REVIEW: ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’ is an Exciting and Intriguing Spy Story (Xbox One)

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Cold War Multiplayer

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a first-person shooter game published by Activision, and developed by Treyarch, Sledgehammer Games, Raven Software, High Moon Studios, and Beenox. Welcome to the 80s and the Cold War is in full swing. There’s a Russian agent on the loose and only an elite unit of soldiers can stop them. But is there more going on here than meets the eye?

Despite Call of Duty’s place as an annual tradition in gaming culture at this point, this was my first full experience with the game since I brought home a copy with my day one purchase of the Xbox 360. Needless to say, a lot has changed since those days. My biggest reason for never coming back to Call of Duty is due to its relatively limited single-player offerings. I’ve never been much of an online multiplayer gamer myself, and that has always been Call of Duty’s bread and butter.  While I walked away extremely impressed with the level of polish put into this campaign by the various developers, I still would never be able to recommend the game for it alone given its brevity.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War takes place primarily in the Reagan years of the 1980s. I say primarily as there are a few flashback sequences that take the player back to the late 60s and the jungles of Vietnam. Ya know, just so we could get all the Cold War bullet points into the game. The story itself is thoroughly engaging. You chase a terrorist across the globe, attempting to stop a nuclear holocaust, and finish a confrontation that began back in those previously mentioned jungles. The intrigue comes hard and often, and I appreciated a couple of levels where the developers allow the story to slow done as the player does some covert ops that actually have to stay covert.

But the bulk of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s story is all action. And it delivers this action with all the skill one expects of the pedigree behind its development. Playing my way through the regular difficulty provided me with ample challenge, but never to the point of feeling unforgiving. I was able to mow down enemies, with frequent breaks behind cover to let my health regenerate. This allowed me to enjoy the game, while generally only dying when I would get too cocky or fail to notice the placement of enemy troops. Basically, it was generally my fault. Which is how I like it.

Accentuating its strong narrative, however, is a surprisingly well-delivered plot twist in the final act of the story. No spoilers here, but it does change a lot of how the characters and story land for the player. This allows for Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War to deliver a story that has a few more shades of grey than it otherwise would have.

The biggest element that all Call of Duty campaigns are generally known for, however, are the huge set-piece moments. And while Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War has some really cool moments, they do often feel a bit smaller in scale than others I’ve heard described. This isn’t a problem as the clandestine nature of the story makes the somewhat more restrained bombastic moments fitting. And they still achieve the proper impact as they leave the player caught up in the action to the point of near breathlessness.

The only time the action falters for me is when the enemy brings out their heavy units. These are up-armored troopers that require headshots to beat. And it takes a lot of headshots to beat these guys. While they simultaneously pack an impressive amount of firepower. These encounters always felt like an inappropriately placed bullet sponge that did nothing but halt the action and frustrate me. Happily, they only make a couple of appearances.

The overall enjoyment I experience playing this campaign wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the masterful controls the game has been gifted with. Whether I was wielding a sniper rifle, the iconic M-16 or even a compound bow, I never felt like a miss wasn’t my fault. For that matter, the only element of the gameplay I found at all frustrating came in the form of some of the button prompts. I don’t know if these are the style Call of Duty always uses, or if they are new for the Xbox Series X I played on, but the onscreen icons for RB/LB look oddly similar to the RT/LT symbols. Often leaving me pushing the wrong button when prompted in a confusing moment. These were however few and far between.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

As previously mentioned I had the pleasure to play Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War on an Xbox Series X. And despite the fact that mine is running into a 1080p tv with no special audio setup both the visuals and audio are some of the most striking I’ve seen. The improvements over my current-gen experiences are notable. This is especially true of the audio design. Which, to be honest, might be the best I’ve ever heard. When I ran from indoors to outside and back, the sound of the guns and explosions changed in a way that I’ve never before noticed in a game. Hard echoes of narrow corridors being filled with the blare of gunfire demand notice. Along with all the above features that this latest entry in the Call of Duty franchise campaign offers there is also a bit of customization you get to do with you main character.

Early on the player fills out their character’s dossier. This allows you to not only name, choose skin color and gender(with non-binary as an option), but also select a couple of gameplay traits based on their psychological profile. While these traits are not always available, there are a couple of times the player controls different characters, they offer a nice bit of ownership to the main personality.

Also of note is a couple of optional side missions the player can choose to engage with. But rather than just have a couple of extra missions they used these missions to further challenge the player’s spy skills. This is done by leaving clues for the missions scattered throughout the campaign. By finding these clues the player can then engage with the side content. Though some problem solving will still be needed to properly utilize the information gathered.

When all is said and done Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War delivers an exciting, and intriguing spy story with its campaign. While it only clocks in at about six hours, those six hours rarely failed to entertain me. As a single piece of a bundle, it is top notch. However, if the rest of the game’s offerings hold no interest for you, I don’t know if it’ll be enough to justify the full purchase price.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox X/S, and PC.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

When all is said and done Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War delivers an exciting, and intriguing spy story with its campaign. While it only clocks in at about six hours, those six hours rarely failed to entertain me. As a single piece of a bundle, it is top notch. However, if the rest of the game’s offerings hold no interest for you, I don’t know if it’ll be enough to justify the full purchase price.