CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS COLD WAR REVIEW FOR PC, PS5, PS4, XBOX SERIES X|S, AND XBOX ONE. Not even a year like 2020 can stop Call of Duty‘s annual release. Developer Treyarch Studios has delivered Black Ops Cold War on time, despite the pandemic and the fact that it’s only been two years since Black Ops 4. Upon first boot, I was half-expecting evidence of rushing to the finish line, but the new Call of Duty for 2020 delivers three polished segments. Here’s the verdict on multiplayer after hitting Prestige, zombies after a dozen lengthy rounds, and also a run-through of the campaign.
Multiplayer for the casual masses
Black Ops Cold War‘s multiplayer is a breath of fresh air in a sea of stressful shooters. Like many FPS fans, I’ve spent the last 2+ years primarily playing battle royale games. That genre has an intensity that sets the heart racing and makes every win a satisfying achievement. On the flip side, losing in battle royale means frustration at the wasted minutes spent hunting down loot, only to die and have to do it all over again. As more battle royale games have appeared, more casual multiplayer experiences have been left behind, so Cold War falling into the latter camp makes for a refreshing change of pace.
Treyarch’s latest CoD effort tries to stand out in a number of ways. There’s the Dirty Bomb game mode, which mixes big-battle elements of Warzone with a more focused map and series of objectives. 40 players split into 10 squads and fight to rack up kills, collect Uranium caches, and capture dirty bombs. Provided you have a team of like-minded players, this mode works well. It provides the fast action seen in other traditional game types but on a bigger scale.
The Combined Arms mode also aims to go big with its 12v12 setup. A number of vehicles like tanks, boats, and snowmobiles shake up the infantry gameplay. There are two variants of this game mode at launch: Assault is a tug of war match that has players fighting towards one objective, while Domination has multiple active objectives and encourages splitting up for big flanks. Those that have played the Battlefield games and enjoyed modes like Rush and Conquest will feel right at home.
The comparisons to Battlefield don’t stop there, as in some ways Call of Duty represents a new direction for the series, evolving to satisfy both hardcore CoD fans and veteran Battlefield fans. From the heavy weapon customization to the re-introduction of vehicles, Call of Duty now has many elements that could sway fans of Bad Company 2, BF3, and/or BF4.
With that said, some elements of Call of Duty are now feeling old and tired. Despite this being the seventeenth mainline CoD multiplayer release, there are still issues with grenade spam across all game modes. It doesn’t help that a Wildcard allows players to equip two lethal and two non-lethal grenades, and it’s silly that these reset upon death instead of having a cooldown.
Players can’t choose to give up a lethal for an extra Perk or attachment, either, as the flexibility of Pick 10 has been removed. Thus, almost everyone is rocking into battle with an explosive or two. This is a step backward.
Creativity in custom classes is limited further by the number of hard counters that protect against annoying UAVs, A.I. scorestreaks, and all other obnoxious mechanics. I refuse to ever remove Perk Greed, as I need all six slots to avoid frustration.
Of course, this is the same old Call of Duty with streaks and whatnot, and Treyarch would face more backlash taking these things out than leaving them in.
With Quick Play, all players are invited to mix and match the game modes they search for. This is nice for matchmaking times, but I often find players that don’t care about playing the objective. It’s rough when I’m not rolling with a squad of six. I really want Treyarch to try boosting the rewards given from capturing objectives and significantly lowering the XP given for kills. Hell, maybe only count objective kills and captures towards scorestreaks, so the right players earn them.
Many traditional modes make their return in Black Ops Cold War. I’m a big fan of Free-for-All and Search and Destroy. Both play great on the new maps. Speaking of which, I like every single launch map. Miami is perhaps the weakest, but I’ve had some awesome Hardpoint rounds on there!
Cold War also gets its audio right, with enemy gunfire and footsteps coming through clearly. Modern Warfare confused the hell out of me with its sound. Treyarch’s latest effort is less “crunchy,” but more decipherable. Competitive players will dig this.
“Skill-based matchmaking” is a hot topic nowadays. This is the way a game tracks your performance and pits you against others with a similar (hidden) skill rating. While I understand that SBMM is better for keeping the majority of the playerbase happy, as it keeps more people playing and paying, this implementation seems super-aggressive, leaning from one extreme to the other. I don’t mind the occasional tough match and loss, but when I’m trying out lesser weapons for camos, or learning how to snipe, it’s exhausting to keep being put against an army of overpowered MP5s.
In some Search and Destroy matches, I noticed that players were AFK and not getting kicked from the game. This meant my team was outnumbered and lead to a loss. I’ve now learned that players are trying to beat SBMM by “reverse boosting.” They intentionally lose games and die a bunch of times to lower their skill rating. They can then find matches with less skillful players. This isn’t good for the game.
It would be awesome to see an explicit ranked mode added, with permanent or seasonal bans on certain equipment and streaks. As a contrast, the return of Party Modes would be awesome. For now, there’s this weird hybrid of hidden rankings applied to all game types, as a kind of psychological tool to keep all players performing equally to maintain optimal enjoyment.
Ultimately, Black Ops Cold War‘s multiplayer offers the best casual shooter experience in 2020. It provides a great place to warm up for Warzone, which is getting new content in December, and is a safe place for new players to learn the ropes. Veterans will appreciate the refinements to gameplay and the return to the traditional three-lane style of maps, as well as the inclusion of many familiar Black Ops weapons.
Zombies is the ultimate co-op
Treyarch knows how to make a damn good co-op mode. Black Ops Cold War zombies is the most satisfying rendition yet. It gets the balance between player power and the enemy threat just right, which leads to longer survival times and, therefore, more fun.
It’s easier to move around the map and outmaneuver zombies, though the challenge still remains. Players can get more armor to survive hits, but anyone that gets swarmed without an escape plan quickly sees “Game Over.”
The one included map, Die Maschine, is great. It’s easy to turn the power on and enable the Pack-a-Punch machine, which is always a bonus for newcomers. The fun really starts when you begin powering up weapons and eviscerating zombies in crazy ways.
Helping to boost longevity is the progression system. Not only do both Zombies and Multiplayer share the same ranking progress, but Zombies also has Aetherium Crystals to further upgrade weapons, Perks, and other zombie-killing equipment.
Hardcore zombies fans will be happy to hear that there’s a big Easter egg to discover in Die Maschine. I’m in the process of trying to work it out for myself!
The joys of single-player
Black Ops Cold War serves as a sequel to Black Ops and a prequel to Black Ops 2. Familiar faces like Alex Mason, Frank Woods, and Jason Hudson return, but players take the role of a blank slate character whose codename is “Bell.” Unlike previous Black Ops protagonists, Bell isn’t a pre-defined character. Instead, players pick their name, race, gender, and backstory from several options and up to two physiological profiles. Physiological profiles essentially act as perks for the campaign, with Paranoid allowing for faster ADS and Violent Tendencies increasing bullet damage.
The campaign has players chasing down a man known only as “Perseus,” a Soviet agent bent on changing the Cold War’s tide. This requires Bell’s CIA team, led by new character Russell Adler, to pursue Perseus’ agents. The plot is less linear than in previous Black Ops games, with a safe house that serves as a hub between missions. There are some light RPG elements, with player choice making an impact with some decisions. Depending on what players choose to say, allies could live or die, enemies can be captured or killed, and the ending can be affected.
There’s more mission variety this time around as well. There’s plenty of the standard run-and-gun levels with bombastic setpieces, but there are a few that are more subdued. In particular, one has players in the shoes of a KGB double agent in the agency’s headquarters that must figure out how to deflect suspicion on themselves while obtaining a key card to let the CIA team into the facility. There are multiple ways to accomplish this task, but players have to use their wits instead of force.
The plot of Black Ops Cold War isn’t mind-blowing, but it does capture the spy games vibe perfectly. The mission variety is much appreciated, and it bodes well for the future of the series. Like all Call of Duty campaigns, it’s a bit on the short side, but there’s very little fluff here, and optional missions and multiple endings give it more replayability than expected. For a mode that’s often considered secondary to the multiplayer, there’s a lot of production value here, and it shouldn’t be overlooked.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Review | The Final Verdict
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is yet another big win for Treyarch Studios. Despite the reduced development time between releases and the current state of the world, Treyarch has produced one of the better multiplayer/co-op/campaign combinations. If the devs stick to its roadmap for upcoming content, including the syncing of Cold War weapons to Warzone, then I’m confident players will be happy with this package.
While microtransactions are still found in this paid-for game, they are on-par with Modern Warfare. Skill-based matchmaking will likely be the bigger controversy, though I doubt we’ll see this change. What’s more, the tired A.I. streaks and need for hard counter Perks will also remain, with “easy fun” prioritized above “competitiveness.”
Black Ops Cold War is the ultimate casual shooter. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is up to you.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War was reviewed on PS5, PS4, Pro, and PC with code provided by the publisher.