Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War (Impressions)

After spending a good part of my isolation routine playing through Call of Duty: Modern Warfare it seems fitting that a new game arrives to usher in my escape from it. That developer Treyarch decided to go back to the original Black Ops for inspiration was a smart move as it helps to ground it in a reality that’s much closer to what we’d think cold war spy jinks may have been like. Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War is a package containing a campaign, online multiplayer, a co-op versus zombies mode and the previously released Warzone. Different teams were responsible for these and it very much feels like that in implementation with the only real connective tissue being the ranking system (soon to be Battle Pass).

Note: there’ll be plenty of comparisons made to prior games in the franchise that I’ve played – apologies in advance if my memory is hazy on some aspects of these.

The campaign takes some cues from the first Black Ops but where that game’s missions (to me) felt often like self contained stories from its numerous flashbacks whereas Cold War tries to join the missions together more closely in a continuous narrative with fewer flashbacks. In terms of story it’s probably better but I did like Black Ops‘ use of historical references far more. There’s a few opportunities in the game to deliver different endings based on narrative choices as well as some optional side missions to tweak it further but it does boil down to a good/bad choice in the end though your definition of both may be murky if you choose to play them both. There’s some really interesting missions during the game worth a discussion or two but I’m not going to spoil them here! Multiplayer brings in familiar modes such as Deathmatch and Domination but there are others leveraging larger maps such as Dirty Bomb which tasks players to capture, hold and detonate points around the map for points. Each area where a bomb detonates becomes irradiated is damaging to players so begins to restrict player movement which is a neat touch that forces teams to congregate in the remaining areas and battle it out over the last bomb. The size of some of these maps is impressive too making the game feel like it’s moving into Battlefield territory. Zombies is a fun diversion that starts off feeling like a closed off horde mode but as you survive longer and open up new areas it build out it’s own little narrative that does come across as a more serious take on the one that was in the theme park themed version in Infinite Warfare but does throw in the occasional moments of silliness.

Gameplay wise Cold War doesn’t change the formula too much but there’s enough to warrant a mention. The game starts you off with a handful of fixed loadouts that allow players to get access to a setup that caters for different play styles and modes while giving them an opportunity to earn enough XP to start unlocking the custom slots to make up your own. Your first few games require you to use these so they act as a tutorial of sorts to help you get accustomed how they work. The most appealing thing for me though is how scoretreaks (killstreaks) are handled in multiplayer. In Modern Warfare you needed to get enough kills in succession to earn your selected booster – be it radars, cluster strikes or chopper gunners. If you died you had to restart the counter. But in Cold War it’s cumulative so even if you die a little as long as get your fair share of kills and other bonus points you’re still to a good chance to deploy a few of your own. It’s a good way of giving every player a fair chance of deploying something and help their team.

Player control in Cold War feels like a bit of a throwback to earlier shooters with your character being less agile in their ability to make use of the environment. Probably the most obvious one for me in my play was the inability to mount your gun against walls, barriers, etc – though I initially found it something that required time to learn in Modern Warfare it became a very useful skill that allowed you to make better use of cover while improving stability of your shots. For would be snipers it made a huge difference. Despite that omission I haven’t found the changes to be be so different that I couldn’t adapt. For shooting the aim assist feels a little friendlier which helps a lot in giving everyone a fair chance at scoring kills in all modes.

Technically I’ve found the game the be a bit of a mixed bag on my Xbox One X. Graphically it’s not too bad with some great use of lighting to really set the tone but I found the audio not as impactful with gunfire sounding less hard hitting than its predecessor. Gunfire and explosions would like they are overly filtered with maybe too much bass in the default sound settings. During the campaign this isn’t as big of an issue as the game is always presenting the best of it and the engine copes well but in multiplayer these issues become more apparent during play. On top of that cinematics were often running badly with audio drop outs and though it seemed to get resolved when I replayed them (an option in the game’s menu) it’s a distracting bug that I hope gets fixed. Jumping across to Xbox Series X did improve performance and the game benefited from a visual boost but I was hit by one colossal bug that shut the console down entirely which is the last thing you want to see when playing games on a new system.

UPDATE: as of 2020-11-29 I’ve had numerous crashes and shutdowns. There’s been further info via Windows Central – see here – the issue appears to widespread across platforms too so hopefully fixes will be inbound soon.

Modern Warfare is still clunky too but I really get the impression that these games are burdened with their own bugs and fixes/improvements from one iteration in the franchise doesn’t carry over to the next. In the case of Cold War it’s like that with individual modes so you can’t guarantee the quality across them all.

Cold War‘s biggest enemy in terms of rating it is it’s predecessor and that’s the main thing here – the game doesn’t compare as well to Modern Warfare as it probably should. The campaign is good and the multiplayer is perfectly fine too but Infinity Ward’s game set a very high benchmark in terms of overall quality and even though issues still exist when it boils down to the core game it’s still a very compelling product. If the developers were considering supporting that game with more content rather than entering a maintenance phase it’d very likely keep a great deal of its player base. I still wonder if that will be enough or it will divide the player base and make Cold War feel a little emptier than was planned and it may suffer as a result.

Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War is out now for PC, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S.

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