Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War Review - They see me Reagan, they hatin' 7

While I may now be in the minority when it comes to Call of Duty players, I do look forward to each annual release of Activision’s blockbuster shoot ’em up as I really enjoy the Michael Bay-styled single-player campaigns that the franchise has become known for.

The Campaign

Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War Review - They see me Reagan, they hatin' 8

You just know that each year the campaign will lead you down a path that will involve massive explosions, large setpieces, and the ability to single-handily save humanity from yet another nefarious villain which no man (or woman, or non-binary person) could stop until you arrived on the scene. And this year’s campaign is no different…but it is. Same same, but different.

Early on in Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War you’re presented with a classified briefing that allows you to detail your classified name, classified gender, and classified personality before it goes into the secret filing cabinet of American bureaucracy. This is actually quite a clever way to customise your character as you can also choose your race, gender (they do include non-binary), and personality traits, I selected overly violent and easy to anger as that felt perfect for a Call of Duty game. Then as you progress through the selections you made, they’re utilised in the narration. It’s a small feature but it is nice to see your name appear in briefings.

Then you’re off on the campaign trail, which intelligently allows you to jump through timelines and places in a way that feels logical and consistent with the overall experience. The Cold War campaign has you fighting in close quarters combat in Vietnam, sniping enemies across snowy mountain valleys and then diving into some insane building-to-building battles inside of European cities. While the campaign is the usual linear storyline, you’re also handed a multitude of opportunities where you get to decide on how the story will proceed. I do still wonder what would have happened if my prisoner hadn’t tripped and fallen off that multi-story building after I accidentally shoved him… accidents do happen, especially when I’m in control of them.

In another moment in the story you’re faced with a few options on how to break into a secret area, and you could either attempt to arrange for a duplicate of a security card for a covert entry or you could frame someone in the hope of getting your hands on his card along with a few other possible options. It makes the Cold War story feel more immersive and it’s definitely an improvement in gameplay but I’m still not entirely sold on it being what I want from a Call of Duty campaign.

Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War Review - They see me Reagan, they hatin' 9

I’ve now completed the campaign, gone back, and changed some of my actions to see what happens and in certain situations the changes to the way the story plays out are huge… and in other instances, it feels a bit like a false promise. I haven’t redone all the options and as such, it feels like there is a lot of replayability in the campaign, but at the same time I don’t have the nice completion feeling I usually have after a campaign.

But that isn’t the part of the storyline I liked the least. For me the heavy use of stealth in missions felt a little too forced. Stealth has always been a part of the Call of Duty campaigns, with easily the best example being the Call of Duty 4 Ghillie Suit mission. But in Cold War, it often felt a little too reliant on these sections and I definitely didn’t enjoy the missions. They felt like too much of a chore.

Not to mention the one mission where I had to plant a bug in a briefcase, it bugged out on me, and when I was spotted the level would just constantly reload into the exact same spot and my mission would fail even before it completed loading back in. Which resulted in me having to go back and redo a really long and boring stealth mission.

In general, I actually found the story to be quite boring up until the final few acts where it really did pull its socks up and start knocking the blockbuster ball out of the park. Not to give anything away, but it reminded me a bit of an older game called Braid, which has an entirely different story but was another game where the story narrative changed entirely at the end and made you look back at what had happened over the past few hours. My mind, it was reconsidering everything that I had one up to that point.

It’s actually recently been remastered and if you’ve not played it I highly recommend giving it a go. It’s great and the remastered edition is out soon.

In the end, the single-player campaign was saved by the superb ending, and if you are a fan of the Call of Duty campaigns, it’s one that you definitely want to try out. It’s not the best, but it’s also not the worst/Call of Duty: Ghosts.

Multiplayer

Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War Review - They see me Reagan, they hatin' 10

Let’s not kid ourselves, Call of Duty is a multiplayer-heavy game. It wouldn’t have lasted this long if it just contained a campaign so I’ve spent many an hour in the different online modes and can confidently confirm…it is still Call of Duty.

If you’ve played any recent Call of Duty then you know what you’re getting yourself into.

I love jumping into Call of Duty multiplayer when I have a spare bit of time as, with its massive player base, it’s always easy to find a game and the variety of modes mean that it never feels old. This year we have all the old favourite modes like Team Deathmatch, Domination, Hardpoint, Search and Destroy, and a few others.

My favourite mode has to be Kill Confirmed, where you only score points if you pick up the dog tags from your downed enemies. The game feels more skillful than the random Team Deathmatch option but it doesn’t need the team communication that Search and Destroy requires. It also takes some power away from the snipers who can’t just camp in the corner and ruin the game for everyone, as they aren’t getting points for being a camper.

Snipers are still a big issue for me in Call of Duty, they seem to be getting worse each year with Activision seemingly happy to allow the irrational quick scoping from the Alpha and Beta this year to continue. The guys were able to run around using sniper rifles as literal shotguns, taking all the skill out of the game. And don’t get me started on the annoying CODbro’s who run around knifing everyone in the foot with overpowered blades.

Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War Review - They see me Reagan, they hatin' 11

Thankfully the snipers were nerfed a bit in the final game, but I still think more can be done to bring them in line. A day one patch also fixed the power-sliding exploit which was also ridiculously overpowered, and that brings me to my other issue with this year’s version of Call of Duty.

It’s buggy.

Even after having a large Alpha followed by a massive Beta and this being the 17th main Call of Duty title, how are we still finding significant bugs on day one? It feels like a lack of care has gone into the testing and development of this year’s multiplayer mode, and never before has it felt like this much of a blatant cashgrab.

With games like Destiny 2, Apex Legends, and Rainbow Six: Siege, it’s clear that you don’t need an annualised title to keep a franchise alive.

There are new modes in the mix this year, with VIP escort being another personal favourite. At the beginning of every round one person on the side is designated as the VIP and they only have a single handgun for defence. The team’s job is to escort them to the extraction point while the opposing team tries to take him out. After extraction, or death, the roles swap and the opposing team has the VIP and you need to stop them. First to 6 wins, takes the match. It’s a fun new mode that doesn’t feel like it was made to placate the esports crowd and I applaud that.

There is also the return of Warzone, which is Call of Duty’s attempt at a battle royale and it’s fine at best. If you’re really into Call of Duty then experiencing the fun of a battle royale in this universe is great. The engine handles the increase in people very well and it’s a lot of fun, but in truth there are better battle royale games out there and I’ve already moved on from the genre.

Zombies

Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War Review - They see me Reagan, they hatin' 12

As has become the norm with Call of Duty, this year ships with a brand new, mind-bending and blood-pumping Zombies mode. Once again you and your friends are tasked with surviving wave after wave of a variety of undead monsters. It’s still got all the crazy weapons, enemies, “magic” and the like but for me Zombies is a game best played with a group of friends and some beers. It’s all good just for laughs.

I’ve not put enough time into Zombies to say whether it’s a huge improvement on last year’s mode, or every other version, but it’s exactly what you’d expect and that really is how I found most of the year’s Call of Duty to be.

The verdict

It’s by no means a bad game and I realise that I sound like I’m being rather negative, but it comes from me placing Call of Duty on a pedestal. It was one of the earlier blockbuster games of my life that really placed emphasis on having a perfect gameplay loop above everything else and it feels like Activision has dropped the ball a bit this year.

Maybe it’s about time that Activision stopped the annual release grind and spent a bit more time on getting back to the basics of what made Call of Duty so memorable.

Oh and guys, the name is awful. You know you’ve got too many story arcs when you have 2 colons in the name to try keep them in check.

Last Updated: November 19, 2020

Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War
Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War is exactly what you expect it to be, but there is a massive amount of content on offer here and it's still impressive. Maybe the magic is starting to slip now, but if you've not picked up a Call of Duty recently then grab this one, there's still some fun to be had.
7.5
Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War was reviewed on PlayStation 4
76 / 100

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