There are three things guaranteed in life: death, taxes, and a Call of Duty title released in the run-up to the holidays. Yes, this meme is a little worn out, but if Black Ops Cold War is any indication then Call of Duty has plenty of life left yet.
Developed out of Activision’s Treyarch and Raven studios, Cold War is bulging with content. Most notable is the return of a campaign mode which was omitted from Black Ops IV, along with the traditional Multiplayer and Zombies modes.
‘Your decisions have a tangible, if minor, impact on the story.’
The campaign is a direct sequel to the original Call of Duty: Black Ops released in 2010. Taking control of an operative known only as ‘Bell,’ you’re granted the opportunity to craft your own background for the character. There are several pre-written backstories to choose from, all of which are acknowledged throughout your campaign. So too is your gender, with the correct pronouns used if you identify as non-binary.
Progress has also been made with the narrative. There are interactive dialogue options that help shape your character. Your decisions have a tangible, if minor, impact on the story – granting some welcome agency in shaping how certain scenarios play out. Similarly, collecting intel in primary missions can help reveal the correct action to take in side missions – where going in unprepared can cost you.
The primary missions also offer some welcome variety from the usual warfare, with some interesting changes in pace. So too does the Safehouse, which appears between certain missions. It allows you to interact with your team full of some returning characters in Mason, Hudson, and Woods along with the new cast like Cliff Booth wannabe Russell Adler.
Whilst there are plenty of high points, the campaign does come and go too quickly. Though shooter campaigns can often descend into a repetitive slog, here it results in a muddled story that tries to do too much in too little time. More annoying is the use of a highly derivative story beat from another popular video game series. Overall, though, there’s plenty here to satisfy most players.
‘The elite enemies feel well balanced… but are quick to capitalize on any mistakes.’
Something that has never failed to please players is Black Ops’ Zombies mode. Cold War is no exception, with the traditional endless run offering several objectives to complete which unlock the map. There also time trials and other secrets to unlock to keep things interesting, even without the ravenous masses.
The elite enemies feel well balanced. Veteran players can decimate them, but they are also quick to capitalize on any mistakes. That goes for the hordes too, with enough improvement in the deeper rounds to the speed and strength of the usual fodder that a group of them can still catch you out.
You also have the option to exfiltrate via a helicopter during an endless run or at the end of a twenty-round run. It provides a thrilling climax that throws even the most composed groups into chaos with the objective of clearing an outrageous amount of enemies before the 90-second countdown clock expires.
This year, zombies mode features a new addition. In the currently exclusive-to-PlayStation mode, Onslaught, two players fight off waves of zombies as they compete against one another on the leaderboard. It’s not solely about competition. Players need to cooperate in order to survive each round. It dilutes the main experience of zombies into a more compact setting, with perks and weapons dropping when elite enemies are killed. For the moment, the mode lacks the tension and action of its bigger brother as the action is too slow to ramp up. Things are easily manageable and ultimately slow until at least round ten.
‘There are fewer maps’
For those who have spent countless hours with last year’s Modern Warfare and Warzone, there’s a chance you’ll feel underwhelmed. There are fewer maps – only eight at the time of release – each of which is smaller to allow for a faster pace than its predecessor. For the moment, the MP5 seems to be the most popular weapon of choice. Too often have I been on the receiving end of a kill cam with one of their barrels bearing down on me.
There are several new modes in which to test yourself. One of the biggest additions is Fireteam: Dirty Bomb. It is a fun, if frustrating, attempt to build upon the success of Warzone, emulating its Plunder mode. Ten teams of four players line up to detonate dirty bombs across a map shrouding the surrounding area with radiation. Each kill earns you uranium to be loaded into a bomb. It has potential, but too often you find yourself bogged down in firefights with the objective taking too long to actually detonate.
Multiplayer foes seem to take more hits before dying, which is perhaps a trick of perception as you can see the opposing team’s health bar. Nevertheless, this holds the game back. With that said, there’s always something of a learning curve and adjustment period when a new annualized game is released. Part of the responsibility falls on developers to make that transition as painless as possible, while the other falls on the player to have some patience, take some losses, and learn.
As a lapsed Call of Duty fan, I was excited to give Cold War a chance. This generation I’ve found myself moving further away from the series and shooters in general. However, after a few rounds of multiplayer and zombies, I found myself slipping back into a comfortable groove of telling myself “just one more round.” Though the game has plenty to improve upon, there is also enough content (and the promise of more to come) that will sate Call of Duty fans until next year.
Game Freaks 365 received a free review copy.