Hundreds of millions of dollars later, I suppose it’s a bit silly to do a review of Call of Duty: Black Ops now! It’s just that there is so much to say about this game, it would be criminal to let this pass. More than that, it’s a major brand name that is promoting itself as being stereoscopic 3D compatible on PC and console.
Unless you have been living under a rock, the Call of Duty (COD) franchise is a tried and true mix of first person shooter action, thrilling vehicle rides, and tense theatrics. Starting out as a World War II shooter, Call of Duty branched out into battlefronts in all ages and all regions. Call of Duty: Black Ops continues the tradition with a story of Cold War espionage.
General Game Review
Black Ops is a sexy title for good reason: it’s artistically stunning, the story is well crafted, and it features A-list Hollywood actors who would normally be limited to blockbuster movies. Sam Worthington (Avatar), Ed Harris, Gary Oldman (Batman), Ice Cube, and more all lend their voices and reputations to the title. While everybody knows it (or should know it), video games are big (huge) business, and Black Ops continues to prove it.
With a hallucinogenic string of numbers flashing in the background, you are Alex Mason (Worthington), an operative who is strapped and trapped in a cold war interrogation room. Facing a barrage of disguised voices and intrusive questions, the interrogation room is the catalyst that moves the story along and transitions from one mission to the next.
Black Ops plays out like a mix of James Bond espionage and battlefield mayhem. In Assassin’s Creed style, that string of numbers could be the key to preventing (or causing) world destruction. A 1940’s WMD made of really, really bad gas (Project Nova) is on the loose, and the adventure is figuring out who the good and bad guys really are, and how you got into that chair in the first place!
Starting as a teaser on the streets of Cuba, Black Ops theaters of war include everything from a soviet prison to the deep jungles of Vietnam. While you can’t help but be impressed by the sheer diversity of environments and world locations, it’s the clear effort to make each level as authentic and artistically interesting as possible that makes this title memorable. When you consider that the single player campaign on PC is in DX9, it’s even more impressive.
As a first person shooter, Call of Duty: Black Ops continues the tradition of its predecessors of putting a gun in your hand and giving easy access to something different or better from whatever is lying around. You will find some cool stuff this time around, though. Explosive crossbows, night vision crosshairs, and melee knives are par for the course.
Black Ops also did a great job with the vehicle rides. Cuba’s thirty second cab ride teaser was small potatoes compared to the turret gun chases, helicopter dogfights, gunboat blowups, and more. It was a real plus to see more ride features in the game because it helps break up the monotony of a strict first person shooter.
For example, there is a scene where you blow stuff up while riding a gunboat in Vietnam – all to the song “Sympathy For the Devil” by The Rolling Stones. Lots of fun, though I’m guessing it was a really big cheque that got The Rolling Stones to agree to this use of their music. What’s next? COD: South Africa to the tunes of U2? Just kidding, just kidding (or not?)!
Ok, this is the part of the review where we delicately walk into uncomfortable territory. There are some thinly buried caveats that parents need to be aware of.
Activision, Treyarch…I love your work. Really, I do! I’m not bothered by the violence. I’ve played a lot of video games, I love first person shooters, and I’ve seen more than my share of exploding heads and parted limbs. I have no problem with it. If a game is marked 18+, it’s all fair game as far as I’m concerned.
However, while Black Ops exemplifies some of the best aspects of FPS gaming, I don’t know why the producers thought it necessary to add such disturbing and twisted segments to the game. It’s not the nature of Black Ops’ violence that troubles me, it’s that you have no choice but to partake in it.
For example, there is a scene where you are interrogating someone and making him chew on broken window glass. Violent? Yes. Over the edge? Not yet. To continue the scene, you’re the one who has to press the mouse button to punch him in the jaw to make him lodge the glass in his palette…twice.
In another scene, you have to choke someone to death. Do you just press a mouse key? Heck no! That would be too easy! Instead, you have to press the “F” key as fast as you can so you can successfully strangle the man to death to complete the level.
What is really funny is towards the beginning of the game, after you put a bullet in Fidel Castro’s head, his lady friend picks up a machine gun to defend herself (whom you also kill). Your character then shares some dialogue about how he can’t get over why she would try to defend someone like Castro – like you have some kind of ethics standard of your own. The whole thing is very twisted, don’t you think?
COD: Black Ops Commercial
The Black Ops marketing campaign, which doesn’t even hint at the story, demonstrates that it’s the fun that sells units, not the new heights taken to appeal to the jailed sadists of the world.
To put things in perspective, I’m talking about all of 3% of an otherwise well crafted game, and there is a graphic violence option available to help tone things down.
Ok, now to answer the question that is on everyone’s mind, how is Call of Duty: Black Ops in stereoscopic 3D?
Nvidia Stereoscopic 3D Findings
AMD Phenom X4 9850 Black Edition Quad Core Processor 2.5Ghz Patriot Extreme Viper PC2-8500 4GB RAM EVGA GTX580 Windows 7 64 Bit NVIDIA GeForce 3D Vision / Acer GD235HZ NVIDIA 262.99 Stereo Driver
Maingear X-Cube Intel Core I7 Processor 2.66GHZ 6GB RAM GTX 470, GTX 275 (PhysX) Windows 7 64 Bit NVIDIA 262.99 Stereo Driver Panasonic Viera VT20 3D HDTV
The Call of Duty franchise tends to perform reasonably well in stereoscopic 3D. In fact, my first wow moment was with Call of Duty 2 – you can’t beat a 3D tank ride!
On the positive side, there were several elements that Activision did properly. First, most of the crosshairs were rendered in stereoscopic 3D, so an additional laser sight was unnecessary. I also liked that you didn’t need to reduce the game’s graphics settings so you can maintain maximum image quality in stereoscopic 3D mode. There were some performance hiccups even on our GTX580, and we think this may have to do more with a bottlenecked CPU than anything else.
We have tested similar games on the Nvidia system (e.g. Battlefield Bad Company 2), and they were out of this world. Relative to other FPS games with Nvidia’s stamp of approval, The Call of Duty: Black Ops 3D experience was too modest with little to no out of screen effects. This game has all the elements to be thrilling in 3D, and they just weren’t taken advantage of.
The main problem is that the convergence controls are locked out. There is an option in the COD config file to reactivate convergence controls, but when you play around with them, it creates a lot of visual problems that aren’t worth struggling with – better to stick with what was intended.
If you are gaming with the 3DTV Play software, I recommend holding off until a future driver release is available. There is an anomaly that cuts the screen in half vertically with a clipped graphics anomaly, and the game is largely unplayable.
The Nvidia camp has a lot going for it with its nearly anomaly-free experience. We would like to see this game retested with more convergence control.
DDD Stereoscopic 3D Findings
AMD Phenom X4 9850 Black Edition Quad Core Processor 2.5Ghz Patriot Extreme Viper PC2-8500 4GB RAM EVGA GTX580 Windows 7 64 Bit Zalman 24” 3D Monitor Nvidia 262.99 display driver TriDef Experience 3.0.7
We were very pleased with DDD’s implementation of Call of Duty: Black Ops because their drivers offer nearly complete flexibility over the game’s visual experience. When walking through the jungles, twigs and branches will come out of the screen. Characters’ noses will protrude in front of the display, and electrical sparks and debris will fly out. These are the effects that make 3D gaming fun!
While some have mixed opinions about this, you can also set it up so the gun goes deep into the scene rather than hanging in front of it – even with a combined depth and pop-out experience.
While you can game with all the graphics settings turn on, the DDD’s Tridef Ignition drivers turn dynamic shadows off. So while you will see some shadowing during the game, you won’t see any around characters’ feet. It’s a bit of a loss for sure, but the 3D flexibility is far more important.
I think DDD’s crosshair implementation needs a little more work with this game. Most in-game crosshairs are accurate while others need to be mixed with DDD’s laser sight. Everything normally works properly, but there are occasions where the two don’t balance quite right. We aren’t counting this against DDD because they are rare instances, but DDD should pay more attention to them in a future driver update.
Be sure to turn the auto-convergence features off in the DDD driver as they are unnecessary and reduce performance.
iZ3D Stereoscopic 3D Findings
AMD Phenom X4 9850 Black Edition Quad Core Processor 2.5Ghz Patriot Extreme Viper PC2-8500 4GB RAM EVGA GTX580 Windows 7 64 Bit Zalman 24” 3D Monitor Nvidia 262.99 display driver iZ3D 1.12 Stereo Drivers
Maingear X-Cube Intel Core I7 Processor 2.66GHZ 6GB RAM GTX 470, GTX 275 (PhysX) Windows 7 64 Bit Panasonic Viera VT20 Nvidia 262.99 display driver iZ3D 1.12 Stereo Drivers
When we informed iZ3D that we were getting Black Ops tested, we were told that it only required dynamic shadows to be turned off and that a profile was unnecessary. I’m afraid this isn’t true.
The first problem was with the 3D HDTV and side by side output. This is partially our fault for not following up with iZ3D further to get the bug fixed, but basically the driver wouldn’t run at all and crash to desktop every time we tried to run the game.
The Zalman had more luck and let us play the game, but the anomalies are too numerous to count – and the game is really unplayable. When iZ3D comes up with a proper profile for this title, we can have this review properly updated.
Sony PlayStation 3 Findings
Sony PlayStation 3 Panasonic Viera VT20
And so begins our first console S-3D gaming review! Special thanks to Sony for making arrangements with Activision to get us a copy of the game.
The most important thing that Call of Duty: Black Ops proves is that complex stereoscopic 3D gaming is possible on modern console. I managed to take some screenshots with my 3D camera, and while there are some special effects missing, most of it is comparable to the PC equivalent. In fact, the console version ran smoother than the S-3D PC versions, which was a plus. To be fair, Black Ops was rendered at 1280X720 instead of our PC’s 1920X1080P - but this reduced resolution is very standard for console.
I was very happy to see that Black Ops was rendered in proper stereoscopic 3D with a complete left and right camera view, instead of a simple 2D+depth add-on feature. As far as I can tell, all the crosshairs worked properly, and I couldn’t spot any obvious anomalies. It probably helped that this was native 3D support versus a driver translation.
That said, while Black Ops was technically compliant, the 3D implementation could have been better. Similar to Nvidia’s GeForce 3D Vision solution, the PS3 output was very flat and modest. I really would have liked to see some controls for separation and convergence because that would have made a world of difference. The fact that 3D HDTVs come in different sizes is justification for this functionality.
Call of Duty: Black Ops continues the fun of its predecessors, and is a worthy purchase this holiday season. COD has impressive graphics quality on both PC and PlayStation 3 platforms, and is a memorable title. Unfortunately, each release from the franchise appears to be looking for creative ways to be more violent than the last, and parents need to take this into account.
Call of Duty: Black Ops did a great job of helping build awareness for stereoscopic 3D gaming, though it isn’t the one-two punch that will seal the future for this industry. DDD’s implementation came out on top with the most visual flexibility, and while Nvidia’s result was technically compliant, it could use a lot more pizzazz. iZ3D’s COD:Black Ops support is non-existant, and we hope a future driver release will resolve this.
The implementation on PlayStation 3 was decent, and can probably be improved upon with a patch. To put this title on top, we’d like to see separation and convergence controls so advanced gamers can get a more breathtaking 3D experience.
Game Play 8.5/10
Immersive Nature 8/10
How Memorable is This Game 8/10
Stereoscopic Effectiveness Nvidia 8.5/10
Stereoscopic Effectiveness DDD 8.5/10
Stereoscopic Effectiveness iZ3D NA
Stereoscopic Effectiveness Sony PS3 7.5/10 (NOTE: This score is subjective and is not calibrated by M3GA)