Another Winter means another Call of Duty, and this years addition is also (just about) a launch title for the next-generation consoles. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a direct sequel to Call of Duty: Black Ops which while feels like it just came out a few years ago, is actually a decade old this year.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is throwing everything at the wall this time around, with a Campaign, the expected Call of Duty Multiplayer modes, Zombies, and the already popular Warzone.
The original Black Ops had a decent campaign with an interesting story, and after Black Ops 4 dropped the single-player campaign, it was promising to see the espionage/Cold-War style campaign coming back with this entry.
The campaign this time around is still firmly and clearly a Call of Duty campaign, with the big set pieces and staple missions you’d expect, from sneaking into an enemy base with sniper rifles to shooting down ziplines in slow-motion while firing at Soviets.
But it also introduces missions you may not expect to see, like sneaking through East Berlin with (admittedly quite basic) stealth mechanics or my personal favourite mission; working as a double agent inside the KGB.
The latter involved multiple choices which offer up a number of different ways to handle the mission which is to gain a key card to allow your CIA contacts to get into the building. Ultimately the mission ends the same no matter how you get the key card – shooting your way out, naturally, but the option to choose how to handle at least the first half of the mission was very cool and unexpected in a Call of Duty title.
Expanded choices also extend to dialogue options in missions and giving you options to complete or ignore optional side missions. You’re given access to an evidence/intelligence board in between the main missions, and in order to complete them successfully, you need intel and clues first – which are scattered around the main mission areas.
The best part is the puzzles are different for each player, so you can’t just Google the answers, you’ll have to actually figure the clues out yourself – who thought we’d be completing investigations in a Call of Duty game?
Unfortunately, the overall plot falls short and is a fairly standard “you have to save the world from ending” story, and while there are some interesting twists, it’s let down by the characters – your teammates are just not likeable, and it makes it hard to care about what they’re trying to make you care about, even if that is saving the world.
I won’t give any spoilers away, but there are a few choices you can make which give you a different ending, and I chose the “bad” or “evil” ending and I much preferred that to be honest, and I really wish that Raven Software leaned into that much more.
The campaign is also quite short, even if you complete all of the side missions, you can comfortably reach the ending in around 5 hours which is disappointing, although not too surprising.
Since the Zombies mode was introduced ten years ago, it has become a bit of a staple, even though it didn’t appear in every Call of Duty title. Recent Zombie modes had a detailed array of characters and surprisingly deep lore.
Zombies here is much more stripped back and dare I say, a bit more “realistic” in places. It feels like it’s gone back to basics, and whether you think that’s good or bad will come down to how you feel about the mode itself.
As someone who has dipped in and out of Call of Duty over the last decade, my last experience with Zombies was in 2017 with Call of Duty: WWII, which I found to be a bit confusing and over the top in places.
Zombies here in Cold War only has one map, Die Machine, which makes it easier to learn, although it is quite large so you shouldn’t get bored of it quickly. I’ve played matches where my team and I simply fight waves of zombies until we die or we escape (every 10th wave you can initiate evacuation which gives you more rewards but is difficult to do), and I’ve played matches where we attempt to complete all of the crazy objectives.
This is where Zombies loses me a bit – there are Trials you can start for bonus points, which are things like defending an area or don’t take any damage etc. These are ok, but then there are rifts to another dimension, dancing zombies, and superpowered bosses.
Personally, I’m happy to just fight waves of zombies – I don’t need all these increasingly crazy bells and whistles.
The difficulty spike is also overly harsh, you can go from melee killing zombies with ease in the first two or three waves to needing an entire magazine to kill one zombie just a few waves later. Before you even hit Wave 10, one or two zombies can kill you shockingly fast.
I’m a huge fan of Gears’ Horde mode, I get that it’s supposed to get harder with each wave, but the difficulty curve is less of a curve and more of a mountain – if you don’t spend your points on health or armour upgrades early, you will die.
If you’re a die-hard Zombies fan, I can understand how this may feel like a step backwards from the more fleshed-out story focus of previous Zombies modes, but I enjoyed it, despite its wackiness or punishing difficulty curve.
An added bonus is that Zombies allows cross-platform play and progression, and your unlocks carry over from Zombies into Multiplayer, so at the very least it’s a good place to get a few rungs on the ladder before you jump into Multiplayer with the most basic of gear.
As mentioned above, my last taste of Call of Duty Multiplayer was Call of Duty: WWII, so a more hardcore CoD fan may disagree, but I found the Multiplayer mode here hard to enjoy.
The standard modes are here like Team Deathmatch, Search & Destroy etc, but I had the most fun with Combined Arms which ups the player count to 24 players and takes place on larger maps with vehicles. This gives you battles which feel bigger than a standard CoD fight, but not as massive as Battlefield.
Unfortunately, there are only eight maps total, and two of those are only for the 40-player Fireteam mode, which is a weird hybrid of standard multiplayer and Battle Royale (which feels messy and unorganised, and if you want to play that kind of CoD I would simply suggest you play Warzone).
The lack of maps makes repetition set in quickly, and when combined with how long it takes to level up weapons and unlock new gadgets, makes the entire experience feel like a grind.
One positive change is moving from Killstreaks to Scorestreaks, which emphasises objective work over simply trying to rack up kills. The Scorestreaks are what you’ve come to expect, Spy Planes, attack helicopters, supply drops etc.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a solid entry into the franchise, and it goes to some interesting places in the Campaign (both literally and figuratively), and as a history nerd with an interest in the Cold War and East Berlin/Germany in particular, it was really cool to be in that world.
But one-dimensional characters, cheesy dialogue, and a predictable ending (the “good” ending anyway) hold it back from being much better, and the short length doesn’t help either.
Zombies is a solid mode and is fun to play, although, with only one map and a high difficulty curve, I could see myself possibly getting bored or frustrated easily. At the moment though Zombies is still enjoyable and my go-to mode when I fire up the game.
The multiplier for me is the weakest offering, which might sound surprising as that’s basically what CoD is known for these days. But the small number of maps, uninteresting maps, and generic guns just aren’t fun.
If you’re interested in a flawed but incredibly cool Cold War campaign and don’t care for the Multiplayer or Zombies, maybe wait for a sale as the Campaign is so short. If you want the latest and greatest Zombies mode, you’ll get it here. However I can’t recommend the Multiplayer in its current state, but perhaps with some new maps, it could be more fun.
Overall Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is an enjoyable Call of Duty experience, and shows that the promise of a detailed, interesting story is there, I only wish Activision would focus more on that in future games.