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Black Ops Cold War is set during the early 80s of the Cold War. The campaign follows CIA operative Russel Adler as he pursues an alleged Soviet spy, whose goal is to subvert the United States and tilt the balance of power towards the Soviet Union.

Publisher: Activision 
Reviewed on: PS5
Also available for:
PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC

Cast: Bruce Thomas, Damon Victor Allen, Reggie Watkins, Lily Cowles, Damon Dayoub, Jeff Bergman, Chris Payne Gilbert

Developer: Raven Software, Treyarch
Director: Dan Vondrak
Writers: David Goyer, Brent Friedman

This review was originally posted as a ‘Review in Progress’ on November 17th. At the time it only reflected our thoughts on the campaign. On December 4th it has been updated and now includes a final score

This years Call of Duty is a special one as its the first entry to christen the brand new consoles. Neither Sony nor Microsoft launched their consoles with a shooter (sorry Halo), so it’s all up to COD to showcase the latest hardware and features. On PlayStation, this is in a combination of stunning 4K visuals, ray-traced shadows and using the DualSense controllers’ features like the adaptive triggers. It is a literal gamechanger that I’ve had to adjust to while playing any of the modes included in Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War.

My hands have spent thousands of hours at this point, playing first-person-shooters across the PS3 & PS4 and have gotten used to a certain level of input needed to fire any gun. A pistol, shotgun or assault rife all fired the same on previous generations of consoles. The DualSenses’ adaptive triggers change all of this by changing the level of tension and vibration within the R2 button as you fire each weapon. It’s not as refined as I’d expect a Sony first-party shooter to feel (where’s the next Resistance game Sony? Insommiac!?), but I quickly went from finding it odd, to never wanting to play a game without it. Between each round of firing a shotgun, the trigger let’s loose and tightens back up, a semi-automatic weapon will almost rattle in time with the gun as it fires. Of course, drawing your crossbow back adds an intimate level of tension as you hold before release. When I jumped back into a round of Apex Legends, the controller felt empty and lifeless. I’m really excited to see how developers can fine-tune the DualSense controller to change for weapons in games and Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War does an excellent job of showcasing the potential of the controller and first-person shooters. 

Since Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War is broken up into three distinct parts (single-player campaign, multiplayer and zombies) our review is broken down in three-part as well.

For a big gun, the War Machine doesn’t have much tension in the triggers - image captured by the author

For a big gun, the War Machine doesn’t have much tension in the triggers – image captured by the author

Single Player

I was never a massive Call of Duty guy during the PS3 generation, but I did make time for the Black Ops games. There’s something to be said for their more fantastical story elements. The inclusion of the Zombies mode has always been a testament to this. Call of Duty Black Ops – Cold War is no different. Although it sets the table as a spy thriller during the Cold War, it ends up so far down the conspiracy theory rabbity hole it’s almost ridiculous — but in an exciting Hollywood blockbuster kind of way. 

Set during the early 1980’s you play as a player-created character for the first time in the series. Although there are not many options, you do get to name them (you’ll always be referred to by codename “Bell” in-game), pick their pronouns, body type as well as decide specific background information. Were you trained in the CIA? Or maybe MI6? Adding to your dossier, you can pick two perks that allow you to build your character for your playstyle preemptively. A total of fifteen-perks include things like increased hip-fire or the ability to carry more grenades. I took the 25% less damage, and faster weapon reload speeds as I played the game on Veteran difficulty and assumed they’d be most effective.