Although the "Call of Duty" seems like a monolithic franchise, it actually contains different eras and subseries. The early games focused on World War II, where the series established itself. It became a gaming phenomenon when it moved to "Modern Warfare" and starred characters such Capt. John Price and Soap MacTavish.
"Call of Duty" has had other iterations in between but arguably the most beloved line is "Black Ops." It's the subseries, in which Treyarch established itself as the lead developer of a franchise that Infinity Ward started. It also set the standard for the robust multiplayer experience that fans have come to expect.
With "Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War," Treyarch and Raven Software again return to the world of espionage. Set in the 1980s, it follows a new character named Bell, who is part of a special unit hunting an infamous Russian spy named Perseus. The operative has been responsible for major incidents in the Cold War and his re-emergence alarms the intelligence community.
Over 17 chapters containing 12 playable missions, players embark on a global campaign to stop Perseus' plans to obtain a nuclear weapon. Although Bell is the star, "Black Ops Cold War" switches perspectives to fan favorite characters such as Alex Mason and newer cast members such as Russian double agent Dimitri Belikov.
The shift gives players a mix of familiar run and gun missions while also introducing more stealth-oriented gameplay filled with cloak and dagger tactics. These chapters not only provide a needed change of pace from the firefights and explosions, but they also expand the diversity of experiences.
"Black Ops Cold War" has a surprising amount of puzzle elements and exploration involved as Bell and the team led by Russ Adler infiltrate Berlin and Moscow in search of clues to Perseus. The stealth component lets them explore a detailed world that contains diversions like playable arcade machines and secret collectibles called "evidence," which is used for the two side quests.
These pieces of intel deepen the story for careful explorers and they also get the player invested in the campaign. Tying the evidence to side missions and worthwhile content is a much better way of scattering collectibles in the game. It feels more organic and rewarding as the developers weave the subseries' trademark puzzles into the hub area.
"Black Ops Cold War" borrows a lot of the paranoia and misdirection from the original and tries to incorporate it in the new entry. This obvious intention makes the plot more predictable. It's like knowing the story beats of an M. Night Shyamalan movie because you've watched his other films. Players can see the big revelations coming from a mile away.
In the campaign, a few choices matter, and how players react will have implications on the ending they'll get. Although the stealthier moments, puzzles and the bigger action set pieces should be appreciated, the single-player mode is held back by a plot that feels like a retread of the past games.
On the multiplayer side, "Black Ops Cold War" is more successful. It's packed with plenty of modes and formats that will cater to a wide range of tastes. If players want to stick with what's familiar, they can fire up a playlist with eight competitive rule sets. They'll compete in everything from the reliable Team Deathmatch to the familiar Kill Confirmed.