While the "Call of Duty" gameplan has been all over the map in recent years -- with story modes having been minimized or eliminated entirely at times -- it's the writing and narrative structure that take center stage in "Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War."
In getting back to its smirking, conspiracy-minded, counterculture roots, developer Treyarch finds new life in a formula that had started to grow stale. With branching dialogue, point-of-view shifts and a stirring, historical fiction-driven reimagining of the global state of the play over the late 20th century, the game is a freewheeling and fluid dive into the ether.
At its heart, "Black Ops Cold War" is a loose cannon action movie, straight out of the 80s. With booming bravado, high-octane set pieces and tense shootouts -- as well as imaginative revisitations of famed characters from previous chapters -- it's a AAA blowout that has become the too-rare watercooler event in this era of fragmented attention spans.
Multiplayer options abound, with Zombies taking center stage as a cinematic action-horror spectacle. Fireteam: Dirty Bomb emphasizes cooperation and trust, while Combined Arms and VIP Escort shake up the formula with inventive wrinkles and twists.
Team Deathmatch is the standard, loosely-coordinate frag fest, with the traditional Kill Confirmed, Domination, Hardpoint and Free-for-All rounding out the banquet of offerings. The cross-platform sensation battle royale component, Warzone, is technically a part of the package but available to those who don't buy "Black Ops Cold War."
Although "Call of Duty" games may have ceded much of the cultural zeitgeist to the likes of "Fortnite" and other free-to-play flavors of the week swiping away the attention of the masses, what remains of the multiplayer scene is a hardened, cohesive group of roughnecks.
A promising new direction for a series that has been all over the map and its flipside, "Black Ops Cold War" delivers the goods with the hope of a parachuted supply drop. Feeling comfortably familiar and new enough to seem fresh and exciting, it's a rambling ride well worth hanging onto by your fingertips.
Publisher provided review code.