinite Warfare. The ray of light in the series are those developed by Treyarch (except Black Ops 4). Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War highlights why Treyarch are the true standard-bearers of the Call of Duty franchise. Infinity Ward is busy reliving the last truly great game they developed, thirteen years ago, and Sledgehammer is fighting with other studios. Treyarch stepped in a year earlier than planned and brought with them a game that shows a return to true Call of Duty, for better and for worse.
The pet peeves I had with Call of Duty as a series close to a decade ago remain here. The pacing can be sloth-like, which highlights the shallow story in ways that shouldn't happen. You'll be waiting for your AI companions to play catch-up while you wait by gates and doors that you, as the protagonist, haven't figured out how to use. This is despite you having learned how to pull the trigger on every single piece of weaponry known to humankind while in the bloody crib, having been weaned on a diet of gunpowder, milk and patriotism.
Alongside the usual "let's wait for the AI to amble over" moments, the game is rife with features. It has more features than the cheapest escort has communicable diseases when the navy comes to town. You get to use an explodable RC car in the first two-part mission. You get to use a blacklight in one mission. In another, you're flying an attack helicopter. Quite a few doors have a lockpicking minigame that is literally 'find where it vibrates'. You also get to talk to and make decisions with how to deal with enemies in missions, deciding whether to kill them or not. You also get to have pointless chats with the other members of your squad in-between missions, adding character to Reagan's merry band of war criminals.
I mustn't forget the stealth sections either. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War has stealth sections. Only, a number of these stealth sections are then turned into shooty sections at the very last second. You'll be stealthing away, using another feature that lets you use your camera to mark bad guys. You'll then get to a certain point, a group of enemies will charge out of a room and instantly know where you are. Then the legion of Communists you've just managed to sneak around will now have to be dealt with. Your reward? A bloody achievement. I wouldn't mind, but there's some challenge in stealth, unlike the RC car, attack helicopter, lockpicking or whatever else nonsense.
I can't stand it. Stop telling us to sneak around if you're going to rip the veil away without any good reason. If you want a stealth section, keep it stealth. If you must have a shootout, at least make it realistic why it devolves into a shootout from the stealth. I don't care if it's that somebody has an apple pie in the oven and you need to shoot your way through to stop it from burning, it's at least more fitting than the crap this series pulls year after year.
So if it pulls the same mistakes that the series has for decades, can I truly be praising Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War? I can. As much as it treads the same ground and makes many of the same mistakes, it feels like the sort of Call of Duty game that made the series what it is today. The missions are well structured, the linear paths winding through enough scenery to make you feel like there's enough variety to keep it interesting. This game even offers reasons to wander a meter or two off of the beaten path and even backtrack.
This, along with the fact that you have multiple options available at points, makes Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War feel that little bit different. This is particularly true when you're actively tasked with finding evidence to unlock two side missions. You even get to work out the clues to unlock these side missions, not that they're difficult. It's something though, something that actually feels like it belongs. The true reason to enjoy this game is that, for all its sins, Call of Duty as a series has got first-person shooting combat down to a fine art. Previous attempts to change it have taken it further away, this revels in the fact that it knows exactly what it's doing.
Combat is exactly what you would expect of the game. It's quick, responsive and bombastic no matter which game mode you're in. The campaign is entertaining and features a fair few engaging set pieces. However, it is shallow, insane in direction, and continues parading out the same line that the US is somehow right in perpetually committing war crimes. It is the smaller piece from the trio of game modes that makes Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War but still one that I demand in any shooter of its type. I'll never forgive Black Ops 4.
So if the campaign is piece one of three, what are the other two pieces? Not that the question really needs asking. Treyarch has made a full story around the zombie mode they brought into the series, and it's as mind-bogglingly insane as the core story. So yes, there are zombies, and there's also multiplayer. Well, traditional multiplayer, since the zombie mode is also multiplayer and both of these have a few changes. One is changed for the better, the other for the worse.
Zombies. That's what is better. There is one map for the Zombie mode at launch, not including the arcade map. At first, this may sound like it would be worse, but no. The thing about the Die Maschine map is that it's hugely varied, features a wide number of paths that can be unlocked as you progress through, surviving against increasingly difficult waves, and has a chain of challenges for you to go through as you're doing it. All of this feels like a challenging and fulfilling mode, plus there are still several secrets to find and I haven't even touched upon the in-game upgrade systems and more.
As for multiplayer, this feels worse at the moment in time. Not when you're actually playing it. As with the rest of the game, the gunplay, the movement, everything feels great. It also incentivises players to not camp on points as well - unless defending one - keeping the game feeling fluid and keeping up the momentum. Also, one major boost for the likes of me is the fact that scorestreaks now clock up regardless of you dying. Yes, I imagine it's not great for those masters who were able to unlock all the high bonuses in earlier games, but this works for plebs like me who aren't masters or, more likely, aren't cheating.
I mentioned that regular multiplayer feels worse at the moment. As I've said, that's nothing to do with the feeling when you're playing the game and the new scorestreak system is great. The problem is that the number of maps is pretty bare. Eight in total to span the regular multiplayer and two for the larger fireteam mode. Another map, Nuketown '84, is expected to release next week. As it stands, the gameplay can keep you coming back, but the number of maps is too small to add that feeling of variety. This is especially true when so many areas in the campaign are begging for multiplayer-map releases.
While I'm on with negatives, I would be remiss if I didn't cover something that is an issue in all aspects of the game. It's in dire need of some fine-tuning. For the most part, I've got it running great on max settings, the options telling me that the game is using roughly 4.8GB of my card's 8GB VRAM. My system can handle the game, no issues. The issue is that the game will crash at certain parts of the campaign, requiring a complete scanning and verifying of the game files to let me pass. This happened to me four times. In multiplayer, again, it's just a little unstable. Throughout the game, all three modes, I've seen glitches like weapons and bodies going through solid objects, I've had grenades fly off into the air like they were magnetically opposed to the Earth and I've had AI and zombies not realise they were dead, just standing there. Also, connection issues, but saying a modern online-only game has connection issues is as redundant as saying snow is cold.
I should at least touch on the fact that Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War genuinely looks like a next-gen game. Aesthetically, it's top-notch. It's a comment I seem to be making more and more these days, but what helps this game is that it isn't just a parade of browns and greys. There are some greens and blues to be seen, plus even other colours. The audio-work is also excellent, letting you hear more around you, with excellent sounding weaponry, explosions and the general ambience.
So, as somebody who hasn't paid a single penny towards Activision Blizzard and actively opposed their recent practices, what do I think about Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War? Looking at the game alone, I can't help but feel like I've slipped into an old and comfortable pair of slippers. They're a little worn, but they're still inviting. That's exactly what this is, worn but inviting. It's starting to show some wear and tear, but the thing that people fell in love with is still holding its own if lacking its former lustre.
PC version reviewed. Copy provided by the publisher.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is as close to true call of Duty as you're likely to find in recent years, for better or for worse. The campaign does branch out a little, offering you side-missions that are unlocked through evidence gathering, which is fun. It's also engaging, featuring a good number of entertaining set pieces. However, it's also insane and has way too many throwaway 'features'. Multiplayer, and the zombie mode, are both very enjoyable to play and multiplayer has been made more engaging for those who used to struggle to get massive kill streaks. However, there's no doubt that the multiplayer is seriously lacking in maps. Also, the game needs some technical polish. Still, all in all, this is still a strong FPS and one that will keep fans coming back for more.
- Excellent visuals and audio to move into the next generation.
- Fast-paced and engaging gunplay, showing why CoD is still up there as a genre-leader.
- Engaging multiplayer that has been made more rewarding and accessible through the new scorestreak system.
- Zombie mode offers an engaging time with a hell of a lot to explore in just one map.
- Campaign branches out and offers some choice, which is a nice new feature...
- ... However, the story is absolutely absurd and treads old story beats.
- The campaign keeps throwing in 'features' that are underutilised and
- A few technical issues and glitches that desperately need ironing out.
- Multiplayer lacks in map variety.