The first-person shooter genre has evolved with the rise in popularity of battle royale games in recent years. Call of Duty joined that party with Warzone, which released in March. However, the annual Call of Duty releases have remained fairly traditional.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is the latest example of that formula. There’s a bombastic single-player campaign, numerous multiplayer game modes and a fun co-op zombie mode. In Black Ops Cold War, there is nothing revolutionary to any of these three. The shooting still feels good, the visuals are impressive and most importantly, the game is fun.
Black Ops Cold War is the sixth game in the Black Ops series. The single-player campaign shares characters and references with previous games, but there’s no need to have played any of the others. While Call of Duty campaigns have a solid reputation, the story isn’t exactly what people play them for, although this one does go weird places in the end.
The marketing around Black Ops Cold War heavily featured Ronald Reagan. The game is set in the early 1980s and Reagan is featured in boardroom discussions about how to stop “threats to the free world.”
Going in, I was concerned about how Reagan, one of the fathers of modern American conservatism, would be portrayed as a hero. Despite ads for the game making it seem like Reagan would feature heavily, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is restrained in its use of the 40th U.S. president. Reagan mostly fades into the background after a prominent early appearance.
From there, the campaign does its Call of Duty thing. The characters are the gruff, hardass, f-bomb dropping, stereotypes the series is known for. I was particularly amused by the leader of the group, Adler, who was giving me Aldo Raine/Brad Pitt vibes. Of course, you’re chasing down a nuke at one point, because there’s always a nuke involved. The missions have a solid mix of set pieces, heavy action, stealth and some weird story-driven parts as well.
I’m not experienced enough to judge whether or not this is a good or bad Call of Duty multiplayer, but it sure felt like Call of Duty multiplayer. There’s still a relatively high ability threshold due to tons of players who have been playing these games regularly for years. There’s also the armpit of humanity you hear on mic during matches. If you’ve grown tired of Call of Duty multiplayer over the years, this game may not do much for you.
Call of Duty Warzone is the franchise’s step into something different. There’s a featured slot for Warzone on Black Ops Cold War’s main menu, but it is a separate, free download.
There’s also the return of the co-op zombie mode. The zombie modes have increased in popularity over the years and this year’s version is another solid co-op experience.
The thing that stands out about Call of Duty is how good the shooting feels. That’s true regardless of the game mode. I find sniper sections in shooters to be endlessly fun. Conversely, blasting through enemies with a shotgun at close range is so empowering. What this game succeeds at that most shooters do not is that the medium range guns also feel good. They don’t feel like default, starter guns. The balance between range, power and rate of fire makes most weapons feel useful.
I played the game on PlayStation 5 and the DualSense controller really stands out. After playing, and loving, Astro’s Playroom, I knew what the adaptive triggers and the advanced rumble were capable of. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War takes full advantage of these features. The adaptive triggers feel so good in a shooter, that I think the PS5 version might be the best version of the game.
Each gun has a different feel. If you have a sniper rifle, there is a heft and slowness to the L2 squeeze to bring up the crosshairs. You don’t move the shotgun as much with L2 so it’s fast, but still heavy. A recurve bow is incredibly light on the L2, but the gradual tension when you draw back the bow and release to fire is cool. The kickback for a burst fire as opposed to one shot is different.
Of course, squeezing your left trigger is nothing like the real life movement of looking down the crosshairs of a gun. The realism isn’t there in that way, but it does feel like you’re doing something. There is more connection between the activity in the game and some form of effort in your hands. The extra tension is just more satisfying to press and I can’t imagine going back.
It could be a disadvantage in multiplayer where speed is all that matters. Having to fight your triggers even a slight bit could be costly, or at the very least annoying. However, if you’re going for the most enjoyable way to play, this is it.
Call of Duty has a tried and true formula and Black Ops Cold War doesn’t deviate from that. It will be one of the highest selling games of the year. Is it a benchmark game in the franchise? No, probably not. It’s not the prettiest game I’ve ever played, but it is very pretty and the sound is incredible. It’s just a damn fun big-budget first-person shooter.
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