Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is familiar. This is CoD after all. But it’s definitely a step up from the fun but bare-boned Black Ops 4 and includes elements that the series introduced in its most recent installment, Modern Warfare.
Yes, you go on missions. Yes, shoot a lot of bad guys. The basics are all there: Story mission with fun twists and turns, an entertaining zombies mode and a multiplayer mode where you’ll end up spending most of your time.
But it has taken those elements and made them better. The campaign is intriguing and honestly the most fun I’ve had playing a CoD campaign. The multiplayer mode is huge and varied. Zombies is frenetic and, well, just kind of wild.
Cold War is the fifth entry in the Black Ops series, and like its predecessors, it’s about down-and-dirty combat — guns, knives, grenades and airstrikes — and not about futuristic, wall-climbing craziness. And I’m good with that.
But while the previous entry, Black Ops 4, was a strictly multiplayer entry, there’s a lot more to Cold War.
It picks up as a sequel to the original Black Ops, the 2010 entry that took place in the ’60s, and fast-forwards a bit to the early ’80s. Rather than meeting JFK, as players did in the first entry, you’ll meet Ronald Reagan during a meeting. Many of the first game’s characters — including Alex Mason — appear again here in Cold War as you seek out the former Soviet agent Perseus, who seeks to shift the balance of the Cold War, in a campaign inspired by real events and showcasing real locations such as East Berlin, Vietnam and the Soviet KGB headquarters.
You take on the role of an operative known by their codename, Bell, and you get to pick the character’s features (including physical features and gender with, kudos to the developers, an option to be nonbinary) and personality (which gives in-game bonuses).\
I haven’t had this much fun in the campaign of a Call of Duty game in a long time. Sneaking around East Berlin attempting to avoid the Stasi felt dangerous and exciting. Flying a helicopter through the jungle was fun without being overly complicated.
You get to make choices in the game, which is a bit new for me in the CoD franchise. As Bell, you and the game’s other clandestine operators work out of an old mechanic’s garage, and an evidence board presents new missions. Collecting intel as you play missions enhances your ability to accomplish future missions, and some side missions — yes, there are optional side missions! — are not playable until you’ve gathered certain evidence and examined it properly.
Your accomplishments during those missions and how you behave — say, killing an informant versus saving him — affects the outcome of the game. And one big twist has a major impact on how the game plays out. There are multiple ways to play the game and multiple endings, making this the first CoD game where I can imagine replaying the campaign after completing it.
That the game gives you choices makes it much more engaging than many first-person shooter campaigns, which are often nothing more than one big action setpiece after another.
Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer offers, as usual, a series of weapons and upgrades unlocked as you earn XP.
But y’know, it is Call of Duty. What did you expect?
The game launched with 10 total maps, a limited number of modes and only 27 guns (including primary and secondary weapons) total, which doesn’t feel like a lot.
I was hoping for, well, a bit more especially with this being the fifth entry in the Black Ops series. Why not include previous favorites from the franchise? I assume new maps will be rolling out with the first season of content coming in December, and as Modern Warfare included some free maps with its seasons, I hope the same happens here. But I do feel like cycling through the main eight maps used in regular multiplayer missions gets a little tired, especially after a few lengthy sessions.
That said, I absolutely love the game’s massive multiplayer maps.
Playing Domination, where you have to capture and hold objective areas to score points, is a total blast on Armada, a map that features several ships that can be accessed by boats, ziplines, jet-skis and, well, just by swimming between them. You can play regular-sized matches with 12 players, and that’s fun, but playing 12v12 matches with six different domination zones is even crazier.
Those massive maps are best played in two large-format game modes: Fireteam and Combined Arms. Fireteam features 10 squads of four players, making for a frenetic but fun experience. Teamwork is going to win the day in those missions. When playing Fireteam: Dirty Bomb you’ll want to work together with other squads to collect Uranium and locate your enemy’s dirty bombs. Winning means depositing enough Uranium in your dirty bomb sites to be able to detonate.
Combined Arms is the above-mentioned 24-player megamatches filled with vehicles and played on massive maps. And game modes such as Assault, where you win by first capturing a neutral zone and then by taking a secondary zone deep in your enemy territory. Combat within those zones is hilarious as 12-player teams descend upon them, and Assault has quickly become my favorite multiplayer mode to play.
Familiar game modes such as Team Deathmatch, Search & Destroy, Domination and Hardpoint are all here, and there are new modes such as Control and VIP Escort. Control features two control points — one team attacks while the other defends, and each team has a limit of 30 lives. VIP Escort is pretty self-explanatory, but I must say it’s fun and exciting to be selected as the VIP, who gets only limited weaponry and abilities.
The game is largely the same as Black Ops 4‘s multiplayer system with a few additions from Modern Warfare such as the Gunsmith weapon customization option. Like in Black Ops 4, each class gets a special weapon (proximity mine, small radar dish, trophy system, etc.) that recharges after it gets used. Wildcards let you break rules and create classes the way you want. But a new thing is that every scorestreak is progressive, sticking around no matter how many times you die. (That’s a perk I usually kicked on in previous games since I tend to not be able to get 10 kills in a row without dying.)
While there are some new features to multiplayer mode, it’s mostly the same.
Not so for Cold War’s zombies, which has a an all-new map that references old
The new mode does a good job of keeping things entertaining for hardcore zombies players as well as casual players just looking for a good bit of zombie killing mayhem.
As usual, you and your squad must survive wave after wave of flesh-hungry undead. You land on the Die Maschine map as a CIA operative ready to figure out what’s going on in this mysterious bunker, and inside you find, what else, a mysterious machine. The interior spaces are fun and intriguing (look out for lots of Easter eggs) but the tight corridors can be dangerous. The connected spaces are huge, but there are plenty of points of high ground you can retreat to if and when the zombie horde feels overwhelming.
And while previous Zombie modes made you basically play til you were overwhelmed, Cold War gives you the option to exfil after 10 rounds (and every five rounds thereafter). Closing out your game gives you rewards. But know it’s not easy. You need to get to the exfil site, and you have a limited amount of time.
Perhaps one of the best incentives to play Zombies, other than it being a wild ride, is that Cold War ties your progression in multiplayer and zombies together. In short, playing both will help you level up faster.
Overall, I’m really happy with the launch of Cold War, which offers a whole lot more than the strictly multiplayer Black Ops 4 ever did (an actual campaign, just as robust of a multiplayer mode and a much better zombies experience).
The game is decently robust even if I’m already looking forward to the post-launch roll-out of new seasons and all the new content that comes with it.
I also love how Cold War includes cross-platform and cross-generation play, meaning
The Ultimate Edition, which I’m playing courtesy of Activision, includes an Xbox Series X|S copy as well as an Xbox One copy, and my progression is saved across platforms, meaning I can play on my basement TV while my kids watch a movie in the living room and then switch to my (much larger and 4k) TV in the living room after the kiddos go to bed.
I know Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a game I’ll keep returning to again and again.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
Campaign story is full of twists and turns and hinges on player decisions, which alter the story and lead to multiple endings. Multiplayer maps are huge, and the game modes with lots of players make them frenetic fun. Zombies is fun for casual players but offers lots of easter eggs for longtime fans. Whole release is more robust than the last Black Ops game.
Not quite as much multiplayer content (maps, guns, etc.) as hoped for on launch. Gameplay hasn’t changed much — in fact, it feels nearly identical to the last two CoD releases. Gunplay doesn’t feel quite as smooth as previous games, and it takes some adjustment to get used to playing.
Release Date: Nov. 13, 2020
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S (played)
Publisher/Developer: Activision, Treyarch, Raven
ESRB Rating: M for Mature for blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, suggestive themes, use of drugs