Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Review — Changing With the Times
After spending a considerable amount of time with Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War's multiplayer beta, we were worried the full release would fall short. While it certainly doesn't hit the same way Modern Warfare did in 2019, Cold War is an excellent addition in the series, due in part to the sheer amount of content it offers and little embellishments that make it stand out.
Cold War is broken up into three sections (soon to be four when it gets integrated into Warzone in December). It comes with a single-player Campaign, multiplayer, and the beloved Zombies mode fans have grown fond of over the years. Right off the bat, Cold War has a tremendous amount of content for you to enjoy, and it's only going to become bigger, thanks to the promise of future updates.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Review — Changing With the Times
Following Treyarch's last entry, Black Ops 4, which did not feature a single-player Campaign, the community was vocal about missing a strictly offline mode that leans into the narrative. Thankfully, Cold War's campaign is one of the best in years, offering surprises and twists you might not expect.
The Campaign gives you choices to make, from your character's origins to the things they say and decisions for which characters to save. While many of the choices don't make a huge impact overall, it's a step in the right direction — it moves away from the very linear story modes fans have grown tired of.
Call of Duty campaigns have never been known for being long, and Cold War's is no different. You can finish the story mode in around six hours or so depending on the difficulty you choose, and if you opt to find all collectibles and do side missions (that's right — there are side missions!), your playtime will longer than that.
Despite its relatively short length, there's never a dull moment, and the story mode offers tremendous variety — not just in gameplay but in setting, as well.
One moment you're tasked with taking down a series of enemies stealthily in a city, the next you're in a helicopter mowing down foes in a beautiful jungle, and after that, you're sent to a snowy Russian area where you take down opponents with a sniper.
We'd much rather have a short, thrilling campaign that never lets up than a long story mode that drags on too long with lots of fluff.
The overarching aspect that ties this campaign together is its sense of high production value. Playing Black Ops Cold War often feels like you're watching a movie, simply due to its presentation and the stellar performances from its actors. Games don't need to be like movies to be good, but it's enjoyable when a game draws inspiration from film to feel more cinematic.
I also appreciate little additions like the ability to grab an enemy to use as a human shield or acquiring intel to figure out who a mole is — all features that feel refreshing.
One of the campaign's highlights is a trippy section in which you must recall past events while being injected with a memory serum. We won't spoil it, but it's wild and proves that a first-person shooter doesn't have to play by the rules.
The main hook of this package, of course, is its multiplayer mode, which offers much of what you've grown to expect from Call of Duty over the years. It has many beloved modes like Team Deathmatch, Search and Destroy, and Domination, along with new modes like VIP Escort and Fireteam: Dirty Bomb.
VIP Escort, in particular, is really fun and feels much more tactical than you might be used to, taking a page out of a Rainbow Six book. In it, you must escort a specific teammate — who serves as the VIP — to one of two points, while making sure the enemy team does not take them out. It's a welcome change of pace from the usual chaos of multiplayer.
Beyond that, the maps Cold War has to offer are mostly pleasing. It features eight at launch that all feel and look unique, with some featuring large open vistas and others more geared towards close-quarters engagements. Eight maps might not seem like much, but it gives the community a chance to learn them without feeling overwhelmed. Plus, Treyarch will be adding more maps for free as the game continues to evolve, so there will be plenty more later down the line.
The maps themselves are mostly enjoyable despite none of them reaching the highs of those found across other iconic Call of Duty games. The standout map is Armada, which is comprised of large, multi-leveled ships you can traverse either via zipline or through the water. Overall, the biggest issue with the maps is that they all feel too big for traditional 6v6 modes. At times, matches would feel empty, despite having the max number of players.
There are a slew of new additions with Cold War's multiplayer mode, as well. The most prominent of these is the Scorestreak system, which allows you to rack up Killstreaks, even after death. This might sound like a broken, imbalanced mess, but it actually works quite well. You can earn Scorestreaks faster if you don't die, but even inexperienced players now have a way to rack up their Chopper Gunners or UAVs. It also incentivizes playing the objective instead of only aiming for kills.
I also really appreciate the customization options available with the game's weapons, giving you tons of attachments to unlock to tailor to your playstyle. This keeps the gameplay loop going, with many reasons to continue playing and earning rewards. Each attachment features a breakdown of how it impacts the weapon, even down to the exact millisecond, perfect for those who want to dive into the nitty-gritty stats.
Other changes include shotguns as sidearms, which are a welcome change since so many players relied on them in past games. Now, they're less powerful and treated as a supplemental weapon, not a primary. Treyarch also implemented the ability to ping your surroundings, just like in Warzone, though, most players seem to ignore this feature, sadly.
The biggest issue with Cold War's multiplayer mode is the way it looks, even on PS5. Not only is it just flat out not as good-looking as Modern Warfare, but the color palette is muddy, making it very hard to see enemies against the drab backdrop of their surroundings.
This, when combined with the oversized maps, makes matches play out more sporadically than you might be used to. You'll spend much of your time looking for enemies, only to be surprised by someone who was blending into their environment. The "flow" seems to be altered due to these key changes.
Interestingly, the single-player campaign doesn't suffer from these visual issues, and in many instances, it looks quite beautiful.
And, of course, we'd be remiss if we skipped discussing Cold War's Zombies mode, which is just as over-the-top and chaotic as you'd expect. The progression system from the game's multiplayer carries over into Zombies, but with a few additions specific to taking out hordes of undead.
The great thing about Zombies mode is that it offers a refreshing change of pace from the traditional Multiplayer mode. Sure, it gets hectic, but since you're working together with teammates against AI, it doesn't get as frustrating as playing against other players who have put way more time into the game than you might've.
There's something so satisfying about earning powerups and mowing down hundreds of zombies to earn points, which you can use to buy upgrades and perks. Much of the Zombies mode leans into nostalgia, so if this is your first time, you might not appreciate it as much as someone who has played it since the World at War days.
Because of that, it might be a turnoff to newcomers, especially when considering just how complicated things can get. There are tons of things you need to know, like how to unlock new areas, upgrade weapons, and how to complete the Easter Eggs. While you'll still probably have a good time if you stumble through, it's not always self-explanatory how to "win."
Though, it is nice to be able to choose between the Die Maschine Endless and 20 Round modes. That way, you don't have to worry about meeting your inevitable demise. There's also the timed-PlayStation exclusive Onslaught mode, which is a different take on the Zombies formula.
In it, you and another player must power up an orb by killing zombies. Take out enough zombies, and the orb will migrate around the map. Chasing a high score on each map is fun enough but nowhere near as exciting as the traditional Zombies mode since it doesn't allow you to spend points to gather upgrades.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Review — The Bottom Line
- Tight, high-action campaign mode
- Tons of weapon customization options in multiplayer
- Plenty of content right away
- Zombies mode is hard to put down
- Muddy visuals make enemies hard to see
- Multiplayer maps feel too big
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a memorable entry in the long list of games in the series. Even if its particular themes aren't for you, it's tough to deny the amount of bang for your buck offered with this game. You can spend hundreds of hours in the multiplayer alone, not including the Campaign and Zombies pillars.
Its biggest issues are its visuals and muddy color palette, which cause players to blend into the environments. Despite this, there's a lot of fun to be had with this year's entry. The vast amount of content at launch is enough to draw players in, while the promise of more will keep players around.
[Note: Activision provided the copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War used for this review.]