Jon Peddie Blogs

Playing at War

Posted by Jon Peddie on November 28th 2010 | Discuss
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I got Activision's "Call of Duty – Black Ops" (CODBO) and EA's "Medal of Honor" (MOH) a couple of weeks ago, but due to travel schedules didn’t get a chance to try them until late last week, so I’m behind every reviewer in the world, but I've got a few things to say.

I play single person on a PC, on some pretty good, no excellent, equipment.

Underutilized hardware

I ran CODBO first and tried to get it to play in stereovision on my Nvidia 3D Surround Vision system with three 23-inch (1920 x 1080) monitors and dual GTX480 AIBs. This system, when run in extended desktop or 3D Surround Vision gives 5760 x 1080 resolution spread across 60 inches of viewable space – who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that if you had it?

However, Activision doesn’t support it. The best I could get was 4080 x 768 and the aspect ratio was so wrong the characters looked squashed, so I had to settle for single screen 1920 x 1080.

In checking with Nvidia I found that Activision does not support widescreen surround gaming because they think it gives folks a competitive edge. I guess that might be true in group play, but so what in single person? Activision is out to lunch as far as I am concerned (yes, yes, I know, all time top grosser – what do I know?)

The software companies are holding back the industry

I also tried to get it to run in conventional mode (non stereo) at higher resolution on multiple screens but the game does not support those modes either – once again the software developers are not taking advantage of the hardware – here I am with the finest system in the world and I can’t make use of it – the software companies are holding back the industry.

So I played it in stereo at 1920 x 1080, which I have to say, once I got over my indignation, and I could concentrate on the game, the stereo experience was quite enjoyable, the game itself was another matter.

You know the story line so I don’t have to explain that (one of the advantages of being late to review.) My initial reaction was somewhere between disgust and annoyance. You are supposedly being interrogated by the soulless synthesized voice that yells “Remember.” It’s stupid, doesn’t reveal anything of the story. Once in the game, it's immediately apparent that it was ported from the console platforms to the PC: limited graphics, mediocre lighting, and clucky movement. After about an hour I gave up in disgust.
I then fired up Medal of Honor. Stereo? Forgetabout it. The Nvidia stereo control box that comes up in the lower right corner reported, “This application is not rated by Nvidia.” When I tried to play it the ghosting was awful and I couldn’t tune it out, so no stereo for MOH.

MOH game play

Although it didn’t get rave reviews I enjoyed the game. As mentioned I play single shooter and so I didn’t get to experience the troubling Taliban section, now called Opposing Force. (For those who may not know, the multi-player version originally named the bad guys Taliban and players could play either side. People, lots of people, didn't like it so EA opted for the vague, all purpose Opposing Force.)

The game is pretty linear, not open field like "Stalker" and that’s annoying because you have to play a scripted game and there’s such inviting terrain. Also, I think I could have found alternative ways of winning a skirmish. There were a couple of scenes where I tried to keep the enemy at bay while under attack and simply couldn’t. I was not in the right spot at the right time no matter what I tried, so I simply sat down behind a truck and let it play out, shooting the occasional flanker that wandered into my range. After a certain amount of time my bullet-proof AI partners cleaned up the situation and we went on our way.

There are fun things to do in the game. You ride a three-wheeler motorcycle, you get to be the gunner in a helicopter, and the weapons guy behind an unmanned drone. And you get to snipe and engage in limited hand to hand combat.

It’s a story without a beginning or an end. You’re in hell (Afghanistan), you wander around shooting Taliban and Chechens (whose presence Afghanistan isn’t dealt with as a story element, but they’re pretty bad ass.) One of my favorite parts of the game was the song that played at the end while the credits rolled.

The graphics are pretty good, and the game play is good. MOH is based on the Unreal Engine.  It’s an entertaining ten or twelve hours, and I’ll probably go back and play parts of it again. It’s still more entertainment per dollar hour than a movie, and you get to be in it. You also get to keep it.

CODBO game play so far

I’ve gone back to this box-office-smashing epic to give it another chance. I hate the stupid interrogator parts, but the game play is OK. It uses an enhanced World at War engine which is based on the older Call of Duty 4 game engine, so it’s a little dated and it shows, but good enough for the limited hardware in a console. Did I mention how the software developers are holding back the industry?

The game does do single screen stereo well and Nvidia rates it as Excellent. So if I can get over my annoyance with the inane interrogation cuts I might enjoy this block buster that has everyone so excited about - it even got covered in Doonesbury.

If you’re interested in how the game runs on various hardware there’s an excellent in-depth review at: http://www.techspot.com/review/336-cod-black-ops-performance/

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