At midnight last night Black Ops 2 launched in the UK and, as my shaky adrenaline-wracked hands can attest, I’ve been playing it solidly to give you a few of my first impressions. This isn’t a review, though a longer piece about my thoughts on the game will be coming later in the week, this is more of a technical overview of how Treyarch’s latest runs on our fine machines.
In short, exceedingly well. I’ve only played the multiplayer so far but from booting the game to playing in a match takes less than a minute. If you’re looking for a straightforward Team Deathmatch, matchmaking will drop you in a server in mere seconds. No doubt it helps that, being launch day, the servers are full of players all in a similar level bracket, but the actual connection speed is still extremely good; comparatively, it takes me a good two minutes to get into a round of Battlefield 3 – what with Battlelog being separated out from the game client.
The boot speed really plays into Black Ops’ hand, too, because with rounds often lasting less than ten minutes it’s possible to play a round while you wait for your tea to brew.
When you start moving to the less played modes the waiting time increases. This is mostly inconsequential, a few extra seconds usually. Though one mode which took a while to get into a game with was League Play. It doesn’t seem to use your level to create teams, instead opting for some kind of black box wizardry to match you up with friends and foes, whatever the case I was queuing for about a minute before both teams were fully stocked with players.
A minute is by no means a long time to wait, it was just a little surprising in comparison to the speed of Team Deathmatch.
Now I’m running the game on six year old GPU, Nvidia’s 8800gtx, so it’s no longer the sharpest card in the papercut clinic’s testing facility but even with this aged component I’m able to have the game on maximum settings – with a resolution of 1440 x 900 – with only a little slow down. And considering the IW Engine – which all the Call of Duty games since 2005’s Call of Duty 2 have been made in – is now almost eight years old it’s looking impressively fresh.
It’s all down to the lighting.
With this sequel Treyarch have brought in a number of new effects, such as High Dynamic Range ( which mimics the way your eyes are overwhelmed by brightness when they move from a dark place to a light place), lens flare effects, and bounce lighting. These effects work to make you feel as though you inhabit the map: they all work based on your viewpoint and are sparked by what you’re looking at and the angle you’re looking from. In comparison, static lighting is generally easy to spot, as you walk about the level it doesn’t change, no matter which angle you view a scene from, even if you obscure a light source. So, in Black Ops 2, with HDR and bounce lighting in play, you’re rarely viewing a scene without some form of prettying dynamic lighting effect. It keeps the levels lively.
While the lighting does work to obscure some of the game’s visual weaknesses that doesn’t mean they aren’t still there if you look for them.
Walls and floors use simple textures:
Compare the low detail of the ground and walls to the much higher quality player model.
Also, there are also signs of where the rendering of level geometry has beenoptimized, making objects in the middle distance appear with jagged lines:
Compare the jagged lines I’ve circled to the clean diagonal of the metal grill on the bottom left.
It’s not something that will detract from your play of the game at all but it does mark a difference between Activision’s franchise and EA’s Battlefield series.
One area I can’t find any fault with is the sound. I’m playing Black Ops 2 with a surround sound headset and it’s surprising how much about your surroundings you can tell from the noise made by your footsteps. Every map is alive with texture, with every surface making a different noise based off the material it represents. More than that though, each sound is modulated by the acoustics of the environment, either dampened or echoed by the size of the space and, again, the material of the room.
The guns, too, sound excellent. Reloading the submachine guns conveys the lightness of the metal they’re made with while the light machine guns have a heavier more rugged sense to them. The foley team have created something really special in Black Ops 2.
Like I said in the lead in, this is a brief look at my early impressions of the technical side of Black Ops 2. There’ll no doubt be more on this later in the week.