Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Windows
Call of Duty is a franchise that we all know, some of us love, and most of us are getting tired of in one way or another. Some (read: most) people play it for the multiplayer or the zombies mode. Personally, I’m in that minority that plays for the story. That’s why I refuse to touch Black Ops 4 with a ten-foot pole (also their insistence on stylizing it with Roman numerals but using the wrong numerals is unforgivable to an academic like me). I admit that I’ve never been one to get Call of Duty games at launch. In the past, the only ones I’d gotten at launch were Black Ops III and Advanced Warfare, and that was because of the actors cast in the game. When I saw the trailer for Black Ops: Cold War in the PS5 presentation a few months ago, though, I was very excited. Those who know me know that while I absolutely despise Ronald Reagan with every fiber of being, I also love Cold War thrillers with every fiber of my being. When I saw a game that involved Ronald Reagan telling me to go do war crimes against the Soviet Union, I turned to my roommate, Rome, and said, “Dude, this is a game I have to get day one.” Or something to that effect.
Cold War doesn’t take a lot of risks, and that’s a mixed bag, in my opinion. They took a risk a few years ago by returning to World War II, something that I personally thought “made Call of Duty great again,” to paraphrase the outgoing American president, but critics seemed to disagree with scores being a bit lower than previous entries. On the other hand, I would argue that the exclusion of a campaign mode entirely with Black Ops 4 was a risk that I hated but review scores seemed to forgive. With that said, it makes sense that they played it pretty safe with Cold War; you’ve got your fan-favorite multiplayer and zombies, but you’ve also got the campaign for us misanthropes who want to enjoy our video games free from the shackles of human interaction. The odd thing, though, and something that is definitely a frustration for me, is that while multiplayer and zombies are included on the disc, the campaign is not; it requires a separate three-part download totaling nearly 60 GB. I understand the necessity to leave something off the disc as even triple-layer Blu-ray discs only have a capacity of around 100 GB whereas this game clocks in at 140 GB if memory serves, but what strikes me as odd is the fact that one game mode most likely to be played offline is the one game mode that they required a download for. You already have to be online for multiplayer unless you’re playing with bots, so why not make that the download? Most people play Zombies online, so that could be the download. I don’t know exactly what the size of each of the three-game modes is, so it could be that it had to be the campaign that got left off, but I find it unlikely. I think they probably just said, “Most people ignore the campaign anyway, so screw it.” And, in all fairness, that’s a reasonable decision. I’m just a little butthurt about the continued disrespect that single-player story modes are so often shown by first-person shooters, but at least they included one.
I’ve not managed to find a game in Zombies yet, although I admittedly haven’t tried since the day the game came out; I have, however, played the entire campaign and a good bit of multiplayer, and those are both rock-solid game modes. The multiplayer doesn’t really do anything new, but it does the same old same old very well. 6v6 matches keep the action pretty constant and fun, and there are a ton of attachments to unlock on various weapons. The unlock tokens from WWII are gone (I didn’t play Black Ops 4 or the 2019 Modern Warfare, so I don’t know if they were in those games), so you unlock new weapons by just leveling up. Attachments are then unlocked by leveling up that weapon. The maps are all pretty solid and well crafted for a variety of game types. The campaign is where it’s at in my opinion, though. It’s not the best campaign in Call of Duty or even the best campaign in the Black Ops sub-series, but man, it’s fun as hell. Most of the missions are really well executed but not especially creative, although I do have to give props to three missions in particular. One of the early missions – the one featured in the aforementioned PS5 trailer – involves a super dramatic car chase slash gunfight on an airstrip, and that mission feels like it was pulled straight out of an 80s action movie. There are also two side missions that you don’t have to complete in the campaign. Both of those optional missions have puzzles that you can solve to get the “best” outcome for the mission. To solve those puzzles, you have to find hidden pieces of evidence in the campaign’s required missions and then use the clues in those pieces of evidence to solve the puzzles. They’re not difficult puzzles, but they do require some logical thinking, and I found that to be a very welcome addition to the normal Call of Duty campaign. In addition to optional side missions, you also have some optional objectives that you can choose whether or not to complete in each mission, and there are a few dialogue choices to choose between. I’m not sure how much if at all the dialogue choices change things, but either way, it’s a very nice break from the normal pure linear formula, so kudos to Treyarch for that.
With the game’s performance, I played on PlayStation 5, so my experience was nothing short of breathtaking. The character models looked so photorealistic that some scenes could be reasonably mistaken for a live-action movie. The frame rate never seemed to drop enough for me to notice, and the ray tracing is just…wow. I never gave ray tracing any thought before, honestly, but there’s one specific mission in which you’re in a helicopter flying over a river in Vietnam, and holy crap, it looked stunning. The sound design is impeccable, as usual, but what really stands out is the use of the DualSense controller’s features. The haptic feedback and adaptive triggers in the PS5’s new controller are used to fantastic effect here, giving every gun a truly unique feel. You can feel in your hand the moment a bullet leaves your gun in a way that was never possible with the DualShock 4 controller, and the adaptive triggers give each gun its own unique trigger resistance. Does that really matter much? No, of course not, but it’s little details like that that will deepen my immersion more than just about anything else. The only things that deepen my immersion more than the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers did would have virtual reality and motion controls, and honestly, I think it’d take the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers if made to choose.
Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War, despite having a mouthful of a title, is quite a solid entry in the series. The multiplayer is exactly what you’d expect, and while most of the campaign is just more of the same done well, the addition of side missions, optional objectives, and dialogue choices really do make it stand out from the rest of the series even if only a bit. Truthfully, on PC, PS4, Xbox One, or Xbox Series X/S, this is just a very good game. On PS5, though, with the DualSense controller’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, it really does feel like a great game. Maybe not a masterpiece. Maybe not an amazing game. Maybe not a system seller. But it’s definitely a great game on PS5, and I’m extremely glad I made the last-minute decision to move my pre-order from Xbox to PS5.