The Black Ops Cold War campaign emphasises player choice - with a character creator and Hitman-style levels

Here's what you need to know about the game's single-player.

The first Black Ops Cold War trailer debuted in Warzone today, unveiling a lot more information about the next Call of Duty game - including a release date of November 13th for current-gen consoles and PC, with next-gen versions for PS5 and Xbox Series X to arrive alongside the consoles themselves. Here's what we learned, centring around the game's setting and story, a cast of new and returning characters and a newfound focus on player freedom - one that even manifests in a character creator, dialogue options and Hitman-style nonlinear levels.

As leaked information suggested yesterday, the Black Ops Cold War is a direct sequel to Black Ops 1, starting in 1981 and continuing throughout the decade. There are some clear parallels between the prevailing attitudes of that time and our own - a kind of deep unease with the state of the world, with distrust and the prospect of global war juxtaposed against an explosion in culture and technology. Call of Duty generally does a great job of portraying the flavour of its settings, even if its stories tend to be far from subtle, so it'll be fascinating to see how Cold War deals with the neon stripes of the 1980s.

The game follows a US task force that aims to resist the plans of Perseus, a mysterious Soviet agent attempting to topple the established world order. Your group operates at the behest of Ronald Reagan and under the leadership of the mysterious Russell Adler. On the team are Hudson, Woods and Mason, with some other familiar faces from the original Black Ops making supporting appearances. These are some of the best characters the series has produced, so it's no surprise to see them return.

As well as choosing an interesting setting, the development team at Raven Software is offering a much greater degree of freedom than we've ever seen in a Call of Duty campaign. That starts with the character creator, which allows you to design your own single-player operator for the first time. There are eight stages in all, including options for skin tone and gender. While you can specify all of these options if you like to create a character suits your preferences, you can also leave them as 'classified' to end up with more of a blank slate like Call of Duties past. Choosing to not divulge your character's gender provides you with gender-neutral pronouns, which is a nice touch. As well as options that affect your in-game appearance and dialogue, some options have gameplay ramifications - so a psychological profile of "paranoid" halves the time it takes to aim down your sights, while the "lone wolf" profile allows you to sprint for twice as long.

The campaign itself also involves a greater level of player autonomy. Many missions allow you to take different paths to an objective, and you're also given dialogue options at some points in the story. You can also accomplish extra objectives and discover evidence to unlock two optional missions, which provide you with more narrative context to these levels. The choices you make will affect how the story progresses and ultimately what ending you receive, although it's clear that these choices will still exist within a broader narrative framework.

There are also several Hitman-style levels in the game, where you're asked to accomplish an objective by several potential means. One of these is set in the KGB headquarters in Moscow, where you're a double agent behind enemy lines. Here, you're able to poison a general, steal data, blackmail an officer or interrogate a prisoner in order to accomplish your unspecified but presumably delightfully devilish aims. Of course, the level ends with a traditional Call of Duty shootout, so it's clear that the more linear nature of the game remains the dominant vehicle to convey you along the story. For fans of the numbers, Mason!, you'll also be happy to know that the game includes some appropriately psychedelic and world-bending sequences as well.

From what we've seen so far, the game looks promising. The focus on player choice is an interesting one, given Call of Duty's more-or-less single-handed creation of the on-rails shooter, and it could make the game quite refreshing if it's executed well and doesn't feel too odious to complete.

Being able to create a character also feels like a sensible idea, as it should let a much wider swathe of COD's player base end up with a protagonist that resembles them. It's far from impossible to enjoy a story told from someone else's perspective, but this sort of inclusion can make a game feel a lot more welcoming - and there's no real disadvantage to implementing it, especially if your character is normally an unvoiced killing machine. It's nice that the character customisation extends to gameplay as well, as it creates a reason for people to feel more attached to their characters even if they're not interested in choosing a particular appearance.

In terms of the actual look of the game, although the footage is from the PlayStation 5, there's not anything that stands out as being obviously next-gen - if the same footage had the words 'PC' or even 'Xbox One X' next to it, I'd be a little more impressed but I'd still believe it. Cold War looks good, certainly, with plenty of detail evident in character models and the well-lit environments, but Modern Warfare 2019 was also a visual tour-de-force, especially in its campaign, so the evolution here appears to be rather subtle. It's sometimes hard to get a sense of how good a game looks just from recorded gameplay, so hopefully we'll discover more once we're able to go hands on.

It's also important to note that while modern Call of Duty is a game of two halves, we've only heard about the single-player component as of yet. Call of Duty Warzone is set to continue on as the battle royale component, given its perhaps unexpected success compared to the middling Call of Duty Blackout, but the traditional multiplayer should be completely new as normal and the Zombies co-op mode is also set to return.

We expect to learn more about that multiplayer, co-op and Warzone on September 9th, but today's press release does state that cross-platform and cross-generation play will be permitted. It's not clear whether or not buying the game on a current-gen console will allow you to get the next-gen version as well, but the fact it's not specified suggests you might need to double-dip. Pre-ordering the game will get you access to the multiplayer beta, but as usual buying games sight unseen may not be the wisest choice.

Update: Based on information revealed at embargo time, you'll be able to pre-order a "cross-gen digital edition" for a $10 premium that provides access to both the current and next-gen versions of the game on PlayStation or Xbox. An Activision support FAQ provides more specific details.

Some more details on the tech underpinning the game should also be forthcoming, as there was very little technical detail in the materials we were provided beyond a quick look at how lighting in the game works. Of course, we'll bring you all of the nerdy details on that front as soon as we have them.

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About the author

Will Judd

Will Judd

Senior Staff Writer, Digital Foundry

A bizarre British-American hybrid, Will turns caffeine into technology articles through a little-known process called 'writing'. His favourite games are Counter-Strike, StarCraft and Fallout 2.

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