I’m going to admit that coming into Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War I am a Call of Duty virgin… Kinda. I have played shooters in the past, and even played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 before just for the controversial “No Russian” mission and that was it. I’ve ever been one of those people who would spend hours in the online multiplayer, screaming into a microphone only to be called a “fa**ot” by some 12 years old kid on the other end of the voice chat. It’s mainly been for that reputation that I’ve stayed away from the Call of Duty series in general. But with the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, I thought it was time to jump into one of the biggest game franchises in history and see what all the fuss was about.
Name: Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Platform(s): PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S Developer: Treyarch & Raven Software Publisher: Activision Game Type: First-person shooter Mode(s): Single-player, multiplayer Release Date: November 13, 2020 Price: AUD$99.95/USD$59.99
A Specialist Team…
In January 1981, CIA operatives Russell Adler (Bruce Thomas), Alex Mason (Chris Payne Gilbert), and Frank Woods (Damon Victor Allen) are sent to target Qasim Javadi (Farshad Farahat) and Arash Kadivar (JB Blanc) for their roles in the Iran hostage crisis. With intelligence gained from interrogating Qasim, the team tracks Arash to Turkey. Arash boasts that Perseus (Navid Negahban) was the one responsible for organizing the hostage crisis before being executed. US President Ronald Reagan (Jeff Bergman) learns of Perseus and the threat he poses to the United States and authorizes a black operation to find him. Jason Hudson (Piotr Michael) and Adler recruit Mason, Woods, Lawrence Sims (Reggie Watkins), Mossad operative Eleazar “Lazar” Azoulay (Damon Dayoub), MI6 agent Helen Park (Lily Cowles), and an agent known only by the name of “Bell”. Adler starts by working with Bell on recalling their memory in Vietnam during operation fracture jaw in 1968, where they believed to have first encountered Perseus. Afterward, the team proceeds to East Berlin to apprehend/kill (player determined) Anton Volkov (Rafael Petardi), a Russian Mafia boss with ties to Perseus.
Following an infiltration into a secret Spetsnaz training facility by Bell and Woods, the team discovers that Perseus had infiltrated Operation Greenlight, a top-secret American program that secretly planted neutron bombs in every major European city to deny their use to the Soviets in the event of an invasion. Mason and Woods are deployed to Mount Yamantau in the Ural Mountains, where they infiltrate Nikita Dragovich’s destroyed base in hopes of retrieving his list of sleeper agents. However, the team finds out that Perseus has wiped the data from the Yamantau base’s mainframe, leaving their only option to infiltrate KGB Headquarters to retrieve the list. Enlisting the help of one of their KGB double agent allies, Dimitri Belikov (Mark Ivanir), they manage to get Adler and Bell inside the Lubyanka Building, while crossing paths with Lev Kravchenko (Andrew Divoff) and Imran Zakhaev (Ondrej Habinak). The team learns that an Operation Greenlight scientist is one of the sleeper agents and has fled to Cuba. Hoping to catch Perseus there, the team launches a raid. They learn that Perseus has managed to steal the detonation codes for every Operation Greenlight bomb, meaning he can devastate Europe and lay the blame on the United States. The team comes under heavy fire and Lazar and Park are injured in the process, leaving Bell only enough time to save one of them (canonically, Park is the surviving agent).
After being rescued, Adler continues pressing Bell by provoking their memories of Vietnam once more. At this point, Bell is revealed to actually be an agent of Perseus, having been shot by Arash in Turkey out of jealousy. Bell was found by Adler and was brainwashed by him using Project MKUltra into believing they were his comrade. With Bell’s memory returned, Adler interrogates them on the location of Perseus’ headquarters. Bell can then either choose to remain loyal to Perseus and lie to Adler or choose to betray Perseus and reveal his location.
In the non-canonical endings where Bell chooses to stay loyal to Perseus, they will trick the team into a trap and kill them with the help of Perseus and the Soviet Army before they activate the nukes. If Bell refuses to kill the team, Bell is executed by Adler but the nukes will still go off. Europe is devastated by the explosions and public opinion of the United States plummets. The CIA is forced to erase the existence of Adler and his team in an effort to cover up the United States’ involvement in Operation Greenlight. Perseus boasts that his agents in Europe will take advantage of the chaos to infiltrate every European government and turn them towards the Soviet Union, while his agents in the United States will continue to undermine the country.
In the canonical ending where Bell decides to betray Perseus and help the CIA, they along with the team assault Perseus’ headquarters in Solovetsky and destroy the transmitters needed to send the detonation signal. With the failure of Operation Greenlight, Perseus goes into hiding, though Adler swears to continue pursuing him and dismantle his spy network. Later, Adler takes Bell out for a private conversation and thanks Bell for helping them, assuring them that their choice to turn against Perseus was of their own free will and that they are a hero. Adler then admits that Bell must be eliminated as a loose end and both draw their guns, with the scene fading to black as gunshots are heard.
Then In Another World… Zombies!
In 1983, CIA Officer Grigori Weaver (Gene Farber) is contacted by Samantha Maxis (Julie Nathanson), a German BND operative who provides him with secret KGB intelligence. He learns from Sam that the Omega Group, a Russian research team, is investigating a Polish facility codenamed Projekt Endstation where the Nazis once instigated a zombie outbreak. Weaver assembles a response team, codenamed Requiem, comprising of various global elite operators, and sends them to the facility to follow up on Sam’s intelligence. At Endstation, Requiem discovers a dimensional rift to the Dark Aether, that has been causing breaches in various areas of the world. Eventually, the Requiem strike team encounters Orlov, a former Omega Group member, who agrees to help them seal the dimensional rift. With Orlov’s help, the strike team succeeds in their mission and manages to exfiltrate as Endstation is destroyed.
If It Looks Like A Gun…
If there is one thing that I’ll say about Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is that it goes above and beyond Treyarch’s usual ability to create amazing world boxes for you to run and gun through. Each area that you visit throughout the campaign is detailed right down to the individual dirt patches on the ground, ripples in the water, and the way the trees move when you brush past them in a Helicopter. A lot of this would come from the fact that Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War really takes advantage of all the features like Ray-Tracing and DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling) that come with using an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 graphics card, so for those of you on AMD cards or console, you might not get this high level of graphical beauty.
Another thing I would like to praise is the character models themselves. Speaking as someone who has a keen eye for detail when it comes to small details in character models, it was nice to see that these characters had eyes that moved, with pupils that changed in shape depending on the expression of the character at the time. This was something that I first noticed in Marvel Spider-Man on PlayStation 4 in 2018. For people like me who want to see character models move closer to the uncanny valley, it shows that video games are getting closer to that point. Soon enough, we will see video game models used as full-blown movies without knowing the difference between an actor or the CGI model.
However, all this graphical splendor has come at a small noticeable cost. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War had a bit of a screen-tear problem in some sections of both the game and its cutscenes. As I mentioned, I have an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070, which is not a low-end graphics card at all. Sure, it’s not a beast like the NIVIDA GeForce RTX 3090 graphics cards, but it’s no slouch with any video game on the market at the moment and thanks to the NVIDIA Experience application, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War was running at the optimum settings for the game. So seeing screen-tearing at all to the point where it was very noticeable was a bit of a disappointment. (Note: This seems to be an issue with not enabling V-Sync, which when enabled, removed the issue but hurt the quality of the visuals in the long term.)
Speaking of disappointment, there was one thing that really made me stop playing Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War earlier than I should have, and that was the fact that when you start the game up from the Blizzard Launcher (The only way you can launch it), it goes through this configuration boot that checks and reconfigures all the graphic settings, especially the shader system, for anywhere between 5 to 8 minutes each time, locking you out of all game modes until it’s finished or you can choose to start the game without the shaders enabled at all, resulting in a lesser pleasing visual experience. I just want to play the game, not wait for close to 10 minutes every time for things to configure that should only happen on the first boot, not every boot.
Shoots Like A Gun…
Generally, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War plays like every other shooter on the planet. You play as a voiceless protagonist who goes through all sorts of areas from jungles to city locations shooting different types of enemies from Vietnamese to Russians and more on the way from point A to point B. A lot of the time you’ll be running, jumping, crouching, and crawling as you look down the iron-sights of whatever gun you are either given or pick up along the way. Sure, you do have other mechanics like punching, using a knife, or taking an enemy hostage to use as a personal human shield, but you won’t bother at all since it’s much easier to just run and gun your way through the locations and hiding behind chest-high walls.
Sometimes you might get something different though, you might get a section where you take control of a mounted mini-gun, or crossbow, or even a vehicle like a Helicopter, but most times things like stealth or sniping with a sniper rifle or crossbow doesn’t amount to much at all. As someone who loved using things like a sniper rifle or crossbow to take out whole bases in games like FarCry 5, having the Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War experience be more about going into things gung-ho style really took me out of planning anything while also having fun as I mowed down enemies by the thousands.
The other main mode I was interested in was the Zombies mode, which I thought was a single-player experience much like the campaign, but it was a multiplayer experience. The gameplay was pretty stock standard: Kill zombies in order to gain currency that unlocks weapons, ammo, and other upgrades. Basically, it was a 4 player survival mode in which you have a huge open area, and some buildings to run around in and kill hoards of the undead. This was a pretty enjoyable experience even with a little bit of jitter-lag going on thanks to the connections to other players. I enjoyed working out the best advantage points from where I could tunnel the zombies into in order to maximize my currency as much as possible, only to find that once I got used to one area, someone else on my squad would open up a barrier, wall or cave that would allow the zombies more ways to enter the killing fields. Not to mention that there is some weird portal system going on that does a negative space distortion to the area that will make the zombies harder, float up into the sky when killed, and all-around change the experience in general.
If there was any negative to come from the Zombies experience it would be that once a team member died due to not being revived, that team member quit the game causing the game to try and migrate hosts of the session, only to crash and kick everyone back to the lobby. I would understand this happening if all players were dead, but not when one player dies and disconnects. This shows a lack of real server hosting and a bad reliance on peer-to-peer connections for multiplayer, something that should not happen with this type of mode at all.
Sounds Like A Gun…
One thing I wasn’t expecting to be so cool was the soundtrack in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. Yes, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War has a soundtrack, and it features a lot of great songs on it. Since Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is based during the timeframe of the 1980s, a lot of songs from that era are used to cap the beginning and end of each mission. Outside of that, all you’re going to be hearing is gunfire, and that’s not a bad thing. As usual, Treyarch makes sure that everything you hear is as authentic as possible. From the small “putt-putt” of a silenced pistol to the earth-shattering “buzz” of a heavy machine gun, you know exactly how much damage you are going to be doing to the enemy without even needing to view what you are doing.
Then Get More Guns…
Once you’re done with Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s main campaign and the zombies mode, then all you are left with is the Warzone mode, the main multiplayer mode in the game. Before going into the multiplayer, something that has been the main appeal of Call of Duty games since their inception, I will point out that this is very much like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: Warzone where you will be pushed to buy season passes to unlock skins, load-outs, and other items. As always, I find these types of pushy sales mechanics a terrible cash grab and will never buy them, so when I went into the multiplayer session, I did so without any special items or skins that many players buy. Another thing I’ll point out is that I don’t do shooters online since the days of Unreal Tournament 2 and DOOM 2 (Outside of PUBG, which is a very different style of a shooter than Call of Duty is), so I’m very rusty when it came to taking down people in the game… When I was lucky enough to do so.
The basic multiplayer experience stems from a couple of different areas. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War has the traditional multiplayer mode which has split between team deathmatch, free for all, and “Capture the flag”, which then gets split into further options based around different types of mission types and group sizes. While playing these modes I was doing the same thing over and over again, much like ramming my head into the wall. I’d spawn into the field, being to run out, and then die to someone with a high powered weapon shooting me in the head from the other end of the map.
This showed the biggest issue when trying to enter multiplayer for the first time in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, which is that there are no lobbies that put you in with people that are the same level, leading to people from the high-end range getting thrown in with new players and those new players getting slammed over and over again as they cannot learn anything to do with the techniques and tricks that these higher-level players know. I know I could spend time in the “Vs Bots” mode and learning that way, but it is nothing like going up against human players who move frantically and doing moves that shocked me as I knew nothing about them at all, like the sliding mechanic, which got me messed up a lot more than I’d like to admit.
So if I was going to die, a lot, I was going to do it in one of the most traditional modes that Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War had to offer, the classic Nuketown Mode. In Nuketown, you are lock into a small area map where you have to capture three points in order to get enough points to win. Here, your kill/death ratio doesn’t mean anything, it’s all about running around like crazy having fun while capping the zones. Yeah, I died a lot here too, but because I’d respawn in a few seconds and jump right back into the fight, I didn’t care so much about that, and I just had fun with it.
I’ll also note that in the main menu, there is an option for Warzone available, but that option only closes the game and moves you to open (or install if you haven’t already done so) the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: Warzone game. I wish that this option would have some sort of warning message before it closed the game on you in order to open the other because then I could have backed out and gone to the actual multiplayer rather than have to reopen the game and go through the start-up all over again.
Going into Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War I was expecting a very macho and toxic experience as I went from the story campaign to the online multiplayer, and when I was done, I was highly surprised at how good the storytelling was and how fluid the gameplay has become. Does this mean I am a convert? Kinda. I’m not going to become one of those people who spend money on things like the Warzone mode, or start playing the “free” Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: Warzone game either (I tried in the past, but the game crashed and screwed up way too much for my tastes). However, I’m thinking I might wait for a few good sales either on the Blizzard Launcher or second-hand console versions (I now regret trading in my copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 when I was going to buy my PlayStation 5 & Xbox Series X consoles recently) and play through the story campaign modes at least.
Review Disclosure Statement: Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War was provided by Ground Agency for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is one of those games that people are going to find their own value out of. For me, the story campaign was a great experience, and the Zombie mode is always a fun bonus. Graphically the game is one of the best I’ve seen on the market for any video game of this cross-over generation and would recommend people who have high-end PCs or Next-Generation consoles give the game a play. However Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War does nothing to change the reputation of the online multiplayer mode, from the push to buy season passes to a very toxic community, this would be the only huge negative I would point out, which will upset a lot of die-hards. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a game the die-hards will love, but won’t do much to convert new players to its fold.
Surprisingly good soundtrack
Zombie mode is always fun
Some people will like multiplayer’s fast-paced action
Screen-tearing in graphics even on high-end GPU cards
Multiplayer is still toxic as its reputation states
Multiplayer pushes the Season Pass system too much
Configuration of graphics every time the game boots up