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11/13/20 Activision
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11/13/20 Activision

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Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (PS5)

By Thomas Froehlicher 04th Dec 2020 | 5,858 views 

A strong entry in the long-running series and a fascinating dive into the Cold War.

Following a mediocre fourth episode in the sub-series, and generally speaking a futuristic orientation for the shooter franchise as a whole in recent years, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War returns the sub-series to its initial premise of covering the Cold War. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a return to fundamentals in numerous ways; it's worth remembering, after all, that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 didn't even feature a solo campaign, marking a break with genre tradition at the time. Treyarch has made a big U-turn on that this year, delivering a full story with a lot of effort clearly put into it.

Activision's blockbuster is a deep dive into the Cold War, its famous locations, chronology, and historical figures. From East Berlin to Cuba and Moscow, you'll find it to be quite a realistic experience thanks to multiple details in or around those locations. For example, the story has you meeting Reagan and Gorbachev, you can see the development of computing in the 80s, the strange soviet architecture, and much more. Culturally speaking, the campaign is valuable (even fascinating, if you like history) thanks to its mostly accurate depiction of the Cold War era.

Of course, Call of Duty is still fiction, and the game introduces its own elements to make the campaign even more entertaining. The Black Ops sub-series has created notable characters before, and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is no exception. I've played numerous Call of Duty titles over the years and the Black Ops ones have had the strongest characters and storytelling by far. Woods is the coolest guy in Call of Duty and it's a pleasure to see him in Cold War; his eccentric personality, which reminds me lot of Bruce Willis or Sylvester Stallone in some of their more famous action movies, makes a couple of missions here particularly fun.

The main antagonist, Soviet spy Perseus, is also a memorable villain, because he's totally elusive and you spend most of the campaign hunting him. He becomes that kind of mythical, unreachable, cunning target that can make a fictional work stand out. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War features plenty of characters and actually quite a lot of dialog, as well as player choices. When you talk with your NATO teammates or various allies, for example, you can choose between a number of different lines and direct the conversation your way. That also has consequences on the outcome of missions, and even the whole story. Never has the player been so deeply involved in a Call of Duty narrative, which makes this feel like a fresh and exciting addition to the franchise.

So the atmosphere is great, but that's not the only thing that this campaign does well. Both gameplay and game progression are rather innovative too. For example, the collectibles that are hidden within story missions are no longer things you just pick up for the trophy/achievement. In Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War those items are clues to be used in side missions that require the player to solve some kind of puzzle (break a secret code or mark the right suspects). Such cleverness in the campaign's structure feels new and motivating. This installment is also subtler than most Call of Duty games to-date in terms of gameplay. Numerous parts of campaign feature stealth sections where you have to discreetly infiltrate enemy zones, for example, rather than killing everybody as usual, and the spying part of the KGB mission can be completed in four different ways. Solo missions are therefore more varied and much more interesting to play compared to past entries.

The campaign itself has three different endings, which in itself is a big step forward for the series, but I can't help thinking there was room for more. Seeing how complex the structure of the campaign is, I did expect more scenario branches, or at least a couple of bonus trophies/achievements for secondary objectives. There is genuine pleasure in experiencing a non-linear solo mode, at least, but this was the perfect occasion to set the bar really high. 

The main downside is that, despite all the side missions, the campaign doesn't last more than ten hours, and that's partly because missions are quite short on average. On top of that, the enemy AI is poor, and there are significant incoherencies in its behavior (enemies will easily spot you but never pay any attention to your AI-controlled ally, for example). That said, it's still heart-warming that a shooter series that deemed a campaign "non-essential" just two years ago has returned with such a great solo experience this year.

Zombies mode has been a tradition in the Black Ops sub-series for years now, and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War doesn't fail to deliver on that. Once again players can unite against waves of brainless but quite persistent undead. Each "wave" means that a group of zombies will attack players, who can then rest for a few minutes once every foe is down and prepare for the next wave. The goal of the four players is to survive the longest possible time, but also to exfiltrate by helicopter. That requires the team to meet in a short exfiltration window, generally in a highly dangerous area full of zombies. It's a lot trickier than it sounds, because difficulty level curves up quite quickly. At the start you can shoot a zombie down with just two bullets, but by around wave 20 you need two magazines and there at least twice as many to take out.
The map for zombies mode is rather large and interesting to explore. There are a few side objectives to complete, numerous power-up items, and futuristic weapons which are exclusive to it. To get top marks, the team has to open hidden paths by using points received by eliminating zombies. This requires strong cooperation between players, because the cost of opening all the map and surviving is enormous. To conclude on zombies mode, it's definitely a great component of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War thanks to the amount of content it includes, as well as its challenge level and how well it drives cooperation between players.

Competitive multiplayer is always a crucial part of the Call of Duty experience too, and here again Black Ops Cold War finds the right balance. The eight multiplayer maps turn out to be adequate for all types of play. Snipers like me have enough distance to carry out their role ("Miami" and "Checkmate" are truly enjoyable in terms of long-range engagements), while other maps (or parts of maps) are perfectly suited for close combat. As usual, numerous game modes with as many different rules allow for broader scope of gameplay, and eventually more satisfaction. Personally, I find team deathmatch really engaging as it is; it reminds me of Modern Warfare 2, which was (and remains) my all-time favorite entry in the series. I'd also like to point out the possibility of listening to a playlist of music taken from the solo campaign. That's a wonderful idea, and the original soundtrack itself is really solid (there are plenty of mystery-themed tracks with great orchestration), so much that I don't imagine reverting back to silent multiplayer games.

Weapon management is very addictive. Treyarch has a lot of experience in the field, delivering a great equipment menu and tons of possibilities. "Wildcards" allow you to bend the rules and get yourself one special advantage, like carrying two main weapons. Weapons themselves have dozens of available attachments (although you have to play a lot to unlock them) and you can place quite a few. The effectiveness of rifles or guns is dramatically improved as you level up and add more attachments, and you can choose the ones that fit your playstyle. All of this means it's very motivating to progress in the multiplayer, so that you can build yourself a unique arsenal and strategy. The only disappointment is the low number of guns so far. Speaking for my speciality, three sniper rifles is definitely the low end of what you expect to get in FPS games nowadays.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War seems to be trending towards Battlefield in terms of map design. In a handful of larger maps players can drive various vehicles such as tanks, snowmobiles, or boats in domination mode, for example. It's a laudable effort to help enrich the series, but I can't help noticing the massive gap between Cold War and the equivalent game modes in Battlefield V. EA's game has much larger skirmishes, with more vehicles allowed on the same map, more players, and better animations. And that was two years ago... and on the PS4. With such timid armored warfare and large-scale maps, Call of Duty isn't hitting standards long since established by its rivals in this area, especially now we're in a new generation of hardware.

Talking about the PS5 version, it doesn't show any noticeable improvements compared to the PS4 one. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is still an impressive AAA game that boasts spectacular visuals, but the modelling and animations aren't special when compared to the best-looking games on the PS5, or even the PS4. There is, however, a visibly improved artistic approach to the campaign, especially in the last chapters where the protagonist Bell is in search of his own identity. There's a very Hollywood-esque sense of direction in certain eerie mystic scenes, as well as some of the historic sequences, which I think is a great cinematographic effort that goes beyond the frame of technical graphics.

The PS5 version does feature a better framerate and also benefits from the haptic response of the DualSense controller. The DualSense never seems to vibrate in quite the same way twice, giving you a more realistic feeling of a helicopter flying above you, for example, or a grenade detonating. But the firing button is even more impressive, because it simulates with stunning efficiency the handling of an actual trigger. The button can literally get "jammed" if you try to fire too fast. In other words, if you attempt to fire in a way that the real weapon would not handle, the R2 button resists and you can't push or fire at all. After having played the PS4 version for one week before shifting to the PS5 one at the system's launch, I can vouch for the fact that the difference in terms of controller experience is massive and it makes the game a lot more enjoyable.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a very solid installment in the series and already one of my personal favorites. Although short, the campaign is great, and in many ways innovative too. It has some clever story-telling and a superb Cold War atmosphere, full of historical references and cool characters. The multiplayer modes really deliver in terms of fun and content to unlock over time, however the franchise is beginning to really fall behind when it comes to vehicle warfare and the overall scale of battles, as well as visually, even if the DualSense has ushered in a minor gameplay revolution thanks to the inclusion of haptic feedback.


After graduating from a French business school, Thomas felt an irresistible force drawing him to study Japanese, which eventually led him to Japanese Profeciency Test level 1 in 2012. During the day, Thomas is a normal account manager. But at night he becomes Ryuzaki57, an extreme otaku gamer hungry for Japanese games (preferably with pretty girls in the main role). His knowledge now allows him to import games at Japanese release for unthinkable prices, and then tell everyone about them. You may also find him on French video games media. Feel free to contact on twitter at @Ryuz4ki57

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This review is based on a digital copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War for the PS5

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