Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Review

It’s been a few years since I delved into Call of Duty proper. Warzone aside, I’ve not really felt that itch to pick one up pretty much the entire generation. I’ve also not played more than a mission of any of the previous Black Ops titles, so I’m wholly unfamiliar with the history and any continuity of the series.

All that said, I think Cold War is fucking excellent.

As I say, I’m not au-fait with the Treyarch COD timeline, but there are certainly characters and threads running through this that even I can tell sync up with previous games. Lads named Mason and Woods feature, and even a certain character that I know of from other COD titles too. Elsewhere, characters reference previous events that went over my head but are clearly there to give returning players some cheeky winks and nods.

Aside from all of these interwoven threads though, the story here genuinely caught me off guard. Having last played Advanced Warfare I expected a bit more than a simple run and gun affair, but there is much more here than meets the eye. Of course, the fast-paced, slick shooting that COD is known for is present and correct, but there are a good few down moments too; non-shooting, explorative, stealth based and exposition heavy sections that last longer than I ever thought I’d see in a Call of Duty game. It was these moments that really made me sit up and pay attention, feeling as they did more akin to an Arkane-style game.

The campaign isn’t overly long, though that is generally the case with a COD game, but what’s here is smartly paced and utterly brilliant. There are some excellently designed set pieces where shit hits the fan in the most explosive way, sandwiched between down time back at the safe house where we can talk to the various members of the team, or taking on the role of an insider attempting to help the team infiltrate a building. I’ll steer clear of specifics, but here specifically there are multiple avenues for success which is a welcome addition. It’s hardly Dishonered, but it’s far more than I expected and gives the story that bit more gravitas.

There are also optional missions to complete that will affect certain aspects of the game and the ending. These require intel to be found in other missions that then leads to us having to solve the puzzle in order to make the mission a success. Without all of the clues they will be impossible to solve, and it seems that the answers are randomised for players so even looking up a guide will still need a bit of detective work to properly solve. Once solved, we go on a short mission where the bullets start flying again and that lovely, crunchy combat rears its head.

I came into the single player of Cold War expecting what I used to play – that is, an explosive rollercoaster – turned up to 4K and full of pizzazz, but what I got was a genuinely well-paced, thoughtful action movie experience that took some weird and wonderful turns almost constantly. The final hour or so is…well, no spoilers, but I was utterly hooked.

Naturally, the player base tends to come to Call of Duty for its online multiplayer; while it’s nowhere near as surprisingly different as the solo campaign, it is as good as it ever was. I’m pretty terrible at it for the most part, but the combat feel just has that perfect touch to it in almost every regard. The way the hit marker combines with that squelchy audio effect when we nail a hit, the speed at which we can traverse the environment, the super smooth 60fps gameplay – it feels every bit as good to play as I remember Modern Warfare and its 360 sequel. Perhaps that could be viewed in the negative (it plays like a 2009 game) but when the combat is this satisfying, I think that’d be a hard argument to make.

It’s been a while since I found myself this addicted to playing an online shooter, and the combat feel is just so solid it is easy to get right back into the action even death after death…after death! I’m a big fan of Domination and Hardpoint, though unless you’ve got a squad some of the objective modes just turn into death matches, as usual. One round saw our lone member right next to the objective with 20 seconds to go, yet they decided to run the opposite direction in search of the kills – which they didn’t get.

I’m also a fan of the streak reward set up here; rather than being strictly kill based as in the past, here it’s score based, and carries on over deaths. There are a lot of possible options to fill up the three slots available, each with different score requirements. As someone who tended not to get many kills in a row but always plays the objectives and support roles this set up is great, as even I was able to reliably get rewards in each game despite my awful K/D ratio.

Just a little slice of the madness that 28 seconds of online play can bring

Zombies also makes a return, though I’m far less experienced with the series history here. It’s still a good mode to play, again with a squad is ideal as random players are hard to co-operate with. It gets tough, and honestly bat shit crazy, but it’s fun as an alternate mode to the more po-faced military-ness elsewhere.

It’s not all been smooth sailing, mind. Several times during the campaign I hit a critical crash that meant a hard reset of the game, while I’ve been dropped from a few online matches at random too. Fixes are on the way, and they weren’t enough to really set me back but it bears mentioning.

Conclusion

I am more than a little surprised at just how much I enjoyed Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. Having skipped the series for a few years due to being a bit burnt out on it all, Cold War manages to feel fresh and exciting while familiar at the same time. The solo campaign is over too soon, but what’s there is excellent and offers more than a simple rollercoaster of action. Multiplayer is as solid as ever, with a great variety of modes to dip in to. The combat feel is still among the best out there, making even the worst defeats still enjoyable. Zombies has great potential if you’ve a crew to play with, and brings some welcome levity to proceedings. An excellent all round package then, and well worth a look.

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This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.
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Good
  • Combat feel is excellent across the board
  • Campaign manages to bring something new and unexpected to the series
  • Multiplayer and Zombies will be endlessly entertaining
  • Looks excellent on both Xbox One and Series X
Bad
  • Zombies needs some friends to get the most out of it
  • A few technical hiccups and crashes
9.3
Excellent
Gameplay - 9.5
Graphics - 9
Audio - 9.5
Longevity - 9
Written by
I've been gaming since Spy vs Spy on the Master System, growing up as a Sega kid before realising the joy of multi-platform gaming. These days I can mostly be found on smaller indie titles, the occasional big RPG and doing poorly at Rainbow Six: Siege. Gamertag: Enaksan

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