Game Reviews

Looking Back At “Cold War” | “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War” (2021) Game Review

Recently, Call of Duty Vanguard released. As is usual, when a new COD releases, typically it’s predecessor fades into mostly obscurity. The predecessor retains a small microcosm of the player base it once held, and that’s pretty much that.

To dismiss Cold War, in particular, like this would be a mistake. No, it’s not winning any national awards. But for the first time, Treyarch handled this game very differently from past iterations of the legendary franchise. While it will inevitably fade away as past entries have all the same, it is at least warranting of a retrospective, to explain why this game was different from its ancestor video games.

To preface: Indeed, here on InReview I previously wrote an article which asked “What happened?” with Cold War. At the time, Cold War had gone a fairly noticeable length of time without any real new content. However, Treyarch thoroughly rectified this with an explosion of new content that sent the video game off on a very high note as they transitioned into Vanguard.

So, let’s discuss, from start to finish, a complete retrospective on Cold War. Starting with what the game did well.


While not well spaced out, there was a nice selection of content for plenty of players

Multiplayer was considerably different, boasting multiple new modes such as the Prop Hunt as well as bringing back fan favorite ones such as Infected which had been on a lengthy hiatus from the franchise. If you weren’t a fan of multiplayer, the game’s zombies mode had quite a lot for you. We experienced Outbreak, the franchise’s first ever try at a truly open world Zombies experience that went really well in the end. For those who enjoyed the more classic round-based survival experience, everyone of the maps between Die Maschine, Firebase-Z, Mauer Der Toten and Forsaken were all entertaining experiences. Finally, if open world Zombies didn’t appeal to you but you still wanted something new, Treyarch had you covered- Onslaught mode was a much faster paced zombies oriented experience which instantly put the player in the center of quick, aggressive action.

Indeed, this content was mostly front or back loaded, and there was a bit of a gap in the middle of the game’s lifespan. But what we did end up getting was very well done and appealed to a wide variety of interests. This in turn really helped to kick the age old stigma of Call of Duty games just being the same thing on a different disk.

The Haunting 2021 was an absolutely amazing experience

The Haunting 2020 was Call of Duty’s first try at a truly bonafide Halloween event. All told, it went pretty well. There were cool, creative skins and other cosmetics based around horror movie icons, such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface or the Jigsaw doll from the iconic SAW movies. There were fun limited time modes and cool in-game aesthetics and soundtracks to appreciate.

However, for as good as that was, The Haunting 2021 completely blew it out of the water.

Dedicated Halloween game modes were much more well refined, we got even better designs for cosmetics, the overall horror atmosphere present in Cold War was astonishingly amazing. In zombies mode, you had zombies running around with pumpkins for heads, giving extra points to players who smashed the pumpkins and even the potential at a really nice set of rewards. In Multiplayer, we got a couple of limited time modes such as Scream Deathmatch.

But best of all, we got The Ghostface as a stand-alone operator. During 2020, we got skins that could make existing operators look a little bit like Leatherface or Jigsaw. However, the immersion value of this was questionable since they were just costumes and the operators they were attached to would still act and sound like themselves, which could even make the player forget they had their respective cosmetic on.

Ghostface, however, came to Cold War as his own standalone operator, with unique lines, animations, and even his signature knife which Ghostfaces across Scream or Dead by Daylight have been known to use. This was a really cool addition that served to be arguably the most memorable part of the event. As the event ended two days before Vanguard came out, it was the most ideal way possible to send players off and make Cold War into an unforgettable experience.

The battle pass system ultimately worked perfectly

Cold War ultimately, per Euro Gamer, generated more revenue ($3 Billion) than any other Call of Duty ever up to that point. How did it perform so well? Being a strong game off its own merit certainly helped, but the battle pass system implemented here to go with free DLC had to have had an enormous part in doing so, as it was the first time a Call of Duty game was handled in this way.

Having free DLC means that players who owned the game weren’t being locked out of the various unique content Cold War offered due to being on a budget. On the other hand, Treyarch’s bottom line was being comfortably handled by optional Battle Pass purchases as well as constantly cranking out new, cool cosmetics and weapon skins.

For time innumerable, games have had ‘Expansion Packs’ in the old days or simply Downloadable Content or, DLC, which had to be purchased. Cold War broke the mold in that regard, and it clearly paid off. This will hopefully incentivize future Call of Duty games to follow in its footsteps.

This game was a passion project for Treyarch that they were finally given the time and support to fully realize

Call of Duty Black Ops 4 released in 2018, and was arguably one of the worst Call of Duty games ever after Treyarch came out with Black Ops 3 a few years prior, which was arguably their best work.

Black Ops 4 didn’t suck because it was slammed with microtransactions, had a particularly large amount of reused assets or even just wasn’t a genuinely enjoyable experience. It sucked because the entire game reeked of being both rushed and had an overtly ambitious approach to the game.
It did not have a campaign mode, which was the first major red flag. Maps and new content were launched in spades, and had poor marketing, were immensely buggy on launch and many of the new in-game implementations Treyarch tried simply didn’t work for one reason or other.

Here, Cold War has quite obviously been a lot more well coordinated. New changes to the game were overall positive, not instituting the ‘give/take’ approach of Black Ops 4, but rather bringing back what worked and simply expanding upon it. After all, simply adding onto what already worked has a fair bet to work out pretty well.

What’s more, Treyarch had some help in this one. Raven Software, also responsible for chipping in on the popular Warzone spin off game, provided support for this one and enough hands were definitely on deck to make it work. 

All in all, Treyarch definitely learned from the catastrophe of Black Ops 4 and Cold War is a shining example to prove that as being the case.

All in all, Cold War was a pretty great game, but it wasn’t perfect. Let’s discuss what went wrong.


Gap in content

As previously discussed, while the overall content in the game was reasonably enough, it came with a pretty large gap of silence which began in early March and ended around mid to late July. During this time, the only thing which was launched were a couple of new, cut-n-paste maps onto the Outbreak mode which didn’t really change the dynamic of the game or the mode itself.

Future Call of Duty games would do well to try and space this stuff out. Perhaps a monthly or bi-monthly release, even if less is available at the start, would be a better idea to ensure fans remain engaged and interested, eagerly awaiting what’s next instead of loudly groaning over how long “what’s next” has taken to arrive.

This criticism is somewhat of a nitpick, but the suggested approach here, if possible, would definitely iron it out.

And that’s about it.

Cold War ultimately earned a grade of an A. Gameplay was as loose and solid as ever, and many new and exciting things not present in past Call of Duty games made their way into this one. Even though Vanguard has released, Cold War is absolutely still worth purchasing. Uniquely, you can buy it and have the entirety of every new map and mode ever launched in the game’s lifespan, which you can’t say about other Call of Duty games unless you’re willing to pay for their respective DLCs.

Definitely a game that can be easily enjoyed.

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