Black Ops Cold War review: Full of potential but Treyarch must add more


Everyone who plays Call of Duty these days knows that the key thing developers have to get right with a new game like Black Ops Cold War is the multiplayer. Sure, many people love a bit of Zombies action, and even if the Campaign told the most gripping story ever, most players just want to hook up with their mates and blast the crap out of each other.

So you only really know how good a Call of Duty game is once it’s been in the hands of fans, and as anyone who has been getting stuck into Black Ops Cold War since it launched will tell you, it is sorely lacking in the multiplayer component. 

Those fans would have been hoping for a little bit more of a return to form for Black Ops. While 2019’s Modern Warfare was a popular purchase – earning over $1 billion in around a month – it lacked a lot of classic CoD gameplay elements, instead featuring things like doors, mounting, tactical sprint, and nontraditional map design.

As we’re about to learn, Black Ops Cold War isn’t a complete disaster – far from it. It does a lot of good for the franchise, but it’s also a buggy mess at times and has some pretty surprising and blatant problems. Things can only get better and they probably will.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Key Details

  • Copy: Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  • Price: $60/$70
  • Developer: Treyarch/Raven Software
  • Release Date: November 13, 2020
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Black Ops Cold War’s campaign has surprisingly fantastic gameplay elements.

Sadly, there’s a lot to complain about with the multiplayer, at least in its current state, due to a severe lack of content. Eight core multiplayer maps are just not enough for a $60 title (or $70 if you’re playing on next-gen consoles), especially when the maps themselves aren’t anything to write home about.

They aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, flowing well and allowing for some interesting gameplay opportunities, but they also aren’t fantastic. There’s nothing about them that feels unique or warranting massive praise.

They all have a three-lane design, which is good, but the developers haven’t done anything special with those designs. When compared to some of the best maps in CoD history (maps like Highrise, Terminal, Firing Range etc.), these eight are simply ok. Not a single one feels like it stands out among the rest, making the whole experience just feel a bit boring.

Yes, Nuketown arrives November 24. Yes, more maps are on the way on December 10. And yes, they will be free. All of those things are worth pointing out and maybe BOCW will be rich and thriving with content a year from launch but right now, it just feels empty.

And that’s not even bringing up the fact that two of the maps in the base multiplayer mode, Armada and Crossroads, are cutdown versions of larger maps in the game’s Combined Arms mode, which ends up feeling lazy, leaving the game with only 6 original maps.

With only eight maps, Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer feels incomplete.

Even if the lack of content was to be ignored, Black Ops Cold War is riddled with bugs. Players have been reporting crashing since day one, assets look like they have clearly been carried over from Black Ops 4, and there are just random bugs that affecting gameplay. There’s even a problem right now that causes controller vibration to turn off if you disable voice chat, for some reason. There are too many to count.

It also wouldn’t be a CoD multiplayer without some skill-based matchmaking (SBMM). The feature is back again this year, whether you like it or not, and it’ll more than likely affect your enjoyment if you’re a hardcore fan who strives to do well each match. Unfortunately, if the year’s worth of complaining from MW’s release didn’t change anything about the feature, it’s doubtful that complaining about it in BOCW will as well, considering it feels identical.

The multiplayer is not all bad, however; the gameplay in Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer is buttery smooth. Sprinting, movement, and the standard gunplay feels like the best it’s ever been. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why it feels so nice but picking up the controller and moving around felt satisfactory in a way that other CoD games haven’t.

In addition, the weapons also feel next-to-perfect. Each one is easy and simple to master, requiring only a couple of matches to get used to the recoil, sprint-speed, and maneuverability. And with the game already getting a major weapons adjustment since launch, it seems like balance won’t be as big of a problem this year due to Treyarch keeping their finger on the pulse of the metagame.

Despite the multiplayer’s lack of content, the gameplay feels as good as it’s ever been.

On top of that, the fact that a Field-of-View slider is now available for console players completely changes up the multiplayer experience. It’s hard to go back to a lower FOV after trying it out and the option should become the norm for the CoD franchise on consoles going forward. Despite Treyarch’s warnings, there was also no noticeable dip in framerate while using this option, which is nice to see, although this could be due to the game running on a PS5.

While the multiplayer is a bit disappointing at times, the rest of BOCW is fantastic. The campaign is good, with an interesting narrative and fantastic gameplay/design choices. The story, which is set in 1984 long after the events of Black Ops 1, follows a custom character named Bell, who’s working alongside characters like Woods, Mason, and Hudson from the first game. Without getting into spoilers, the story is about as classic BO1 as you can get, with twists and turns that will leave players surprised.

One thing to note, however, is the surprising lack of returning talent from the first game. It’s not a huge deal but it’s extremely noticeable that James C. Burns and Sam Worthington didn’t return to their roles of Woods and Mason, respectively. While the actors do a decent job with what they’re given, it’s a shame that they didn’t just get back the original cast.

It’s extremely surprising to see RPG-like dialogue options, multiple endings, and even several ways of going about certain missions. In fact, the last mission of the game can be completely different depending on which options you choose. While it’s safe to say this is probably the least-popular mode in the game, as most people don’t seem to play the single-player mode, it would be a shame if it wasn’t at least mentioned.

The changes made to the game’s Zombies mode makes it some of the best in the franchise.

Black Ops Cold War’s Zombies mode is the best for a while. While there’s only one map included with the game at launch – Die Maschine – it’s designed in a way that promotes replayability. Almost every single space feels open and simple to maneuver around, allowing you to easily avoid zombies so that you don’t feel cramped.

The one exception to this rule is the part that’s a remake of Nacht der Untoten. This was the first Zombies map to ever be released from 2008’s World at War and its design doesn’t really match the rest of the map due to its cramped nature. Still, it’s nice to see that Treyarch hasn’t forgotten about its origins.

The new exfil and salvage system is also a welcome improvement – every five rounds starting with round 10, players can choose to “complete” their match if they want, in exchange for rewards. In addition, salvage gives players a whole new way to craft items thanks to parts that the undead drop when they’re killed. Both of these features give players more ways to play the game without being confusing.

On top of that, everything in BOCW Zombies just feels more streamlined and efficient. Pack-a-Punching/upgrading your weapons (which is necessary if you want to make it to higher rounds) no longer plays an unnecessary animation, saving you valuable time to fight the undead. In addition, not everything feels like a mystery anymore, thanks to objectives appearing on screen, giving players a clear focus for what they are supposed to be doing. 

Black Ops Cold War cover artTreyarch
Black Ops Cold War offers a lot of promise but still leaves things to be desired.

Rating: 7/10

Campaign and Zombies modes are the best things about Black Ops Cold War at the moment, but it is multiplayer that needs to shine if Black Ops Cold War is going to be as fondly remembered as earlier games in the series. The good news for Treyarch is that they have time to get this right, but it would have been welcome at the start.

The building blocks are in place for something far better, with smooth gunplay and quality-of-life features like a FOV slider on consoles, but right now with the lack of content and bugs, it’s clear that it just needs some more love.

It’s hard not to think about what could have been accomplished if the title was delayed even by a month in order to give the devs more time to work on the problems. There’s no doubt that Treyarch having to take over Sledgehammer Games’ spot in the rotation didn’t help, but here’s hoping that the multiplayer gets better with time and that the integration with Warzone is a massive success.

Reviewed on PS5