Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Review
The annual Activision behemoth is back for yet another round, but is it worth any of your time this year?
There are three things that we can rely on in this crazy thing we call life: death, taxes, and a new Call of Duty every year. Even in a year as tumultuous as 2020 given the strain that COVID-19 has put on the gaming industry, a new Call of Duty is here once more. I have to admit that I, too, have long been exhausted by this annual song and dance, not really putting much time into any of the series’ entrants since the heydays of the franchise back on the Xbox 360.
That being said, something about Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War seemed to catch my eye in the weeks before release, making me cautiously optimistic that this would finally be a worthy entrant to the franchise. Well, it actually wasn’t anything about the game (at first) that caught my eye if I’m being honest. My hype only materialized once 100 Thieves announced that they’d be entering the Call of Duty League, the franchised esports league heading into its second season. I love Call of Duty esports and I love 100 Thieves, so I just knew that I needed to dive in deep with this game to be ready for the upcoming season.
After putting in over two dozen hours during the first week of release, I have to say that I am very glad that I made the decision to pick this one up. Despite some of the issues that the game admittedly has (I mean, what game doesn't have issues at this point?), it has been a hell of a ride so far and I am completely addicted to the grind.
Given the three-prong nature of the game modes on offer here (I’m not counting Warzone since the Cold War content doesn’t drop until December 10), I figured it’d be best to take each facet of a Treyarch Call of Duty game — campaign, multiplayer, zombies — one-by-one here.
The campaign was one of the most surprising elements of this game for me. I haven’t actually completed a Call of Duty campaign since Modern Warfare 3 and I’ve never completed a Black Ops campaign. Obviously, the single player is not the main thing that many Call of Duty fans look forward to every year, but there is a history of some good campaigns from back in the day.
After playing through the Cold War campaign, I have to say that it ranks near the top in terms of the overall quality of it. Again, it’s been a minute since I’ve played one of these all the way through, so I may have missed a couple of good ones here and there. But I would have to say that based on mission variety alone, this one feels like the cream of the crop.
Set during the height of the Cold War (obviously), the campaign sees you take control of a new agent named “Bell” as the US is desperately hunting down the big-bad named Perseus who is on the brink of detonating multiple nuclear bombs across Europe. Throughout the (admittedly short) campaign, you’re not just a globetrotting run-and-gunner as is the case in many Call of Duty campaigns. Many of the missions see you have to quite literally turn into Solid Snake and use stealth to get through areas quietly. I’m talking silent takedowns, hiding bodies, and distracting guards; real stealth techniques are the order of the day here. As a huge Metal Gear Solid fan, I was in heaven during all of these missions.
Even outside of the stealth missions, the gunplay in this game is so good that every level felt incredibly fun to run through. This was especially true of the couple of missions that actually required multiple playthroughs due to the branching narrative in the latter third of the campaign. The final mission alone warrants two playthroughs just to get both of the endings (both good and bad), which were fun to witness.
While the campaign alone wouldn’t be enough to make you buy this game at $60 (or $70 if you’re on next-gen), it is no doubt a worthy third of this game that you would be remiss to skip out on during your playthrough.
Now on to the meat and potatoes of any Call of Duty title. This franchise lives and dies by its multiplayer and so far, Cold War is living life to its fullest (for the most part).
As I mentioned earlier, the gunplay in this game is absolutely fantastic. All of the staple weapons feels fluid and great to play with, even if one of them (I’m looking at you MP5) is a bit broken right now. The time-to-kill feels perfect and I don’t think I’ve had this much fun playing multiplayer in years. It probably doesn’t hurt that I don’t suck as much as I once did, making things much more enjoyable than they used to be.
Speaking of enjoyable, one of the biggest surprises in multiplayer this time around comes in the form of the brand-new mode Fireteam: Dirty Bomb. Call of Duty has done big team modes in the past, but this mode goes in a bit of a different direction and the result is a frantically addicting mashup of Combined Arms and Warzone.
This 40-person mode sees 10 teams of four wage war across what is basically a mini battle royale map complete with gliding in and everything. The goal here, though, isn’t to be the last team standing but to rack up points by collecting uranium and detonating one of the five dirty bombs found across the map. Crates are scattered throughout the different houses and shacks just as you would find in Warzone and contain the valuable uranium needed to set off the bombs. Of course, given that this is a multiplayer mode, you have to do all this while fighting off 36 other players.
The maps are bigger than your standard multiplayer maps but smaller than the actual Warzone map, so the action is almost always fast and frantic. Team coordination is a must as you fight to control areas and set off these dirty bombs. While I’ve admittedly played the staple multiplayer modes the most, Fireteam: Dirty Bomb has been a welcome reprieve whenever I hop in for a round or two.
One of the other major positives here is the revamp to both the Prestige system and Scorestreaks. The Prestige system has been a staple in Call of Duty for years, but it wasn’t without its issues. Having your progress reset and being forced to re-earn guns and attachments never felt fun. Treyarch did away with that this time around by allowing you to retain all of your progress upon Prestiging. The result is getting all the cosmetic goodness of Prestige without any of the headaches of needing to grind for the same stuff over and over.
Then there’s the Scorestreaks. I know this paragraph is going to make me sound like a filthy casual, but that’s fine because it’s true. In all my years of playing Call of Duty, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten an Attack Helicopter or an AC-130. I’ve definitely never gotten a Nuke. I’m the player who already used Perks that allowed progress to stay upon death. So when Treyarch announced that Scorestreak progress wouldn’t reset on death in Cold War, I was all for it. I understand how it may feel cheap to the diehards, but let us have some fun too! Also, you still need to go on long killstreaks to get the big fancy Scorestreaks, so there’s still a skill gap between the best of the best and people like me.
I would be lying if I said that multiplayer was perfect in Cold War, however. Things aren’t all roses and rainbows despite how much fun I’ve been having. The most glaring issue here by far is the map selection or lack thereof. Cold War launched with just eight maps in total, an incredibly small number for a multiplayer-focused franchise such as this one. When you also consider the fact that two of the maps (Cartel and Miami) rank among some of the worst in the franchise’s history, you essentially have just six maps that are fun to play on. Granted, Nuketown is coming on November 24 and then Season 1 will presumably have some maps with it on December 10. But for these first three-four weeks, it gets a bit repetitive playing the same maps over and over.
There’s also the fact that, once again, the game has launched without any sort of ranked mode. For a series that prides itself on being at the forefront of the multiplayer shooter genre, I just don’t get how it never launches with a ranked mode. It’s quite maddening and mindblowing at the same time. Especially when you look at the fact that the SBMM (skill-based matchmaking) has been cranked up to 11 this time around. Why not include League Play at the start instead of six months later like in Black Ops 4? It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Now, there is a challenge in-game that mentions League Play, so at least we know it’s in the cards. That still doesn’t lessen the blow of it not being here at launch, though.
Alas, Map selection is something that will inevitably get better over time, and League Play is indeed on its way. I’d rather have great gunplay and fundamentals with a poor map selection and no ranked than the inverse of that. While I wish Treyarch would have just done everything from the outset, there’s still the fact that they’ve only had about a year-and-a-half of full development for this game after taking over for Sledgehammer Games in May of 2019. Without the usually three year incubation time, some things will surely fall through the cracks.
At the end of the day, the foundation is absolutely there with multiplayer and I will be playing a ton more in the coming months.
Now for the most surprising part of Cold War for me. Since Zombies was first introduced in World at War back in 2008, I’ve probably played this game mode for a few hours total. Most of that was spent in Black Ops 3 and simply featured me following my nephew around and trying not to die while he unlocked everything. I never played any Zombies map solo prior to Cold War.
After watching a few streamers play the map on launch day, though, I just knew I had to try it out. It looked genuinely fun and actually catered to the less hardcore players out there by putting in waypoints and objectives showing how to unlock the Pack-A-Punch machine. Even this manages to not “dumb down” (for lack of a better word) the experience since there’s a TON of easter eggs and other objectives that are still being hunted even a week after release. There’s truly something for everyone in Zombies this time around.
After hopping into Zombies on Day 1 just to see if it actually was any good, I got more hooked than I ever have on a singular game mode in Call of Duty. Whenever I’m not playing Zombies, I’m thinking about playing Zombies. It’s just that good. I’ve already managed to do one of the easter eggs and unlock one of the Wonder Weapons on my own and I’m eager to do even more as I get my bearings in the mode.
One of the reasons that I keep coming back — outside of the fact that it’s just a ton of fun — is that the progression in this game has been all rolled into one. Your overall level is shared between Zombies and multiplayer, meaning you don’t have to Prestige in both modes on their own. Since I’m addicted to progression, it’s nice to be able to play whatever I want on my way to the max rank of a given season in Cold War. It’s a freeing feeling that I hope sticks around in future entries to the series (even though I wholeheartedly wish they would give up on the annual cycle and just iterate on the same game every year with all three devs helping out).
And there you have it. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is probably the best overall entry to this franchise that I’ve played in a very long time. The campaign is fun and provides plenty of replayability, multiplayer is super fun (if not a bit barren as far as maps and League Play are concerned), and Zombies is an absolute blast. Considering the short dev cycle and COVID-19 complications that Treyarch had to deal with during the development of this game, I think they did an admirable job and I’m excited to see what the future of this game holds.
Now, if you’ll excuse I have some more Zombies to kill.
Note: Activision provided SUPERJUMP with a copy of this game for review purposes.