If there was a prize for the most unnecessarily long game title of the year, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War would be a top contender. Which is completely at odds with the game inside the box, as what you’ll find is a short, sharp and explosive CoD game that packs enough punch to knock over – or at least slightly stagger – a heavily-armoured Chuck Norris.
It should be noted that last year’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare looks the slightly better of the two titles, although that’s mostly due to the stylistic choices of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. There’s a hazy brown filter over the top of everything which suits the Cold War timeframe, and feels like your dad dusted off a game from his Magnavox collection and gave it a modern-day remastering. It’s so aggressively Cold War ‘80s that you take your orders from a fairly decently rendered Ronald Reagan – and there’s even a Robert Redford lookalike (or at least a character with his haircut) firmly setting the timeline.
Starting off with the campaign is always a great way to introduce yourself to the new mechanics of the latest CoD game. In the past these campaigns have been little more than tutorials, but Cold War really is a case of more than meets the eye. This time out, we’ve got a well-constructed story that, despite still being short, has incredibly high production values. Modern Warfare was a turn for the Call of Duty franchise, but this is the next level. There are even some quite interesting – and game changing – decisions to be made, which will have you replaying the story to see the different outcomes. The story is a gloriously cheesy mix of Cold War spy/1980s action films all jammed together and cranked up to 11, with more explosions than any one human should be able to witness safely without their eyeballs melting.
Some of the set piece moments are incredibly fun. You fly in on a helicopter to raid an encampment and retrieve information from the pesky Russians, only to take control of the copter in a deadly high octane, high explosive, high speed escape. If you’ve ever wanted to feel like Rambo, you’d struggle to find a better way to do it. And yes, before you ask, you will get a bow to complete the experience. Without spoiling specifics of the story, there’s also a very fun “stealth” mission where you have to sneak around the Lubyanka (the KGB’s headquarters) doing some covert activities that have story-impacting consequences.
Speaking of fun, whomever put together the soundtrack for this game deserves a gosh-darned medal. Adrenaline-fuelled beats and iconic ‘80s tracks keep the pace of the game going, even in the menus. Likewise, the sound design once you’re in-game is over-the-top loud. The crack of gunshots or the thump of the explosions is a very real experience and when you hit the multiplayer matches, this ramps up another notch (if that’s actually possible).
We haven’t even gotten to the multiplayer yet, and there’s so much more to enjoy than ever before. Half a dozen multiplayer modes, Warzone and, of course, the uniquely awesome Zombies mode should be enough to keep anybody busy for many hours. The zombies this year feel like they’re moving slightly quicker, not quite 28 Days Later, but definitely faster than the standard shambling zombie hordes. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War expands on the standard game modes by including options like VIP Escort, Combined Arms: Assault and Fire Team: Dirty Bomb, the last of which feature on the larger maps. There’s some serious variety here, but as with Warzone, Zombies and VIP Escort are best experienced with a team of friends, because communication is key to staying ahead of the competition – or the ravenous zombies.
“Playing a CoD game hasn’t felt this accessible in a long time.”
Multiplayer gameplay is intense. Every map feels like you’re running at the same pace as Shipment. Even though the map sizes are reasonable, the angles are tight and there’s almost no margin for error. While you have a full arsenal to choose from, the SMGs seem to be the weapon of choice in the early play of the game, and the current king of the SMGs is the always excellent MP5. The speed, and shorter distance between cover spots, makes mobility and speed the best options to choose from. Sniper rifles and light machine guns are available, but you’ll need to be very, very good to make effective use of them.
Playing a CoD game hasn’t felt this accessible in a long time. The campaign here feels like it means something, multiplayer – and especially Zombies gameplay – is fun and fast, sound design in-game is over-the-top, menu systems are slick, and the music slaps. The CoD crew have continued their tradition of incredibly large file sizes, with the next gen (well, now-gen now) consoles needing to cope with nearly 190GB to handle the entire game. It’s a lot, almost a third of the PS5’s storage space, so don’t plan on having much else stored at the same time. Even if it’s not as pretty as Modern Warfare, at least the one thing that we can agree on is that Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is one relentless fricking experience!
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is available now on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PS4 and Xbox One.