Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Xbox Series X Review

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War serves as another example of how the series has been slowly trending downward, with more preventable issues cloaked in a cover of high-end graphics.

By Grayshadow, Posted 18 Nov 2020

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is the latest installment in the yearly franchise, offering much of the same players have come to expect from this franchise. It doesn't attempt to take any risk for the campaign and retreads the same territory expected from a military shooter. This is a by the numbers narrative that ends with a minor conclusion attempting to create depth with optional choices. What made this entire package simply unforgivable was the technical state as the Xbox Series X version crashed over 20 times during my multiple playthroughs of this title. After several problematic releases in the Call of Duty franchise relating to technical problems and unbalanced gameplay this is no longer tolerable. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War serves as another example of how the series has been slowly trending downward, with more preventable issues cloaked in a cover of high-end graphics.

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Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War has players attempting to locate a dangerous terrorist named Perseus. To accomplish this several elite soldiers will have to hunt down various exclusive targets across the world during the height of the Cold War. Familiar faces like Alex Mason, Jason Hudson, and Frank Woods come along for the ride along with newcomers CIA Agents Alder, Lazar, and Sims, and Britain's M16 agent Park. The narrative is mostly predictable with only 1 solid twist that leads to a single mission that bends and alters the player's perception. However, long time this trope has been done in other games in better ways.

The primary character players will take control of is a custom soldier named Bell. This soldier is a blank slate as you fill in their psych profile. Bell has no voice and just acts as your remote control puppet, you don't even see the Bell's face. It's a huge step back from Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 custom options which featured a fully fleshed-out custom character with a voice and personality. With the exception of small changes in the dialogue, the character's sex and background has no effect on the story.

Those hoping for a repeat of Call of Duty: Black Ops III's customization will be disappointed. You do start the game with a selection of perks but you can only select 2 and cannot swap them out. You cannot create weapon loadouts or customize Bell's appearance. The protagonist of Fallout 3 had more character development than Bell as you could make them into a person based on your actions. Here you're literally playing a puppet.

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Black Ops Cold War attempts to create a type of bond between Bell and the supporting cast but since Bell does not talk there's never a healthy exchange. Instead, the game has the player choosing from a list of dialogue options, the person Bell is talking to speaks, then you select the next. It's the most barebones system possible and it creates no sense of comradery. The writers did try to create healthy exchanges between the other supporting cast by having them interact with one another. Such as when Park speaking to Lazar about a former friend and colleague who went rogue and almost killed her but these are so random. Out of nowhere Park just starts talking about this like so many exchanges between these characters. Woods, Hudson, and Mason already have that strong bond understood to players through the previous games because of the missions and life-death situations they were placed in but the new cast does not convey that same bond no matter how many personal stories they share. Bonds are created through actions, not words, and the missions you go on simply do not have the time needed to create that bond between Bell and these people.

The campaign has is about 5 hours long if you take the direct route and avoid the 2 optional missions, which carry no consequences if you don't complete them. They're just mentioned in the epilogue whether you completed them, avoided them, or made a mistake. These optional missions require the player to solve a unique puzzle based on the collectables obtained throughout the main missions which is a great idea. These puzzles are well crafted and gave more incitive to get the collectables. Since the puzzle is different for everyone who plays you have to solve it by picking apart the various clues.

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Players travel through Cuba, Russia, and Vietnam from a safe house. Players select their missions from this HUB area and speak to the supporting cast while they also speak and interact with one another. From here the player can select a mission and look over all evidence collection. Littered throughout are optional decisions that will lead to 1 of the many endings within the game. Many of the stages are linear with you killing dozens of soldiers and occasionally having to sneak past guards. There are no boss fights, which is disappointing, and even the sneaking missions don't compare to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or Modern Warfare 2 in terms of stress or complicity. In Modern Warfare's "Clean House" the game continued regardless if you killed a civilian making every corner an enticing challenge as you determine the best course of action or in MW2 "Cliffhanger" where you constantly looked at your heartbeat monitor due to the density of the snowstorm. None of that is here.

Thankfully shooting is terrific and movement works well. The feedback for every weapon is amazing thanks to precision rumble and when taking out enemies you get a red indicator to ensure they're dead. Enemies act with reasonable intelligence, heading into cover and using grenades to flush players out of positions. Ally NPCs range from useless to precise markmen depending on the mission and circumstances. It's basically the same system and feedback most Call of Duty games use and after 10+ games the system still works. Since this is the Cold War you don't have access to any fancy technology and go in mostly with a weapon and some tactical gear.

Most of Black Ops Cold War plays like a traditional Call of Duty game but then takes a sudden shift towards the end. The massive twist is done in an extremely profound way in a mission that deals with a constantly altering stage. Environmental hazards change, enemies alter their tactics based on the story being told, and various routes are provided but the player is asked to take a specific path that if disregarded results in some strange situations. This was the best part of the entire game but happens only towards the end and most disappointingly highlights how this campaign could've taken these concepts to create a much more interesting campaign. With various missions playing out based on the character's perspective instead of what was written, altering them and making them dynamic. 

It becomes clear that Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War went for what was safe especially after experiencing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. It doesn't do something new or risky but instead retreads old territory while using impressive character models and voice acting in an attempt to bolster the experience. The visuals in major Call of Duty titles have always been outstanding and the art direction in this title is just as exceptional. The characters move and speak with lifelike precision and the cutscenes are incredibly detailed but when you have a bland story that sums up to stop the evil terrorist before they can unleash their superweapon it feels like a waste.

The musical score is pretty good, with a solid collection of lobby and combat music. Those hoping to stream Black Ops Cold War will have a terrible time as the game includes a wide array of licensed tracks and no option to turn it off. Companies like Ubisoft who use licensed tracks often include the option to turn this off and should become a standard for video games now, especially after the DMCA storm on Twitch and the copyright claim issues that plague YouTube.

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The cinematics, while beautiful, would also have these technical problems with the visuals being distorted. With a large number of dead pixels and flaring colors, it was bad. At first, I thought this was part of the game until given the twist during the campaign but after replaying the title the cutscenes would look like any other cinematic.

Multiplayer includes 8 maps for competitive play with various modes such as Team Deathmatch, Hardpoint, Domination, Kill Confirmed, Control, Free for All, Search and Destroy, and VIP Escort. Dirty Bomb has teams of 4 attempting to detonating various bombs across the map. I can't tell you what happens at the end since the game always crashed on after all the bombs were detonated. Yes, this year's Call of Duty has major netcode issues as expected. Shooting enemies who don't receive damage, lagging, every possible online issue is here. If you thought Black Ops 4's online launch was problematic you haven't seen anything yet and that was an online multiplayer-only game.

Zombies take a more story-driven path while remaining loyal to the cooperative concepts that made it a hit. You can play through 2 maps with the original map having 2 options. The classic zombies play the same, as you kill waves of zombies and open more of the facility while also unlocking new perks. You can play the map with a set of 20 waves if you choose instead of endless. The last option is an arcade mode where players take on waves of zombies from a top-down shooter perspective.

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Each mode has unique cosmetic unlocks based on challenges. Weapons each have their own leveling tree that unlocks new medications the more you use that weapon. You can choose to fully modify a weapon for a large number of attachments but this comes at a cost shown in the weapons stats. It's a great system that provides upgrades based on the player's preference. However, like all Call of Duty games, there's always a handful of "god guns" with the MP5 and M16 dominating the game for now.

There's a store that holds 1 optional microtransaction, which is a basic red and blue camo set, calling card, emblem, sticker, weapon charm, and 2x experience token for $10. Why is this being sold instead of being provided as an unlockable? It's the lowest effort $10 skin I have ever seen in a $60 game and it honestly hurts my soul knowing someone out there purchased this thing.

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THIS IS $10!?

The reason it took me so long to play through this game extensivity was due to the constant crashing and disconnects. The game would randomly shut down my Xbox Series X. This happened during the campaign and multiplayer, I counted 23 crashes over the course of my week-long time with Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. I purposely waited to see if the developers would resolve this issue and went as far as to reinstall the game 4 times which takes 15 hours for me as the game is a whopping 161 GB with a physical disc. This is no longer tolerable, publishers that release games for full price in this technical state need to be called out for this. The single-play missions may be short and checkpoints placed at reasonable locations so when the game crashes, not if, you can start playing again without losing much progress but when you're in a multiplayer match and the game suddenly crashes that's a problem. Especially when it's a common issue.

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Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a standard Call of Duty game. It has a serviceable campaign where you stop a terrorist from using a powerful weapon and a multiplayer mode full of issues. The game constantly crashes and even when in a multiplayer match you risk disconnecting or suffering from connectivity issues. At this point, Call of Duty has become on par with Madden, FIFA, and NBA 2K where the games release each year, has large amounts of issues, and the player base is told they will fix it later. Going back to the original titles and those of us who experienced those games when they first released shows how far this franchise has fallen. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War reveals how greatly this franchise has declined, from a historic multiplayer shooter to a buggy mess.

Adam Siddiqui,
Managing Editor, NoobFeed
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General Information

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC
Publisher(s): Activision
Developer(s): Treyarch, Raven Software
Genres: First-person shooter
Themes: Cold War
Release Date: 2020-11-13

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