Game Reviews

What Happened? | “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War” (2020) Game Review

Per the usual, back in November, Activision and Treyarch combined for their annual Call of Duty release. We got Black Ops: Cold War. As the title states, the game is based during the tail end of the Cold War era, in the mid-late 1980s.

This game was released two years after Treyarch’s last piece, Black Ops 4, was a massive bumbling failure of the most epic proportions. After the follow-up release of Modern Warfare on Activision’s end performed decently, this was Treyarch’s opportunity to right the ship. Black Ops titles prior to 4 had been rousing successes, so Cold War was when they were supposed to get it right.

Have they? Well, if you’d like at the title, it would seem to suggest they have not. However, it really isn’t that simple. So let’s dive a bit deeper, starting with what they’ve done right:

The campaign mode is interesting and replayable

This game’s campaign won a yearly award here on InReview for best story, and it really isn’t hard to see why. Overall, gameplay is as loose and fun as it always has been. But the simplest of fairly new additions placed this year’s campaign a step beyond previous Call of Duty titles: interactivity, the ability for players to make their own choices and watch the story flow in front of them in response, rather than be hogtied to a script. The player can decide which missions they want to do, they can place varying priority on taking down certain bad guys before others and, at the way end of the campaign, they can make an earth-shattering (literally) choice in which the outcome would change Earth’s landscape forever.

Black Ops 4 did not have a campaign. On paper, it’s understandable to see why a campaign wasn’t put into the game. Simply put, past campaigns have lacked replay value. The overwhelmingly vast majority of playtime into most Call of Duties goes into the multiplayer experience. Pretty much, you play the campaign once and never touch it again for the most part. Therefore, it was good to see Cold War correct this problem and make the campaign genuinely appealing for more than just a one fling deal.

There are more Operators than usual, giving the player more identity

At the time of writing, there are just under 30 playable Operators in the game. In Multiplayer, the game offers the player the choice of whichever Operators are on the team they’re about to play for. In Zombies, the player can pick whoever they want. They all boast very different backgrounds and aesthetics. Many of them also appear in the campaign, and as such are recognizable and popular picks. Additionally, fan favorites such as Sergeant Woods and Captain Price are playable Operators, so even brand new players have some familiar faces to turn to.

The way previous Treyarch titles have handled Operators certainly hasn’t been bad, as the old Aether story crew will go down as iconic figures in gaming in general, and there were a nice blend of selections for Black Ops 4’s Blackout mode. However, having more than four options, being able to actually manually select one’s own Operator, and being able to avoid undesirable Operators altogether (looking at you, Chaos storyline) is nice.

There is much less negative RNG associated with this game’s microtransactions

Black Ops 3 may yet end up being Treyarch’s best work at the end of the day, but the way it handled loot boxes is easily its defining criticism. Being unable to access certain cool weaponry because you shelled out a ton of real-life money and just got unlucky is absolutely asinine. In Cold War, however, Treyarch elected to take the simple route and offer players the ability to directly choose to buy the weapon, cosmetic, Operator, etc, that they want. 

Free DLC!

Thus far in Cold War, new maps have been given to players entirely for free. This has been a highly unusual practice for Treyarch, who up to this point had offered season passes and the option to purchase various DLC maps individually.

This is likely because season passes and other microtransactions have been booming so much. Call of Duty has, for the second consecutive game, offered a season pass which grants the players the opportunity to earn weapons, cosmetics and Operators by spending ten dollars and then simply play the game while their Season Rank progresses. That said, not being locked out of content because the player didn’t want to or couldn’t spend money on it makes the game much friendlier to casual players, who make up the majority of its fanbase.

So all of these positives sound pretty good, right? Makes Cold War out to be an A+ caliber game?
Well, Cold War is certainly not bad. At the moment, though, it hovers on somewhat of a purgatory in terms of a gaming grade. Why is that?

Massive gaps in actual content released

At the time of writing, the last time Cold War actually released a new zombies map was on February 9th when Firebase Z was released. Outbreak came out, and has received some updates, but in practice the actual content is the same exact same as when it released.

Over the years, Call of Duty has attracted the well known criticism of just being the same thing on a different disk every year. Cold War actually has managed to break that mold to a decent extent, but its grip on the gaming world has slipped because there has simply been a lack of actual content released.

Call of Duty has fervently released new Outbreak modes, new Operator skins, new weapons and new weapon skins. However, none of these change up the actual dynamic of the game. They might be fun to explore once or twice, but then we’re back to square one.

By this point in time during Black Ops 3’s development cycle, the Zombies mode was expecting the release of its its fourth map, Zetsubou No Shima. Der Eisendrache was such a rousing success and such a deep, replayable map that it held the fans over for the few months that it had been out until Zetsubou No Shima released.

Juxtaposed to Cold War, we have two maps with no official announcement for a third. Die Maschine and Firebase Z, the current two maps, are certainly not bad but are also nowhere near as great as Der Eisendrache was, and thus have failed to keep the flames fanned while fans wait for more. Outbreak has also failed in this regard, as the mode is simply too slow paced and repetitive to seriously keep people entertained.

Overall, this has instilled a fatigue of sorts into the playerbase. Doing the same thing over and over again is tiring and causes the game to get boring.

With many great new video games released recently and a good number more on the way, it’s fair to say Cold War has been buried. But is it dead? With how well polished the game has been, that would be a hasty proclamation. But beating a dead horse over and over again with cosmetics and failing to address the wide content gap could expedite Cold War’s fade into obscurity.

Only time will tell if Activision and Treyarch are capable of ending off as well as they started.

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