Call Of Duty: Black Ops II: Black To The Future
Just two weeks have passed since Medal Of Honor Warfighter was released (we covered that title's performance in Medal Of Honor Warfighter Performance, Benchmarked). Now, Call of Duty: Black Ops II is available as well.
I'll be honest. I wasn't very excited about yet another first-person shooter in the special operations genre. Sometimes, I feel like I've been bludgeoned by a steady stream of Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Medal of Honor sequels. Often, fans are fed cookie-cutter follow-ups intended to cash in on the franchise, but not necessarily do anything for gaming as an experience. And that's why we interviewed a retired Navy SEAL yesterday (Angelini Talks Gaming With DEVGRU Operator Craig Sawyer). We want to see the genre progress. Even the most successful formulas wear out if they're overused.
So, it might surprise you to learn that I really enjoyed this game. I certainly found myself in disbelief. If Call of Duty: Black Ops II taught me anything, it's that a well-executed and cohesive story can refresh a tired genre. The directors, producers, and writers cared about making it work. The pace was good, the plot kept me interested, and the characters developed over time (even the main antagonist). Call of Duty: Black Ops II doesn't take gaming in a new direction, but it's entertaining, which is no small achievement given my jaded perspective of shooters.
Aside from the fact that this is the first Call of Duty title to venture into the future with high-tech weapons, there are no gimmicks. The fantastical equipment almost doesn't even matter. The true star of this game is the narrative and how well it wraps around the player. The story bounces back and forth in time between 2025 and the Vietnam War; each mission's decade (and technology) has surprisingly little impact on the experience.
It's clear that Treyarch worked to keep every level fresh, but each one is woven into the story well, and not distracting like they were in Medal of Honor Warfighter. Many different locations are involved, some of the futuristic missions involve remote-controlled robotics, and there's even a level that plays like an RTS. But most of the game is standard first-person shooter fare (aside from the fact that many of the game's characters are modeled after the recognizable actors that voice them; there's some major talent behind those microphones, which is cool).
Are there downsides tied to such a dramatic plot line? Sure. Immersion suffers at the hands of implausibility. At one point, your avatar is standing on a cliff when the tree beside him gets struck by lightning, nearly dragging you down the mountainside. That's completely ridiculous, of course. But, in the moment, you're more worried about avoiding an impending death. Such over-the-top scenarios help pace the action, but some of them are just too silly. You feel like a character in a Michael Bay movie. Fortunately, even when that happens, you're having more fun than actually watching a Michael Bay movie.
Regardless, our focus at Tom's Hardware is on component performance. So, we didn't spend any time playing around in the multi-player component or the zombie game. We spent the time that we had looking for the most demanding part of the single-player campaign to benchmark, which turns out to be the thick jungle firefight right after the wingsuit base jump in the "Celerium" level.
But before we get there, let's look at the game's image quality.