By setting the action in a previously unexplored decade, this first-person shooter series is doing something new for the first time in long time, and is all the better for it. In Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s story-driven campaign, the search for terrorists connected to the Iranian Hostage Crisis leads you to a series of covert missions across the globe. But the 1980s time frame doesn’t just change what kind of guns you use to shoot Russians and other bad guys. The setting carries over to the game’s ever-popular online multiplayer modes and the co-op “Zombies” feature, the latter of which has you and your friends fighting to survive when you’re attacked by hordes of Nazi zombies that have managed to survive for decades after the war ended. Even this game’s version of “Dead Ops Arcade,” a top-down, twin-stick shoot version of “Zombies,” has an ’80s feel (though, admittedly, these kind of arcade games always do).
But there’s more than just setting this series in a past that isn’t World War II that makes this feel fresh. While the campaign still has the kind of harrowing firefights and explosive action this series is known for, being set during the Cold War requires that you sometimes use stealth to do your job, and not go in guns first like you usually do in shooters (though you often leave under heavy fire). Campaign missions also give you choices when it comes to what you say to people at pivotal moments, as well as some life and death decisions that affect the story. Meanwhile, multiplayer remains as solid as ever, with “Team Deathmatch” being the same kind of fun and frantic firefight it’s been for years, and “Domination” still requiring you to be as quick on your feet as you are on the trigger. The only bummer is “Fireteam,” a new mode in which eight to ten teams of four players each search massive areas for uranium, but it has the downside of players frequently geting killed by guys on the ground who shoot you as you parachute into the level. Even “Zombies” benefits from having you use guns from the ’80s, because the mix of firearms feels pulled directly from the action movies of the time period. The surprising and very enjoyable game mode is “Dead Ops Arcade,” where unlimited ammo and crazy power-ups equal a good time for all with a retro vibe to the gameplay. While there are some minor issues — like how your character doesn’t automatically reload their weapon, which can leave you vulnerable in the middle of a firefight, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War still manages to be totally tubular to the max, for sure.