Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Beenox Studios
Release Date: Nov. 13, 2020


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PC Review - 'Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 24, 2020 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

A direct sequel to the original, fan-favorite Black Ops, and set in the early 1980s, Black Ops Cold War, drops players into the depth of the Cold War’s volatile geopolitical universe in a gripping experience where nothing is as it seems.

Buy Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War

This year's Call of Duty entry is in an interesting position. For several years, the cycle dictated that a new Call of Duty game would come out near the end of the year, be supported by a slew of DLC maps, and then be pushed aside for die-hard fans to enjoy while the masses gravitated toward the new entry so the cycle can start anew.

However, Call of Duty: Warzone upended that trend. Originally a mode in last year's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Warzone got a stand-alone release in the first half of 2020 and has quickly become a popular title despite its ballooning size. It's so popular that launching any Call of Duty title on Blizzard's launcher takes you to a hub where Warzone is front and center, with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare flanking on the right side and the latest entry, Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War, flanking on the left. For the first time, the latest game isn't one that people are necessarily gravitating toward by default.

Before you begin, there are two specific things about the PC version of Cold War. First, while the game requires an Activision account and you'll be told about this the first time you boot into the game, neither the launcher nor game take you directly to the site to make or log into said account. If you proceed without linking the Activision account to the account, you'll always be met with an error saying that the game can't connect to the servers. Secondly, the game takes the opening moments to pre-load the shaders to improve the load times throughout the game. The gesture is nice, but that means you'll still be waiting several minutes on your initial load before you can start adjusting other things like brightness, control preference, etc.

Like many of the Treyarch-backed versions of the series, Cold War is split into three major modes. Handled by Raven Software, the campaign mode is big for single-player fans. Set in the 1980s after the events of the first Black Ops game, the campaign begins with a mission where you track down the one responsible for the Iran Hostage Crisis. After a rooftop chase and chasing down a cargo plane, you discover that Perseus, a Soviet operative who was thought to be dead, is still alive. With the knowledge that he's planning something big, you get permission from President Ronald Reagan to assemble a small team to hunt down and stop Perseus from executing his plans.

For the most part, everything you'd expect from a Call of Duty campaign is present and accounted for. Fights between you and a seemingly insurmountable army are constant. There are big set piece moments, such as the chase with the cargo plane leading to you piloting a RC car to blow up the landing gear. There are opportunities to use vehicles such as an assault helicopter, and there's a sneaking mission or two to break things up. In Black Ops tradition, oddities in the storyline and the somewhat-abrupt ending make you wonder what is and isn't real. The game continues the tradition of short Call of Duty campaigns, which can be good if you want something without fluff but bad if you want the single-player experience to last more than a day.

Despite Raven Software being involved with the series for a long time, this is its first crack at the campaign, and its additions that make this one stand out in a more positive light. Your main character is customizable, and while that would include aesthetics and a fairly progressive stance on gender with a non-binary option, the more important part deals with your character's personality traits, which determine your perks. They're similar to what you'd see in multiplayer, but the perks make the campaign feel more in line with some of the multiplayer features.

The second addition is your ability to make choices in several key scenes. Some of the choices come through via dialogue trees that slightly alter the story beats. Others are much more significant, such as in the first mission where you can take a person into custody or throw him/her off the roof, completely changing the pace and direction of the story. This doesn't quite transform the game into an FPS RPG, but it takes care of the issue of a short campaign, since you now have a reason to replay it.

The other addition is side-quests. You can go through the normal campaign, but for those who like brainteasers, there are a few puzzles to decipher so you can get clues to unlock side missions to further flesh out the story. It's not a huge change, but it holds some promise should future games in the series adopt what Raven has done here.

Zombies is the second mode, and what was once a fun diversion is now integrated with the series' overarching universe. The cut scenes highlight original characters over guest stars and ex-presidents. Here, you play the role of a CIA member tasked with stopping a Soviet group from re-opening an abandoned WWII bunker that would unleash the zombie horde on the world. The gameplay remains the same, which means that you'll try to survive wave after wave of zombies, and you can use your points to buy more ammo and gun upgrades so you can keep fighting until you all die or decide to leave via a rescue chopper, whichever comes first. At launch, the game only comes with one map, but the map is rather extensive; surviving horde after horde means you unlock more of the map to give you a better sense of progression rather than having you stay put in one area. For those who want something more retro, Dead Ops Arcade also makes an appearance to transform the whole affair into a twin-stick shooter.

Having only one map at launch is a shame, even though there is the promise of more maps arriving for free very soon. What makes it even more of a disappointment is the fact that PlayStation owners get access to the Onslaught variant, which reduces the party count from four to two but changes the rules so you need to follow an orb to stay alive and kill all of the zombies that approach it before they destroy it. The more frantic nature may make it less appealing to some players, but the fact that no one of the PC space will be able to play the Onslaught variant until next year when a new Call of Duty would arrive kills some of its appeal.

For many people, the Call of Duty series is synonymous with multiplayer, and here is where things can get messy. First, the good news is that just about every staple mode makes it to Cold War. To name a few, Hardpoint, Kill Confirmed, and Team Deathmatch are all back and relatively unchanged. For those who aren't too fond of playing against others, a few of the modes feature bot play, so you can still relish in some of the thrills without enduring some of the drawbacks from the online community. Even though the guns aren't as advanced as what one may be used to, they're still fun to use. The emphasis on score instead of kills makes it so that even players with a bad kill/death ratio have a fighting chance.

The bad news is that the two new multiplayer modes aren't so great. VIP Escort is a miss unless you're playing with a trusted group, since you'll often have the VIP decide to break protocol and move away from the group only to get shot and lose the game. Combined Arms sounds like a good idea on paper, but it also feels too close to the Warzone formula and not as refined due to the ever-evolving objectives that make it too chaotic for 40 people at once. There's also the matter of only eight maps in the game at launch, but the quicker schedule of content releases seems like that'll be addressed quickly. Almost all of the maps are good, but repetition can set in faster than before.

As before, the game rewards or encourages your continued play with a leveling system where you get to unlock new custom classes, perks, and weapons. What's different this time is that it's tied in with both Warzone and last year's Modern Warfare. When the update occurs, your starting level is going to be reset to whatever you have on Cold War. From there, progress in one game counts as progress in the others. For example, those who still play Modern Warfare rather frequently can effectively boot up Cold War and start with a ton of unlocks and even make progress in the upcoming Battle Pass. The same goes for Black Ops players who want to dip their toe into Warzone now, as they won't have to start fresh like everyone else. This is perfect for the die-hard series fan, as there is the comfort in knowing that their hard work is collected into one giant pool instead of being separated out into individual games.

That does present the PC player with a unique problem, though. The player pool is now going to be separated into several camps at the same time due to the aforementioned launch hub. It has the benefit of keeping Modern Warfare relevant for another year, but that also gives people a reason to not migrate to the newer game, and with Warzone still being ridiculously popular, there is a real chance that the population for Cold War isn't going to be as big as it could be. Luckily, the presence of cross-play means that the online population isn't going to be as small as in pre-Modern Warfare titles.

Graphically, don't expect anything too different from Modern Warfare. If you were to put the games side by side without labels, you'd be hard-pressed to figure out which was which. This isn't a bad thing, as the game still looks quite good overall, but don't expect any drastic changes. The 1980s-inspired environments look quite nice, as they don't have the overly neon look that most games feature when they revisit this decade.

If you have the right video card for the job, the PC version of Cold War also features ray tracing as part of the graphical package. Activision and its fleet of developers have used the technology to emphasize lighting and shadows, with reflections remaining fully rasterized. For the most part, the ray-traced lighting and shadows do a great job of making the scenes pop, with a few places looking more realistic since light doesn't appear where it shouldn't and shadows are done in varying degrees, without everything being blocky or overly sharp. That's more evident in campaign mode, where you can appreciate the subtle changes in the cut scenes and other quieter moments. In motion while playing either multiplayer or Zombies mode, the changes are rather subtle and harder to see due to the game's overall fast action; stopping to see the effects will quickly get you killed.

If you're concentrating exclusively on multiplayer, you'll be more apt to turn off ray-traced effects due to the performance hit. Using a Geforce RTX 3080 and a Ryzen 5 2600 at both 1080p and 1440p with DLSS off, ray tracing at its highest settings got frame rates in the high 70s to low 80s at the best of times. That's still quite good if your monitor or TV is restricted to 60Hz, but turning off the feature brought much higher frame rates, where the game averaged close to 120fps almost all of the time. Turning on DLSS to mitigate things did nothing at those resolutions, since frame rates remained the same with ray tracing activated. Take those findings with caution, as other outlets are reporting major frame rate gains at 4K and we lack the hardware to verify that for ourselves. As for Nvidia's touted Reflex feature, I couldn't tell if it was giving me an advantage, as I'm usually terrible in multiplayer on the series, but I suppose it did something or I got lucky a few times, since I placed in the top three in a few free-for-all matches and even won one.

On the audio side, the quality hasn't faltered. The musical score has leaned toward being more cinematic with each game over the years, and Cold War is no different, as all of the original stuff fits perfectly for the given mood, while the smattering of licensed songs do well to set up the game's timeline. The voice acting and sound effects are also top-notch, with the only oddity being that the opening credits sequence features no sound until the very end, which can make you question whether your audio works until you hear the high-pitched tone for a brief second before the studio credits disappear.

The question of whether to pick up Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War on the PC is situational, despite it being a solid title. If you're the type of player who likes the campaigns that each entry brings forth, then you'll be fine with Cold War. The branching paths of the short campaign give it some replayability beyond simply increasing the difficulty. Fans of Zombies mode will also be fine, even though it suffers from having only one map (for now) and a PlayStation-exclusive mode that'll be unavailable on the PC for a year. Multiplayer fans are in more of a pickle. If you're tired of the maps in the prominently featured Modern Warfare but want traditional modes, then this is perfect, especially since the cross-play feature is going strong and there are people on both the last- and next-generation platforms ensuring the game gets a healthy shelf life. If you're primarily a Warzone player, you aren't going to bother with this one, since that free-to-play game is getting Cold War elements soon to keep it fresh.

Score: 8.0/10

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