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Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s campaign opens with footage of Ronald Reagan while Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In The Sky plays over a jukebox. This is the level of subtlety the game deals in.
Beginning in 1981 in the shadow of the Vietnam war, Cold War focuses on an elite group of soldiers operating outside the lines of the law in order to take down an existential Russian threat. So far, so Call Of Duty, but, by breaking up the bombastic set pieces the franchise trades in with slower, stealth-based sequences and some player choice, Cold War’s campaign had us engaged enough to finish it in one sitting.
You play as Bell, a faceless protagonist and newest recruit to a shadowy cabal of operatives led by Adler, a man who literally never takes off his glasses and talks like someone doing an impression of an 80s action hero.
The plot is predictable and cliche, but it’s delivered with flair and rarely slows down the action. The nods to real-life history, including the presence of Reagan himself in an early cutscene, are fun but serve as little reflection about the US’s place in actual history as We Didn’t Start The Fire.
The mission’s themselves are varied and regularly offer the players new weapons and methods of attack. They serve as a ‘greatest hits’ of the game’s killstreaks and rare weapons. For example, you’ll get a turn to use the AC130, but only for a few moments before another novelty is shoved in your face, setting a rapid pace. They’re also brief enough that we never found ourselves desperate for a conclusion.
Occasionally, an option will present itself to the player in the form of a side objective in a level or a dialogue option which will impact the missions following it. This ranges from whether or not you allow a character to live, determining if they’ll undermine your next mission to as small as a different piece of dialogue from a teammate. These aren’t massively consequential, but they’re enjoyable to seek out as they appear.
Visually, the campaign offers up some fantastic vistas and large explosions that shine on the PlayStation 5. Loading times don’t match the lightning-quick pace of other titles on the system, but they’re still a leap forward from the previous generation. Unfortunately, we ran into several frame rate hiccups during our time with the game, specifically in levels with heavy lighting effects. This may be due to the presence of ray tracing, but it was still surprising to see from a series lauded for its technical ability.
The campaign is well worth playing if you’re already invested in the package, but as a popcorn, B-movie 80s thriller, it’s not worth the price of admission alone, particularly at £70 on the PS5.
Sadly, Cold War’s multiplayer suite feels aimless. There’s the classic roster of Team Deathmatch, Hard Point, Domination among others, but there are also new additions such as Dirty Bomb, Combined Arms and VIP Escort. While each offers short term fun and provides a home to shooting mechanics that are still unparalleled in the genre, the lack of cohesion makes the overall package feel at the same time bloated and shallow.
“The campaign is well worth playing if you’re already invested in the package, but as a popcorn, B-movie 80s thriller, it’s not worth the price of admission alone, particularly at £70 on the PS5.”
Fire Team: Dirty Bomb sees several squads of four players drop into a sprawling map with five dirty bombs placed around it. The goal is to collect uranium scattered throughout the map in chests and on the corpses of your foes and deposit it into a bomb. Once the bomb reaches 20 chunks of uranium, your team must stand close enough to it in order to trigger the detonate sequence and gain points. Once the five bombs are detonated, a new set spawns until the score target is reached.
When playing this mode with a team who could all communicate, we found this to be an extremely fun addition. However, on the opposite side of that, it’s a mode that’s extremely lacklustre while playing by yourself. Should you down an enemy, then not only do you have to contend with your opponent’s three other squadmates, but you also have to deal with the myriad of other teams bearing down on your location. Non-verbal communication is limited and often ignored.
Call of Duty and objective-based modes have never been particularly harmonious, and the result is modes that simply feel like larger versions of established fare, devoid of the tactical element of games like the Battlefield series. Unless you have a dedicated squad, these matches quickly descend into Team Deathmatch in all but name, with players focused exclusively on their own performance.
This is also the case in Combined Arms, Cold Wars larger objective-based mode which also features vehicles. These games take place on large maps, however, they feel more like a few smaller maps stitched together with empty space in order to create a purpose for the vehicles.
One of the two Combined Arms modes that are playable at launch is Assault, a back and forth scramble that begins with a single neutral objective, with whichever team captures it first gaining access to another zone deeper into the enemy side of the map. This is not dissimilar to Star Wars Battlefront 2’s Supremacy mode and features similar issues.
At launch, games can often feel at a stalemate with unorganised hordes of teammates running blindly towards their doom. Single members of teams too distracted by the inclusion of vehicles to focus on the task at hand, and the perineal Call Of Duty problem of selfish players governed only by their desire to level up their MP5 for a new skin.
But for those lone soldiers so desperate to do it all themselves, the traditional options are still as viable. Usual suspects; Team Deathmatch, Domination and Hardpoint and others remain steadfast in their position as excellent, low commitment time killers, but when played on a group of maps that are profoundly uninspiring, even the familiar joy of ranking top of the leaderboard loses its shine.
Progression is handled in a similar way to recent titles, with players progressing not only their personal rank but that of their chosen weapon. This method remains fundamentally sound and the constant dopamine release of seeing your weapon’s rank increase, sometimes twice a game if you’re on a particularly hot streak, remains gripping.
Also, this serves as a baked-in meta new game plus, with each new selection of a weapon allowing for the journey through the ranks to begin again. However, this furthers the game’s inherent juxtaposition of pursuing large, team-based modes, but rewarding players preoccupied with their own self-interest.
Whichever gun you chose to wield, the weight of that choice has never felt more visceral thanks to the haptic triggers used in the PlayStation 5 version of the game. Both aiming and fire receive a heft that’s immersive, but distracting. Those wishing to take the game seriously will be quick to disable the feature, as in a twitch shooter where milliseconds can separate the winners and losers of gun fights, those moments lost to extra resistance aren’t worth it.
Ultimately, Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer offering satisfies short term enjoyment over long term engagement. For a series whose team-based game modes have often ultimately been the home to groups of unassociated solo players obsessed with their kill/death ratio, even these large scale modes that necessitate teamwork aren’t enough to persuade them.
Multiplayer feels in need of a revolution as industry-shaking as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The fatigue has well and truly set in and in a time where players have instant access to fully fleshed out, far more modern takes on online gaming at zero cost (like Warzone), Call of Duty’s premium games can ill afford to stagnate any longer.
The third pillar of the Cold War experience, Zombies, retains its zany humour and surprisingly deep lore that caused the mode to become such a firm favourite in the original Black Ops. While the majority of players will completely ignore this element of the mode, it’s great for long term fans.
The wave-based survival mode is a fantastic time with a group of friends for around the first 15 rounds or so, but once the majority of the levels’ secret areas have been revealed, it quickly becomes a case of running laps around the stage, desperate to avoid getting one’s ankles clipped.
Difficulty also scales up at a rapid pace to where one moment you feel capable of withstanding a few errant swipes at your heels from your pursuers, to suddenly collapsing in a heap after merely brushing against them.
“The fatigue has well and truly set in and in a time where players have instant access to fully fleshed out, far more modern takes on multiplayer gaming at zero cost, Call of Duty’s premium games can ill afford to stagnate any longer.”
The loop of upgrading your guns and refining your strategy is a great time when spent with friends, but, like Multiplayer’s new larger team modes, without a squad all communicating, there’s a difficulty ceiling that’s quickly met.
Overall, the Black Ops Cold War package feels anachronistic. The era of one annual box game containing three completely disparate modes feels so long ago in the age of Warzone.
It probably won’t be long until Zombies itself is spun off into its own executable, for players that only want to play that mode, far from the crushingly dated Multiplayer suite. Though, if this is to happen, it may signal the end for the traditional Call of Duty campaign, an area of the game that plenty ignore, but routinely delivers a compact, thrilling few hours of fun devoid of the need to focus on the millisecond timing of Multiplayer.
Losing this would be a shame. Especially after Cold War, whose campaign, while narratively scattered, provides some interesting additions to a well-worn formula, something we’d like to see them explore further as the generation proceeds.
Despite its enjoyable campaign, Black Ops Cold War feels like an anachronistic package. The era of one game containing three completely disparate modes feels so long ago in the age of Warzone.
- Campaign is 5 hours of B-movie fun.
- Zombies mode excels with friends.
- Multiplayer sweet feels dated.
- Uninspiring selection of maps at launch.