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Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Review: This is how it runs on PC

A standout campaign, but the multiplayer left me cold

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War campaign zipline
(Image: © Activision)

Our Verdict

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War delivers one of the most compelling campaign modes in the series history, but at launch, it comes up a little short on multiplayer.

For

  • Engaging campaign mode
  • Deep weapon customization
  • Solid performance even on mid-tier hardware

Against

  • Campaign mode is short
  • Limited multiplayer maps
  • Multiplayer maps feel poorly laid out
  • Still a massive install at 82-125GB

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War arrives at an interesting time for the series as the annual installment is, in some ways, competing against the company’s own property in the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone released earlier this year. Overcoming that free offering is a tall order for a series that is predominantly known for its multiplayer content, which is excellently served up by Warzone.

Cold War needs to offer something that you can’t get from Warzone; in some regards it certainly achieves that. Not only does it have a campaign mode, but it is probably my favorite CoD campaign of all time. It also offers a number of new multiplayer modes that you won’t find in Warzone. On the other hand, the campaign is so short that even if you take your time, it will only require about seven hours to finish. Moreover, I’m not really sold on Cold War multiplayer in its current state.

Read on to see if you think the sum of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s parts is worth spending your money rather than just keeping to Warzone for your CoD needs.

Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War: Campaign (spoiler-free) 

I’ll cover the basics, but won't spoil the plot of the campaign as I had a great time playing it. If you want to just plow through it, I’m pretty sure you could knock the whole game out in five or six hours. Chronologically in the series, the plot of Cold War picks up where Call of Duty: Black Ops left off and immediately precedes the events of Black Ops 2, but you’ll be fine whether you are familiar with the story from those games or not.

Short though it may be, I thoroughly enjoyed the Cold War campaign, which is more than I can say about many previous CoD campaigns. It starts with the character creation, which gives you a little more control than you’ve had in the past with gender, background and character traits that offer in-game enhancements to damage, speed, weapons handling or stealth. You also end up with quite a few choices along the way (more than I can recall in previous CoD games) that will have an impact on the endgame.

The biggest surprise was the amount of time that I spent without a weapon in Cold War. There are a few notable examples including one mission which, among other things, has you sitting down to attend a meeting — I didn’t really see that coming in a CoD game — and it doesn’t even put a weapon in your hand until you’re about 80% through the level.

Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War campaign meeting room

(Image credit: Activision)

Depending on why you bought Cold War, the lack of gunplay may turn you off, but personally, this was one of my favorite parts of the game with elements of spycraft and a number of different choices to make regarding how you want to carry out your mission. The CoD games may not be rail shooters (at least not most of the time), but they can start to feel that way. Typically, there is nowhere to go but along the path laid out for you and to shoot everything you see along the way. This installment goes away from that and it makes for a much more interesting and compelling mix of gameplay.

That includes the structure of selecting your missions, which is carried out through an evidence board in your safe house. Here, you can either choose to continue along with the nine (sixteen if you include briefings) primary missions or dig a bit deeper with two side missions and the pieces of evidence that you can find throughout the game to help you complete those side missions. If you don’t want to pay any attention to the evidence, it won’t impact the main campaign, but I had a good time digging through both to help solve the side missions and see more bits of world-building.

Lest I lose all of the fans who are picking up Cold War looking for a traditional CoD game, don’t get me wrong, there are still massively over-the-top set pieces that have you unleashing hell upon everything around you. That includes the opening (which appeared in every trailer) that has you gunning down everyone from the back of a jeep as you speed down a runway before deploying an R/C car with a remote detonator to thread between pursuit vehicles and disabling a plane before it takes off. So yeah, there’s plenty of action-packed stuff too, which can be fun, but that never sticks with me after having played.

Call of Duty Cold War campaign explosion in hallway

(Image credit: Activision)

I’ll wrap up on the campaign by saying that I’m looking forward to going back through and giving it another shot. Again, this is not something I have ever said about a CoD campaign. The mix of character options, varied missions across multiple time periods, and compelling, even if it is wild historical fiction, storytelling all add up to a thrilling way to spend a half dozen or so hours. 

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War: Multiplayer 

As I mentioned, multiplayer for Cold War arrives in an interesting environment with the existence of the incredibly popular and free-to-play Warzone still going strong. You can even launch directly into Warzone from the main menu in Cold War. 

While there are always competing multiplayer titles to take away from your audience, it doesn’t traditionally come from the same publisher and within the same series. In this case, the competition is found within the very same game. So the question is what does Cold War’s multiplayer offer that Warzone does not? I have to say, at this moment, nothing that would cause me to recommend you run out to buy it for its multiplayer content alone.

First of all, there isn’t a massive amount of content to speak of. There are now nine multiplayer maps available after the release of Nuketown 84. That’s five short of what Black Ops launched with, and perhaps more importantly, only a few of those maps really stand out as great. 

Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War tank demolition

(Image credit: Activision)

The Armada map is far and away my favorite of the new group as it’s something I’ve never really seen. A pair of battleships and a submarine are grouped together and you can zipline, swim or drive jet skis or patrol boats between them, setting up some awesome sniper and close-quarters battles once you get into the interior areas of the ships. Crossroads is a snowbound map that is a dream for snipers, although certain paths set up well for assault rifles or submachine guns if that’s your preference. Satellite is another interesting smaller map set in the Angolan desert. Showing my hand on my own playstyle preference, this is another map that sets up nicely for either snipers or close quarters thanks to the dunes that checker the otherwise fairly open landscape.

Cartel, Checkmate and Garrison, on the other hand, are all smaller maps that I found frustrating most of the time as they feel too claustrophobic for most game types. Particularly with Cartel, when playing the standard Domination game type (12 v 12 trying to control five objectives), rounds descend into complete chaos far too often due to the excessive brush for cover and the inexplicable inclusion of motorcycles on the relatively tiny map. 

Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War multiplayer vehicles

(Image credit: Activision)

In the “Combined Arms” category, along with Domination, you have Assault, which similarly offers 12 v 12 matches. But rather than five simultaneously active objectives, you must control one at a time to then move to a new objective closer to the enemy’s base. Another new mode is VIP Escort, which has teams of six alternating between trying to deliver a VIP (randomly assigned player) to an extraction point. I can work in some maps, but I rarely have seen a VIP make it to extraction. 

Fireteam: Dirty Bomb is another big new addition that pits ten teams of four against one another to deposit uranium into a rotating set of dirty bombs and then detonate them. While it can have its moments, this is another one that far too frequently becomes a complete frenzied mess as every single team descends on the same dirty bomb once they can see it is filled with uranium and ready to detonate.

Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War multiplayer dirty bomb

(Image credit: Activision)

These new modes are joined by familiar options like Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Free-for-All, Hardpoint, Control and Search & Destroy. These tried-and-true game types are all fine, but again, my general lack of enthusiasm for most of the maps doesn’t really sell them for me.

I have no doubt that a lot of my issues will be worked out either through new maps, small tweaks to the game types, or weapon balancing, which can definitely still be a problem right now. However, I wouldn’t be rushing out to get in on Cold War multiplayer in its current state. 

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War: Zombies 

Fair warning, I have never been a fan of zombie modes both due to the inherent spray of gunfire mentality that is often required and the monotony that sets in after a couple of rounds. Cold War’s zombie mode doesn’t offer any reprieve from this because, at the moment, there’s just a single map available.

With that out of the way, it is certainly a polished and well-implemented zombie mode. Although there is just the one map, it is quite large and offers varied environments as you and up to three friends venture through and try to take out the near-endless hordes. 

Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War zombies multiplayer

(Image credit: Activision)

New this year is the ability to use your multiplayer loadout options in zombie mode. So whatever gear you’ve earned in your hours of multiplayer gaming can be brought to bear against the walking dead. While this makes finding weapons less crucial than it has been in the past, it frees you up to concentrate on other things like progressing abilities and grabbing powerups.  

While it won't present a problem for most people, the lack of a split-screen option for local multiplayer zombie mode is disappointing and hopefully something that is added in a later update. 

Overall, I can confidently say that if you’ve enjoyed zombie modes in Call of Duty previously, this should do a great job of scratching that itch. There are a handful of new options to spice things up and presumably, as with multiplayer mode, we’ll see additional maps in the future to keep zombie-killing interesting over time.

Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War zombies multiplayer

(Image credit: Activision)

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War: PC performance 

With a game as massively popular as Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, there are going to be some people who experience issues. Then again, my time with the game has been completely free of problems. My Asus Zephryus G14 with its Ryzen 9 processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q GPU and 16GB of RAM is far from the most powerful gaming laptop around, but it was up to the task of playing Cold War with a mix of High and Ultra settings (but regrettably no ray tracing). 

Looking for any common complaints from others I might have not run into myself, it seems that Cold War has escaped any show-stopping problems. This does somewhat ignore the 125GB elephant in the room: the install size for this edition of CoD. This still fairly massive number was scaled down considerably in the immediate run-up to the launch of the game. Activision’s original specifications called for 250GB, so it literally halved the requirements approximately two weeks before launch. An impressive feat, but it’s still a space hog and, if history is any indication, that number is going to tick up again over time with patches and updates. I won’t be surprised if it’s tipping the scales closer to 200GB again in a few months.

Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War campaign escape slide

(Image credit: Activision)

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War: PC requirements 

There are a number of different levels to the PC requirements and they top out at pretty mind-boggling levels, but here’s a look at what you’ll need in your PC. With the exception of the minimum spec requirements, all other levels require you to be running Windows 10 64-bit on the latest Service Pack.

The bare minimum specs to run Cold Car are Windows 7 64-bit (SP1) or Windows 10 64-Bit (1803 or later) with an Intel Core i3-4340 or AMD FX-6300, 8GB of RAM, at least 35GB of storage for multiplayer only (82GB full game), and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 / GTX 1650 or AMD Radeon HD 7950. 

Stepping up the recommended specs gets you what you’ll need to ensure 60 fps on Medium options. That includes an Intel Core i5-2500K or AMD Ryzen R5 1600X, 12GB of RAM, 82GB of storage and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 / GTX 1660 Super or Radeon R9 390 / AMD RX 580. If you are looking to also enjoy ray tracing, you’ll need to step that up to an Intel Core i7-8770k or AMD Ryzen 1800X, 16GB of RAM, 82GB of storage and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070.

Competitive gamers who are looking to run everything at a high framerate (120+), but are less concerned about ray tracing, have identical requirements, but only need a GeForce GTX 1080 / RTX 3070 or Radeon RX Vega⁶ Graphics. Finally if you want to blow things out for the full Ultra RTX experience, you want an Intel Core i7 4770k or equivalent AMD processor, 16GB of RAM, 125GB of storage space and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080.

Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War campaign zipline

(Image credit: Activision)

 Bottom Line 

I enjoyed some fantastic moments in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, both the campaign and the hours that I’ve spent playing multiplayer, but I wouldn’t recommend that most people rush out to buy it right now. 

For me, the campaign is the strongest part of Cold War and recommending that you spend $60 in order to experience the five to seven-hour story mode doesn’t make a lot of sense, even if you choose to take a second pass at it. If, in a couple of months,  a few more maps are added, the rough edges are smoothed out on multiplayer, and the game drops to $40, then, by all means, join the fight.

Sean Riley

Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more.  Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.