Call of Duty is the only non-sports AAA video game franchise with a new instalment dropping every year and it’s fair to say that not all of them have been bangers. Juggled between three of Activision’s game studios (Infinity Ward, Treyarch, and Sledgehammer) each of them have their own separate approach despite every Call of Duty game sharing the same core DNA. Regardless of which team is at the helm, we’ve come to expect a cinematic singleplayer campaign wedged between top class online multiplayer and an ever-changing co-op mode.
In launching Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Treyarch had the unenviable job of following up 2019’s superb Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Although not everyone’s favourite recent game in the series, for many it marked a return to form. With Infinity Ward then launching Call of Duty: Warzone as a free add-on, Modern Warfare reigns over the FPS genre once more.
However, that hasn’t stopped Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War from trying to outdo its predecessor. Treyarch have made some bold choices with their fifth game in the popular sub-series, but is enough to contend with Modern Warfare?
Black Ops Cold War vs. Modern Warfare: Campaign
Firstly, there’s the campaign. Black Ops III and its futuristic bending of reality proved more than a little divisive, thanks in part to Treyarch’s insistence on making it a co-op focused experience, and then Black Ops 4 shelved its campaign entirely. With Cold War promising a return to the more traditional campaign format – dropping us in the 80s with a familiar cast of characters – there was definitely some promise there.
Where this campaign delivers is in the choices it presents. Most of them amount to next to nothing, though you’re given more agency in Cold War than other Call of Duty campaigns before it, bar the superb Black Ops II. The skulduggery and mind games are more prevalent than ever here, one level showcasing this perfectly as you finally unravel one of the story’s biggest twists. It’s one that no one saw coming…
Where Modern Warfare was a punchy, incredibly well-placed thrill ride, Black Ops Cold War wants its players to immerse themselves, reading through dossiers, and piecing together leads in your hunt for the big baddie. It works to an extent, but the overall story isn’t quite as gripping and the characters far less engaging. Modern Warfare didn’t have a flawless narrative, but it kept you charging from one story beat to the next.
Black Ops Cold War vs. Modern Warfare: Multiplayer
Next stop is multiplayer, where we’ll also touch on the core gameplay. Modern Warfare made some notable changes to how Call of Duty’s traditional running and gunning felt, creating a deeper sense of interactivity with the environments. Players could peak around corners, mount guns on surfaces, and even open/close doors.
Cold War inherits some of these changes – such as the in-depth Gunsmith weapon customisation – but overall it feels like a simplification. This less “realistic” strain of boots-on-the-ground action is one that I personally prefer, with a slightly longer time to kill and fewer opportunities for players to camp for entire matches.
The number of maps is fine and will no doubt expand with free additions just as Modern Warfare did. However, Treyarch’s two big new modes – Fireteam’s Dirty Bomb, and Combined Arms – don’t really do it for me. Without any tutorials on hand to explain what’s going on, those first few matches can be confusing, so even though they’re more objective-based than Modern Warfare’s 64-player Ground War, I found myself drifting more towards the traditional match playlists in Cold War.
It’s still early doors, though. Even though Black Ops Cold War is out, Treyarch’s first season for the game doesn’t kick off until next month. Areas that have been looking a bit sparse (namely the amount of visual customisation available) are sure to be remedied, and Warzone is gearing up for the Cold War takeover.
Black Ops Cold War vs. Modern Warfare: Co-Op
Funnily enough, the original Black Ops was the last time I took the Zombies mode seriously. Call of Duty’s carousel of co-op modes tend to be hit and miss though I’ve given each one a fair shake, hoping they’d draw me back in and then drifting away. Cold War’s “Die Maschine” held my attention for a little longer than usual, deviously leaning on my nostalgia for that very first Call of Duty Zombies map, Nacht der Untoten.
Of course, there have been renovations since its debut in Call of Duty: World at War. The classic co-op mode has also been injected with some new and returning features without feeling like a total rehash. However, with only one map there isn’t enough meat on the bone.
Still, it’s way better than Modern Warfare’s attempt at reviving Spec Ops. Infinity Ward could have made a truly class series of challenges, but instead opted for something multiplayer focused that just felt like a wasted opportunity.
Black Ops Cold War vs. Modern Warfare: The Verdict
Overall, if Treyarch delivered a campaign that had the same chops as Modern Warfare, Black Ops Cold War would be the hands down winner. They’ve played it safe with this year’s multiplayer, but that’s exactly what I wanted from them after years of either wall-running or hero-based shooting. Modern Warfare was definitely more revolutionary though the brutal time to kill made it a hard one to stick with.
The beauty of this series is that both games (and no doubt next year’s entry) will all continue to support different factions of the Call of Duty fanbase.
Right now we’re still in the dark as to what comes next for the franchise. 2020 should have actually been Sledgehammer’s year to lead a Call of Duty sequel, but Treyarch were reportedly brought in to rescue a troubled development cycle, partnering with Raven Software. This year it seems like Sledgehammer will finally return, rumours hinting at the next title being dubbed “Call of Duty: Vanguard”, beaming us back to a World War II setting. While it’s always great to see some genuine diversity in the series, it will be interesting to see what impact this could potentially have on Warzone’s continued support.