When it’s a Treyarch game, you know it’s going to be packed to bursting with content, and in this respect, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War doesn’t disappoint. Even without factoring in the upcoming Warzone integration, ongoing free content releases throughout the year, and continued support, Black Ops Cold War is an enormous game loaded with things to play and do.
As usual, Treyarch’s game sits atop three main pillars: Campaign, Multiplayer, and Zombies. Yet unlike Black Ops games that have come before, these pillars interconnect in new ways that make progress and narrative feel more unified across the entire experience. And again, that’s without considering how Warzone and the ongoing updates will eventually come into play throughout the year.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Review – Campaign
Black Ops Cold War’s campaign takes place in between Black Ops 1 and 2, leaving behind the near-future tech of later games in the franchise and bringing the series back to the early ’80s. While franchise veterans Woods, Mason, and Hudson do play prominent roles in, this story really focuses heavily on newcomers Adler, Park, Lazar, Sims, and your own created character, codenamed “Bell.”
I don’t want to go too deep into the story here, since that’s one of the hallmarks of Treyarch’s Black Ops games. “Mindfuckery” is the word tossed around by the studio every time a new Treyarch game hits the marketing trail, and this one certainly has that. On the surface, it’s a pursuit of a man codenamed Perseus, a decades-old threat who presents an imminent danger to the fragile balance of the Cold War. That mission sees you and the team trailing a number of Perseus’ inner circle around the globe in an effort to unravel his plot.
Throughout the game you’ll play as a few different characters besides Bell in order to get a complete sense for the individual missions happening around the world. Unlike other more linear Call of Duty campaigns, Black Ops Cold War offers a bit more wiggle room and freedom of choice, in certain scenarios. You’ll return to the safehouse base between missions and select the next mission from the evidence board. While the main campaign missions are each executed in order, there are a couple of optional side missions to undertake from here as well, which can be done at any time.
Returning to the safehouse gives Black Ops Cold War’s campaign a real sense of being this super secret black op (heh, it’s the name of the game!) as well as highlighting the espionage aspect of the Cold War. After all, be definition, the Cold War was not fought on the frontlines. It was fought in the shadows, and in secret, the entire point being to prevent escalation into full scale global conflict. While the campaign is relatively short and easy to get through rather quickly, it’s loaded with replayability thanks to the optional missions and choice structure loaded into the latter half, with particular attention paid to replaying once you… know things. I’ll leave it at that.
From a gameplay perspective, there’s nothing all that out and out amazing here. It’s more or less what you’d expect, flowing between stealthy infiltrations and full on combat scenarios. One infiltration mission in the KGB headquarters offers easily the most unique portion of the game, allowing you to choose from multiple options in order to complete the objective. There’s also an interesting kind of gameplay twist in one of the game’s latter missions that I’ll leave for you to discover, though watching the game’s trailers may offer a hint.
Visually, the PS5 has Black Ops Cold War looking beautiful, at least in the environments. I was constantly blown away by the lighting and world design, which evoked that early ’80s feel. Characters, however, were all rather hit and miss, and certainly never reached the tier of quality we saw in last year’s Modern Warfare. They look fantastic in cutscenes, but the in-game character models ranged from just looking all right for main characters to downright sticking out like a sore thumb for side characters. This could be, in part, thanks to the pandemic, and it’s incredible what the teams at Raven and Treyarch were able to accomplish, but it’s still worth mentioning.
This campaign lays the foundation and sets the stage for the ongoing narrative content that feeds over into Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer and the ongoing support that Treyarch plans to put out over the next year.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Review – Multiplayer
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer is probably the central focus for many players, and more so than in past games, Treyarch has wrapped it within more established narrative trappings that connect back to the campaign. It’s a nice little touch that adds some context and flair, in addition to giving the opportunity to expand the narrative via ongoing updates. This follows a similar—and rather successful—playbook used by Infinity Ward last year for Modern Warfare (and Warzone).
In many ways, it feels like Treyarch drew from the best of their own history, while also integrating elements that people loved about Modern Warfare. In the past, each of the three main Call of Duty developers have had their own very distinct flavor, but with the progression integration being unified broadly across Modern Warfare, Black Ops Cold War, and the free-to-play Warzone (which is now at more than 80 million players), these games need to at least share similar and recognizable broad themes, even if some of the gameplay nuances differ.
So rather than simply iterate on the last Black Ops/Treyarch game, there’s a sense that the team really drew from Modern Warfare as well to better bridge the gap and convince players who loved the 2019 game to try out the latest entry. Black Ops Cold War still retains the Treyarch sense of flow that pushes players into combat, but they definitely explore and paint outside the lines of the traditional three-lane map design to create levels that feel more organic and less “designed” than Treyarch games past. There are opportunities for players who like Modern Warfare’s slower and more methodical gameplay style to succeed, even if tools like the ability to mount your gun on ledges and corners are gone (RIP).
The Create-a-Class and gunsmith systems also pull more from Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare than Treyarch’s own past games, ditching the old Pick 10 system for something that will feel more familiar for players of Modern Warfare and Warzone, though some elements of the Pick 10 system do bleed through thanks to certain perks. I see this as a massively positive change that enables all players to better target their loadouts and builds, and is also necessary for the upcoming Warzone integration.
In a big change for Call of Duty multiplayer, the ping system can now be used across all multiplayer modes, allowing people to mark objectives and other elements. The ping system is especially useful in the bigger player modes like Fire Team: Dirty Bomb, but can be a good push in getting your team to rally to an objective in more traditional modes. I’ll be interested to see whether or not players use these frequently in standard multiplayer or not, but the option is at least nice to have.
The variety of maps and modes lends a ton of diverse content to the multiplayer, even just at launch. New modes include objective-based ones focused on the “deniable operations” Black Ops Cold War theme. From the single-life VIP escort mode, to the larger 12v12 tug-of-war that is Combined Arms, many of these modes focus more on securing objectives rather than strict K/D ratio. Fire Team: Dirty Bomb is a very obvious transition to the larger scale gameplay of Warzone. It’s a unique mode—often better played with a team of friends than randoms—and nicely sets up Treyarch’s “Fire Team” set of modes, which I expect to get added on to later on.
To provide a better ramp for players who may not be at the top of the kill leaderboards, Scorestreaks offer ways to earn big abilities in the game even if you aren’t all that great at staying alive. Score persists beyond death and objectives add points towards your next Scorestreak ability, though killstreaks in a single life add a lot more score, so those players are still rewarded. These Scorestreaks then go on a usage cooldown to prevent spam, but it’s a nice way to feel accomplished and successful through a variety of actions and not just the longer killstreaks that only the best can consistently pull off.
There is complete cross-play on all platforms and generations that the game is launching on; PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC. Along with the ongoing free content drops and updates (supported by premium cosmetic purchases and seasonal Battle Pass subscriptions), it should help ensure a robust life for Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer gameplay moving forward. In fact, progression and cross-play also carry over the the game’s Zombies mode, making it feel like more of a franchise-connected pillar than ever before.
(Oh, and Prestige is back? Yeah, play to your heart’s content!)
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Review – Zombies
The first thing that struck me about Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Zombies was how it used essentially the same menu screens as the multiplayer, just stylized with red lights and splashed with blood. It immediately indicates that these modes are interconnected and that progress carries over between them as you level weapons, your player profile, and your Battle Pass (which is not yet out, as of this review. Season One for Black Ops Cold War is set to begin in December).
Zombies has been a bit of an interesting beast for Treyarch. Initially developed as a fun little horde mode loaded with Easter eggs, it has progressively become a larger part of the franchise. It’s gone from being exceptionally vague and difficult for all but the most hardcore of players to having a better ramp, but still rewarding the hardcore Easter egg hunters.
Black Ops Cold War Zombies includes a number of new-player-friendly features that allow for more investment at the outset and a more tangible progression and upgrade path that rewards players more immediately. Aetherium Crystals, earned most directly by reaching certain waves, allow you to unlock permanent upgrades such as damage boosts on weapon types and enhancements to the perks you can get mid-match. These upgrades allow for a feeling of progression through play, which can then help you get even farther to earn more Crystals and repeat. It’s a nice gameplay loop that feeds itself.
Zombies also has a guided questline, at least up until building the “Pack-a-Punch” machine, which allows you to upgrade your weapons in the match. After this, however, you’re on your own in terms of discovering how to progress the story and unlock the various Easter eggs. It’s a cleaner onboarding ramp than even the past couple of Treyarch Zombies modes have had, which have experimented with beginner friendly quest designs. An exfil option provides a more clear way to “win” rather than just surviving for as long as you can, letting you get bonus rewards for successfully getting out.
For the first time ever, updates to the Zombies mode with additional story, maps, intel quests, and more will be entirely free, again supported by the combined progression and monetization of Call of Duty as a whole (cosmetics, Battle Pass, etc.). This is an enormous change over previous years, which segmented players with new Zombies maps. Now everyone can continue to enjoy and experiment with them, not just the hardcore players forking over the cash for the new maps. At this point, the future of Zombies is still just promise, not reality, but given Treyarch’s track record, I’m confident this next year will see some pretty awesome additions to come.
As a bonus for PlayStation players, there’s the Zombies Onslaught mode, a two-player horde mode that pits players against waves of zombies on the game’s multiplayer maps. It’s a rather fun little mode, unobtrusive enough that it doesn’t feel like other platforms are missing out on much, but an entertaining enough distraction that it feels like a nice treat if you do happen to play on PlayStation. Upgrades and progression from the standard zombies mode carry over to Onslaught as well, and there are exclusive rewards that can be earned through this mode.
And as if that’s not enough, Dead Ops Arcade is back with Dead Ops Arcade III. The top-down twin-stick shooter is in effect a whole different game entirely, a bizarre and strange addition that you can’t help but just shrug and say, “well, that’s Treyarch for ya.” I don’t really see myself pouring a lot of time into it specifically, but it’s a fun little bonus and distraction that is just another piece of the content-stuffed offering that is Black Ops Cold War.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Review – The Future
This year is perhaps different than any other for Call of Duty. The franchise is now more interconnected than ever before, with progression carrying in some form across three different Call of Duty experiences. Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War is in effect a live game that will grow and change and get new content for free. The narrative will continue to expand through a seasonal cadence. Warzone will become integrated. New maps, modes, and content will be added across multiplayer, Zombies, and Warzone.
We know that the infamous Nuketown map returns on November 24th (as Nuketown ’84). Season One starts on December 10th, bringing with it 2v2 Gunfight, more maps, modes, and weapons for both MP and Zombies, and the integrated Black Ops Cold War Warzone experience. And it’s all free. Treyarch consistently has one of the most content-rich offerings in gaming, and they plan to regularly add even more? It’s almost unfathomable.
I’d also be remiss not to mention the DualSense features, which allow guns to actually feel different from one another. From the resistance on the ADS using L2 with heavier weapons, to the varying resistances on trigger pulls depending on weapon type, there’s a better sense for the power of what you’re wielding in your hands. Time will tell if this sense offers advantages in multiplayer or is just a cool feature, but I loved the added context. The haptic feedback isn’t quite as refined as Sony’s own examples in Astro’s Playroom, but it’s cool to actually feel things like a running slide skidding to a halt or the impact of any damage you take.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a return to form for the franchise sub-series. While perhaps not as visually splendid as last year’s Modern Warfare, it gets the Black Ops series back to boots on the ground, introducing new characters and elements while lending adequate time and attention to series favorites. Treyarch expertly steps in to continue the recent interconnected Call of Duty franchise shift, exploring and evolving the series while still creating a game that not just retains but oozes that signature Treyarch style. Perhaps more than any Call of Duty game before it, I’m more excited than ever to see where it goes in the future.
Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS5. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.