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Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War review

Back in black

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
(Image: © Activision)

Our Verdict

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a return to typical Treyarch form with a promising Zombies mode and old-school multiplayer outing, backed up by excellent visuals that make full use of the next-gen consoles. Especially with the handy immersion of the PS5's DualSense, this year's Call of Duty is well worth grabbing to flesh out your next-gen games collection. Just watch out for the mediocre campaign and some performance issues.

For

  • Visuals take full advantage of next-gen power
  • Addictive and immersive gunplay
  • Old-school execution of Multiplayer and Zombies is fantastic

Against

  • A cack-handed campaign that retreads old ground
  • A few performance issues around launch that will likely be ironed out
Review Information

Time Played: 22 hours

Platform: PS5

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War has arrived right on time for the next-gen console launches, providing a reliable package of pristine shooter content for the multiplayer-loving masses. The question that remains is whether this year's Call of Duty is worth picking up right now with so many top-tier launch games on the market. 

With its appealing Warzone integration and the hotly anticipated return of Zombies, there’s plenty here for every kind of returning player, but what about those consumers who are just looking for a solid shooter to play on their new device?

We’re going to run through all three of the game’s major modes to give you an idea of what capers you’re getting into when you pick up Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War price and release date

  • What is it? The latest Call of Duty game, set during the Cold War
  • Release Date? November 13, 2020
  • What can I play it on? PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One and PC
  • Price? Standard next-gen edition is $69.99/£64.99/AU$99.95

The Reagan retribution

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

(Image credit: Activision)
  • A morally bankrupt narrative that descends into absurdity
  • Character customization feels like a half-baked idea
  • At least it looks lovely in 4K at 60 fps

As you might expect from the marketing so far, Cold War’s campaign is a real turn-your-brain-off, politically acerbic story. A deified Ronald Reagan provides a bunch of boneheaded operatives carte blanche to commit war crimes to protect “the free men and women of the world.” You’ve seen it all before, and you’ll see it again. It’s a far cry from last year’s Modern Warfare, which at least tried to deal with its subject matter with some tact — even if its execution is debatable.

You create your own character this time around, and you get to pick your gender and the tenets of your psychological profile, with choices like ‘Tormented’ providing you with double the lethal and tactical equipment because you always “over prepare for a negative outcome.” Edgy.

There are some standout missions where the game flips the script and slows down the pace to create Hitman-esque stealth sequences, but the whole thing boils down into a popcorn action-movie of questionable ethics. Expect gruesome takedowns, rockets blowing up beautiful villages, cheesy mission codenames and helicopters exploding while you’re in them. It’s propaganda, but at least the 80s soundtrack is cool, and it doesn’t drag on too long, clocking in at around six hours. 

There’s enough variety in the mission locations and gameplay to keep you interested, and we enjoyed the fact you could collect evidence in the essential missions to complete optional puzzles that further contextualize the clandestine narrative. It was enough to make us break out a notepad, which is always a treat in a modern AAA game, where puzzles are usually liquidated. 

It looks fantastic too, especially at 60 fps in 4K on the PS5, with our old friend ray tracing working its lighting magic on the slick streets of Stasi-infested East Germany. Unfortunately, the late-game twists of the Cold War campaign were a predictable retread of old ground, but at the very least, they allowed for some mind-bending architectural feats that really made the most of the graphical power of the next-gen consoles.

Old school cool

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

(Image credit: Activision)
  • This year’s multiplayer offering goes back to basics, for the better
  • A smaller, more refined arsenal of weapons
  • Incredible immersion with the DualSense’s haptics and triggers

Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer mode is certainly the best part of the package, given the addictive nature of its back to basics style. It feels inherently old school, and bygone tactics like shotguns and snipers still pay off in dividends. The maps are tight and well-made but full of interactive elements, like zip lines that take you from boat to boat and rappels that let you surprise campers. The game’s arsenal isn’t bloated but it feels like there are still options for every kind of player, from sweaty SMGs to clinical three-round-burst rifles.

Particularly on the PS5, this is where the DualSense shines. No conjecture, every gun does feel different thanks to the adaptive triggers. Ultimately this will be a marmite feature for Call of Duty veterans — we doubt pro players will endorse the extra hand-strain necessary to hold down a sniper trigger — but if you’re not esports-ready and just looking for immersion, there’s really nothing like it. 

We highly recommend you switch it on and try it out across your loadouts to experience vibrational variety. The crunch you feel when you fire a shotgun is awesome, as is feeling every spin of the helicopter blade as you peel through the game’s lush environments. Swapping back to a last-generation controller on PC felt like a considerable step-down.

Being able to hear enemy footsteps with 3D Audio is another fantastic boon — you really notice the extra effort that went into this game’s superb sound design when you pull on a good pair of cans. 

We don’t even mind the vehicles in the more open maps either, especially in game modes like Dirty Bomb where you can ride around at full speed, shotguns at the ready to take out fireteam squads and collect that precious Uranium. This new mode takes a leaf out of the good book of Warzone, forcing frantic play as you huddle around bomb sites and seek to detonate them and irradiate your enemies. 

Night of the Living Dopamine 

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

(Image credit: Activision)
  • Treyarch’s take on Zombies is as addictive as ever
  • Cross-progression between modes is a superb feature
  • Performance issues arise that may be ironed out

There’s a special kind of considered chaos to Call of Duty: Black ops Cold War — frankly it’s an absurd entry in the series, but it works well and is certainly nostalgic, especially if you sunk many hours into the Black Ops games back in the day.

The Zombies mode is similarly good fun, especially if you’re more of a co-operator than a competitive player at heart. The premise is interesting and it commits to the far more interesting absurd side of the game, as you enter portals to another world and fight off plague hounds. 

Your loadouts and progression also track across all modes, which creates this coordinated onslaught of dopamine regardless of what part of the package you dig into. There’s something very satisfying about upgrading your shotgun in Zombies to give it the attachments necessary to rack up kills in multiplayer. 

It’s worth mentioning that the game crashed a few times on PS5 on launch day (yet this issue hasn’t resurfaced since) and sometimes it does dip below the 60 FPS target when you’re playing on the more sizable Combined Arms maps in multiplayer. These bugs will likely be ironed out in the coming weeks, but keep that in mind if you’re picking this up ASAP.

Verdict

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

(Image credit: Activision)

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a (mostly positive) mixed bag. We were let down by Cold War’s campaign, which held onto old tropes and botched its subject matter. The best part about that is that the campaign is the least essential part of the package. Certainly play it for the visuals, but you can also easily skip it and enjoy hundreds of hours of fun in the game’s multiplayer and zombies modes. Even if you’re just playing on your own, there’s plenty of content here to dig into, and we doubt you’ll feel short-changed for the price. 

The gunplay remains as addicting as ever, bolstered by the unique immersion of the DualSense, and the interactive new maps and modes add a tactical twist to the more conventional parts of the tried and tested Call of Duty gameplay. Black Ops Cold War is a great third-party pickup if you’re looking for a game to test the limits of your next-gen console, especially if you’ve got a group of friends lined up to jump in around launch.