I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the best person to review Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. While yes, I am a fan and have followed the series since Call of Duty 2 released back on the Xbox 360, I’ve never been a huge fan of online multiplayer, which – at this point –is Call of Duty’s bread and butter.
I’m one of those outliers who play the series for their single player campaigns and then moves on.
Yes, I know – I’ve heard it all before. Yes, I have tried the multiplayer and have enjoyed it at times. And yes, I was disappointed when Black Ops 4 decided to forgo a single player campaign to focus on the multiplayer. Look, I get it – it costs a lot to create a single player campaign, especially when you know that nearly all your profit stems from your multiplayer.
So, imagine my surprise when I learned that the latest Black Ops entry was bringing back the single player campaign. Further imagine my surprise when I discovered that Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War has one of the best single player campaigns to grace the Call of Duty series in years.
Players take on the roll of an individual code named Bell, whom you get to name and slightly customize, along with a few other spec ops characters as you tackle missions from both 1981 and 1968.
Unlike many of Call of Duty’s recent entries, Black Ops Cold War takes place entirely in the past and I was grateful to return to regular guns, helicopters, and tools rather than the futuristic warfare items which have dominated the past few entries.
Bell is teamed up with a highly trained pack of specialized agents assembled by President Reagan. This ratpack features fairly well fleshed out characters – ranging from intelligence experts to an MI6 operative – as they hunt down a terrorist named Perseus who is preparing to unleash a barrage of nuclear weapons on the world while framing the US for the destruction. Under the direction of CIA Clandestine Special Office Russell Adler, who has been tracking Perseus for much of his career, this ragtag team of agents form a family well suited to tackle one of the most dangerous men in the world.
Don’t let the 1968 and 1981 timeline fool you, the game does not feature time travel. Rather the levels tackle both present day issues and the characters diving back into their memories in hopes of remembering key details which might help them uncover Perseus’s contacts, hideout, and ultimate plans.
When I say that players can slightly customize Bell, I mean that they are given a chance to build his profile. This includes naming him, choosing his back story, and completing a psychological profile which enables various bonuses based on the traits you choose. There are multiple traits available, but only two can be chosen and cannot be altered once you confirm. The abilities gained from traits runs the gamut from 25% extra health, better defense while stationary, an additional weapon clip, less flinching when shot, increased aiming speed, to increased bullet damage. While these may not make a huge difference in your playthrough, it is nice to get to personalize your character a bit.
I won’t bother with many details about the gameplay, as the core gameplay loop of Call of Duty has not changed; it is still a fast-paced, nail biting, edge-of-your-seat, incredibly over the top, first person shooter – albeit this time the developers have slowed down enough to add areas between levels where you can interact with your various team members, asking them questions and learning their back stories.
I enjoyed taking the time to wind down after a mission and explore the hideout. For those who explore every nook and cranny there is a small puzzle hidden that provides you with the code to unlock a gate and access an old computer with some Call of Duty throwback info hidden on it and an arcade which allows you to play multiple Atari games – provided you’ve found them scattered throughout the main missions during your playthrough.
Another nice detail is the introduction of an evidence board which allows you to view the next mission, read any evidence you’ve obtained, replay previous missions, or tackle side missions. The addition of side missions was a welcome surprise, despite there only being two. On top of the side missions there are also puzzles accompanying each which were surprisingly complex and required the use of evidence found in main missions to fully solve. Even better – or possibly worse for some players – the answers to these puzzles change for each player so no guide can be used to skip past them, only to help guide players as to where and how to decipher the clues.
Another welcome gameplay addition was an interesting stealth mission which allows players to take on the role of a KGB mole as they struggle to take down their headquarters from the inside. This mission features various means of completing it, including poisoning your commanding officer, stealing keycards and reprogramming them, framing other officers, or bribing officers for restricted access and a incredible amount of tension in areas where you must pick locks and sneak past or take out guards silently. While I am normally not a fan of forced stealth, I found myself replaying this mission just to see how the other avenues of completion played out.
Overall, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is another solid entry in the always reliable Call of Duty series, and features one of the better campaigns in recent years. The graphics, voice acting, level design, and the new methods of storytelling were all top notch and made my playthrough – short as it was – compelling and consistently enjoyable.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that – for all its good – there are a few faults. First, the campaign is short – which admittedly, is expected at this point – and will take most players no more than 5 or so hours to complete. I went in expecting this and was merely disappointed only because I enjoyed my time with the campaign so much.
More glaring were the technical issues I encountered, which were much more prevalent than in past Call of Duty entries and bordered on making the game unplayable at times. Cutscenes are a mess, with the video regularly skipping and overall not keeping pace with the voiceovers and the game itself features moments of lag even during single player. Even worse, I encountered multiple hard system crashes during gameplay on an Xbox One X and numerous instances where the game simply quit recognizing my controller inputs.
While none of the above fully broke the game for me, it did cause numerous headaches and forced me to quit all together one evening as the system constantly kept hard crashing.
These issues seem to be widespread so I’m sure the developers will have a patch out shortly to address performance, but for now they are still an issue.
Despite those gripes, I still enjoyed my time with the game and would whole-heartedly recommend it to other fans of the Call of Duty single player campaigns. It’s nice to know that even in the chaos that is 2020 we can still rely on Call of Duty to adhere to its strict yearly release schedule and, despite some technical hiccups, still provide a compelling gameplay experience.