In addition to our team-selected Game of the Year Awards 2020, individual members of the PC Gamer team each select one of their own favourite games of the year. We'll post new personal picks, alongside the main awards, throughout the rest of the month.
After only dipping a toe into Modern Warfare and skipping Warzone in favor of Apex Legends last year (a man can only jump out of so many different planes), 2020 was the year I got back into Call of Duty. In the cold months, Cold War was there for me when everyone else was warming up to Valhalla (too many map icons, thanks) and Cyberpunk 2077's unintentionally flying cars scared me away.
COD seemed to enjoy something of a reputational comeback on PC over the last year. Warzone has been tremendously popular; it was perpetually one of PC Gamer's most-read-about games, something we haven't said about a Call of Duty game in years and years. When I sold a used GPU to someone this year, the first thing they asked me was "How many frames do you get in Warzone with this?"
Black Ops – Cold War was a gateway to uncomplicated fun, something I wanted a lot of in 2020. Easy-to-operate games like Monster Train, Spelunky 2, and stripped-down XCOM: Chimera Squad were some of my most-played this year.
Call of Duty is obvious, it's formulaic, but it bursts with an amount of stuff that dwarfs most other games. I hop between Zombies, the campaign, and multiplayer based on my mood. Ten multiplayer modes all have their own little style, like different dojos. Through every nanosecond of it you're unlocking challenges, camo patterns, Prestige levels, banners, emblems, stickers, finishing moves, and, for some reason, surprisingly detailed wristwatches. As is Call of Duty tradition, you end each match with a dozen or so "medals," situation-specific XP awards. In December, Prop Hunt arrived in an update, adding some slapstick fun that we don't usually associate with serious, cinematic Call of Duty.
And obviously there's a battle pass. Pretty soon there'll be an assault rifle with its own cassette player. Stuff!
Sometimes it's comforting to play something that drenches you in progression. The most interesting part of this uninterrupted stream of earning are the weapon attachments, which even well after prestiging I continue to earn more of than I can keep track of. I have something called the "18.2-inch Paratrooper barrel" and the "Swat 5MW Laser Sight." On a decent match, I might unlock three or four different things for two different guns.
Over time, this translates to a surprisingly rich experience of falling in and out of love with different guns as you discover them one by one. Each gun is a micro-character that you try to figure out if you click with. COD's weapons don't have the raw identity of something like the AWP, but the fun of them is the journey of discovery they take you on. Can I make the Uzi work for my playstyle? Can I actually turn the M16 into a decent hip-fire gun? It's fun to crack these codes through trial and error. OK, after that match I think the Milano's my SMG BFF. Sorry AK-74u, it's not working. Wow, the SPAS-12 is the perfect close-quarters panic button secondary. Maybe I should try to build the AUG that just killed me?
Nuketown is a perfect laboratory for these loadouts, a tiny plot of instant action that distills COD down to its essence of live, die, repeat. It's the closest thing to 2fort I've played since 2012. I love rushing up the stairs into the enemy's house and backstabbing any sniper nesting in the bedroom… even if I sometimes find myself in a lopsided match where I can't take three steps inside my spawn without getting blown up.
COD's first seasonal update brought three new maps, three new operator characters, three new guns, and Gunfight 2v2 as Cold War Voltronned with Warzone. Cold War was arguably a little light on maps at launch, but the rollout had the intended effect of stimulating some excitement well-timed with the holidays, and a weekend of free multiplayer on PC. As long as future updates are similarly sized, Cold War should keep my interest into the spring.
Obviously Cold War isn't without flaws—a pesky VRAM issue (even on my RTX 3080, ugh) has plagued me since launch: I basically can't run the game while having Chrome open without experiencing hilarious LOD issues, something that's apparently been a problem since Modern Warfare. The shaders installation quirk is also a bit of agony every time a driver update or big patch drops. And for some reason the Theater match-viewing mode is completely busted. (I'm not going to touch the conspiratorial SBMM madness in this story, my holiday sanity is too precious.)
The comfort food of COD will stick with me over the holiday break. Maybe I'm enjoying it because I've spent two or three years away from Call of Duty, but an FPS that mostly lets me tune out the responsibilities of messy concepts like 'teamwork' and focus on accumulating an endless pile of gun parts is what I need right now, for whatever reason.
Also, have you seen that intro menu? Menu of the year, easily.