Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is the newest installment in the gargantuan franchise, but it doesn’t feel that way at all. It’s reminiscent of a time when the Black Ops series wasn’t eviscerated and rebuilt as something unrecognizable, the era before 2015’s Black Ops 3. Cold War does everything in its power to harken back to the years of 2010 and 2012, but still manages to keep the experience modernized. It’s a treat for veteran and novice players alike, and it finally delivers the direct sequel to the original Black Ops that I never knew I needed. It doesn’t necessarily excel past the first two entries in terms of narrative quality, but compared to the series’ more recent releases? It’s lightyears ahead.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is very much in the same thematic vein of the original title, but I can’t elaborate too far beyond that. I wish I could, however, I would have to spoil some major plot points of the story to accurately illustrate the striking similarities. Regardless, the overall themes of espionage, intrigue, and near psychedelic confusion are widely apparent and pay homage to the series’ roots by echoing the feelings and sensations I experienced all the way back in 2010. The story itself is well-written for what it is (a non-stop nitro-fueled action romp), but as previously iterated doesn’t really hold a candle to the classic plotlines of BO1 and 2. Although Cold War marks the return of fan favorite characters such as Mason, Woods, and Hudson, their addition isn’t enough to surpass what has already been done. This is also due in part to the new selection of voice actors, which was a remarkably strange choice to implement to say the least. The newly casted Mason and Hudson do an adequate job, but it is highly noticeable that they are entirely different people. Unfortunately, in the case of iconic character Sgt. Frank Woods, he has nearly been butchered. The new voice actor merely does an imitation of James C. Burns’ portrayal of the Vietnam vet, and it’s a passionless one at that. Voice acting aside, he doesn’t even seem like the same person, as he spats immature quips or childish humor throughout multiple parts of the campaign unprompted. However, the fresh faces Cold War introduces you to to fight alongside with aren’t half bad at all. In particular, Russell Adler and Lawrence Sims are fine additions to the CIA roster, and in a way feel like they have always been a part of the story without ever being in it prior to this point. Unfortunately, other new additions such as Park and Lazar are mainly generic, and by the end are just used to spout corny flirtatious dialogue that we’ve all seen a thousand times over at the least. Despite a character being new or old, they are all affected by the choices you make during the game. Yes, Cold War’s story features choice and consequence just like BO2, but to a substantially larger degree. The choices the player makes are anything but hollow, and do have legitimate consequences across the board. A lot of these decisions are minor, but there are those that definitely affect the outcome of certain missions, character story arcs, and eventually the ending itself; which opens the gateway for multiple playthroughs resulting in a higher replay-ability value than most other COD releases. It’s a phenomenal addition that matches the themes of the game splendidly, and I would very much like to see it continued in subsequent sequels where hopefully the player’s choices made in this title will carry over (to be clear, this mechanic should remain just in Black Ops; not added to Modern Warfare). The final aspect of the narrative I want to discuss is the fact that the main character of this franchise entry is a custom one that the player creates themselves. You can pick your name, skin color, gender, military/agency background, and stat bonuses from a series of preset options (apart from your name). Without spoiling anything, this feature fits snug into the plot of the story well, but I feel that a voiced main protagonist such as Mason would have been better in the end and strengthened the narrative by a long mile. The narrative of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a fresh and unique one, but it still manages to retain that classic Black Ops sensation of spectacle.
Gameplay, Graphics, and Atmosphere
Moving from cover to cover, sliding in and out of hallways/corridors, and movement/agility in general is as smooth as can be. Personally I would have opted for dolphin diving instead, but sliding lends itself to the movement system much better than DD would objectively. Furthermore, raining down bullets and hellfire upon your foes has never felt so fluid in a COD title until now. The gunplay feels heavy/weighted, and the moments where your powerful shots connect with flesh and stop your enemies dead in their tracks is satisfyingly great. The levels you engage these Soviet combatants in are surprisingly open, which allows for exploration and multiple diverging pathways to objectives, along with opening the doorway to allow side objectives and the ability to collect hidden evidence for side missions to be implemented as well; a surprise for a COD game to be sure, but a welcome one. The backdrop for all of this, also known as the graphical fidelity, is intricately detailed and frankly magnificent. On Xbox Series X, I maintained a 4K resolution at 60 FPS with raytracing consistently all the way through three separate playthroughs, with no frame drops or stutters. In terms of the environment around you, foliage is dense and minutely detailed and urban areas are meticulously crafted too. Gun models are beautiful (the 1911 in particular is gorgeous), character models are near photorealistic, and explosions are as glorious as they are scorching. The attention to detail is massive, and is by far the most graphically intricate/stunning COD title I’ve played to date. Operating at peak capacity alongside the visuals is the background audio, mostly due in part to a fantastic OST that nails the retro and trippy themes of the story. The licensed music selection is on point for the 1981 time period as well. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War strives for a higher level of polish than its predecessors, and for the most part succeeds spectacularly.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a massive, proactive step in the right direction for the series. It’s a solid return to form for the franchise, and although there are a few minor missteps with the narrative it’s overall mostly inconsequential to the entire campaign experience. The buttery smooth gameplay and heightened visual fidelity go together hand-in-hand, creating one of the most fluid COD experiences of all time. Additionally, the atmosphere provided further immerses and entrenches the player in not just the story but the time period too. In the end, the campaign of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is just the beginning of Treyarch’s redemption arc, but it’s one hell of an innovative start: just to put it mildly. (It is worth noting, though, that Raven Software developed the campaign, not Treyarch, so hats off to the team over there above anyone else).