Let's face it. A large majority of us don't even need reviews or to hear other players' opinions before buying a new Call of Duty every year. The haters are going to hate, the hardcore fans are using trailers and betas to warm up, and those of us who just enjoy the franchise know we'll get a lot of fun with a great story before dedicating our lives to a top of class multiplayer for a few weeks, until the most dedicated players obliterate everyone that is. You know what you're getting in a modern Call of Duty game, even if the Black Ops series is known for trying out a few things: That's mostly true about Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War as well. But, one of the exceptions is the story. - in a very good way.
Don't get me wrong. We're still not talking about heartfelt or very deep adventures here, but great variety, fantastic pacing and an intriguing plot made sure I was hooked all the way through this mind-bending psychological spy-drama. I say mind-bending because this is definitely a Black Ops game with its mysteries, twists and trippy sequences. The thing that makes it so special this time around is that you really are a part of the story. Whether it is having different conversations with people depending on what background you choose in the character creator, selecting what to say or do in different situations, or just having the option to take on both optional missions and levels. You're in this world and your actions will have consequences both big and small. Gathering intel is way more tempting when it expands an already fascinating universe and even changes the story in some cases. Not to the same degree as Mass Effect or Telltale Games, but more than enough to ensure that I'll gladly play through it a third time to see the third, and what I'm guessing is the final, ending.
The gameplay can take a lot of the credit for that as well, as no mission is the same. I've sneaked through the jungles of Vietnam while using a bow to kill enemies silently, flown a helicopter and blown up anything in my way, killed a dozen foes in mere seconds in traditional turret sequences, explored the KGB's headquarters while trying to maintain my cover, and so much more I won't spoil. All of which while having a very diverse arsenal to choose from without the quantity lowering the quality. Pretty much every weapon both feels and sounds fantastic, something that obviously applies to the other modes as well.
I've probably already written more about the campaign than many of you want, so let's head to the bread and butter of this franchise, the multiplayer. There's a reason why I dedicated a significant portion of this review to the story, however: the multiplayer is exactly what you expect. No more, no less. Black Ops Cold War's multiplayer feels a tad more fast and fluid than Modern Warfare with its handy slide and arcadey vault. Healthbars are also on by default, giving you an indication of whether or not you should chase down the sly devil that managed to run behind cover after taking a few shots. A neat feature functioning as a carrot on the stick, but nothing really game-changing. Not that it needs to be when it mixes favourites like the traditional mini-map and create-a-class with more modern goodies like Scorestreaks and the Gunsmith. Then how about the really new stuff: maps and modes?
As I wrote in my preview two months ago, the value of VIP Escort really depends on the map for me. While it quickly becomes tedious on larger, more open maps, it's at least okay in smaller ones. Having such a cooperative-focussed mode in a Call of Duty still feels somewhat out of play though, even with the option to ping places and objects finally being there from the get-go. Combined Arms and Fireteam on the other hand increases the scale of the frantic action we're used to with 24 and 40 players respectively. Having vehicles enter the fray ups the ante, so even classic modes feel fresh on these larger maps, so I'm fairly sure many a Battlefield-fan will see the appeal of CoD now.
Speaking of maps, I can understand why Treyarch and co. decided to include the maps and modes that they did in the beta, as those are definitely the biggest highlights. Armada is still my absolute favourite with its mix of narrow decks and long sightlines outside. A couple of the others fail to get that blend right. Where Crossroads consists of too many wide open areas, the NATO base Garrison has too many camping-friendly places for my taste. That's just an old, slow fart's opinion though. Hopefully the variety between the eight regular maps (+ two giant Fireteam maps) available at launch will be enough to please you. If it's not, team up with a few friends to kill some Zombies.
This is without a doubt the weirdest part to review before launch, as one of my favourite parts about Zombies is slaughtering hordes of these nasty creatures while trying to make sense of the different collectibles and secrets. Few of these were even implemented during the review period, but what I saw and did was very enticing. Especially, because they've basically tweaked the mode to peak my interest. Enemies won't just drop power-ups when killed anymore. There's also a chance they'll drop some great gear because there's a loot system now. Being on the brink of death and seeing a purple shotgun drop is almost as exhilarating as the Nuke or Insta-Kill. Top that with a neat map, being able to bring your loadout from multiplayer, interesting changes to beloved perks (that there are no max limit to) and having the option to attempt an extraction if things are getting too challenging. You can be sure I'll keep on going back for zombies brains many times in the future - at least after a patch or two.
The lack of anything really new in multiplayer and Zombies isn't the only thing that has disappointed me. It seems like this game is coming in very hot, which would make sense considering Treyarch gave us Black Ops 4 two years ago. Both the campaign, multiplayer and Zombies are littered with technical issues. You know something is seriously wrong when you're suddenly taken back a second or two as if there was lag in a story mission while playing on a PS4 Pro. Some of the cinematics also drop to what seems to be around 20 frames per second with no apparent reason. The otherwise impressive lighting system has a tendency to go berserk and create some epilepsy triggering blinking and I've come across infinite loading screens a few times. Enemies aren't always the sharpest tools in the shed either, and I doubt that will be fixed with the day-one patch we're promised.
I hope that doesn't come off too negatively, as it's mostly just disappointment due to the multiplayer feeling like an expansion and some initial technical issues that both indicate that we weren't supposed to get a new Black Ops until next year. Because there's no doubt that Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a great game. Hell, the campaign is even fantastic with its fascinating story and great variety. Pack that with weapons that feel and sound astounding, a handful of cool new multiplayer maps and modes, especially thrilling Zombies with a loot system and better synergy between the different modes, and there's doubt that Call of Duty fans have months of fun ahead, if they're willing to look past a rough start technologically and few noteworthy innovations.