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Year over year, Call Of Duty games have become difficult nay impossible to differentiate from their annualized siblings. They all take up a huge chunk of your hard disk (or SSD). They all have a gourmet of multiplayer modes to satisfy all kinds of PVP players. And they end up breaking sales records every time a new game comes out. It was funny before, it’s all matter of fact now. So what does Call Of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War has (apart from a mouthful of words) that sets them apart from its predecessors. This review will focus on the differences that the most recent instalment in the franchise brings to the table, instead of trying to cover all bases, and become a generic blurb of words to skim through and share with PRs. With that said, let’s open the Red Door.

Same Old, Same New

To understand how Call Of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War is different from the rest, we might want to understand where it is essentially the same as any other Call Of Duty before it. It has 3 multiplayer modes, namely the vanilla Multiplayer, Warzone, and Zombies – all 3 of which play much like how you would imagine. Load-outs and progress carry across all three formats, whether you slay a wave of the undead in Zombies, knock off other COD players in multiplayer, or participate in the complicated as hell but fast as Flash Battle-Royale Warzone. The lobbies are fast and, and there is no dearth of players whether you want to play PvP or PvE. The game mechanics are well polished, and while there may be some glitches that come with the territory of playing an online game with strangers from around the world, there is literally no learning curve if you have played any Call Of Duty before. Skill though is an entirely different matter.

Graphically, there is not a lot of other games that can beat Call Of Duty, especially on the PS5, where everything looks extra special good. All the guns sound different from each other too, and weirdly I have a feeling that acoustics make a difference too, so an AK-47 going off in the forest sounds considerably different when it goes off in a closed bunker. It’s all a very well-thought-out, meticulous, polished chunk of roughly 250 GB.

Spy Versus Spy

This leaves the Single Player Campaign. A 6-7 hour stroll through corridors or rooftops as you shoot down enemies of the state. Right? Wrong.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War is a phenomenal spy story set in the golden period of spycraft, the Cold War era, with a healthy dose of sci-fi and Ludonarrative craziness that you haven’t seen in a while. While last year’s campaign (Modern Warfare 2019) had me impressed with its depiction of modern world urban takedowns and breaches, Call Of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War has me reeling simply with the potential of the narrative that they delivered, along with what it can mean for the franchise going forward.

You play as “Bell” a part of a multi-national Black Ops team headed by Richard Adler, trying to stop a super-secret rogue Russian spy Pegasus from detonating multiple nuclear warheads in Europe and blaming it on the big old US of A. Of course, we can’t have that, so you travel the world from East Germany to the American Outback, to the KGB headquarters Lubyanka to a super-secret training facility in Siberia complete with an American Ghost Town to thwart an enemy already 2 steps ahead of you.

But it doesn’t matter what color the walls are if shooting between them is the only thing that you are doing. True, and to that effect most missions do end up in a full-scale firefight. Before that, however, a lot of missions have you doing covert, stealthy spy stuff. In one mission, you are trying to get away from the German police after your meeting with a contact in East Berlin goes wrong. The same mission has you infiltrating a high ranking official’s residence to gather intel, while his wife and kids are at home. And if you so want, you can accomplish all that without firing a single bullet. Then there is the coupe-de-grace, where you play as a mole in the KGB, trying furtively to help Adler and friends, while keeping your cover from blowing. It’s a multi-layered, multi-path mission more at home in a Hitman game than Call Of Duty. But it speaks to the potential of the franchise and the directions it can go both figuratively and literally from a corridor shooter.

Even that definition of a corridor shooter is a bit thin to explain the explody bits of Call Of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War. Most shooting sections will offer a wide and sprawling area of conflict instead of linear pathways, and putting in the effort of flanking your enemy instead of steamrolling ahead is much more rewarding. Do me a favour though, and don’t play the game on Realism until you really want that trophy. It feels a bit unfair to be downed in a couple of bullets when some missions have you rushing in head-on into enemy gunfire. Nowhere is this un-fairness more prominent in a mission where you need to defend a cargo ‘while’ it is being airlifted. The game literally came off its hinges mechanically and graphically in that section, and a monkey tapping random buttons on the controller had the same chance of clearing it as I did.

Anyways, back to the quiet part. Call Of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War, really shines when it doesn’t have you shooting at everything that moves. There is evidence to be collected, and puzzles to be solved, old-school-style where there are no hand-holding or explicit hints every 2 seconds. Even online guides would go so far and will still require some effort from your end. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I had to pull out a pen and paper to solve a video game puzzle.

In your downtime, the one character you will be talking to a lot however is Adler, your long time friend, half 80s Tom Cruise Charisma, half Ted Bundy Crazy, Adler is more often than not is given the responsibility to be the sauve Man From U.N.C.L.E while your mute character follows him around. The voice acting is top-notch, and Adler really adds to this entire spy vs spy saga. The variety doesn’t stop there either. After almost every mission, you have a chance to talk to your colourful crew. From the mysterious Parker from MI6, to the gruff Woods and Mason, to the slimy Hudson, your Black Ops team is filled with personalities to talk to and get to know better. There is even a Walking Dead -eque choice later in the game, but I said too much already.

Talking about choices, we haven’t even discussed the part why this edition of the game was code-named ‘Red-Door’. No, that’s a surprise and a treat that you should experience yourself, should you chose to.

The Illusion Of Choice

For all its choices though, Call Of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War does end up reducing them to illusions. It’s like they added all these choices and then didn’t have the time to follow through on them. Narratively speaking, only one choice in the game decides which ending you will get (of which there are 2), which is a shame. Some of the choices I made, felt impactful and relevant enough to have a ripple effect, instead, they amounted to mere commentary in the aftermath of the final mission. It might have been impressive in 2010, but a decade later not so much.

Real Talk

See, bringing Raven Software along for the ride turned out to be a real good decision by Treyarch/Activision. I thought it would be difficult to beat last year’s story campaign, but not only was Call Of Duty Black Ops Cold War up to it, but they have also even piqued my interest in how the single-player campaign can branch out even more in the upcoming games. With Warzone, Zombies, and Multiplayer becoming increasingly similar year upon year, it might as well be the single player campaign which will have to bring the thunder. For fans of the franchise, and the groups of friends the decision is already made. For people who haven’t tried the game in a while, it might be a good place to jump in and get to know Adler, and just exactly how he got those scars.


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