Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
- Murray Robertson
- 16 November 2020
A brilliant campaign ushers Call of Duty into the new age of consoles
It was never going to be easy to follow up last year's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, a stunning reboot of the 2007 masterpiece. But developer Raven has risen to the challenge with this brand new chapter in their Black Ops sub-series, set at the height of tensions between the US and the Soviet Union in the early 1980s.
Nostalgia is a key ingredient in Cold War and, following on from TV series Chernobyl's painstakingly evocative production design, Raven have gone to town with their atmospheric recreations of Eastern Europe, particularly East Berlin and the Soviet KGB headquarters. The latter plays host to the game's best mission, a thrilling Hitman/Metal Gear Solid-inspired infiltration behind enemy lines, complete with vent-crawling, stealthy takedowns and tactical corpse disposal. Other influences are more unexpected: a flashback to Vietnam bafflingly pays homage to the unreliable narrator found in indie walking simulator The Stanley Paradox.
Before each mission, you get to hang out in a safe house with your international crew of soldiers (in keeping with the tone of the era, the chief is a dead ringer for Robert Redford). It's here that the game introduces subtle RPG elements, another oddity for the series. Later on, you'll make some choices which significantly alter the course of the game; it's an interesting addition to a series in which the protagonist's role has always been strictly preordained.
The real Cold War was so-called due to its lack of military action, so it's entirely fitting that there are vast swathes of the game where not a shot is fired, something hitherto anathema to Call of Duty. That said, there are missions that involve practically genocidal levels of carnage as the game throws enemy avatars into your cross hairs with gleeful abandon. Enemy AI has never been a Call of Duty strong point, and so it continues. While there's a surprisingly small range of arms at your disposal, the series' audio/visual weapon feedback is as strong and punchy as ever.
It's just a shame that it's all over so quickly, particularly as the multiplayer is disappointingly sparse. To be fair, it only feels meagre thanks to the continuing success of last year's Warzone, the free-to-play Call of Duty battle royale which Activision is wisely keeping in place (we really were spoiled with that bumper package). Otherwise, Cold War offers the usual multiplayer runaround (with a relatively simple 1980s arsenal) and multiplayer developer Treyarch's signature zombie mode.
Cold War is a brilliant – if short – campaign, and it boldly ushers Call of Duty into the new age of consoles with typically gorgeous presentation and a fun, twisty tale that joyfully exploits the entrenched paranoia of its novel setting.