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The Only Thing Cold In This Year’s Call of Duty is In Its Name
Platforms: PS4, Xbox Series X, PS5, PC, Xbox One
Genre: Next installment in Call of Duty’s military first-person shooter
Coming off a brilliant year thanks to 2019’s version of Modern Warfare, I don’t blame the folks at Activision if they faced sleepless nights leading up to the release of their Call of Duty game for 2020, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. Since the last game produced by Treyarch and Raven software, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 released to mixed reviews from most critics due to its goofier-than usual presentation and total absence of the campaign portion. Despite Black Ops 4 being THE game that officially introduced Call of Duty to the world of battle royale goodness, it missed the mark in so many areas making it one of the most forgettable CoD games in recent memory.
This means the next Call of Duty Black Ops shooter, subtitled Cold War, has big shoes to fill. Did Treyarch and Raven Software fix their past errors and learn from their mistakes? Read on, soldier.
Our first dance with Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War was via the Alpha test not long ago, followed by two subsequent bouts of Beta tests – all with mixed results. My early thoughts of it were lukewarm at best. Since I was so used to Modern Warfare’s super-polished and modern-day presentation, being dropped smack into the swinging 80s aesthetics isn’t my typical definition of fun.
However, just like how that decade has a unique way of embedding into someone’s psyche, so did Cold War. I grew to like it, gradually through my many rounds of the beta. Despite the many complaints mostly aimed at overall presentation, sound profile and an apparent downgrade in graphics fidelity, it was still a breath of fresh air.
To everyone’s delight; be it Reddit posters, CoD YouTubers, streamers, pros, and casuals alike; developers Treyarch listened to the community. Gripes and issues pointed out during the beta were addressed, and Treyarch has presented a solid start which any CoD player – current and returning would be happy with. I did not encounter any connectivity issues over the course of playing. Save for the sporadic moments where I was lumped into a game midway, matchmaking has been a breeze.
I am happy to report that there is a healthy amount of players within the Southeast Asia region populating the servers regardless of whichever mode you play in.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s the mantra Treyarch has undertaken when implementing the most popular feature from Modern Warfare – the Gunsmith. Now displaying much clearer weapon values and statistics, building your perfect weapon still require finesse. However, it is aided with better indicators to reflect how specific attachments affect the overall build.
As opposed to Modern Warfare where almost everyone ran with several meta builds – maximum bullet velocity and effective range while suppressed – that choice & style of copy-pasta play is much harder in Cold War. The trade-offs are more than merely adding a few frames to your aim down sight speed are now met with essentially this conundrum. You can’t have it all.
In Modern Warfare, the “Monolithic Suppressor” not only keep you off the minimap when firing your gun, but it also adds damage range to your weapon. In Cold War however, suppressors carry the opposite effect. While they still keep you hidden in the minimap when your fire your gun, it penalizes your bullet velocity and effective range – thus forcing you to consider whether this tradeoff is worth the risk.
Expect to see less issues with overpowered assault rifles beaming people from afar whilst remaining stealth in the battlefield in Cold War. Treyarch seemed to have studied the habits and tendencies of Modern Warfare’s player base to create a more balanced gunplay, even at launch. And that’s a pretty rare feat in this day and age of mandatory Day One patches & multiplayer balances out of the gate.
The reintroduction of Wildcards adds more variance into the mix. Players who favour up close and personal approaches with SMGs and shotguns can go full stealth mode by equipping Ghost, Cold Blooded & Ninja perks, while those who prefer to sit back and pick their enemies from long range can opt to utilize perks that maximize intelligence gathering.
Treyarch seems to have found that sweet spot when it comes to the pace of levelling up your account or weapons level too. This year’s emphasis on Scorestreaks instead of Killstreaks rewards players who play to the objectives rather than chasing for kills and as long as you maintain a good balance between the two, you’ll be calling in your Assault Helicopters and Napalm Strikes in no time.
Despite gripes from certain sectors who claim this Scorestreaks-centric approach reward less skilled players, I disagree with this sentiment. Scorestreaks incentivizes and reward overall good team players. Everyone gets a chance to use their Scorestreak at some point in the game, and by using kills as a multiplier currency, encourages newbies to be more brazen and in that process improve.
Consistent with what we experienced from the Alpha and Beta tests, the time to kill in core multiplayer modes are generally noticeably longer than on Modern Warfare. Gone are the days where the victors of firefights are usually the one who spots their enemies first. You now have a substantial window to react either by returning fire, ducking for cover or simply abandoning that fight altogether.
Of course, headshots will take you out almost instantly but considering how clunky most of these 80s weapons feel, going for body shots may be the best approach for many. I don’t know what Treyarch has done on their end, but character models now stand out slightly better in the final release compared how muted and easily they blend in with the environment during Alpha and Beta test periods.
One of the biggest complaints since Cold War’s launch is the limited maps available. I would not be worried about this, as I am positive that like in Modern Warfare, more maps will be added into the rotation as the seasons progresses. Plus, the limited number of maps at launch is a good approach to ensure faster matchmaking and filled lobbies.
I welcome the return of the map voting system, and you can call me whatever you want. I’ll always vote for Satellite (my personal favourite) followed closely by Moscow and a map fresh at launch, Checkmate.
Speaking of matchmaking, the ugly head of SBMM (skill-based matchmaking) again takes centrestage. The developers can deny it, but we know it is there. Completing a round with an impressive 24-8 k/d (by my standards) will instantly reward me with a new lobby filled with, what I suspect, Mountain Dew or G-Fuel chugging teenagers looking to make the next starting spot in Faze Clan.
Sometimes I feel punished for being slightly above average in this game, though your mileage may vary. The only solution for this is to create a specific ranked mode where the sweats can go to duke it out. Let us casuals linger about in Quickplay – getting stomped by pros once in a while is not that bad if I too, have an oft-chance of stomping on players worse than I am.
For those who enjoy grinding for achievements and camos, you’ll be pleased (or not) to know that Prestige mode is back. This time, tasks required to achieve the rarest weapons camo level, the Dark Matter, is less punishing compared to what’s required to obtain Obsidian in Modern Warfare. And since the game rewards players who play to the objective more than those who simply hunt for kills, hitting max rank should be easier for us casuals.
While I’ve always been an avid student of wartime history – from both World Wars to the more modern ones like the 2003 invasion of Iraq- I can’t say I was much of a fan of the Cold War period. Because it was an era where posturing, espionage, and counter-espionage were used instead of bullets or rockets, it was indeed a hard sell for me. Then again, that period is a goldmine for historians and conspiracy theorists as the line between truth and propaganda are blurred, and fearmongering reaching stratospheric heights. To the benefit of Treyarch and Raven software, this setting accords them the room to design a game where a player’s decision plays a very significant role in how the story, or what sort of information, unfolds.
Do you choose to free the captured colleague of your informant, or do you stick to your mission brief? How do you interact with your captors – cooperate, or berate them? All this have repercussions that ultimately affect how you end the game as newly-discovered intel may open up or assist you in your future missions.
The pace of the gameplay varies, with a good mixture of your standard CoD levels; run-and-gun segments, medium-scale battles within open and confined spaces and my least favourite of all, stealth-oriented set-pieces. It may not be as cinematic as Modern Warfare,
but trust me when I say this – the Cold War campaign is easily one of the best ones in CoD history, giving last year’s spectacle a good run for its money.
Less John Wick but more of a The Man From U.N.C.L.E, Cold War manages to capture the heights of paranoia from the spy vs spy period, leading you to second-guess your fellow agents, informants and even whether you are fighting for the ‘right’ side.
The shooting mechanics are as solid as one could expect from a Call of Duty game. Some may complain how most of the weapons sound dated, they are mostly accurate to the period, with more modern weapons can be assumed to be the prototype versions of their present-day grandchildren. The soundstage – regardless of which mode you are playing – is good although I would recommend playing with a decent pair of headsets. And despite the complaints about the graphics, I thought they were on par with what was presented in 2019’s Modern Warfare which was already stellar to begin with.
Oh, did I mention you get to “create” your very own spy, complete with specific perks, a redacted past and a unique psychological profile? While it does not change the fact that you’ll be always be referred to as ‘Bell’ by your supporting cast, this is indeed a nice touch by the developers in providing unique experience for everyone who gives the oft-overlooked campaign mode a pass.
The end may come as a surprise to many due to the potentially controversial nature of the campaign but it does contribute to the larger picture and lore of Call of Duty, since Cold War is set in the same timeline as last year’s Modern Warfare game.Â In all, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War picks up where Modern Warfare left off, digging deeper into the lore while simultaneously expanding the Call of Duty experience.
The integration between Cold War and Modern Warfare also goes beyond the storyline, as gun blueprints and operator skins acquired in the multiplayer can be brought into the Call of Duty battle royale portion, Warzone, once Season 1 starts. The amalgamation of 80s arsenal with modern-day firepower in Warzone will indeed be interesting, especially with the Gunfighter wildcard which allows players to equip up to eight attachments onto their weapons.
Whether it was intentional or not, I applaud Activision’s move of positioning the free-to-play Warzone as their core product, with Modern Warfare and Cold War serving like paid DLC content. Think of the latter two as avenues where paying customers can go to quickly level up their accounts and unlock weapons, with several hours worth of tutorials labelled as “Campaign Mode” tacked on for good measure. The addition is worthwhile for the money you’re paying, so I won’t be knocking them down too much.
Is Cold War a step up from Modern Warfare? It is hard to say considering we are very much at the peak of first-person shooter games, and that Call of Duty games always tread the line between realism and arcade-style shooting gallery. All things considered, is a great game by its own right, confidently taking the baton from Modern Warfare and confidently making the race its own.
We received our Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War review copy courtesy of the folks at Activision. The game was reviewed and played on PlayStation 4 Pro.Â