Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, the latest in Activision’s annual first-person shooter series, is a solid effort. Playing through its campaign, multiplayer and zombies modes – Call of Duty’s golden triangle – there is a lot to like. And I do believe Black Ops Cold War is probably the best game it has any right to be under the circumstances – circumstances that were troubled even before the pandemic forced the developers at Raven and Treyarch and the enormous quality assurance effort that goes into a Call of Duty to switch to work from home. Like a Black Ops operation behind enemy lines, Cold War is something of a miraculous rescue job, the result of what I have no doubt was a crushing effort to meet Activision’s launch deadline. That there is a solid game to play at all is a fantastic achievement. But, every now and then, you can really tell Black Ops Cold War wasn’t the smoothest op ever.
Black Ops Cold War is a clunky name for a fun setting. Treyarch’s previous COD, Black Ops 4, suffered from a lack of a campaign, so it’s good there’s one this time around. COD campaigns, apart from offering solo players a handful of hours of explosive entertainment, ground each game, help solidify their aesthetic and hammer home their tone. Black Ops Cold War, a Black Ops 1 sequel set in the early ’80s, certainly does that.
The story kicks off in an ’80s-drenched bar, with all the big hair you’d expect. Your supposed CIA ally – although you’re never really sure of his motivations throughout – is a newcomer called Russell Adler who’s a dead ringer for Robert Redford circa All the President’s Men. Your base of operations is a safehouse in Berlin, the city that defined the ’80s in many respects. Neon lights course through the plot, a globetrotting yarn that fuses traditional linear Call of Duty levels with some genuine genre surprises, including a Hitman-esque infiltration of the KGB headquarters in Moscow, and flashback missions set during the Vietnam War. There’s even some dialogue to pick from when talking to NPCs, a few choices to make that determine your ending, and a smattering of puzzle solving.