Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War is the latest title from Treyarch, delivering a campaign, multiplayer content, and the world-renowned zombies modes that they became famous for. While it is a wonderful entry into the series – is it a good game? In this review, I will be covering all three – beware of spoilers.
It seems like it was just yesterday when the Cold War ARG came online, having players deciphering codes and getting secret messages in the mail – all very Cold War-esque. But let’s go back even further to the trailer with the long forgotten interview with the Soviet defector Yuriy Bezmenov – who fled to the US to tell people what the Soviet Union’s ‘Grand Plan’ was with America. A very harrowing and emotional video that gives people a grim outlook on reality that was supposed to cast a very long and dark shadow on Perseus – the main antagonist of Black Ops Cold War, a Russian spy hiding in the US with plans to unveil something big. Or rather, that would be the case – if the campaign were better.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the campaign is bad or boring in any way, it’s actually a really fun ride from start to finish, but, like I wrote in my Metro Exodus review – it feels like another stepping stone to something greater. Call of Duty campaigns have almost never been great – starting from World at War, which was pretty good, Black Ops 1 and 2 had fantastic campaigns – and everything after that was mostly forgettable (Modern Warfare 1 and 2 were also both great with lots of highlights). The entire premise of the campaign is figuring out who Perseus is, where he is, and stopping whatever he’s doing. The very first mission starts off with that lighter in darkness scene, just like in Black Ops 1, to tell the player that this game is a direct sequel to the first entry in the series. You barely get to stop and smell the roses before you’re running through a hail of gunfire, chasing down two people who are somehow involved with the Russian spy. Upon catching up with one of them – the player is presented with dialogue choices and the option to either throw the suspect off the roof, or capture them, giving them a puzzle piece for a side mission that will show up later. This is something new for the Call of Duty series and a step in the right direction towards non-linearity. While not a big step, it is still significant for the series. With the cast of new characters, each of them mysterious in their own ways, both old and new ones, the player finds themselves speaking to each – gaining more and more info about them to inquire about their past and shedding some light onto their individual missions. The character that is closest to the player throughout the campaign is the notable aviator-wearing Adler – who is so mysterious that you never even know what colour his eyes are. Everything is so obscure about him that the player can’t help but wonder, and attempt to investigate and uncover more about these characters. I say ‘attempt’ because there really is nothing to investigate – just a couple of small distractions that don’t give the player any concrete information about any of the characters. While there are fun side missions – they are still in their infantile stage and have much room for improvement before they are worth the effort. To put it bluntly, they are small stages that you finish in about 3 minutes and extract. The campaign does have memorable moments, but it does not make it a ‘good’ campaign because it is far too short. The missions mostly rely on the same tired formula, except in two missions – where there was a stroke of genius – for Call of Duty, not for other games that have already done this way better, but nonetheless – the Lubyanka mission and Break On Through. One is framed as an immersive spy thriller where your job is to infiltrate the compound. It borrows elements from immersive sims and does a great job at giving the player multiple options for completing their objectives. What bothers me – is that this mission clearly shows that the team and whoever was spearheading the creative direction has the capability to make great missions and a potentially memorable story, why not make the entire campaign like this? Same goes for the Break On Through mission, which is a delightful romp through the main character’s mind – at the end of which you decide whether to side with Adler or Perseus. Both missions were made with amazing competence and reminds me of the stroke of genius with the All Ghillied Up mission from Modern Warfare 1. However, the rest of the missions vary from bland to quite fun – overall, the lasting impression comes from the final moments. Whether you choose to betray Adler or not is up to you, and I will now be spoiling the two endings for Cold War. In the ‘good’ ending, you stop the Soviets from detonating nuclear bombs, but Perseus is lost. All is good, until Adler pulls a gun on you and it is presumed that someone shot first. A very interesting outlook on morality – that even though you did the right thing, you still get shot. To me, this seemed like a cheap way to get an ‘oh man’ moment out of the game, where you get a ‘powerful’ ending. Adler asked me to ‘understand’ but I had no clue why he would just shoot the main character. I just assumed that the main character was a cog in the machine and that Adler was tying up ‘loose ends’. It is revealed in Break On Through that the main character was brainwashed by Adler to be on their side as they were initially with Perseus, implanting false memories that the character grew to believe were theirs – very MK Ultra-esque. While this is an interesting twist and done well before – the ending where Adler just asks you to ‘understand’ and just shoots you is ridiculous in my opinion, which questions the other ending in turn. In the ‘bad’ ending, you tell Adler that the nuclear bombs will be detonated at the Duga Missile Array – and if you had communicated to Perseus earlier your whereabouts – your job is to now kill the entire team. While it is essentially a whole army versus Adler and his friends – you tear through them easily. At the end with Adler coughing up blood, you get a pat on the back from Perseus and happily detonate nuclear warheads and destroy Europe. I laughed so hard I almost fell off my chair because this premise was so unbelievably stupid and cartoonishly evil that I lost all suspension of disbelief because historically, the real Soviet Union wouldn’t have done something so incredibly stupid. But it calls into question what message the game is trying to send, Adler shoots you in the ‘good’ ending – whereas Perseus, the Russian spy that you chase the entire game, just pats you on the shoulder and you walk out of Duga together. You get betrayed for a good cause, yet when you doom all of Europe – at least your partner doesn’t betray you in turn.
If you’ve played Modern Warfare and Cold War, you might’ve noticed that I haven’t talked about the elephant in the room – the engine. Modern Warfare uses IW 8.0, an absolute gem of an engine that ‘just works’ (thanks Todd). A superb display of technological engineering that propelled Modern Warfare to be a worthy competitor amongst other large titles – where it inspired even people who hated the Call of Duty franchise to give it a go. If one of the highlights of your game is its engine and everybody’s talking about it – you’re doing something right. However, Cold War decided to take a different approach. While I don’t know any of the development details, or whatever happened behind the scenes, but something went wrong. Cold War uses an updated version of Black Ops 3’s engine. Does this game stack up to Modern Warfare despite having a different engine? Not one bit, and it plays like it belongs in 2015 – which is why it is wise to look at this game as a standalone product and not compare it to Modern Warfare because it is simply a worse product. It is worse visually, performance-wise, feeling and fluidity-wise, feature-wise – it is inferior in almost every way. But when one takes a look at the features that Cold War has – one may be persuaded to have a different opinion.
Zombies has cultivated a massive following, and even though it is not the core game, but a side mode that features Nazi Zombies and allows the developers to get increasingly more ‘creative’ with every new map. Featuring an addictive endless loop (unless you know how to do the Easter Eggs, which let you ‘finish’ a map), players have fallen in love with this style. I am a fan of the zombies mode, and even more so now in the Cold War version – but, like everything with this game it seems – they messed it up. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the improvements and the much-needed changes from the ridiculously limited, difficult, and bland experience that was Black Ops 4 zombies (and pretty much that entire game) – but they took away things that players enjoyed immensely. The contrasting personalities of the characters of Dempsey, Richtofen, Nikolai, and Takeo were all beloved for their attitudes and interactivity with the world. They were all interesting to inhabit and control because the characters had actual personalities. Quips, fourth wall breaks, jokes, quotable lines – they were all there. Their relations to one another had grown over the massive amounts of maps where they were together, and players were treated to massive revelations with each character upon closure of their story. Their story unfortunately came to a tragic end and players wondered what the next steps would be for Treyarch – would they bring anyone interesting? Not at all, generic multiplayer characters with even more generic voice lines and personalities for you! Okay, what about weapon upgrades, would you Pack-A-Punch a weapon and get a cool name and upgrade that switches up how the gun is used? Not at all, here’s just a percentage stat damage increase, and a cool name! Okay, what about the maps – are the maps at least fun and memorable like Kino Der Toten? Nope, not one bit – not only are they boring but they are also very small and the Easter Eggs are super easy to do! What about the Wonder Weapons, are we going to get anything that’s as fun as the Ray Gun and the Thunder Gun? Not at all, here’s a vacuum with 4 different modes and a modified AK 74u, along with the Ray Gun of course! Is there any fun to be had? Yes, and once again – this zombies mode is a stepping stone in the right direction. The updated mobility abilities are wonderful, going into a match with your customized weapon is alright as essentially the best weapons are the shotguns – the Gallo and the Hauer – everything else is objectively worse. The easier difficulty makes it more appealing to new players who want to join the hype and it allows for Treyarch to grow their customer base. The new mini bosses are alright, they’re not particularly fun to play against – but I’m thankful for their presence, nonetheless. I also want to thank Treyarch for going back to the standard perk system and burying the pick-4 system deep in the ground where it belongs. The story so far is quite intriguing – but with the absence of the original crew, the story itself doesn’t have as much impact as it could. Not only that, but this is the smallest launch package the players have ever gotten – Die Maschine, really? They just expanded Nacht Der Untoten, added a vacuum cleaner, and gave it a modern retexturing. It was quite a lot of fun completing the Easter Egg solo, as this was my first successfully-run Easter Egg that I completed solo – but after I finished it, I don’t feel motivated to go back to the map and continue playing it. I realized as such that the map itself has very little substance and isn’t as fun as it potentially could’ve been. Firebase Z suffers the same curse, boasting how it’s actually 2 maps in 1 but both are equally boring. Both the base and the village areas are small – with the Mimic enemy being a cool addition, except they literally copied the game Prey with that enemy. It is creatively bankrupt, espousing the same secret Nazi/Soviet drivel that players have grown so accustomed to – which makes it heartbreaking because there is essentially nothing that would bring a player back or give them something to think about or be excited. Red man bad, that’s all there is to it. They thought that bringing back Samantha Maxis at the end of Firebase Z would somehow make players excited – it didn’t. She just looks like a generic character except she’s got purple eyes. I thought I would unlock her by finishing Firebase Z, no – she’s behind a paywall. After that, I don’t have anything else to say – the abrupt ending to this section echoing the abruptness of the Cold War Zombies experience.
Featured Image by: Ronan Furuta @ Unsplash
Game Review Thumbnail by: WikiImages @ pixabay
Game Trailer by: Activision
Call of Duty: Cold War
Call of Duty: Cold War is a perfect example of the 1 step forward, 2 steps back mentality that the gaming industry suffers in recent times.
- - Engaging story with cool endings
- - Zombies mode gets a much needed touch-up
- - Free maps coming out with the new Seasons
- - Multiplayer maps are much more engaging than Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
- - Short campaign
- - Zombies mode lacks a soul and identity
- - Gun customization lacks varied options
- - Smallest starting package in all of Call of Duty