Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War Review

Richard Walker

In my estimation, there are two strains of Call of Duty player. You're either someone who buys the game every year to soak up the campaign and possibly dabble with multiplayer, or you dispense with the single-player altogether and dive headfirst into shooting fellow players, or rather, in my case, get shot repeatedly by fellow players. For anyone looking to immerse themselves in a typically explosive campaign in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War - the clumsily named follow-up to the original 2010 Black Ops (the sequels are effectively retconned in this one) - then you're in for something of a treat.

What happens when Woods leaves the oven on.

While the muddy politics of Call of Duty games often require some untangling (which I'm not going to bother attempting here), if you take Cold War at face value as a Hollywood version of events – despite the game's tagline of 'know your history' and the setting up of events by splicing in real-life archive footage – then there's more than adequate enjoyment to be wrought from this year's narrative. Seemingly riffing on tense, paranoid ‘70s thrillers like Marathon Man, All the President's Men, or The Conversation, Cold War is abound with smoke-filled backrooms, where gruff, secretive government types are briefed by Ronald Reagan, and chat about 'securing the asset' while looking at slides. At times it can feel like a companion piece to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (and can often feel as plausible), so naturally, there's a lot to like about the game's campaign.

Co-developers Raven Software and Treyarch have had a real go at attempting something slightly more cerebral with Black Ops Cold War, and while the word 'cerebral' is certainly one you wouldn't traditionally associate with Call of Duty, it's somewhat apt here, albeit in relative terms, of course. As well as the return of Black Ops stalwarts Mason and Woods, Cold War introduces a range of new characters to the fold. These include the mysterious Russell Adler – a scar-faced Robert Redford type, decked out with a chocolate-brown leather jacket and a pair of sunglasses that you suspect he was probably born wearing.

You spend much of your time with Adler, engaging in a variety of missions as you strive to track down enigmatic Russian “boogeyman” Perseus, before he blows up the free world or something. From your CIA safehouse in West Berlin, you can interact with your teammates as a customised character, codenamed 'Bell', whose name, skin tone, gender, and psychological profile you can set to your own specifications. Browsing intel from the evidence board, you can access missions (including two side missions that require going the extra mile to unlock) that invariably feature the usual gung-ho blasting that Call of Duty is famed for, although the campaign does also find time to present dialogue choices and decisions that have an actual impact on the story.

They're fighting in the streets!

One early decision has you determining the fate of a character you've been pursuing, and you can choose to hurl them from the rooftop or bring them in for interrogation. It's a neat little touch that encourages you to actually engage your brain, if only for a few seconds, while playing a Call of Duty game. Other missions favour slow-burn over chest-pounding military bullshit, like one section in which you're tasked with sneakily infiltrating KGB headquarters, hiding bodies and hacking chunky old computers. For anyone craving pure action, however, don't fret – there are still moments like a flashback to Da Nang during the Vietnam War, in which you swoop in on a chopper as Steppenwolf's 'Magic Carpet Ride' plays over the rasping miniguns and shouting.

While there are portions of the campaign that may engender some eye-rolling and a sense that you've been here and done it all before, Cold War's single-player has the capacity to muster some nice surprises during its tense and intriguing early 1980s-set narrative. And as ever, there are secrets and easter eggs to be uncovered, much like the series' returning Zombies mode, which is laced with a raft of hidden stuff, much as you'd expect. Titled 'Die Maschine', the new Zombies map is a nice nod to the mode's World At War roots and the original Nacht der Untoten map, where it all started.

Zombies remains an entertaining diversion from the core campaign and multiplayer components that make up Call of Duty each and every year, Die Maschine proving slightly more streamlined than some of the more recent, rather bloated Zombies modes. Band together with four players, and there's a lot of fun to be had defeating wave after wave of increasingly deadly undead, discovering and exploring anomalies, and delving deeper into the laboratory beneath the map's bunker. It's certainly rewarding, especially when you have a squad coordinating properly.

Obviously, the same goes for multiplayer, which for many will be the crux of their Black Ops Cold War experience. If that is indeed the case, then you won't find much here that you haven't seen before. Granted, there are a few new modes, like Fireteam: Dirty Bomb, in which ten teams of four battle it out on a sprawling map, striving to collect cubes of uranium to deposit at one of five designated bomb sites. Detonating the bomb emits a cloud of radiation and scores big for your squad, but Dirty Bomb proves a confusing, messy affair when played alone with no communication. It's a mode that demands you talk to your team, which isn't necessarily for everyone.

Aaaargh! Real zombies!

Alongside the usual crop of staple multiplayer modes like Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Domination, and Hardpoint, VIP Escort is another game-type that encourages close co-operation, while Combined Arms provides a large battlefield on which to wage war, with vehicles aiding in getting around the map's wider, otherwise redundant spaces. Essentially, there's something here for every breed of CoD player, even if the overall multiplayer experience can feel like a jumbled grab-bag of various 'things'. I found that sticking with the tried-and-true modes guaranteed the most reliably addictive loops, pulling me back in for more, even when my K/D ratio was total crap.

Therein lies the eternal appeal of Call of Duty – you always know what you're getting and it never fails to deliver on some front. Even if you end up disliking one mode, there's another that you'll inevitably love and sink time into. You could play through the campaign a couple of times – and with differing choices and endings, there's ample scope to do so – and not feel too shortchanged. If, however, you always absorb everything that CoD has to offer each year, then Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War will prove another comprehensive package that will scratch that itchy trigger finger.

Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War

For some reason, I always have a preconceived notion that I won't enjoy this year's Call of Duty. How can a series that releases every single year without fail possibly maintain a consistent quality bar? There are detractors who'd say it doesn't, but let's be honest – it does. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is very good.

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Loud and bombastic when it needs to be, quieter and subtle during the game's less explosive moments. Voice performances are suitably gruff and important-sounding, as the fate of the world teeters on a knife edge.


A really impressive-looking game, with some pretty lush CG cut-scenes. As the series' debut on next-gen, it doesn't seem to push beyond the visual bar set by recent Call of Duty games, which is something of a shame given how CoD normally goes hell for leather, graphically.


It's Call of Duty. Do I really have to tell you how well it plays? Weapon handling remains superb – as tight and intuitive as ever. The slower-paced stealthy bits during the campaign are also really good, and provide a welcome change of pace.


Campaign, multiplayer, Zombies, connective Warzone stuff, cross-play, cross-progression, and all that. It'd be almost churlish to complain about everything crammed into Black Ops Cold War – there's more here than you could possibly ask for.


Neatly divided into campaign, multiplayer, and Zombies objectives, there's a great spread of tasks to jump into, from exploring every bit of the single-player story, investing loads of time online, and uncovering the myriad secrets of Die Maschine.

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