Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is another action-packed first-person-shooter in the Call of Duty franchise, where players blast their way through a fictionalized version of the Cold War. Developed by Treyarch, this entry in the Black Ops franchise offers a more enticing package than previous entries. While Black Ops IV was a bit of a change-up from the expected formula, containing no single-player campaign in order to make room for a new battle royale mode, Black Ops Cold War gives Call of Duty fans the package they’ve been looking for. Complete with a bombastic solo campaign mode, a bustling set of competitive multiplayer options, and another take on the ever-popular Zombies mode, Black Ops Cold War has the right framework to entice fans for another round of run and gun. However, as the fifth entry in the Black Ops series, there’s some serious potential for franchise fatigue. Does Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War reclaim the quality that the series once garnered, or is it time to put Black Ops to bed?
A Chilly Era of War
The campaign of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War appropriately focuses on Cold War-era shenanigans, including excessive espionage fueled by paranoid governments, the persistent threat of nuclear war, and code-names galore. Set in the early 80s, you play as a customizable US soldier nicknamed “Bell”, recruited into a newly formed task-force led by the sunglasses-wearing CIA agent, Russell Adler. As a member of a government-backed group of operatives, you’ll embark on a series of clandestine missions in order to hunt down a mysterious Soviet agent named Perseus. Many fan-favorite characters from previous Call of Duty: Black Ops games are back, including the gruff Master Sergeant Frank Woods, the haunted hero Alex Mason, and more. If you’ve played any of the older Black Ops titles, you should be familiar with what to expect. In short, expect explosions, cryptic messages, helicopter crashes, and tons of state-sanctioned murder and mayhem.
Black Ops Cold War delivers a campaign experience that should feel familiar for franchise veterans, but it also introduces a few unique ideas of its own. Split into sixteen wild missions, the campaign offers plenty of explosive set-piece moments, including trademark slow-mo sequences, tandem sniping kills, and tons of run-and-gun excitement. Apart from some occasional glitches, the visuals are impressive and realistic, with quality sound design to back up the action. Just like many Call of Duty campaigns before it, Black Ops Cold War is a wild ride with blockbuster-style explosive action. However, there’s a notable emphasis on stealth and exploration, encouraging players to take their time and be tactical.
The front half of the campaign is slower-paced than usual, with missions that involve infiltrating and scouting enemy territory, snapping photos of intel, and keeping the body count low via stealth kills. There are even a few missions that stray from Call of Duty‘s historically linear structure, offering optional mission objectives and free-roam gameplay. You can discover pieces of evidence scattered throughout these early missions, which when collected, open up two optional side-missions. These side missions involve a bit of puzzle-solving too, requiring you to decrypt a cipher, compare suspects to code-names, and more.
Although some of the earlier main missions can feel occasionally sluggish and poorly paced, the new focus on exploration and stealth feels rewarding and fun. The latter half of the game provides more of the signature Black Ops weirdness, offering some fun (if slightly uninspired) plot twists. Overall, Black Ops Cold War‘s campaign offers 6 to 8 hours of FPS fun, even if there are a few pacing issues.
The Online Arms Race
Competitive multiplayer in Black Ops Cold War is both familiar and new at the same time, providing players with a comfortable gameplay feel while introducing plenty of new modes and mechanics. For starters, Cold War features seven main multiplayer modes: Team Deathmatch, Hardpoint, Domination, Kill Confirmed, VIP Escort, Search and Destroy, Free for All, and Control. Most of these modes also have the traditional “hardcore” variant, which makes the experience more realistic by removing elements of your HUD, giving you less health, and so forth. There’s also a brand new, 40-player mode called Fireteam, which pits 10 squads of four players against each other in objective-based battles. All of these modes (except for Fireteam) can be played on the eight included multiplayer maps, which range from the streets of Moscow and Miami to secret training facilities and submerged submarines.
As usual, you can create custom classes in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, which uses a loadout system similar to the recent Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Instead of the “pick ten” system that Black Ops players might be used to, the create-a-class in Cold War offers a high amount of customization and loadout freedom. Each class allows you to equip a primary and secondary weapon, lethal and tactical equipment like grenades, a field upgrade (such as C4 or the new Field Mic), three perks, and a wildcard. There are over a dozen weapons to unlock, upgrade, and customize, including the expected assault rifles, SMGs, sniper rifles, and more. Shotguns are considered secondary weapons this time around, so players who prefer a bit of spreadshot will appreciate the change.
As always, players can rank up to level 55 and unlock exclusive gear by obtaining Prestige levels, which have been intertwined with the game’s competitive season pass system. Generally speaking, progression and loadout customization in Cold War is both familiar and new, providing a comfy grind with plenty of unlockable loot. The gameplay itself is pretty standard fare for a Call of Duty title, including annoying campers, fiercely stacked competition, and excitable firefights. At this point in my gaming career, the Call of Duty formula has started to wear thin. Sure, there are lots of things to unlock and matches are still fun to play, but I don’t feel as compelled to progress through Cold War‘s multiplayer levels as I have in past Call of Duty entries. Cold War also comes with its own share of frustrations, including tough-to-see enemies, lackluster map design, and occasional glitches and crashes. If you’ve enjoyed playing any modern Call of Duty games online, Cold War‘s competitive multiplayer is more of the same (but with a few more bells and whistles), for better or worse.
More Nazi Zombie Experiments
Cold War also brings back the fan-favorite Zombies mode, combining the addictive wave-based gameplay with a handful of new mechanics and a bigger focus on story progression. In the first chapter of what is being billed as the “Dark Aether” story, up to four players can test their shooting skills against endless waves of the undead in the Zombies map, Die Maschine. The setup is simple and easy to understand; mysterious energy readings are coming from an old Nazi military facility, where there were rumors of supernatural experimentation. You and your squad must investigate the ruins of the base and discover the truth behind the experiments and the cause of the energy spikes. In classic Zombies fashion, this involves shooting a ton of zombies, collecting currency to upgrade your powers and unlock new paths, and slowly uncovering different ways to make progress in the map.
First and foremost, Zombies in Black Ops Cold War plenty of new features, including new power-ups, upgradeable perks, and a weapon rarity system. However, the experience will still be very familiar to anyone who has played a Zombies mode in the past. In fact, developer Treyarch has made the mode more welcoming to newcomers, specifically in regards to the “easter egg” content. In previous iterations of Zombies, you would often spend dozens of matches exploring the map, interacting with various objects and switches in an attempt to figure out the correct next move. Now, there are handy waypoints in your HUD as well as neon-lit arrows painted in the environment that point you in the right direction. Reaching “the end” of Die Maschine still offers a significant challenge, but the difficulty comes in executing the right steps, not figuring them out. This makes for an experience that is slightly less challenging for Zombies veterans and far more welcoming for newbies.
This gives players more time to focus on improving their loadout, as Black Ops Cold War contains a variety of new ways to spice up their weapons during Zombies matches. As always, you’ll earn currency (this time it’s called Essence) by defeating zombies, rebuilding barricades, and more. Slain zombies also have a chance of dropping upgrade supplies, which can be used to create useful equipment like grenades and score-streaks at crafting tables.
As you open up more pathways and explore new parts of the map, you’ll find various power-up stations. By spending currency, you can gain powers like Juggernaut, Stamin-Up, and Quick Revive, giving you more damage, faster movement, and speedier revive times respectively. Cold War introduces a new power-up, Elemental Pop, which grants your bullets a random ammo effect. There are also five field upgrades that are exclusive to Zombies mode, including the enemy-slowing Frost Blast, two team buffs, an Energy Mine, and Aether Shroud, which allows you to move through enemies undetected for a short time. These new elements add a nice touch to the overall Zombies experience, which continues to be an entertaining option for cooperative multiplayer fun.
The Bottom Line on Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
Although Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War might not be as compelling as last year’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, it’s still a great FPS with a decent chunk of content. The single-player campaign is enjoyable and offers some new gameplay mechanics, the multiplayer is addictive and exciting, and Zombies mode continues to be infinitely replayable, especially with a tight group of friends. While not every gamble pays off, Black Ops Cold War takes some admirable chances specifically in its campaign mode. I appreciated the focus on character-driven drama, interesting puzzles, and player choice.
There are definitely a few issues with Black Ops Cold War, including a limited selection of multiplayer maps and some underwhelming plot pacing. While playing on the new Xbox Series X, I also encountered a handful of annoying lighting issues (possibly derived from the game’s raytracing option), as well as few crashes. Your experience will vary depending on your platform of play (and whether or not the game has been patched), but even then, these annoying issues are infrequent. Even considering these issues, I still had a great time blasting through baddies both solo and online in this latest iteration of Call of Duty.
Note: This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X using a retail copy of the game.
- Shooting mechanics feel solid and satisfying
- Campaign mode has some fresh ideas
- Zombies is welcoming, accessible, and fun
- Occasional visual glitches
- Slow-paced narrative
- Not enough multiplayer maps