In the rollercoaster era of today, it’s nice to know that there’s still a few fundamental things that don’t change. New consoles come out and you’re still not able to buy one because of scalpers! That never changes, after all, and it’s almost heartwarming in a way. Of course, if there’s a new generation of consoles, there’s a new Call of Duty as well. Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War is the latest in the long-running franchise to stalwartly carry the torch lit by its predecessors, and it’s just as solid as ever.
During the throes of the titular Cold War in the 1980s, a clandestine group of special operatives are tasked by President Reagan to take down one of the most dangerous terrorist threats the world has seen. We follow this group as they battle the terrorist Perseus, and in particular we embody the custom character Bell. It’s up to Bell and their comrades to battle Perseus in black ops across the globe, most of which involve plenty of gunfire, explosions and the odd bit of stealth here and there.
That means, of course, fantastic set pieces and plenty of high-quality scripted adventures. You’ll roam the jungles of Vietnam, covertly cross the Berlin Wall and sneak into secret facilities. As usual for Call of Duty, the campaign is meant to make you feel like a complete badass and it generally succeeds at this goal. The fact that you’re able to customize Bell to a significant degree, including some helpful perks to tailor your character to your playstyle, goes a long way toward making this work.
Really, Cold War’s campaign is one of the more interesting takes we’ve seen out of this franchise. The outcomes of most missions can be changed based on evidence and clues that Bell finds in previous missions, such as by deciphering codes and arranging to capture rather than kill your targets. It’s a nice touch that adds a little bit of role-playing flavor to a game that’s generally about as far from RPGs as you can get.
This goes so far as to offering a selection of endings, though generally the options that change how the story plays out are pretty obvious and very clearly related to the conclusion, so it’s not like you’ll need to play through the campaign in full several times to see everything. I’m not sure if we’ve beaten Black Ops 3’s cyberpunk insanity just yet, but Cold War’s campaign is pretty solid. Oh, and don’t expect any of that lovely cooperative goodness from Black Ops 3, either, as this is a purely single-player affair.
Meanwhile, multiplayer and Zombies are present and accounted for, as expected. Multiplayer’s a little underwhelming this time around, with a paucity of maps and weapons and no new take on the beloved Warzone mode from the recent Modern Warfare reboot. Nuketown’s back, so that’s nice. The most significant addition to Cold War’s multiplayer is Combined Arms mode, which incorporates vehicles and objective-focused gameplay, but it’s still no Warzone.
Fortunately, Cold War will gain access to Warzone sometime in December, at which point it’ll be hard to argue that even multiplayer-focused CoD fans shouldn’t upgrade.
As for Zombies, it’s more of the classic undead-blasting you’ve known and loved for years now. This is a continuation of the Zombies plot introduced in Black Ops 4, so if you’re attached to the ongoing lore attached to these minigames you’re good to go here. Even if you could care less about the plot, there’s still all kinds of zombie-slaughtering to do, money to make, upgradable weapons and Perks to buy and so on. You still can’t play as JFK again this time around, but you do get a digital Ronald Reagan if that helps.
Presentation-wise, well, this is Call of Duty. It’s the ur-Video Game, as we’ve said in the past. It’s the game that people who don’t play games recognize, so they think every video game is just like it. Does it surprise anyone that there’s plenty of money to ensure that Cold War looks about as great – if not better – as any game released in the past year or two? There’s a lot riding on Cold War’s aesthetics and it doesn’t disappoint from a graphical, sound or gameplay perspective.
Naturally, it’s a launch title for the new generation of consoles, as well, so lucky PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X / S owners will have next-gen bragging rights (especially PS fans).
Frankly, I’m a little shocked that it’s still a meme in some of the more insular gaming communities to dump on Call of Duty. These games have consistently proven themselves to be interesting, action-packed experiences with quality multiplayer that more than justify their price. That remains the case with Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War as well, since it’s a fresh and interesting take on the proven Call of Duty formula that remains worth a look for both new and old players. Also, it’s got some pretty fantastic music. These were the 1980s, after all.