Sometimes we just get used to a gaming franchise hitting the market each and every year. Other times we – the gamers – get bored easily or become a bit cynical about a developer’s motives. Are they just rolling out games to make an easy dollar? Can’t they take a year off? Call of Duty has delivered a game every year since before time itself, but it wasn’t until last year, with the rebooted Modern Warfare in 2019, did we find the franchise getting back to the brilliant success of years gone by. It helped that it also provided a free-for-all Battle Royale affair in Warzone; something that has proved to be highly successful in itself. Now though it’s the turn of the other side of the Call of Duty coin, the Black Ops twist and Cold War’s launch into the next generation. Does it deliver a quick shot to the brain or is it more like a damp squib?
It’s easy to forget just how much content you get with your yearly Call of Duty and FIFA models, yet as soon as you spend time with the new offering, it fast becomes an addiction you struggle to shift. Here and now, with Cold War you will find access to an 8-hour-odd long original campaign, the usual multiplayer playlist full of modes and maps, Warzone, and of course the staple – Black Ops’ Zombies mode. There’s so much included that you may not necessarily know where to start with Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, but I will kick things off in the campaign.
Cold War is a story set at the start of the 1980s when the new President of the United States, a certain Ronald Reagan, has set the Cold War temperature to nuclear. You play the role of Bell who is a sort of off-the-books CIA operative working for a team of suspicious and shady operatives. But it is Russell Adler, who looks like Robert Redford after he’s been in a knife fight, who is your leader.
You kick things off in a safe house located in neon-drenched Berlin, and here you and the other operatives are trying to find the mysterious Perseus; a figure based on a real spy that tried to infiltrate the Manhattan project. You, as Bell, go on several missions in Berlin, Russia and Cuba to try to find out the secrets to Perseus’s whereabouts. But it goes deeper than that and you’ll also find yourself involved in flashback missions that take you to Vietnam in the late 1960s. What the story does is tell a tale of conspiracy, heroism, and patriotism in a way that is both gripping and exciting; at times it feels like you are in a dark James Bond movie or a version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. However, there are other times where it doesn’t quite work as intended, leaving Cold War to feel like a bad action movie with slow-motion shots of aircraft whizzing around and characters walking to the camera trying to look cool. Narrative-wise though it sorts things out; it does a very clever thing with mucking around with reality and questioning who you really are and if you actually exist, or have just been made up to serve this story.
I’ll be honest, and during the length of the Cold War campaign I experienced something weird – something different – to what is normally delivered within a Call of Duty title – quiet time during missions. Yes, there are moments in this game that has huge set pieces where the focus is fully set on blowing everything up around you, as the screen fills with countless soldiers trying to murder you. But there are also moments where you are required to partake in missions stealthily and with thought. I had a mission where I had to go into a scientist’s house to get a briefcase. His family were there so I had to hide in rooms and pick the perfect moment to make my move as a domestic conversation about appropriate clothing went on around me. I felt like a real spy. On another mission, I was a Russian official working as a mole for the CIA, left to try and plant evidence on another officer in a high-security KGB building, working stealthily and securely, which included some crawling through vents and trying not to arouse suspicion.
The shooting, throwing grenades, and general feel of being an total and utter badass is of course where the real fun comes about with Call of Duty, and it has to be said that Cold War plays as well as you’d expect a game of this calibre. There are plenty of things to involve yourself in too – a system where there are dialogue trees to choose from feels a bit arbitrary at times but the decisions you make do have an effect on the story. In the main campaign, there are side missions to enjoy, actioned by solving some clues from intel collected in the main storyline missions. For example, in one side mission, you have a list of suspects to investigate and need to choose three from a possible nine. The clues of who they might be are found in the intel and you have to cross-examine details of times when they were seen, nationalities and dates to get the right one. It’s all good and ensures that the franchise is kept moving forward; I’d certainly like to see some more of this type of innovative gameplay in the future.
Another great bit of extra fun is that during the campaign you will happen across arcade machines, playable with classic games like Pitfall and Grand Prix. These are highly nostalgic and a place where you could easily lose hours of extra game time. In a nutshell though, it’s been the campaign which has been my favourite part of Cold War; the whole experience is entertaining, original and bombastic.
However, there are issues and at time of writing there is the need for a patch to hit home, if only to stop the Xbox Series X from crashing and switching off the console completely. This has happened to me quite a few times in the campaign – strangely after a patch was released – but a quick fix whilst we wait for a full patch seems to be that turning off ray tracing in the settings ceases the problems. It’s a shame because these issues have slightly ruined an otherwise great campaign.
Multiplayer in Cold War is obviously going to be a massive draw for many, and I feel like this has gone back to basics. The modes are simple enough with classic Deathmatch and Free for All, and there are only eight maps to worry about at the moment, which is fine by me as my mind gets working on how best to tackle each one. That may however mean that some of those more experienced in the multiplayer shooting form will hate it, finding the choices bland after Modern Warfare and the previous, more futuristic arenas, but for me it kind of works. There are new modes in the shape of Combined Arms which sees two teams of 12 trying to capture objectives on the map, much like in a Domination mode. There is also the Dirty Bomb mode which is utterly crazy – up to 40 people in fireteams of four run around the map putting together pieces of a bomb. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great fun, but total chaos.
And then of course CoD’s Zombies mode is back and it is here where you will find a lot of fun online. In a nutshell, a team of four will try to survive on one map against a horde of zombies coming from all angles. What they’ve done here with this mode is build up some mad lore about Russian scientists experimenting with multi-hell dimensions where zombies and beasties run amok. It doesn’t matter about that though, because it’s meant to have some B-movie logic and it is in there where the fun is found. For the most part, you and three other online buddies run around opening and unlocking doorways, turning on machines, and raining hell on the hordes of undead that approach. Each round will prove to be a harder challenge, ramping up the difficulty and frequency of foes, culminating in huge bosses that need a co-operative effect to bring down. There’s the chance to pick up salvage to get upgrades to armour or build grenades, but it’s quite a tricky system to get hold of when the chaos is enveloping you. Thankfully, throughout the madness you can also spend time purchasing weapons and ammo from certain points with in-game credits that are earnt; you will need to choose them wisely. It’s a format that is hugely enjoyable and if you are one of the millions who has loved Zombies previously, you’re going to get a hell of a lot of fun from this one.
No matter how you are playing Cold War, the good looks great, coming across brilliantly in all its glory in the campaign; lighting, explosions and locations are all massively impressive, none more so than those found in a couple of missions in Vietnam that look very next-gen with their incredible draw distances. It also allows for some great facial software to come to the fore, including the very impressive ex-President Ronald Reagan making an appearance. The multiplayer sections aren’t quite as impressive visually, but they still more than hold up fine with super smooth gameplay.
In the audio department, Call of Duty is always excellent and Cold War doesn’t change from that formula at all, providing all the explosions, different sounding guns, and theatres of war that you would expect. The soundtrack sounds expensive and wouldn’t be out of place on a multi-million dollar movie, and the same goes for the acting voice talent; it is as great as usual without the big-name stars stealing the show. Frankly, it’s superb throughout.
With Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War on Xbox you get a hell of a lot of game for your money. It’s a game in which you could easily spend hundreds of hours in, and then you can throw Warzone on top. It’s a great package and one that provides a thoroughly enjoyable campaign, a deep multiplayer mode, and tons of the usual Call of Duty theatrics. Is it a step up from those games found in previous generations? Slightly, maybe… but it’s still Call of Duty. The only downside is that at time of writing it comes with some serious next-gen bugs that need to be sorted out sooner rather than later. With that done though, this is easily a game that will help you wile away the long winter nights.