With the Modern Warfare subseries getting a reboot last year, it was only a matter of time before Call of Duty’s other fan-favorite subseries came back into the limelight too. Unlike Modern Warfare, which hadn’t seen a new game since 2011’s Modern Warfare 3, the Black Ops subseries has been developer Treyarch’s bread and butter since its inception. However, Black Ops has undergone several changes since the first game, and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is here to bring things back to the way they were. It aims to deliver a worthy follow-up to the original Black Ops, and it generally succeeds in doing so.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s campaign is a radical departure from Modern Warfare’s realistic and self-serious story. The game takes full advantage of its 1980’s setting, delivering an action-packed campaign filled to the brim with explosions, car chases, and slow-motion shootouts. It seems a little too over the top at first, but it’s hard not to get sucked into the explosive excitement after the first few missions. It’s a direct sequel to the original Black Ops, complete with returning characters like Woods and Mason, but you won’t miss much if this is your first Black Ops campaign.
Treyarch tested a lot of interesting concepts in the Black Ops 2 campaign, and Black Ops Cold War’s campaign feels like a natural evolution of the ideas they toyed with back in 2012. Player choice is back in full swing, and while you’re only presented with minor choices throughout the campaign, the last few hours of the story ramp up the choices significantly and let you drastically alter the ending of the game. The final segment of Black Ops Cold War is Black Ops at its best, completely flipping the narrative on its head and letting you play an active role in how things turn out. On paper, it’s not the most memorable campaign, but Black Ops Cold War’s finale is easily one of the best in the series.
The Black Ops Cold War campaign is one of the better ones of the series, but it still suffers from a cliche plot and a lack of a compelling antagonist. Cliches and Call of Duty campaigns have grown to be synonymous over the years, but the series has delivered very compelling villains in the past like Makarov and Menendez. Perseus, the Russian spy who serves as the main antagonist of Black Ops Cold War, is wholly uninteresting, and the mystery surrounding his identity would have benefitted from a longer runtime. The Perseus mystery is introduced so quickly and new twists and turns happen at such a lightning-fast pace that it’s difficult to find any time to care. The supporting cast also isn’t given much time to shine, and the main squad of Woods, Mason, and Adler feel more like generic AI teammates than fleshed-out characters.
Black Ops Cold War more than makes up for its mediocre story with a host of unique levels and objectives that break up the otherwise constant shooting and explosions. Sneaking into an occupied apartment to secure crucial files, going undercover at the KGB headquarters, and battling through trippy Vietnam flashbacks are the highlights of the campaign, and a few of these missions will go down as some of the best in series history. There are also a handful of side missions that require you to decipher coded messages and solve other puzzles using collected evidence before heading in, which was a nice change of pace. Black Ops Cold War is at its best when your AI companions leave you to your own devices in an open area with multiple objectives. Many of these levels also have multiple ways to accomplish your goals, which increases replayability. Experimenting with different choices and outcomes also completes challenges which unlock rewards in multiplayer.
This is the series’ bread and butter, and it’s why most of you are here. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer is a stark contrast to Modern Warfare’s, which is sure to divide the playerbase even further than it already is. Modern Warfare’s multiplayer was slower a bit more tactical than the series traditionally is, and Black Ops Cold War is the exact opposite. While Modern Warfare focuses on realism, tactical positioning, and authenticity, Black Ops Cold War embraces the arcadey aspects of Call of Duty multiplayer. Running and gunning is king, quickscoping is back in full force, and sliding and jumping are crucial to winning gunfights. Competitive Call of Duty players will love the changes made in Black Ops Cold War, but those that fell in love with Modern Warfare’s take on multiplayer might be better off sticking with last year’s game. This is likely a conscious choice made on Activision’s part, as the two games will continue to be supported and connected via Warzone for the foreseeable future. The Call of Duty fanbase was split into two groups following the release of Modern Warfare with equal subsets of players either loving or hating Infinity Ward’s take on multiplayer, but now there is a game for each of those camps.
One thing that all players will agree on is the difference in map quality between the two games. Black Ops Cold War has a much, much better spread of day one maps than Modern Warfare did. Garrison offers mostly linear combat as both teams attack each other from opposite sides of a building, while Satellite is set in a wide-open desert with craggy canyons available for flanking and close-quarters combat. Unfortunately, the quantity of the maps does not match the quality. There are only 8 traditional multiplayer maps available at launch, with an additional two reserved for the new Fireteam mode. More maps will be coming shortly after launch when seasonal content begins to roll out, but it’s still a disappointingly tiny map pool to have on day one.
Weapons also feel noticeably downgraded from last year. Infinity Ward is a hard act to follow when it comes to weapon sounds and animations as their work is some of the best in the industry, but Black Ops Cold War’s weapons feel more like plastic toys than actual firearms. The sounds and feedback have been upgraded substantially since the beta, but the difference is still night and day when compared to its predecessor. Animations have also taken a dip in quality too, but the actual shooting mechanics thankfully feel as great as ever. Shooting in Call of Duty rarely feels bad, and Black Ops Cold War continues the tradition of smooth and satisfying gunplay.
Outside of traditional multiplayer modes, the one new mode this year is called Fireteam. Fireteam is a 40 player mode set on large, wide-open maps. Only one version of the mode is available at launch, Fireteam: Dirty Bomb, but more are coming later on. Dirty Bomb sees groups of four drop into a giant arena and attempt to blow up uranium bombs by depositing uranium obtained from chests and other players. It’s an interesting mode on paper, but in practice, it’s largely forgettable. The additional modes coming later might get more mileage out of the squad combat concept, but Dirty Bomb isn’t a breakout success like last year’s Gunfight mode (which is returning in Black Ops Cold War later this year). Plus, players who want large-scale warfare will most likely just go back to Warzone.
I’ve never been the biggest Zombies player, but Black Ops Cold War’s take on the fan-favorite survival mode might be the first one to pull me in. The concept remains the same as always: kill zombies, get points to open doors and buy gear, and survive as many rounds as you can. The mechanics largely stay the same in Black Ops Cold War, but the game leans more into the horror aspects of the mode. There’s only one map at launch, Die Maschine, but it has plenty of secrets and story tidbits to discover. You have handlers updating you on your radio while you’re playing and pitch-black interiors require a flashlight to find your way around, which makes for an especially unsettling first few rounds.
Of course, things change once you turn on the power and get powerful weapons and perks, but the introduction to a Zombies match feels different in Black Ops Cold War than it does in past games. Also, if you’re new to the mode and don’t know what to do, Black Ops Cold War’s Zombies experience feels a bit more directed than normal. At the beginning of a match, your radio handlers give you brief instructions to get you started, and there are plenty of environmental clues that lead you to the power switch and other important parts of the map. It doesn’t feel like you need a friend to guide you through things and teach you the intricacies of the mode anymore. There are still complex things to learn in true Zombies fashion, but the onboarding is much better this time around.
As for bonus modes, PlayStation players get a new mode called Zombies Onslaught. This mode is mostly forgettable, pitting a team of two against waves of zombies on a standard multiplayer map. It’s a fun distraction for a few rounds, but the main Zombies mode is where most players will end up. Dead Ops Arcade also returns in Black Ops Cold War, and it’s just as fun as ever. This twin-stick top-down survival shooter is a great way to kill time with friends who might not be super interested in the standard Zombies mode, and it’s also a great way to kill time between rounds for a squad that needs a break from the traditional mode.
Overall, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a worthy successor to the original Black Ops. The Black Ops subseries leaned more and more into futuristic combat and advanced technology as it went on, and now Black Ops Cold War brings the series back to its roots. It feels like what the original Black Ops would be like if it came out today. The campaign is bombastic and exciting, the multiplayer is fast and frenetic, and Zombies reminds me of the classic days of Kino Der Toten and Five. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s still a solid entry in the series that Black Ops fans will enjoy. It’s a stark contrast to Modern Warfare, but this game stands as an excellent companion piece for those that prefer faster, more arcadey gameplay. With Warzone serving as the connective tissue between the two games, I feel like this is the first time where a new Call of Duty game will not outright replace the one that came before it. Instead, the games will both remain active and attract different types of players, keeping everyone connected via Warzone and cross-progression. The Call of Duty series has done a lot of surprising things since Modern Warfare launched, and I’m excited to see where Black Ops Cold War’s post-launch content takes the game.
- This article was updated on November 12th, 2020