Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War review for PC, PS5, Xbox Series X, PS4, Xbox One

Platform: PC
Also On: PS5, Xbox Series X, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch/Raven Studios
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: Multi
Online: Yes

Call of Duty has found itself in a weird place here in the year 2020. On one hand, the rebooted Modern Warfare from last year is still wildly popular and holding the attention of the largest Call of Duty audience ever. On the other hand, the free-to-play battle royale mode Warzone maintains a solid player and streamer base, while constantly innovating and being updated to keep players engaged. On yet a third hand, Activision has tried to recreate the success of the soft-reboot of Modern Warfare with yet another non-numerical entry to the series, Black Ops Cold War, which serves as a soft-reboot of the Black Ops series, complete with fan-favorite characters and all. Treyarch pulls this off with varying degrees of success across the modes, making for a somewhat lukewarm new entry that I doubt will hold the attention of the large majority of the player base for long.

I will preface this by saying that I personally enjoy the direction that Black Ops Cold War has chosen to take. A return to basics, that is ultimately just that, basic. This is great for someone like me, with so many games that I love to play both casually and professionally, who can?t necessarily devote an entire year to mastering one game. I have always been a decent Call of Duty player, I go consistently positive for the most part, and am an objective master. You need someone to run in and dive B? I?m your guy. There are a whole lot of people out there who are better than me though, and I am not at all ashamed to admit it. Modern Warfare (2019) felt like a little too much at times. It was so incredibly fast-paced, and there was so much CONTENT in the multiplayer that it was a bit overwhelming for someone who had been out of the game for several iterations. Now with Black Ops Cold War, it feels like they have toned it way back, for better or worse.

Graphically, Cold War feels like a step backward. The nearly photorealistic graphics of Modern Warfare have been replaced by slightly more cartoonish, less detailed models. Characters, maps, guns, they all feel just slightly *less* when coming from last year?s release. To make matters worse, Warzone is just a click away, and if you choose to jump back and forth between Warzone and Cold War, the difference is startling.

In addition to the noticeable difference in graphics, the guns themselves are different. The difference is not huge, but it is noticeable. If you spend an hour in Warzone with an AK-47 or an MP5, then swap over to Cold War and try and play online with those exact same guns, it is not the same. The way they handle, the damage output, even the audio is different enough to give players pause. Compare that to swapping between Modern Warfare and Warzone, and there is no appreciable difference there. This is a symptom of the root of the issue that Call of Duty has now, they have to compete with themselves in a way they never have before. Sure, being an annual release, Call of Duty always competes with itself in some way. Each year brings new fans and players, and each year brings complaints from old players who chose to stick with the previous release. This year is different though, with Warzone being a free mode that bridges the gap between Modern Warfare and Black Ops Cold War, and seeming to be the pony that Activision is putting the majority of its money on. This makes Cold War a decidedly harder pill to swallow, with a $60 to $70 price tag for an experience that many will argue is lacking in areas that the entirely free Warzone is not.

The biggest strength that Black Ops Cold War has going for it is the return to more basic, three-lane maps for the standard multiplayer modes. There is a predictable flow to the combat that I felt was missing last year from the majority of the maps. For me, and I am sure for a lot of more casual players, this is a great move. Having simple to learn maps makes for much more enjoyable games, much faster. Of course, you will have spots on every map that can be exploited for an advantage, but every spot on the maps in Cold War seems to have another spot that allows someone to counter. For every sniper spot that people like to camp, there is a concealed little cubby perfect for sitting to safely lob grenades in. The lanes are well designed and chaotic, but there is a level of order in the chaos that is very reminiscent of the original Black Ops and Black Ops 2.

Firearm balancing is another highpoint here, contrary to what you might read kids yelling about on Reddit. Sure, there is balancing to be done post-launch, with certain guns like the MP5 dominating the field, but there do not seem to be any duds in the arsenal. Each gun has a place, and a player to use it. I run with a regular group of five guys every night, and in our group, we have someone who uses the Stoner, someone who uses the XM4, someone who uses the DMR14, an AK-74U guy, and a filler who plays with pretty much everything. This is a good representation of what we run into, with the occasional games that are just MP5 all the time, which absolutely does happen, but using it is not a guaranteed win.

Aside from those positives, which I am well aware that a large and vocal portion of the fanbase strongly disagrees with, there is no innovation here to satisfy players looking for something more. Gunsmith has been toned way back in favor of a more classic approach to attachments. The diversity of your arsenal and attachments is also somewhat limited by the Cold War era the game is set in. Again, coming off the heels of Modern Warfare and packaged with Warzone, some of the sights and attachments just end up feeling dated. The lack of ability to save custom firearm builds outside of your ?create-a-class? is also frustrating. I like being able to set up one class for a certain gun, but having several variants of that gun adapted to different maps and situations. This is a sorely missed feature and one that I hope Treyarch will add in the near future.

Everything in the Cold War multiplayer adds up to a product that is less in just about every regard when compared to Modern Warfare (2019), but I personally enjoy it quite a bit more. I love the return to basics, with dropshotting being a virtually useless gameplay choice, no more mounting or corner peaking, and limited ability to run around and quickscope all day, the focus seems to have shifted back to simple gunplay. With a few audio tweaks to give gunshots some more depth, some balance changes, and a steady stream of new 3-lane maps and new guns to try, Cold War could really be a winner. I feel like Black Ops Cold War has the most finely tuned and well rounded multiplayer since Black Ops 2, but lacks a lot of the flash and features that a large portion of the community has grown to expect.

In addition to Multiplayer, Black Ops Cold War has a Zombies mode, as everyone has come to expect when Treyarch is at the helm. While they chose to step backward with Multiplayer, they took a huge leap forward with Zombies. Fans will recognize the map immediately, it is a reworked and a much larger and more open variant of the original Nacht der Untoten map from World at War. A lot has changed here since World War II, and the map certainly reflects that. Zombies plays a lot faster, with a streamlined perk system, custom classes with their own separate unlocks, and the option to try and extract your team every 5 levels after hitting level 10. Successfully extracting nets you bonus experience and loot, while sticking it out longer will further increase the reward, but make extraction that much harder. There are plenty of Easter Eggs to be found here, but so far at least, they do not seem to be quite as extreme as some of the previous games.

Your levels carry across Multiplayer and Zombies, which makes it even more fun to take a break from the competitive killing fields and try your hand at some good old fashioned Zombie hunting. Earning experience toward both your overall level and your gun level further sweetens the already sweet deal. This is not the traditional Zombies experience you are used to, it is fast, it is brutal, and it gets tough very quickly. The weapons you buy off the walls now have tiered rarity based on the perks and attachments they have, and equipment can be dropped by dead zombies for you to pick up and adjust your class with. Overall I feel like I am just scratching the surface of what Zombies has to offer, and I am extremely excited to dig deeper in the coming weeks.

Finally, there is the Black Ops Cold War campaign. With the previous Black Ops title, Black Ops 4, Treyarch opted to skip a campaign in favor of a more focused Multiplayer experience. Modern Warfare (2019) threw that idea out the window and delivered one of the best Call of Duty campaigns ever. Once again, Black Ops Cold War had its work cut out for it, with yet another arena in which it would inevitably be compared to Modern Warfare (2019). Unfortunately, the campaign ends up falling flat over the course of the 6-8 hours it takes to slog through. As fun as it sounds to create ?Black Ops missions? in the Cold War, and as enjoyable as some of the set pieces and individual moments are, the campaign itself feels like a last-minute add-on, with poor overall direction and a lack of meaningful story. It plays like an RPG-lite, ?Choose Your Own Adventure? novel, complete with dialogue options, multiple endings, and side quests that can pop up depending on your choices. That sounds great on paper, but the execution was shallow, uninteresting, and incredibly dull.

The campaign tries to step away from the traditional run and gun, waved based firefights of the past and introduce some more stealth elements and some espionage. Your mileage with these will vary, depending on how you like your ham cooked. All of Black Ops Cold War feels much more arcadey, the campaign included. Cheesy dialogue and ridiculous interactions take away from all of the feelings of depth that Treyarch tries to impart in some of the more serious scenes. When you shed the attempts at both depth and humor, which each land about as well as the other, there is more of the genuinely good gunplay that you get from the Multiplayer. It is certainly not the realistic, simulation-like quality that you can get in Modern Warfare (2019), but it is still fun and feels mostly grounded. Sliding down a roof and leaping off in slow motion while mowing people down is a treat, but not exactly the most practical move in the book.

At the end of the day, video games are about personal preference. I do not have the time I used to for mastering individual games, and Black Ops Cold War doesn?t demand it of me. I have already reached first prestige in the week it has been out, and that is in addition to playing the campaign AND tackling launch titles on the PS5. Cold War would seem perfectly positioned for the casual Call of Duty player if it weren?t for Warzone. Warzone is entirely free, and offers an experience that has been built upon for over a year, and will continue to be built upon and supported long after Cold War is not the ?current? Call of Duty. For the more hardcore players, I think after a few weeks in Cold War, they will be returning to Modern Warfare (2019) to wait for the next installation.

Activision provided us with a Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War PC code for review purposes.

Grade: B-