Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War takes a dramatic tonal shift from its super-serious 2019 predecessor, making it one of the goofier entries in the annualized franchise. While Modern Warfare was committed to realism, especially in its campaign, this new game is soaked in conspiracy theories, explosions, and cheesy 80’s haircuts. Despite this sharp pivot, Cold War quickly finds its footing by committing to its wacky tendencies, and out-there plot twists. It never quite reaches the heights of the previous game, but it’s far from a misfire.
If this game’s campaign was turned into a feature film, it would be a contender for the most dad-friendly action flick of the year. All the ingredients are there, a Robert Redford look-alike, rock n’ roll music, Russian spies, and a villain posing a global threat that only a special team can prevent from happening. Maybe it was the testosterone radiating from my screen, or maybe it was too much coffee, but I was on-board with the ridiculousness from the get-go, even if it’s a tad too much off the rails at times.
From a length and difficulty perspective, Cold War follows the same pattern of being short and sweet as previous games, but it’s in the difficulty that I found a new appreciation for this series. While I’m no stranger to lowering things down to easy mode, in Cold War I played the campaign on the highest difficulty and found it to be surprisingly balanced and fair. Firefights are just the right amount of tense, without making the player feel like they need to duck after every shot, but if you make the wrong move, a game over is still inevitable. Thanks to the games friendly checkpoint system, a restart is never the end-of-the-world,but just a small delay in progression. Giving this mode a try is bound to help you when you take your skills online.
On the multiplayer side, things are not quite as unorthodox as you might have come to expect, but it’s still solid. Each year, when I dabble in Call of Duty multiplayer, I expect quick, snappy action and maps that are memorable. Cold War checks both those boxes. All the classic modes are here, including Team Deathmatch, Domination, and Search and Destroy. If you’re looking for larger-scale battles, the battle royale like Warzone is included in the package, and for the horde mode enthusiasts, Zombies is back too. Best of all, crossplay is back as a feature, bringing gamers that much closer to the end of the console wars. After more than a decade of these games, seeing experience points increase, guns unlock, and stats pop-up on-screen still elicits a rush of excitement like few shooters can create, which explains why the series continues to be on-top each year.
If there’s anything to critique when thinking about Cold War, it’s that it takes few risks. Maybe it’s riding the coattails of last year’s formula, but I would have liked to see more zany qualities instilled in the multiplayer mode to match the campaign’s tone. Including just the slightest bit of 80’s themes would have been enough to separate itself from Modern Warfare. Just give me an eye-rolling one liner, maybe a Rambo-like headband, anything at all! Instead, it just feels like the same game with new maps, making for the same old Call of Duty atmosphere. I was never confused about what a perk does, button layout, or rules of a game mode. The series perfected multiplayer long ago, it’s time to take more risks.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is another successful entry in the franchise. Although with each preceding year the series hinges on becoming stale, this game brings over what made last year’s game so beloved, and adds just enough goofiness to the campaign to differentiate itself, making it a contender for one of the best first-person shooters of 2020.
Review code provided by publisher
This story was first reported by KGUNs Joey Greaber in Tucson, Arizona.