Black Ops Cold War review

Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War Review

Warzone took Call of Duty to new heights, but Black Ops Cold War brings us back to a pre-Battle Royale multiplayer. Between COVID and the reported troubled development, it wouldn’t be a shock if Cold War stumbled out of the gate. It trips a few times but ultimately keeps its footing. 

The Campaign

Familiar faces pull us into Treyarch’s newest story. The Woods/Mason duo, along with Hudson, are joined by a few new faces. We spend most of our time in the boots of a new character, Bell. The mission? Track down the Russian agent Perseus who is attempting to access American nuclear warheads positioned throughout Europe and make them go boom.

Along the way, you’ll hit the familiar beats of set pieces and mission design like chasing down a transport plane as it attempts to take off. Don’t worry, it’s not quite Fate of the Furious level of absurdity. 

But Cold War does try to change it up, and when it does, it is at its best. Dialogue choices let you engage with your allies in a handful of different ways. Sure, it’s not Mass Effect, but it’s more than we’re used to seeing from the franchise. You can even make decisions during missions that can affect the story. Multiple endings help give the 3-4 hour story a little extra padding. 

There’s even a handful of puzzles to solve, giving you access to a pair of side missions. They don’t have a huge impact on the main story, but they do show Call of Duty can stray from its more on-rails formula, and should.

One of the more open-ended missions sees you play as a Russian informant inside the KGB headquarters. Your mission is to acquire a keycard to gain access to a secure bunker beneath the building. Where the previous Call of Duty games might have you sneak into an office and grab it, you can complete this mission in a handful of different ways here. Maybe you frame a General for his. Or, grab a deactivated keycard and reprogram it. You choose how you want to beat the mission.

Cold War even offers a light create-a-character feature in the form of a CIA personnel file. You can customize your name, gender, race, and psychological profile (which can give you small boosts to your stats like increased bullet damage).

It feels like the developers were testing the waters to see what works and what doesn’t. I loved them. 

When Cold War shakes it up is when it’s at its best. It’s too bad it doesn’t shake it up more. These glimpses of a more open-ended campaign make me want more. More choices, more consequences, more replayability. 

The multiplayer

When Warzone came out, I shelved Call of Duty’s 6v6 multiplayer. It was either Warzone or Ground War for me since March. With Cold War, Call of Duty’s traditional multiplayer is back in the spotlight as we wait for Warzone and Cold War to combine in Season 1. 

So how is it? The good news is the maps are better than Modern Warfare. None of them are Piccadilly, so we’re already off to a good start. But I also don’t feel the 3-lane design Treyarch is known for is as tight here. It’s hard to know if that’s because of the bumpy development or what. Plus, there are only eight maps here for 6v6 play. Not a lot, especially if any of them are bad. It’s a little early to start labeling maps as classics or awful, but Moscow and Crossroads are two standouts for me so far. 

Visibility issues hurt a couple of the maps like Cartel and Satellite. I’m not sure if it’s the lighting, environment, characters, or some combination of all three – but it can be a pain in the ass to spot other players sometimes. Treyarch acknowledged the issue in a blog post just before the game was released last month. We’ll have to wait and see what changes they make to address it.

While Cold War’s map count is a little on the light side at launch, more maps are coming. Cold War’s take on Nuketown is now live, and new maps and modes are coming when Season 1 kicks off on December 10th.

The maps aren’t quite as strong as, say Black Ops 1 or 2, but they’re a step up from last year’s Modern Warfare.

As for gunplay? It feels more like Black Ops than Modern Warfare. And that means we lose some gameplay mechanics. Tactical sprint is out. All that muscle memory of double-clicking your thumbstick to sprint faster won’t make your character in Cold War pick up the pace. Weapon mounting and doors are also gone, and good riddance. Still, Modern Warfare’s gunplay felt terrific. Cold War takes a step back from last year. 

While gunplay is often one of Call of Duty’s strongest areas, there are some hiccups here. One particularly nasty aim assist bug makes the shooting feel inconsistent sometimes. Here’s a video demonstrating it. 

Another stability bug completely shuts my Xbox Series X, and it’s not isolated. All my friends have encountered the same crash. The game will lock up completely before shutting down the Xbox. I’m sure these bugs will be addressed soon, but they are worth mentioning. 

Scorestreaks are back, and this time you can keep earning them despite dying. Treyarch tries balancing them by making them cost more points to earn, but get ready to see a whole bunch of UAVs and airstrikes. You also get bonus points towards earning each one the more kills you get without dying. But pretty much every mid-to-late game match ends up with napalm and airstrikes raining down.

I’m not a fan. Scorestreaks can turn the tide of a match instantly, and they need to feel earned. Plus, the UAV spam makes the game a chore to play until you unlock the Ghost perk. And it makes Ghost perk an even bigger crutch than it already is. 

The only good news here is that the most potent scorestreaks still require you to get high kills without dying to earn enough bonus points to unlock them. 

I’d like to see Treyarch go back to the old way of doing scorestreaks, but a bump to how many points you need to earn artillery and airstrikes would be a good place to start. Or make objectives give you more points towards scorestreaks. Right now, there’s too much emphasis on hanging back and killing enemies to get the best scorestreaks.

Very little flinch rewards burst rifles and DMRs with long sightlines. Despite having flinch-resistant attachments, there is only a tiny amount of flinch in Cold War. If you’re aiming at someone’s head and you get hit with enemy fire, your aim barely moves. 

This plays a pretty significant role in everything from weapon balance to map design. Treyarch already did a weapon balance pass on several guns, but burst rifles like the AUG and M16, and DMRs are still incredibly strong. Combine that with head glitches (spots where only the top of the player’s head is visible), and you’ll play matches where it can be a struggle to get players out of these positions. 

Weapon balance will continue to evolve as the developers tweak guns to make them stronger and weaker. I already highlighted burst rifles and how good they are provided you can keep some distance in the area you’re trying to hold. SMGs are also strong, with many players favoring the jump-shot playstyle. I’m even guilty of that. Hey, if you can’t beat’em, join them.

Skill-based matchmaking (SBMM). You can’t talk about Call of Duty these days without hearing about SBMM. What is it exactly? The developers try to match you up with players close to your skill level. Sounds okay, right? Well, there is quite a bit of pushback from the community for various reasons. 

One problem I run into is playing with a party of people with mixed skills. If the matchmaking decides to make the best player’s skill the priority, everyone else is about to have a rough time. This is something I saw even in last year’s Modern Warfare. When some of my friends would play with me, the matches would be lopsided against us. Then, they would play without me and talk about how much easier the game felt to them. Cold War feels similar so far. 

A lot of players also don’t think there should be SBMM in a casual playlist. Or at least, not as strong of SBMM. I tend to agree here. We need a ranked mode with incentives to play it. 

And when SBMM is firing on all cylinders, it feels like you have to use your best gun to compete. Want to try out that new gun you just unlocked? Maybe next game, because this one is about to feel like a Call of Duty League match. 

I don’t know the answer. SBMM in some form should be here. New players should be able to have fun without a bunch of seasoned Call of Duty players earning every killstreak on them in the first five minutes. But could SBMM be toned down just a little, Treyarch? 

Maybe SBMM isn’t even the problem. Perhaps it’s the weapon balance, head glitches, jump-shooting, and scorestreaks in the hands of players that know how to use them that need to be fixed. We’ll have to wait and see how (and if) Treyarch decides to tackle this issue. 

Fireteam: Dirty Bomb isn’t the Ground War replacement I wanted. But it’s still a fun distraction from the regular 6v6 game modes. Ten teams of four fight against each other to deposit uranium and detonate devices across two large-scale maps. 

It almost feels like a stepping stone for the folks who maybe haven’t tried Warzone yet. All the Warzone mechanics are here like looting, reviving teammates, and parachuting. 

I’m curious to see what Treyarch has in store for extra modes. I would like to see a more traditional large-scale mode with two teams pitted against each other. 

A fun return to 6v6 multiplayer. Cold War has its problems, but I had a blast jumping back into regular Call of Duty multiplayer after nine months of Warzone. There’s a decent base for Treyarch to build on here. But it needs a few patches focused on weapon balance, stability fixes, scorestreak tweaks, and maybe a look at SBMM.

The good news is the maps are solid, and the gunplay is a familiar throwback to the older Black Ops games.

The Zombies

I’ve never been a diehard Zombies fan. You won’t see me trying to find every little easter egg each map has to offer. Just give me some guns, perks, and the Pack-a-Punch machine, and let me see how long I can survive. 

Zombies in Cold War makes all of this even easier. I can toss my starting pistol for my multiplayer loadouts. Hell, the game even shows me exactly where to turn on the power and get the Pack-a-Punch up and going. I know I said I don’t care for Zombies easter eggs, but damn, I don’t mind figuring out at least the Pack-a-Punch machine. 

I do appreciate Treyarch adding in exfils. Starting at round 10 (and every five rounds after) you can opt to exfil and earn rewards (extra XP and raw Aetherium Crystals). This makes me not feel as bad wanting to get off as matches start dragging out. 

So, how is it?

First, let’s recap the campaign. It’s short, but I enjoyed playing through it. It was cool seeing the old Black Ops gang return, and I liked the small ways the developers tried to expand the usual story gameplay. I do wish Treyarch leaned more into some of the open-ended design directions we see in Cold War. Call of Duty doesn’t have to be on-rails all the time. 

Multiplayer is more of the same, which is fine. If you’ve had fun playing Call of Duty over the past dozen years, you’ll probably find fun here. But what’s here doesn’t quite have the polish I was expecting. Stability crashes need to be fixed ASAP. Plus, we can expect the usual slew of updates to change and tweak how the multiplayer plays. 

I never expect Call of Duty to change its traditional multiplayer too much from what works. But Call of Duty changed with the release of Warzone. And we’re still waiting on how Cold War and Warzone will tie together.

At least the maps are a step up from last year’s release. And Treyarch will soon release more, so that should address the map drought it launched with. But there are bugs that need to be ironed out. 

Zombies was a big surprise for me. I’m not one of the diehards that can play for days on end, but I like what Treyarch did here with weapon rarities, exfils, and more. 

Cold War has its issues, but it’s still Call of Duty. Season 1 and a couple of patches will do a lot to fix the problems I had with it.

Review code provided by publisher.