Another year, another Call of…well, you get the point. Apparently I don’t, however, because I keep buying these damn games. I tell myself I won’t get the new game, then I look at the RPG mechanics and setting, and next thing you know I’m downloading it. I hate the fact that I keep doing this, but here I am, so I might as well put out a review.
Just like previous entries, this game has three main modes, which is how I will be splitting up this review. This review will not include anything about Call of Duty: Warzone because it’s pretty much its own game by this point. Also, I will not apply a score to this game like I do for my other reviews because of how much these games change over their one year lifespan. With that said, let’s start with Treyarch’s most famous contribution to Call of Duty.
Before this game, I had fallen hard off of the zombies mode. I went from putting over 100 hours into Call of Duty: World at War just to play custom zombie maps to actively disliking the mode. So to say I was shocked to find myself liking this mode more than the rest of the game is a bit of an understatement. Cold War zombies shakes things up enough to feel fresh as well as offer plenty of reason to go back and play more, and I believe this can be zombies at its best if Treyarch plays their cards right.
The best way I can describe the changes to this mode is that the Warzone developers made it. The zombies mode in the past has felt rather segmented and isolated from the rest of the game, but Cold War’s zombies is all about integrating the mode with multiplayer. While a zombies purist me from a few years ago would’ve complained about this, I actually think this integration is a necessary step that got me back into the mode.
As I played more of this game’s zombies mode, I noticed more and more things that are mainly seen in multiplayer and Warzone. Ammo boxes litter the map offering a refill of ammo to any weapon. Accolades of your killing feats pop-up on the screen similar to multiplayer. Scorestreaks like a sentry gun and even aerial support can be crafted or picked up from the mystery box. A mini-map rests in the top corner of the screen and objective indicators help with navigation. Excess weapons drop on the floor instead of disappear, which both allows for sharing and faster mystery box use. Various items like throwables, armor, and more drop off of zombies like in Warzone, littering the floor with tools to help deal with the horde. A lot of these multiplayer mechanics almost feel purposefully left out before Cold War over fear of being too powerful, but I think they actually make for a more enjoyable experience overall, and these tools and abilities are fun without being too easy.
Consumables are pickups off of the ground now.
The biggest connection between this mode and the rest of the game are the weapons. Gunsmith, a feature from Modern Warfare that allows for high customizability of weapons, is shared between zombies and multiplayer, and there is a separate list of skins to unlock in this mode. The zombies mode in previous games have had a level of skin and weapon progression, but this is the first time these systems are fully fleshed out, and it’s one of the biggest things that’s been missing from the mode for me. Speaking of weapons, Cold War nails weapon upgrading in the game. On top of being able to pack-a-punch weapons three times, weapons are on an upgradeable tier system in which higher tiers increase damage. This system allows weapons to stay effective at higher waves, and weapon types that were worthless are a lot more viable.
Not only does customizable weapons help with replayability, but it also helps with a faster setup which in turns cuts out some of the clutter of the mode. Instead of starting with a weak pistol, you choose what weapon to start with. Perk machines don’t need to be powered on to work, which means a faster perk setup. Various small tasks in this game’s (so far) only map Die Maschine like getting the D.I.E. Machine, this map’s wonder weapon, or the annoying-but-important Coffin Dance easter egg also help with getting setup for high rounds quicker, which in turn creates a tighter experience. Speaking of a tighter experience, one of my issues with the zombies mode was it being too long of an experience, which this game fixes by allowing extraction. Every five rounds, the option to extract becomes available, which involves clearing out an area of the map from zombies in a small time limit. If you extract, you get a reward, but even with losing it’s nice for the game to give an option to leave instead of just dying when you don’t feel like playing anymore, and having the ability to level up weapons and get skins means leaving early isn’t in vain.
Normally, on the other end of the spectrum of a short and quick experience is the large easter egg quest that can be found in every zombies map since the first Black Ops, but things are a bit different here. The big easter egg quests are usually pretty difficult and time consuming, but the easter egg in Die Maschine is quite doable. Not only does the game communicate the steps of the easter egg better than other games, but it also has a lot of fairly easy steps up-to the ending. I managed to complete the easter egg with one other by round 12, which from my knowledge of other zombies maps and their easter eggs is practically unheard of. Tied to every other easter egg in every other map is a story of some kind, and here is no exception. Various characters talk to you over radio, some of the easter egg steps show ghosts explaining their actions and motives (and zombies thankfully leave you alone during these sequences), and intel can be picked up throughout as their form of storytelling. For me, I never cared about the story in this mode (especially with how convoluted the story in the Black Ops series got), so I didn’t find much interest here either, but I think the easter egg overall is better than others because of how doable it is.
Instead of killing a final boss, you help it blow up the facility.
Outside of the big differences, there are also a lot of smaller changes, and some of them are actually quite smart. There is a separate currency that drops from zombies called salvage used to craft consumables and upgrade weapon tiers and armor. There are field upgrades that recharge with kills which provide various boosts like reviving allies, turning invisible, and more. In the map, you can activate challenges for a reward, and that reward can stack if you do multiple challenges. Points are only rewarded for kills instead of hits and kills. Instead of a fixed price, perk prices stack for each perk purchased, and the perk limit is gone. Throwables scale with the waves, making them viable in higher rounds. From what I gather, only higher tiered weapons show up in the mystery box in higher rounds. The host can pause the match at any time for everyone. Zombies have health bars and damage numbers (both can be turned off), which helps a lot with understanding how powerful a weapon is. Finally, there is another currency that is used to permanently upgrade weapon types, perks, field upgrades, and more. There are a lot of smaller changes made to the experience that I believe are overall positive quality-of-life changes that should’ve been in the mode before.
Before wrapping up the zombies portion of this review, there is one other thing to talk about: Dead Ops Arcade. This third edition to Treyarch’s occasional top-down twin-stick arcade zombie map is here, and there really isn’t much else to say about it. It’s very similar to the Dead Ops maps of before, which for me has always been a novelty. The only two things I really have to say about it is that it sucks to play with a keyboard and mouse, and I think the ability to go into first-person from time-to-time is neat but not really worth it. I guess it’s neat that it’s here, but it didn’t make my experience with the game any better or worse.
Cold War zombies has the potential to be the best the mode has ever been because of its different approach to the decade-old formula. Treyarch finally gave me a reason to back and play more zombies thanks to weapon leveling, weapon skins, challenges, picking up intel, and the ability to leave at any time. The biggest complaint I have for the mode right now is a lack of content, especially considering the wave-based Onslaught mode is unavailable until this game’s expiration date, but time will hopefully fix this issue. This is the most excited I’ve been about zombies since I played custom zombies on World at War, and I can’t wait to see what Treyarch does with the mode.
Treyarch’s last Call of Duty didn’t have a campaign, causing a large backlash. Modern Warfare brought it back, and its campaign was one of the best of the franchise gameplay-wise. So between Treyarch’s trippy stories and last year’s game, this campaign had to impress. So, did they? While I enjoyed this game’s new approach to a Call of Duty campaign, I think they also rely on older campaign elements too heavily, keeping the whole experience from its full potential.
Gameplay was a huge deal with Modern Warfare’s campaign, with people considering the Clean House mission a franchise highlight (and deservedly so). Does this game live up to the highs of its predecessor? Not quite, but it has some unique ideas. This game takes place in the 80s, which is a decade of espionage instead of the 70s with the Vietnam War, and the gameplay reflects this…mostly.
Much like Modern Warfare, Cold War changes up the gameplay to more accurately reflect what the CIA was doing during this time, and I think that’s great. These new gameplay elements include stealth (which includes tagging enemies, lock-picking, and hiding bodies), dialogue and character choices that affect the outcome of certain characters, optional side missions and side quests, and more. None of these systems are too deep, with the ending choice being the only one that truly matters and the stealth being dumbed down a lot, but the changes being there is a nice break from what Call of Duty campaigns normally offer. The highlight of this new style of gameplay is a mission called Desperate Measures. The objective of the mission is to get the keycard off of a general to gain access to a bunker, but the level opens up into what I could best describe as a reboot Hitman level, as there are multiple paths you can take to getting this keycard, and the area you are in includes restricted areas you must sneak around. These new gameplay differences help give the feeling of being a spy, which I think is a breath of fresh air for a series known for globetrotting warfare.
The map in Desperate Measures, showing various objectives and restricted areas.
In between missions, you spend time in a safehouse with the other people in your crew. Here, you can talk to them and get to know them better, but where this part of the game shines is with the optional missions. This game has two optional missions, and both require a puzzle to be solved. These puzzle pieces can be found throughout the campaign as collectibles, which I think is a great way to incentive collectible hunting and level exploration. One of the puzzles involves trying to find three spies among a list of eight suspects and the other involves decrypting a computer, and once those things are done (whether you correctly or incorrectly solve the puzzle), then you can play the mission. The missions themselves aren’t anything special, but the collectible hunting and puzzles are a blast, and I wish I could have them as a separate puzzle game.
While I deeply enjoyed the breath of fresh air that is this game’s new gameplay, Cold War also couldn’t help itself. For every new gameplay moment, there is a return to Call of Duty’s more traditional campaign gameplay. Hell, even the Desperate Measures mission I love ends with a basic corridor shooting segment. Scripted moments, vehicle moments, and corridor shooter moments are just as prevalent as the new gameplay, and the two don’t blend well together. Not only does this obligation to the older style of gameplay dampen the potential of the new stuff, it also feels out-of-place. One of the side missions involves shooting what looks like Russian military at a motel in New Mexico, and Desperate Measures ends with shooting up the KGB headquarters. I feel like both of these events would’ve started World War 3 or at the very least would cause disastrous ripple effects, and something about easily escaping the KGB headquarters in Moscow doesn’t sit right with me. None of this is to say small arms warfare couldn’t have happened during this time, but it certainly doesn’t feel right here, and I’m disappointed to see Cold War go back to its older gameplay like a person eating junk food despite being on a diet.
This game couldn’t help itself.
Then there is the story. I know a lot of people talked about the way Reagan is presented in this story and whatnot, but I honestly couldn’t care less about the political beliefs of a four-hour-long Call of Duty campaign. The story side of the game is a fun espionage romp that involves hunting a secret Russian Intelligence Officer that kind of reminded me of Narcos. It also includes dialogue options and choices on what you want to do with certain characters, though all-but one choice ultimately ends up as a Fallout 3 ‘flip book of choices’ ending that I think is a bit lazy. The final choice, however, can change what final mission you play, and two of the endings offered are surprisingly ballsy (even if they contradict with the stories of previous Black Ops releases). The plot also gets into some trippy brainwashing stuff, and seeing all of that culminate into the mission Break on Through, which involves reliving a messed-up version of a Vietnam War flashback, is certainly interesting. On top of all this, I think this game deals with moral ambiguity better than Modern Warfare, as some of the extreme lengths the American government go to in this game to fight against Communism are slowly revealed, and I think it’s interesting that the game allows you to choose between two sides who aren’t necessarily the good guys after learning about each side’s true intentions.
While I think this is an enjoyable CIA espionage tale, the tone doesn’t always stay consistent, and some of the characters are pretty weak. An 80s espionage tale is usually pretty serious, and so is this game, but there are times when it felt close to just turning neon and referencing 80s pop songs and cheesy movies. In regards to the characters, Black Ops series veteran Woods is the most troubling. In this game, he comes off as this weird goofball character, and with Mason they come off as this weird comedy duo that shouldn’t exist. Looking back at the first Black Ops, Woods was a dude who lived through war atrocities few should ever live through and acted that way, but now he jokes about how the Communists stole a fast food burger mascot while killing dozens of men in a training facility. In regards to the rest of the characters, they are more of a mixed bag. I think Adler is a solid character, but I didn’t really care about most of the side characters, and when one mission required me to save one or the other, I just chose someone at random. I think the worst character (outside of Woods) is actually the main protagonist Bell, as there isn’t really a character there. This game instead has a create-a-character, where you choose a few characteristics (which you will never see, considering it’s a first-person game) and a few skill traits, but Bell doesn’t have any voice or personality. I understand taking this approach for most other Call of Duty campaigns, but I think this story needs a main character with a voice and personality, but none of that is found here.
In the end, the campaign in Cold War is solid, but it doesn’t go all the way with its ideas. Where Modern Warfare had incredible gameplay and a poor story, this game has more of an even balance between the two. If Treyarch had just stuck to their new gameplay elements and stuck to their more serious tone both with the story and characters, I think this could’ve been a fantastic Call of Duty campaign. Instead of taking a step forward, though, they took a half-step forward and a half-step back, ultimately feeling like wasted potential and an unwillingness to mature.
Finally, there is the multiplayer. The largest mode of the three, multiplayer has grown stale for me because of its lack of change. Campaigns will change and the third mode can change between games, but the core to multiplayer will always stay the same. Modern Warfare shook things up quite a bit with its new engine, bringing large-scale battles, huge weapon customization with Gunsmith, various new abilities like a super sprint and mounting, a new feel to combat, and more. So, how does this game’s multiplayer live up to the changes brought on by its predecessor? It doesn’t.
Every year, a new Call of Duty is led by either Treyarch, Sledgehammer, or Infinity Ward. While the franchise has mostly stayed the same throughout the years, each developer has their own style that differentiates and personalizes each Call of Duty from one another. I don’t know if it’s because of Call of Duty: Warzone being playable through Cold War, Treyarch being given less time than usual to put out this title, an overall consolidation of all of these companies, or a mixture of the three, but this year’s multiplayer and game overall feels like Modern Warfare but in a Cold War setting. Of course, you can say the same thing about all of these games, but I can’t recall similarities being this close.
Modern Warfare runs on a new engine, which is why the game feels different from the rest, but Cold War runs on an older engine, which is an issue considering the development reigns over Warzone (which runs on the new engine) are being passed onto Treyarch. Because of this strange discrepancy, I’m guessing Treyarch decided to have their game look and feel almost exactly like Modern Warfare. It doesn’t feel as good, though, and features like super sprint and mounting are gone, but just about everything else is trying to copy Modern Warfare, making this one of the most dull experiences I’ve ever had with Call of Duty. I looked forward to what each developer would bring to their game, even if those features didn’t age well. World War 2 had a social hub area and a more brutal and intimate feel to combat. Black Ops 4 tried out manual healing and not having a story affect the maps or characters. Modern Warfare brought a more tactical and grounded experience as well as large-scale maps. Even if these elements sucked, they gave each game a personality, but this game comes off more as a Cold War-themed weapons and map pack than a unique title, and the only personality this game has is being a worse-feeling Modern Warfare.
Even the menus between the two games are similar.
So, what are these similarities? Outside of the overall feel, some of the features of the last game are brought back here. Field upgrades, deployable abilities like ammo or a device that blocks throwables, are back. Gunsmith, the highly customizable weapon system, is back. Combined Arms, large-scale battles on large maps with vehicles, is very similar to Ground War. The ability to edit loadouts mid-match is here. An alternate form of prestige where you don’t lose all of your unlocks is here. This list could go on and on, and some of this stuff is overall quality-of-life improvements from the last game, but there is a difference between keeping some features and just copying the last game.
There are a few parts to the multiplayer where you can see Treyarch try to add new content to the game, but none of it has any impact. The big new mode, which involves ten teams of four fighting over uranium bombs, is way too hectic and the mode takes way too long to complete. There are other new modes, but they are mostly just slight spins on well-established content. The only three places where I could find any identity with multiplayer is with scorestreak counters not resetting on death, wildcard options being brought back into loadouts, and ammo boxes placed around the map, but none of it makes any impact or change to the glaring issue that is a lack of an identity.
Outside of the game’s identity crisis, it also struggles with a lack of content. The game will of course update with new content, but only having eight maps at launch is not good. Those maps got stale fast, and it certainly didn’t help that the first map added into the game was Nuketown, the same map that has been in every single Black Ops game. There aren’t enough weapons or maps that kept my interest, and not even the luster of trying to get gold skins and max weapon levels could keep me interested.
Other than that, there isn’t really much else to say. In the end, the same core and hardcore modes are still there, and I found myself playing those modes instead of the new stuff. Between the identity issues and lack of content, however, that time didn’t last very long. I found the fun of multiplayer to be fleeting even within its first few hours, and I would much rather return to Modern Warfare’s multiplayer than this.
Black Ops Cold War is a fine Call of Duty, but it also lacks content and an identity. There are places where you can see it try to be its own game, but it ultimately cannot leave Modern Warfare’s shadow. Fortunately, this game gives the option on what modes I want to install and uninstall, and the only mode I feel is worth keeping on my hard drive and my mind is Zombies, which is also the only mode worth purchasing. If you can buy Zombies by itself in the future, then I would do that, but outside of that I would either wait for a sale, wait for more content, or just play Modern Warfare instead.