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Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War technical review

The new annual Call of Duty game has arrived courtesy of Treyarch and Activision. With Modern Warfare proving itself to be a technical giant in the games industry, some have been disappointed by the simplicity of Black Ops Cold War‘s visuals. However, it still holds its own in many ways and even outperforms its predecessor in others. This technical review will breakdown Black Ops Cold War and how it holds up compared to Modern Warfare.

I’ll be focusing on the multiplayer, as that is the main game mode that most people play. It is worth noting though that the campaign has sections that may look and be more graphically intensive than multiplayer. This especially applies if you are planning to use either ray tracing or ultra ray tracing.

Black Ops Cold War system requirements

Minimum requirements:

  • OS: Windows 7 64-bit (SP1) Or Windows 10 64-bit (1803 or later)
  • CPU: Intel Core i3-4340 or AMD FX-6300
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 670/GeForce GTX 1650 or AMD Radeon HD 7950
  • RAM: 8GB
  • HDD: Multiplayer only – 35GB HD space, All game modes: 82GB HD space

Recommended requirements:

  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit (latest service pack)
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-2500k or AMD Ryzen R5 1600x
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970/GTX 1660 Super or AMD Radeon R9 390/RX 580
  • RAM: 12GB
  • HDD: 82GB HD space

Recommended requirements (RTX enabled):

  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit (latest service pack)
  • CPU: Intel Core i7-8770k or AMD Ryzen 1800k
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070
  • RAM: 16GB RAM
  • HDD: 82GB HD space

Recommended requirements (Ultra RTX enabled):

  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit (latest service pack)
  • CPU: Intel Core i7-4770k or AMD equivalent
  • GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080
  • RAM: 16GB RAM
  • HDD: 82GB HD space

Author’s specifications:

  • Operating system: Windows 10 (64-bit)
  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 1600 Six-Core 3.49 GHz
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060
  • RAM: 16GB RAM
  • Storage: Samsung T5 500 GB SSD

These specifications aren’t overly demanding for a modern AAA release, but there is a caveat. The recommended specs provided by Activision will only net you 60 FPS at medium settings, 1080p. PC Gamers looking to take advantage of their higher refresh rate monitors will instead require something in the realms of a GTX 1080 or RX Vega 64. And although Black Ops Cold War is playable with just 12GB RAM, I’d heavily recommend getting 16GB instead, especially if you plan to play the upcoming Warzone expansion, which will likely be even more demanding.

Audio settings

The audio settings are as expected with separate sliders for music, sound effects, dialogue, and cinematics. These impact single-player more so than multiplayer as dialogue and cinematics are limited outside of the campaign. Anyone using a proper headset should opt for either high boost or super bass boost. Try out both and see which works best for you. The main advantage of these presets is that it helps when trying to hear enemy footsteps. Otherwise, if you’re using speakers instead, I’d recommend either high boost or the default Treyarch mix.

Display settings

Below you can see the general display settings available in Black Ops Cold War. For the most part, these are about as standard as they get. As you’d expect, there’s native support for higher resolutions, refresh rates and field of views. Nvidia users can make the most out of V-Sync if they wish, although this is only recommended if using a 60Hz monitor. Any colorblind players will be thrilled to see the new colorblind options that allow you to manually select the color of U.I elements. This is a significant improvement over Modern Warfare‘s version, which didn’t function as intended.

Black Ops Cold War General Settings

The stand out option here is Nvidia Reflex Low Latency. This wasn’t available in Modern Warfare and is a generally uncommon setting in even most modern AAA games. The brief breakdown of what it does is as follows. Compatible graphics cards can figure out how much render latency there is in your system. When enabled, this setting attempts to eliminate the majority of that render latency. How important this is for you will vary based on how you plan to enjoy Black Ops Cold War. My testing suggests that having this setting turned on will cut down system latency by roughly 40% at 1440p. Higher resolutions such as 1440p and 4K benefit from this setting more than 1080p.

Graphic settings

Black Ops Cold War‘s graphics settings are divided into four categories: details and textures, shadow and lighting, ray tracing, and post-processing effects. The common options such as texture quality, shadow quality, and effect quality are all covered. Ray tracing is divided into sun shadows, local shadows, and ambient occlusion, letting you specify how you want it to look. As a general rule, ray tracing on low or medium doesn’t do all that much so unless your system can manage either high or ultra, it’s probably not worth the steep performance hit. Even then, ray tracing is a better option for a single-player playthrough than competitive multiplayer.

Black Ops Cold War Graphics Settings

The accompanying images on the right of each setting provide a guideline as to what to expect. However, if you really want to figure out the best settings for your system it will require some trial and error. These images, while somewhat useful, don’t provide enough information on their own. Instead, you’ll want to jump into a private match and tweak your settings from there.

Performance comparison

For this segment, I ran a custom free-for-all on Moscow with no bots. Between each game, I switched my settings from low to medium to high and then finally ultra. There are no official presets in Black Ops Cold War, so I did my best to recreate my own presets that act similarly

Black Ops Cold War Low Preset

1440p, Low settings

Black Ops Cold War Medium Preset

1440p, Medium Settings

Black Ops Cold War High Preset

1440p, High Settings

Black Ops Cold War Ultra Preset

1440p, Ultra Settings

Black Ops Cold War Low 1080p

1080p, Low Settings

Black Ops Cold War High 1080p

1080p, High Settings

For frame rates, they don’t vary as greatly as you’d expect. My RTX 2060 manages an average of 130 FPS with a peak of 170 FPS on low, 1080p. While on high 1440p, I was still managing an average FPS of 90 and a peak of 123. There are some inconsistencies present but anyone with a decent rig should expect respectable frame rates for the most part. The optimization on high-end cards isn’t incredible and many users have been complaining on Reddit about this. This issue appears to be more noticeable on the newer Nvidia 3000 series of cards.

Shadow Quality

The shadow quality changes drastically between low and medium but beyond that, the upgrade is only marginal. Also, if you want your shadows to move in response to surrounding assets and environmental details, you’ll need to enable dynamic shadows.

Shadows Low

Low shadow quality

Shadows Medium

Medium shadow quality

Shadows High

High shadow quality

Shadows Ultra

Ultra shadow quality

Special effects quality

From my testing for this technical review, I believe special effects impact two things in Black Ops Cold War. The quality of smoke and the visual fidelity of flames. This doesn’t come into play too often but having this setting cranked up does make your Molotov cocktails and smoke grenades look nicer. There are a select few areas that feature torches or campfires that benefit from this too.

Special Effects Medium Black Ops Cold War

Medium special effects

Special Effects High Black Ops Cold War

High special effects

Verdict

Black Ops Cold War is a technically inferior game to Modern Warfare. This isn’t surprising as it runs on an older engine as a result of the whole Sledgehammer Games fiasco. Treyarch had to pick up the slack and work with what they had. I have no doubt that COVID has hardly helped either. Considering all of these trials Treyarch has had to overcome, I think Black Ops Cold War is impressive. Its visuals may be simpler than Modern Warfare‘s but that also means that the visibility is much better. This is especially noticeable on large scale modes such as Dirty Bomb.

The simpler visuals make Black Ops Cold War easier to play on less powerful machines. The exception to this is the Zombies game mode which can get demanding due to the number of models on screen at once. But both single-player and multiplayer run well and don’t suffer from any frame drops, freezing, or skipping. So even if Black Ops Cold War does fall short of its big brother, it still delivers an impressive enough AAA performance fitting of the Call of Duty name.

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