Call of Duty Black Ops 2 Benchmarked
Stagnation. It is hard to believe, but Black Ops 2 is the ninth installment of the successful Call of Duty series. The current spin-off wants to score points with its contemporary setting, immersing story, and freedom of play. Read here why the shooter series has not moved forward despite the innovations.
Almost no other action franchise is as successful as Call of Duty. In addition to the various sales records, the publisher, Activision, enjoys a high reputation that transcends the gaming scene. Whether it's newspapers, movies, or TV series: no other first-person shooter is mentioned so often. One could almost speak of a mass phenomenon.
Activision is well aware of the importance of this and provides the community with a new installment every 12 months. The odd volumes are done by Infinity Ward, while the even volumes come from Treyarch. With the title World at War, the US developer was considered the weaker team, not reaching the quality of the CoD founder. Ever since the previous chapter, Treyarch can be considered equal or even better. The reason: Black Ops offered a surprisingly compelling story for the Call of Duty setting.
The newest family offspring should continue this trend and bring some fresh air to the series thanks to innovations. Is the project successful? Our article deals solely with the single player mode.
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The beginning of Black Ops 2 turns out to be rather disappointing. First, we need to support allied troops in a dismal Angola and then rescue kidnapped colleagues. Instead of presenting a reasonably credible story, the mission quickly becomes the usual shoot-out. With weapons ready we mow through a seemingly endless mass of enemies. While this was quite fun in the first Call of Duty volumes, it has become somewhat tiresome by now.
Fortunately, Blacks Ops 2 quickly picks up in the next couple of missions. The game is not limited to a single time period, but rather changes from level to level - from the 70s and 80s to the future (Anno 2070). The several decades of action revolve around the bad guy, Raul Menendez, who wants to provoke a global war between the USA and the People's Republic of China. Because of the control of rare earth metals (essential for modern technology), China becomes a lucrative target.
Typical for CoD, we do not always control the same person in the missions. While in the flashbacks this is Alex Mason, the hero from the first part, in the futuristic passages his son David takes the lead. The story is tied up together by the memories of the (former) soldier Frank Woods and the already mentioned antagonist Raul Menendez.
In general, Black Ops 2 feels relatively story-heavy. In contrast to the older Call of Duty titles, the story does not feel like a foreign body, knitted without love, to the action missions. Innovation: several decisions will affect the course and outcome of the campaign. However, we are not quite happy with the story. Because of the constant leaps in time, the story leaves a somewhat chaotic and overly hasty impression. Although in terms of shooters the story is great, you shouldn't expect any miracles. Black Ops 2 is miles away from the narrative level of L.A. Noire.
In terms of gameplay, there are hardly any surprises. Anyone who has played Call of Duty will feel right at home. We mostly run with a couple of teammates through the diversely designed and well staged levels, enriched by a number of scripts. As the areas have become more open, the player has more freedom of movement than in the previous titles. The new Strike Force missions (we get a limited number of troops and can issue orders - bird's-eye view is available) introduce a bit of tactics to the series.
Apart from a couple of vague driving and airplane passages, the controls are comfortably smooth and neat. Although the sound quality is worse than that of Battlefield 3, it is worthy of a good score. The AI in Black Ops 2 deserves criticism. As we know from other action titles, the enemies are often very stupid and love to run towards our character, as to prove their intelligence.
In order to ensure a certain standard, Treyarch relies on quantity instead of quality, meaning hundreds of enemies. And here lies the problem. Many of the missions and situations are unrealistic and even ridiculous, making it hard to take the title seriously. Although this flaw is common in this genre, some action titles (Borderlands 2 for example) employ a certain self irony, which Call of Duty is painfully lacking. We find it strange to massacre our own village as the one-man army Raul Menendez or to hunt air missiles with an armored horse.
In short: the relatively authentic story is offset by a vastly exaggerated and childish gameplay. Call of Duty should finally decide whether it is a grown-up military title, or a pure fun shooter. We do not find the pseudo middle to be a good solution.
The biggest criticism is the outdated technology. Even at maximum settings the graphics can be described as decent at best. Blurry textures, polygon and detail lacking objects, no physics goodies: the drawbacks list is long. Only the characters and some effects are reasonably good. In comparison: the Frostbite 2 engine by DICE (Battlefield 3, Medal of Honor: Warfighter) sometimes looks better even in low settings. Technically, Call of Duty has not been able to keep up.
Treyarch has also made a mistake with the game design. In the course of the campaign we came across a couple of trial & error passages. Wait a second too long, go a meter too far, or press the wrong button: Bam, mission failed! But the customizable equipment (before each mission you can select among cool upgrades and gadgets) makes up for this.
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To make things easy we test the beginning of the game. In the mission, Pyrrhic Victory, the main character must help out the Angolan troops. As you can see from the video below, the benchmark sequence is about 50 seconds long. The average frame rate is measured with Fraps. We start the recording as soon as the fire and the burning hand appear. When the main character gets on the truck and the mission details are displayed in the left corner, we end the sequence.
In our experience, the frame rate during the benchmark sequence corresponds to the average fps in the whole game, although some passages run significantly slower. 35 fps seem to be the indication of decent playability.
The 18 graphic options are divided into two different menus. In addition to the usual suspects (brightness, shadow quality, texture filtering, etc.) there are a couple of exotics - an FPS counter and a manual frame limiter (Black Ops 1 was limited to 90 fps by default). In terms of anti-aliasing we have FXAA, MSAA, and Nvidia's brand new TXAA. VSync was of course deactivated during the benchmark. Good: any setting can be changed during game play, without requiring a restart.
We are not entirely satisfied with the loading times. Black Ops 2 takes a while to load at the start of the game and a new level, as did the predecessor. With a conventional HDD, we often have to wait a long time. In addition, the title does not seem to be completely stable. When using the GeForce GTX 660 Ti our desktop system struggled with a couple of crashes in the Myanmar 2025 mission (Forceware 306.97 & 310.51). With Windows 8 we also encountered problems with Optimus (incorrect assignment).
Although the graphics have not improved subjectively, the first-person shooter has higher hardware requirements than Modern Warfare 3 and the first Black Ops. Entry-level GPUs, such as Intel's HD Graphics 4000 struggle even with minimum settings (the HD 3000 is too slow according to our benchmark). For medium details and 1366x768 resolution a potent all-round GPU, like the GeForce GT 630M, is required.
To play Black Ops 2 at higher settings and with quality improvements, you would need at least a GeForce GT 640M. Maximum settings and 1920x1080 resolution are only possible with high-end cards (GeForce GTX 660M and above).
During the several hours of our gaming session, a constant thought was there: This title is no breath of fresh air. Despite the fresh and long overdue innovations (Strike Force missions, branched action, individual equipment, etc.) the first-person shooter feels pretty old. Even the great staging does not help. The Call of Duty series is outdated, gameplay and technology-wise.
Mindless action is not what drives the gaming scene forward in the long run. In order for the interactive medium to be established as a cultural asset, the developers need to break new ground sooner or later. Speaking of new: Activision should finally replace the elderly engine, which does not meet the requirements of a triple-A title. Black Ops 2 looks like it could have been released five years ago.
Most of the results are from devices by Schenker Notebooks (mysn.de):
- XMG P502 (Core i7-3610QM, GeForce GTX 660M, GTX 670M, GTX 675M(X), GTX 680M & Radeon HD 7970M, 8 GB RAM)
- XMG A502 (Core i5-3360M, GeForce GT 650M & HD Graphics 4000, 8 GB RAM)
- Xesia M501 (Core i7-2630QM, GeForce GT 630M & HD Graphics 3000, 8 GB RAM)
The above notebooks used the following GPU drivers: Nvidia 310.51 Beta, AMD 12.11 Beta 7, and Intel 126.96.36.19975.