Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is the fifth installment in developer Treyarch’s first-person shooter series. The latest entry is a direct sequel to the original Black Ops and is set in the year 1981. It’s an era in which the Cold War is in full swing, with Ronald Reagan’s United States on one side and Leonid Brezhnev’s USSR on the other.
The single-player campaign puts you in the midst of a conflict that threatens to eradicate humanity. Much like previous entries in the Black Ops series, Cold War’s campaign is packed with linear levels driven by over-the-top set-pieces that play out in spectacular fashion, much like in an action-packed blockbuster. That said, it occasionally tries to break the mold by offering areas with multiple routes, dialogue choices, as well as side missions that ultimately determine which of the three endings you get to see. Naturally, this isn’t a role-playing game, and things are kept relatively simple, but it brings a nice change of pace to the conventional Call of Duty campaign formula. Furthermore, the occasional stealth sections bring an appreciable change of pace from the usual firefights.
The campaign takes you on a journey across East Berlin, Turkey, Vietnam, and the Soviet KGB headquarters. Other key members of your squad include returning series protagonist Alex Mason along with his comrades Frank Woods and Adler, the latter of whom is their charismatic leader. You assume the role of an operator who is codenamed Bell, and you’re given the option to choose your physical traits at the beginning.
Each of the aforementioned endings are rather abrupt and anti-climactic, as not one of them manages to capitalize on the themes that the game boldly sets out to achieve. Despite the lack of a meaningful conclusion, however, it does succeed at being an engaging spy-action story filled with twists and turns along the way. It’s a case of the journey being better than the destination. Some well-timed humor keeps the game’s over-the-top plot from taking itself too seriously, and the 80s setting keeps things a little more off-beat and engaging compared to the usual war-themed Call of Duty game – while it lasts, that is. It’s a surprisingly short campaign, even by series standards.
No Black Ops game is complete without a Zombies mode, and that’s the case in Cold War as well. The popular coop mode makes a triumphant return and remains the most engaging part of the game. It features a new storyline that extends the story from Black Ops 4 while also tying to the storyline of the Cold War campaign. As always, your objective is to take out waves of zombies that tougher as you make progress and are also accompanied by zombie dogs.
Match types include Die Maschine Endless, Dead Ops Arcade, and Onslaught, the latter of which is only available on PlayStation consoles for a year from release. As the name implies, Die Maschine Endless pits you against never-ending waves of zombies until your team gets taken out or you manage to escape via a chopper after a set number of rounds. Dead Ops Arcade mixes first-person shooting with top-down combat for a fast and frantic arcade-like experience. Both modes support up to four players, which is how they’re meant to be played, as teamwork is key to making good progress. Meanwhile, the Onslaught mode is limited to two players and focuses on restricting you within smaller perimeters on the map. You’re required to clear the area of zombies, after which the game picks another section of the map for you to do the same. Things can get pretty hectic once bosses are added to the mix. Each match type is enjoyable in its own right and gives the game some decent shelf life for fans of coop shooters.
The competitive multiplayer mode is fast-paced and gives old-school Black Ops multiplayer vibes, which is likely intentional. Fans of run-and-gun will be pleased to know that it is a viable option here. Unlike in Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare, there’s no weapon mount mechanic here, and you’re encouraged to, well, not ‘camp’!
The old-school philosophy is also noticeable in the map design. In terms of size and scale, most of the available 6v6 and 12v12 maps are smaller compared to those seen in last year’s Modern Warfare, and closely follow the three-lane layout along with a decent amount of verticality. There are some obvious ‘camp’ spots, but they’re mitigated by the presence of several openings. A total of eight maps is certainly not enough for a multiplayer-focused shooter, but there’s hope that more are on the way, including the series classic Nuketown that is due by the end of the month.
The streak system doesn’t take the old-school approach, however. The original Black Ops had a nicely tuned high-risk/high-reward streak system, which made for a more thrilling and empowering experience. That said, Cold War’s streak system is by no means a deal-breaker.
Some other disappointments include the lack of a proper incentive for objective play as well as the lack of attachment options unique to individual weapons with the gunsmith. Modern Warfare’s variety of weapon modifications made it so that leveling up your weapons felt rewarding rather than feeling repetitive and boring. There are also some game balance issues with perks and wildcards, but nothing particularly game-breaking. ‘Ninja’ stands out as the most problematic perk, as there’s currently no viable countermeasure and your footsteps are relatively loud unless you have the perk equipped.
The new forty player Fireteam: Dirty Bomb mode puts you in a large-scale conflict between ten squads of four. The mode attempts to merge its objective-based match types with the battle royale genre to somewhat mixed results. Squads are required to collect Uranium caches from fallen enemies and locate dirty bombs scattered across the map. Depositing enough Uranium into these dirty bombs readies them for detonation, which, in turn, renders the surrounding area off-limits. The squad that reaches a set number of points ends up the winner. Given that the map doesn’t shrink over time in conventional battle royal fashion and that it’s possible to earn a score without the need to deposit Uranium or detonate dirty bombs, things can take a turn for the worse, should players choose to play it like a game of team deathmatch. However, when squads are playing for the objective and things work as intended, Fireteam can be thoroughly engaging.
The PS5 version comes with full DualSense controller support, making great use of both the adaptive triggers as well as haptic feedback. As a result, each weapon conveys a distinct feel that provides a remarkably immersive experience.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War goes back to the old-school to bring back some of what made the original Black Ops special. While not everything sticks the landing, it’s a well-rounded package that’s bound to have something or the other for both single-player and multiplayer Call of Duty fans. That said, Zombies proves itself to be the most entertaining mode and, therefore, is the highlight of the experience.