I love role playing in video games. There’s something about crafting your own character that adds to the immersion and makes the overall experience more fun, I find, and it’s a nice feature to have added to Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. Like much of the game though, there’s just that little something missing to make the idea truly standout.
Black Ops Cold War take us on a trip back and forth from the 60’s to the 80’s, getting us involved in all sorts of crazy terrorist plots, mind bending shennanigans and covert operations that would make James Bond’s toes curl.
You play the mysterious ‘Bell’, a super slick MI6 type, recruited to take down big bad Perseus, who wants to do a lot of bad stuff with nukes. I say MI6, but you can actually choose your background, so if you fancy the CIA, then cool, you used to be part of the CIA. You also get to choose your gender (bonus points for adding a non-binary option), give yourself a full name and also choose a trait which gives you a gameplay perk. Going for the super spy aesthetic, I chose the ‘Calm Under Pressure’ trait which reduced flinching while being shot. The various options you select here also dictate how some of the characters relate to you during the story.
This is obviously brand new territory for CoD games and it shows in its execution. The various options you select here also dictate how some of the characters relate to you during the story, but aside from these few interactions, the rest of the campaign does little to actually give you the freedom of choice promised from the outset. There’s optional dialog to be had throughout and choices that can be made to decide the fate of certain characters, but the payoff is lacklustre, boiling down to a few lines of dialog during the end sequence.
There are also side missions available that require tracking down evidence before you can proceed and get the best result. I thought this was a smart use of the collectibles hidden throughout, which I usually find to be bland filler, with this evidence giving you the tools to crack the puzzles attached to the missions on offer. They are not too hard, but they’re a nice addition. It’s just a shame that there are only two side missions.
The best parts of the campaign are when things are moving slowly. From the corny 80’s dialogue, to oddly pleasing stealth sections – if you get caught, it just turns into a fire fight instead of a mission fail. The absolute highlight of the game is one mission where you get to play as a double agent and have to plant some evidence to get a Russian general into hot water. It felt like an odd departure to the series, but a welcome one.
Sadly, the rest of the campaign just felt a bit… meh. The typical run and gun missions do not carry as much weight as this game’s predecessors, feeling too short and light on actual action. The final mission of the game also happens to be the worst. I shot a bunch of guys, got to the end of the street and it was done. I was so surprised. Where was the set piece that CoD games are so good at? Not here.
It’s frustrating because there are quite a few things the campaign gets right. The NPCs are mostly likeable and it’s cool to interact with them. Even Mason and Woods are here to provide some good banter and grade A shooting. There’s a flashback level to Vietnam which is utterly brilliant. The game also has multiple endings, which is a great idea, but how you get there is a little deflating, considering your choices made during the campaign have no effect on it.
It’s a damn shame.
The multiplayer, where most people will spend their days, is at least decent. It’s a step back from the more realistic tone of Modern Warfare – you can’t mount your guns in Cold War, which took some time to readjust to – toward the more arcade gunplay of old with a significantly reduced time to kill. It’s a big change, and I’m not sure it’s all for the better. How it ties in with an update to Warzone will be very interesting.
The aim assist having reduced effectiveness is definitely going to affect the experience for casual players. That, coupled with maps being designed for aggressive engagements make it seem like this is definitely aimed at veteran players, which might leave casual players out in the cold. To add to this, if you are not levelling up fast, you run the risk of not only being outclassed, but also outgunned, as a lot of the better weaponry, perks and wildcards are available later up the chain. Newer players will spend a lot of time being battered.
Your core selection of multiplayer modes are ever present, with Team Deathmatch front and centre alongside Domination, Kill Confirmed, Hardpoint and many more on offer, but there’s also new modes that take a leaf out of Modern Warfare’s book. Combined Arms is basically Ground War from MW with all the Cold War bells and whistles, but a much lower soldier count. It’s a cool mode which lets you ride snowmobiles and tanks around while your team tries to take several points around the map, just like Domination. Dirty Bomb also has that Warzone feel to it with ten teams dropping in to search for uranium to fill up bombs and detonate them. It’s a nice fresh take on the large scale battle system that stands out against the other modes on offer.
Finally, there’s the Black Ops mainstay, Zombies, which makes a slightly altered return. One of the best parts of the Zombies experience was playing through the insanely time twisted plot filled with various characters that you got to know over the course of time. To find it missing here was a little unsettling. Now, you choose an operator as you would when playing multiplayer or Warzone, and jump in with your own loadout. That’s fine in theory, but it definitely takes away from the core appeal of Zombies, of having a cool character, going in with just a pistol and surviving wave after wave of enemies.
It still feels great, and there’s a slightly faster pace to start. There’s still plenty of depth and lots to unearth on the map with weird portals that transport you to a dark realm and huge zombies that spit acid clouds at you. I can only imagine this would be improved once you have a coordinated team beside you. And yes, there is an Easter Egg to complete so you can breathe a sigh of relief.
Playing on Series X, Cold War definitely feels like a step up in the performance department. Menus load quicker, the graphics are shiner and the frame rate is very good. I was greeted with a horrible bug, however, that saw my console just turn off mid level, which after doing some research, is a problem with Cold War. Hopefully this gets fixed soon.
We’ve also checked the game out on PS5 with the DualSense controller. Here, different weapon classes have their own rumble profile. Naturally, shotguns feel different to sidearms and the haptic feedback – from both the gamepad and adapative triggers – helps sell the immersion. There are some other nice touches too, such as the R2 button being harder to pull down when in no-fire zones (even though you can’t shoot anyway). However, the ambient rumble you get can be inconsistent if you’re paying particular attention. Firefights can have your palms shaking whereas getting your chopper blown out of the sky by an RPG is somehow less intense.