Review: 'Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War' returns with fresh thrills and intense action

The game is inspired by the off-the-books antics of American and Soviet covert security forces during the Cold War

Come November, another 'Call of Duty' game gets released. 
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Even in a year filled with uncertainties, there are some things you can still rely on: come November, a new Call of Duty (CoD) game will probably be available.

This year, it’s the turn of the Black Ops series to test our reaction times while we commit acts of wanton virtual destruction from the comfort of our homes.

As its title suggests, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War uses the off-the-books antics of American and Soviet covert security forces as inspiration.

Most of the game plays out in the early 1980s, although there are sections set further in the past, most impressive of which is probably a flashback to the Vietnam War.

If you're expecting a meditation on the horrors of war you have, of course, come to the wrong place – Call of Duty has always been more Michael Bay than Stanley Kubrick.

The Bay-esque explosive set pieces are here aplenty, and you’ll hear no complaints from this gamer.

But while people rarely play a CoD game for the story, the tale told here is more engaging than you'd expect, and more than interesting enough to keep your attention for the duration of the admittedly short campaign.

The story will be more meaningful to people who played the first Black Ops (which is now, unbelievably, 10 years old) but no prior knowledge is necessary. A love for Cold War spy novels would, however, not be misplaced.

The Black Ops developers have always done a good job of differentiating their games from the other entries in the series, and the gameplay in Cold War is no exception. It's a very different experience from last year's Modern Warfare, with much more of a focus on stealth, small-scale missions and more personal stakes.

Most of the game plays out in the early 1980s. 

There is even a bit of character creation at the beginning, allowing you to choose your background and psychological profile, elements of which are cleverly wound into the story.

It all looks gorgeous, especially on the next-generation Xbox and PlayStation consoles with their ray-tracing capabilities, and a nighttime mission set in East Berlin is a particular highlight.

Beyond Vietnam and Berlin, you can also expect to stop off in Turkey and Russia, and the different locales really give the artists and the technology powering the game a chance to shine.

Cold War has an extensive set of multiplayer modes, so you can take your expertise at pulling off the perfect headshot online after beating the campaign.

The action feels like classic 'CoD' multiplayer, and the maps are very well designed – perhaps the best in several years

The action feels like classic CoD multiplayer, and the maps are very well designed – perhaps the best in several years.

There is also a new Zombies mode for those who prefer their multiplayer gaming to be co-operative.

One of the best features of this and last year's CoD is the ability to play with people on other platforms, meaning that it's no problem if you are gaming on an Xbox Series X but one friend has a PlayStation 5 and the other a PC.

Cross-play is also inter-generational this time round to ensure PlayStation 4 and Xbox One owners are not left behind.

Cold War offers enough that is new and different that gamers who buy each yearly release will not be bored, and if it's been a while since you have played a CoD game, you are sure to be blown away by the experience.

It is a game that no fan of first-person shooters should miss.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is available now for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and S, Xbox One and Windows