It’s been a fairly long while since I’ve played a Call of Duty game. The last one I touched was 2017’s Call of Duty: World War II, which was fine, but not a groundbreaking title by any means. Since then, I’ve avoided the franchise. I wasn’t a big fan of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 because it focused solely on multiplayer and the other, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, was an odd reboot. Well, I’m here to try Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and while it is certainly interesting, there are also a lot of issues with it.
Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 [Reviewed], Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Developer: Treyarch, Raven
Genre: First Person Shooter
Players: 1-40 (Online Multiplayer)
Release Date: November 13th, 2020
Price $69.99 (USD)
The actual campaign in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is fine. It doesn’t reach the highs of original Modern Warfare or Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare but isn’t as bad, as say, Call of Duty: Ghosts campaign.
You primarily play as one of two characters, Alex Mason, and a user-created character with the codename of Bell. They are a part of an international team of agents trying to hunt down an international terrorist named Perseus, who is trying to escalate the Cold War into a hot one.
I should note that it appears this is a direct sequel to Call of Duty: Black Ops (the first game). There are familiar characters: Woods, Mason, and Hudson in the game. However, also included is Imran Zakhaev. He was the Ultranationalist one-armed dude main villain of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. So, there is certainly some correlation there, but it could also be set a little bit before Call of Duty: Black Ops II as well.
I really don’t get why you create-a-character, it doesn’t really matter at all? Sure, You can name them, pick a gender, place of birth, and military backstory but none of this actually truly matters in the game. The character doesn’t really speak or have agency either. So, it feels really out of place, just like in the recent Far Cry games. Quite frankly, it is just weird for a game to make you create a character and then doing nothing with them.
On the flip side, the character creator does have one really interesting feature and that is the psychological profile section. Basically, you can pick two psychological issues that bestow perks on your character. These range from “Tormented” and “Paranoid” to even “Relentless.” Although none of them really have negative tradeoffs, despite the flavor text. You’d think “Aggressive Behavior” might be bad, but it just increases your reloading speed by 50 percent. I generally picked the two most benign-sounding ones: “Reliable” (increases ammo by one clip), and “Methodical” (weapon kick reduced by 25 percent).
This psych perk system is certainly intriguing in contrast with the other create-a-character decisions I outlined above. It would have been cool if some of the perks were actually game-breaking. For example, an “increase all damage by 50 percent but hear voices at random times” (Schizophrenia), or “half the time increase all stats by 75 percent and other times reduce all stats by 75 percent” (Bipolar)
Pop culture References
I’ll get into this in some of the missions below, but I’ll point out that this game is rife with cultural references. Your main hideout is basically out of the late 90’s film Ronin, the basic plot is copied from the life of Carlos the Jackal (which is what the first Jason Bourne book was also taken from), and your main team leader looks almost exactly like Robert Redford in his prime.
About 80 percent of the game is your usual bog-standard Call of Duty missions. Where you move through a level, kill everyone, occasionally look for collectibles, rinse and repeat. However, there are a few missions that break up the monotony and are actually really fun. One mission involves you sneaking around an East German town, trying to be as stealthy as possible while planting a bug on someone’s case. While another involves you flying a helicopter for a bit and raining death down on some Viet Cong.
Perhaps my favorite one might be when you are in control of a Russian double agent and you have to infiltrate a Russian military base and steal a keycard. In this mission, you are given a few different ways to accomplish this as well. You could make a copy on a blank card, you could poison the general that has one and take it, or you can have a prisoner strange the general too. It’s just a very neat level that encourages experimentation, which is especially nice for a CoD game.
Remember in past CoD games there would between three and five pieces of intel (collectibles) per level, and you could grab them? Well, that is largely gone in this game. Instead, the few pieces you collect are now called evidence and they tie directly into the two optional missions.
Each optional mission has a notification of “GET THE EVIDENCE AND SOLVE THE PUZZLE FIRST” warning before you start them. You can just do them without collecting it, but you won’t get the better ending sequences.
The optional missions each have three evidence things you need to collect. You then have to work out a few logic problems and piece together the evidence to crack the code and fully complete the missions. Honestly, I wish there was a lot more of this stuff because it felt really unique.
For some reason, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War had a really annoying issue of keeping track of my save. It also completely bricked my PS5 at one point, freaking me out. I also lost some progress on the game due to this as well. Thankfully, I just had to wait a few minutes, let the storage system rebuild itself, but it was a tad scary.
Basically, the game somehow got locked into one mission, I think it was the 7th one called Echoes of a Cold War. I completed the mission and did two missions after it (including an optional mission), but the game still thought I had a save on the Cold War mission. Once I completed the Desperate Measures mission and got back to my safe house, I stopped the game. When I reloaded, it showed that mission as “Complete” (checkmark in the corner of the level select), but I couldn’t actually select the next mission. I had to replay both this mission again, and one of the two optional ones, in order to get back to where I was. Since then, I pretty much just played the rest in one go, because I didn’t want to replay any more missions.
Friendly Fire Bad
While not a technical issue in and of itself, the moment you accidentally shoot a friendly soldier, the mission ends and you have to restart the checkpoint. There is one mission where you get off a helicopter and gun down some people in a few jeeps approaching you. I had an AI teammate who kept running into my field of vision when I was shooting at enemies, which meant that he got hit and I got a game over. This happened about three or four times until I just went WAY ahead of him and killed everyone by myself.
When Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War multiplayer works, it works well. Honestly, the multiplayer feels similar to the old style of multiplayer. You have a player level, weapons levels, etc. You pick an operator per side, but it doesn’t amount to anything. Quite frankly, it’s hard for me to judge the multiplayer. The last time I played a CoD multiplayer was with CoD WW2, which had that social space aspect. Not to mention, crates that were constantly dropping out of the sky. This has none of that.
I also feel that the multiplayer system is really confusing. Especially, the deeper you get into it. If you just select Quick Match, it does work. Loadouts are fairly standard also. although the Gunsmith thing is dizzying with the amount of stuff you can do to a gun. You can put five attachments on a gun from the optic, muzzle, body, and more. Although totally fine, this all amounts to just appearance stuff that the game makes very overwhelming.
One thing I’ll mention that is probably new is the Field Upgrade system. I guess this was introduced in Modern Warfare but I didn’t play that, so here we are. In addition, to the non-lethal/lethal grenades, you can equip a new piece of equipment that operates on a timer. This can be either lethal or non-lethal (Proximity Mine, Jammer, Gas Mine, etc.) but each has its own timer. You can only place one, generally, but this is at least another useful tool if you plan it right.
My biggest issue is that multiplayer feels unstable. If I hit Quick Play five times, I can guarantee at least two of those times the server will bomb out before the match even starts. I can excuse this to a degree, it is the launch of both a new platform and the busiest time of the game, but I can’t excuse it when I’m just playing a game with one other person. I did a few zombies matches with a friend and one time the server dropped while we were waiting to start. Then, another time we were in a match playing when it just dropped. With 12 people playing, I can understand, but with just two, that becomes a bit less forgivable.
Similar to the Multiplayer, I don’t have a ton to say about the Zombies mode. Near as I can tell there is only one map and it actually uses some of the CoD: WW2 Zombies mode stuff as inspiration. There are two main modes, Endless or 20 round, and you fight waves of increasingly dangerous zombies. While also buying new weapons and upgrades for your character and unlocking new areas in the complex too.
Once you get deep enough, you can use a dimensional transporter to get to a new area and fight more enemies. After waves 10, 15, and 20 you can exit and “complete” the mode. One really cool thing is that multiplayer progress is shared with the Zombies mode, so if you earn experience in one, it is across the board.
One new mode, I gather, is the Onslaught mode. This is an interesting mix of Zombies/Multiplayer. You fight the zombie hordes on multiplayer maps with only one other person (or by yourself, if you want). The outside area is deadly but a ball of energy shields you. However, enemies have to be killed in it to power it. Once the ball is powered up, it’ll move to a different spot where you have to follow it. After two rounds, it’ll summon an elite zombie, which is far tougher than the regular ones. The Field Upgrade system also works the same way here, but you have different abilities than in the regular multiplayer.
Dead Ops Arcade
The last mode is a returning one, with Dead Ops Arcade. This is a top-down dual-joystick arcade shooter where you and other players can take down the hordes of zombies all while trying to defeat some evil female gorilla. It is certainly a weird one this mode.
I’ve never played the Dead Ops in past games so I was in for a real treat here. It’s actually a LOT of fun, there are a lot of unique weapons and bonuses you can do as you play. It gets even better if you have three other players blasting alongside you. If Activision isn’t going to pump up Geometry Wars games at a steady clip, this is actually a reasonably good alternative.
This game was reviewed using a digital code provided by the publisher (Activision).
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a decent enough game but it never goes above and beyond what it tries to do. The psych stuff for your created character is interesting but it doesn’t go far enough. There is some player choice in the story but just barely, even the more CoD spectacle-type missions aren’t as bombastic as they’ve been in previous games. I enjoyed most of my time with it and the few sparks of creativity are good but it could have used more. Also, the glitches and PS5 crashes are not a good look for it either.