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Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

With Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (BOCW) representing CoD in the Cold War era, how does it stack up to previous Call of Duty games that have featured the time period as well as the other games in the series? Let’s find out.

Courtesy of Activision

Overall Rating

3.5/5

1 - Visuals

3/5

Playing on an original Xbox One, BOCW’s campaign visuals don’t look great. The cutscenes in-between missions lagged heavily behind voiceovers, leading to cutscenes fast-forwarding to catch up. Strangely, this only happened with pre-rendered cutscenes and not in-game cutscenes. 

Watching voiceovers end a few seconds before the following cutscene makes for a really jarring experience. Hearing people talk through what essentially amounts to PowerPoint is not what I had in mind for BOCW. Even the opening loading screens lag every so often.

Additionally, because of the ragdoll physics, characters often got stuck in geometry, floated in mid-air or moved in strange ways.

A new form of yoga, perhaps? Screenshot courtesy of Activision.

Also, character models look especially dated up-close, especially in the safehouse. A small gripe, but the characters’ hair waving with the slightest of movements is an odd choice and often ruins the visual flow. 

(Note: players can create their own “character,” but apart from their index finger and thumb, they are never actually seen.)

The gang’s back together again. Screenshot courtesy of Activision.

The most egregious example of both was with “Adler.” Outside of the safehouse sections, Adler’s character model is fine. But toward the end of the campaign, there’s a particular moment when a light behind him incorrectly rendered shadows on his body and face, leading to some really strange lighting effects. 

Interestingly enough, these issues only happened in real-time. Pausing the game rendered the shadows correctly and oftentimes, I found myself pausing the game so that the graphics looked right.

This interrogation is not sponsored by FILA. Screenshot courtesy of Activision.

Also, the smoke effects in some missions didn’t look great either. Toward the end of the game, the smoke was essentially a sprite – wherever you looked at it, it followed you. 

While campaign mode looked dated sometimes, the multiplayer modes look pretty good, all things considered. The maps look nice, the weapons look realistic and the character models look great, even with all the action going on. 

The framerate rarely dropped either, with the game running steady throughout my experience. Of note, during a few games of “Dirty Bomb,” a new game mode, the engine had issues rendering and running all the action.

For instance, during back-to-back-to-back games, trees were unrendered, the screen looked like I was looking through an infrared scope – i.e. everything was grainy and in black and white. Also, a teammate had a “revive” symbol above him at all times. These were extremely distracting and led to me leaving the game for the graphics to “reset.”

Lastly, there is no gore at all; compared to previous Black Ops games, BOCW is extremely tame. The move to remove gore from a war game really makes the visual mood incongruous. 

To reiterate, I was playing it on an original Xbox One. If anything, the graphical issues could be an isolated incident. 

Overall, the visuals get three stars.

2 - Audio

3.5/5

As a whole, BOCW sounds pretty good, with Adler – voiced by Bruce Thomas – standing out. His delivery and the gravitas he brings, especially toward the end of the campaign, really envelop you in the situation. The rest of the cast does a great job backing up Thomas as your points of contact throughout the campaign. 

That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mason, Woods and Hudson’s voice acting. Throughout the series, the first two had fairly consistent voice actors (VA) – Sam Worthington as Mason and James C. Burns for Woods – while Ed Harris and Michael Keaton played Hudson in Black Ops and Black Ops 2, respectively. Nevertheless, the actors voiced their characters well and brought a level of intensity with their delivery.

In BOCW, however, it just doesn’t have that same impact. The new VA for Woods seems to be doing an impression of Burns while Mason’s VA is too subdued compared to Worthington. Also, Hudson in BOCW tries to be a combination of Harris and Keaton but doesn’t really land. 

That’s not to say the VA’s were bad: they just don’t compare to the previous actors. 

Moreover, though the weapons sound decent, it feels like they don’t carry the same weight as weapons from previous games. The best way to describe it is that the weapons in BOCW sound muted compared to the rawness of Modern Warfare (2019). 

On the flip side, the rest of the audio effects are well done. The explosions are concussive and the ambient noise caters well to the mood of the game overall. 

Particularly, the zombies sound even more menacing and can cause players to jump when they come from behind, especially when playing with over-ear headphones. Having the “round start/change” theme from Black Ops II’s “Mob of The Dead” also brought back some nostalgia. 

Finally, BOCW features a soundtrack created for the game as well as licensed songs from the 80s. Having an audio player for the soundtrack of the game is a nice touch, be it while waiting in a lobby or in-game. In all, BOCW’s audio mixing gets three-and-a-half stars.

3 - Story/Progression

3/5
Choices? We’ve got choices now? Screenshot courtesy of Activision.

BOCW is supposed to be a sequel to the original Black Ops but it feels more like a reboot. If anything, it feels like Treyarch is trying to tie in BOCW with the reboot of the Modern Warfare series.

Story-wise, the series shifts back to the titular era with the United States facing off against the U.S.S.R. and a new villain, Perseus. Throughout BOCW’s 18 missions – realistically, there are only 12, as six are essentially playable cutscenes – the team tries to find out more about Perseus and, ultimately, eliminate them. 

Throughout the campaign – which can be anywhere between two and five hours – the tone is set pretty early on: Adler and the team will do anything, legal or not, to capture and destroy Perseus. As such, everything the player does ultimately culminates in one of three endings. Narratively speaking, BOCW flows well until the final act, where it doesn’t necessarily stick the landing.

There are also five difficulty levels to choose from, which should add a few more hours for those players looking to get 100% completion. Overall, BOCW isn’t a necessarily difficult game, as objectives are fairly straightforward. 

One minor note: it’s incredibly odd that Soviet soldiers carry around American-made and other NATO-issued weapons and ammunition. It detracts from the realism that other games had. 

BOCW’s story gets three stars.

4 - Gameplay

4/5

BOCW’s revamped gameplay is the most compelling aspect. There’s slightly more freedom in campaign, as players can explore a larger space to complete optional objectives for certain characters. Players can also look for evidence to help complete other missions as well, though the levels are still linear.

The safehouse is another new addition to the campaign. It’s a small space where players can talk to other team members, read up on files and find some easter eggs as well. Apart from being a hub for which to select missions (among other things,) the safehouse is a minor change.

That’s what the board looks like. Screenshot courtesy of Activision.

In-game, players can now take human shields, stealthily go about certain missions and select certain “perks” for their player character by way of a psychological report. Perks can range from having reduced weapon kick or increased health, depending on the players’ play style. Overall, there aren’t a lot of weapons to choose from in the campaign mode. 

BOCW’s multiplayer plays like a standard Call of Duty entry: there’s not really any change in the formula and the gunplay feels great. However, because BOCW uses a modified game engine from Black Ops III, the gameplay feels dated. It doesn’t feel as grounded as Modern Warfare (2019) and players won’t be able to rest their weapons on platforms for added accuracy. 

In terms of game modes, all the classic types remain with two new modes: Dirty Bomb and VIP Escort. In Dirty Bomb, 32-40 players battle it out to see who can deposit the most uranium and detonate the “dirty bombs” scattered around the map. This mode features an extremely large map with vehicles and scorestreaks to help the player. 

Dirty Bomb is an interesting addition as it combines the gameplay of Warzone with the arcade-style gunplay of BOCW. Along with the graphical issues, playing Dirty Bomb actually caused my Xbox One to crash and hard reset. 

Meanwhile, VIP escort is just that: a team escorts a VIP to one of two locations on the map while the other has to eliminate them. The VIP has limited access to weapons and perks, making the game mode very tactical. It’s a fine addition, though it’s not game-changing. 

There are 10 maps to choose from and the 29 total weapons – 20 primary and nine secondary – can reach a max level of 55. There are also five tactical and lethal grenades each; seven field upgrades, upgrades that help the player in some way; 15 perks, five for each slot; four wildcards, cards that allow the player to customize their loadouts further or give them buffs; and 16 scorestreaks.

Winning your first multiplayer game is always a rush. Screenshot courtesy of Activision.

Scorestreaks are interesting because they continue accumulating after death. So a player can technically get a negative Kill/Death ratio but, so long as they played the objective, they could get higher scorestreaks. 

There are also vehicle skins and 13 playable characters, though some require hitting certain goals to unlock. For example, some characters may become available after killing 200 zombies and so on. 

Speaking of Zombies, “Die Maschine,” the horde mode is similar to other installments as players can choose to play an endless mode for the Easter Egg or only 20 rounds. Both modes are pretty self explanatory but a new feature is the ability to exfil – or end the game – every five rounds after round 10. If players exfil, they get experience (XP) and other rewards.

There are also custom classes with five field upgrades, eight skills, six perks and four ammo mods that can all be upgraded using Aetherium Crystals. Upgrades range from having more health to having longer-lasting field upgrades. 

Players can now drop in and out of games – though it takes time finding a game – and XP carries over too. For instance, if a player levels up a weapon playing Zombies, that carries over to multiplayer as well. Each weapon has its own set of camos, reticles, etc., providing hours of replayability.

A selection of goodies to upgrade. Screenshot courtesy of Activision.

Mechanics-wise, the main change is that points only accumulate with kills. In previous games, if a player got a hit, that counted as 10 points. In BOCW, each hit now counts as XP, with kills garnering 115 points and players getting extra points per headshot kill. A continually-refreshing mini-map is now available as well. 

Players can also pick up pieces of scrap to create new armor pieces, grenades or other items like a sentry turret. The “Pack-A-Punch” machine is back, which grants players the ability to upgrade their weapons up to three times as well as choose what kind of ammo they want. 

Along with Plague Hound rounds, there’s a new “Megaton” zombie – similar to the Panzersoldat from Black Ops II – and defeating its first form causes the zombie to split into two enemies that can down a player in one hit. These additions make Die Maschine much more difficult and scary.

Can you get to round 20 or more? Screenshot courtesy of Activision.

Lastly, there’s Dead Ops Arcade 3. Reminiscent of top-down shooters, it’s a nice change of pace from the first-person madness that comes from playing multiplayer or campaign. Worth noting: there were barely any games of Dead Ops, and this also caused my Xbox One to crash and hard reset while looking for a game. 

All things considered, BOCW’s creativity and ability to revamp Zombies mode gets it four stars.

5 - Context

4/5

As the newest entry into the series, BOCW has a lot to live up to, especially since the beta crushed world records. Apparently, the hype was warranted as the game set a new franchise record in terms of digital sales, according to Activision’s EMEA managing director Anna Malmhake. 

Since its release, BOCW has been one of the most streamed games, with thousands of people watching or playing the game on Twitch. It’s fair to say that BOCW will remain a Twitch fixture. 

Although the storyline isn’t particularly new, allowing players to choose their own gender is a welcome change. Allowing players to choose what closely matches them, even in a first-person shooter, is a great step toward proper representation.

Proper representation is always welcome. Screenshot courtesy of Activision.

Lastly, BOCW also has different colorblind options available for players that need it. 

In all, BOCW gets four stars.

Conclusion

All things considered, BOCW is a decent game and a worthy entry in the Black Ops series. Is it the best game in the series? No. That said, it’s not the worst game either. Compared to the Call of Duty franchise as a whole, it’s a solid entry, especially considering how creative Treyarch and the other developers were this time around. 

Even with all the graphical and other issues, BOCW is still an enjoyable game, especially for fans of the series. Is it worth buying at first glance? That ultimately remains up to each customer. But for what you’re getting – a short-ish campaign, a fleshed-out multiplayer experience and revamped Zombies mode – it’s worth a rental, at the very least. 

Overall, Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War gets three-and-a-half stars.

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