Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War review: Back in black

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War takes us back to the roots of one of the franchise's most beloved entries. Our review.


It’s been a decade since Call of Duty: Black Ops released on Xbox 360 and PS3, marking a significant shift for the FPS franchise. A bit polarizing among hardcore fans, it took players a while to come around to the more sensationalized and arcade-like approach that Treyarch brough to the CoD series. However, time makes all the difference, and 10 years later, Black Ops is one of the most beloved sagas within the Call of Duty pantheon. The latest release, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, looks to usher the franchise into the next generation of gaming with an installment that harkens back to some of its most renowned entries. 

The numbers, Mason!

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War takes us back to 1984, just a handful of years after the events of the original Black Ops. This means we once again get to follow the story of Alex Mason, Frank Woods, Jason Hudson, and other familiar faces. However, players will also be able to create and name their own character, who they’ll play as for a good chunk of the campaign.

I found the character creation element in Cold War to be pretty neat. It’s not too in-depth, but you get to pick a character background and personality that corresponds to one of many different gameplay perks, such as an increase in base health or a boost to hip fire accuracy. This is a cool feature that had a tangible impact in-game, specifically in the more difficult missions.It was also cool to just see my name printed on highly-classified documents with important text blacked out.

As a hardcore fan of the original Black Ops, it was quite a joy to see Woods and Mason back in their prime, going on more top secret missions and being overall badasses. Centered around a mission to track down Perseus, a crucial Soviet agent once thought to be dead, the story is filled with some dope set pieces and solid twists. 

The handling of the game's historical setting and events rubbed me the wrong way during my time playing through the campaign in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. CoD is constantly criticized for its dancing around and its fantasizing of some objectively dark moments in America’s not so distant history. Regardless of how you feel about the US Military and its past, there’s something that just doesn’t feel right about taking orders from CGI Ronald Reagan to go break the law and commit war crimes on behalf of the US, especially during this era of heightened social and political awareness that we're currently living in. 

Earn your prestige

As solid as the campaigns may be, the true bread and butter of the Call of Duty series has always been its multiplayer. I was relieved - and a bit surprised, at how much I enjoyed the online multiplayer in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, a mode that turned me off of past games. With a solid rotation of maps, and a ton of game modes, Cold War reminded me of the endless Summer nights I spent in high school playing Black Ops 2 with friends. The weapons and their customizations are solid, though the MP5 is incredibly overpowered at the time of this writing. The return of wildcards also offers a bit more variety when putting together the perfect class.

The multiplayer in Cold War ditches kill streaks entirely for score streaks. Originally introduced in Black Ops 2, score streaks allow players to call in special operations (spy plane, RC-XD, chopper gunner, etc.) for stacking up scores from either kills or objectives in a single life. However, Black Ops Cold War does not reset your streak when you die. This was a bit of a bummer, as I loved the risk and thrill of getting hot and building up a kill/score streak.

Past games had this as well, but also allowed players to select a more traditional streak path that did reset when you died. Higher stakes, but less score required, and better rewards available. This option is not present in Cold War. They always felt so rewarding and reflective of superior play, but streaks sort of feel like a participation trophy in Black Ops Cold War.

Overall, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer feels very arcade-like, reminiscent of the early Black Ops titles. Time-to-kill is fairly low, and many of the animations feel a bit over-the-top. This isn’t surprising, as it’s long been the identity of Treyarch’s contributions to the Call of Duty series. While Modern Warfare has chased realism and immersion, Black Ops has always been more surreal, providing a fantastical experience. 

I also dug how Treyarch implemented weapon progression in Black Ops Cold War. Leveling up a gun and unlocking attachments in multiplayer mode carries over entirely to Zombies, the game’s survival mode. 

Nacht der Untoten

Predating the Black Ops series, Zombies is a classic Call of Duty mode, and a hallmark of Treyarch’s entries in the franchise. This survival mode pits up to four players against endless waves of undead. As the rounds go on, the zombies get tougher, but so do the players. Systems like pack-a-punch and several purchasable perks allow players to make themselves one mean zombie-slaying machine. 

Though Zombies was already quite excellent, Treyarch adds some new changes that improve the experience. In addition to letting players start a game with a created loadout, there’s also a new evacuation feature. No longer are players forced to eventually die in order to end a game of Zombies, they can now call for an extraction helicopter to rescue them. You’ll have to fight off one last round of undead while you wait for the copter to arrive, but successfully extracting can yield some nice bonus rewards. 

The new Zombies map Die Maschine is pretty good, with a solid number of routes to carve and a good spread of weapons and perks. Unfortunately, it’s the only map. This is a bit of a disappointment, as dedicated Zombies players may find themselves looking for variety after sinking several hours into the mode. We know that Treyarch will add more maps (for free!) down the road, but as it stands, there’s only one Zombies map in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. 

Speaking of dedicated Zombies players, there’s a lot of challenges and milestones to chase, outside of simply surviving for as long as you can. There are entire classes of weapon skins and calling cards that are only unlocked in the survival mode. Challenges consist of killing up to a million zombies, or lasting for 20 rounds without being hit. It gives some necessary depth to a mode that could sometimes feel shallow after enough hours of play.


Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a solid entry in the long-running franchise, and a return to form for one of the most iconic titles in first-person shooters. The campaign goes big on thrilling espionage and exciting set pieces, though it does feel quite tone-deaf at times. Multiplayer is more of the arcade-feel that became synonymous with games like Black Ops 2, and will likely only get better once Season 1 kicks off and adds Warzone integration in December. Zombies doesn’t disappoint, as it once again proves to be the best alternate mode in Call of Duty. Treyarch reminds CoD fans that they’ve still got it with Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.

This review is based on a digital PC download code provided by the publisher. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC for $59.99.

News Editor

Donovan is a young journalist from Maryland, who likes to game. His oldest gaming memory is playing Pajama Sam on his mom's desktop during weekends. Pokémon Emerald, Halo 2, and the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 were some of the most influential titles in awakening his love for video games. After interning for Shacknews throughout college, Donovan graduated from Bowie State University in 2020 with a major in broadcast journalism and joined the team full-time. He is a huge Scream nerd and film fanatic that will talk with you about movies and games all day. You can follow him on twitter @Donimals_

  • Campaign is exciting and nostalgic of past games
  • Multiplayer is fast-paced and arcade-like
  • Zombies is still awesome, now with more incentive
  • Gunplay feels tight and tactful
  • Only one Zombies map
  • MP5 is broken in multiplayer
  • CGI Ronald Reagan
From The Chatty
  • reply
    November 19, 2020 7:00 AM

    Donovan Erskine posted a new article, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War review: Back in black

    • reply
      November 19, 2020 11:14 AM

      I liked the campaign quite a bit. It's a little short, and I wish I'd been more slapped in the face with 80s stuff, but overall it was fun and worth playing. It was funny how many classic Activision Atari 2600 games they managed to cram into the levels -- I stopped at every one of them to play for a minute. Kaboom with a gamepad is exactly how terrible I pictured it'd be.

      In terms of multiplayer, on top of my usual sucking, the game seems to have layered so many systems on top of just running and shooting folks, it's tough for someone like me who's been away from it since the last Black Ops to jump in and understand wtf's going on, and I didn't notice any kind of on-ramping in the form of tutorials or anything to explain all the different modes, etc. The game desperately needs that because I was lost as hell in some of the modes. :/

      • reply
        November 20, 2020 9:58 AM

        I appreciated the campaign being on the shorter side, lol. As for multiplayer - I feel like the class loadouts and prestige are a bit convoluted, especially if you haven't played the last couple of CoDs. I'd recommend just loading into Team Deathmatch and using some of the pre-made classes until you get the hang of things.

Hello, Meet Lola