For Call of Duty fans, developer Treyarch just delivered an early Christmas present when they released Black Ops II this week. As the ninth game in the Call of Duty franchise and a sequel to the 2010 game Black Ops, we hope to see something meaningful new in Black Ops II. We say this because last year's release (Modern Warfare 3) was a bit lacking on PC, and also because the rival franchise Medal of Honor: Warfighter has received mixed, if not bad, reviews overall.
But we might be lucky because Black Ops II is the first game in the Call of Duty franchise to feature future war technology and the first to feature branching storylines that depend on the player's choice. So far, Call of Duty Black Ops II has received mostly positive reviews. Kotaku said, "Black Ops II feels great, especially when it comes to futuristic weapons, yes – but it also makes you think." IGN editor Anthony Gallegos also said the game was "a good example of developing an annualized franchise".
But as always, our main concern from a performance article perspective has to do with the game engine, which has been slow to evolve over the years. Black Ops II was created using the "Black Ops II engine," which was updated from the Black Ops IW 3.0 engine released in 2010. One of the key changes to the game engine is a new technology called "reveal mapping" that improves texture blending by comparing tones between two textures before blending them together.
Lighting has also been improved and now includes HDR lighting, bounce lighting, self-shadowing, overlapping shadows, and various other improvements. On paper, the upgrade also requires moving to the DirectX 11 API for the PC version of the game. This means that PC gamers should enjoy better graphics compared to console versions.
Despite the various improvements to the game engine, the minimum system requirements only require a GeForce 8800 GT 512MB or Radeon HD 4870 512MB (both DirectX 10 GPUs) with an old Core 2 Duo 2.66 GHz or AMD Phenom X3 processor. This means that the game is either very scalable for older systems or, despite the improvements, is not as challenging or visually impressive.
We will test 29 DirectX 11 graphics card configurations from AMD and Nvidia in all price ranges. The latest beta drivers were used for each card. We installed an Intel Core i7-3960X in our test bench to remove CPU bottlenecks that could affect the high-end GPU values.
Just before the arrival of Black Ops II, both AMD and Nvidia released pre-WHQL drivers that claimed to offer improved performance and stability in a number of games. AMD has encountered numerous bug fixes, so we went with the latest beta drivers.
Nvidia has released a new beta driver that addresses certain performance issues with the game. The new beta driver for GeForce 310.54 in Call of Duty: Black Ops II offers up to 26% better performance and offers smooth, glimmer-free graphics with Nvidia TXAA antialiasing.
We used Fraps to measure frame rates during 90 seconds of gameplay footage from Call of Duty Black Ops II's first single player level, Pyrrhic Victory. The test begins with the third Intel, where the player must flee the coast and go into the jungle. The player must defend Woods and Hudson to the extraction point. We found this part of the game to be quite challenging, so we thought it was a good place to start testing.
We tested Call of Duty Black Ops II at three popular desktop display resolutions: 1680 x 1050, 1920 x 1200, and 2560 x 1600, using the maximum quality settings of 4 x MSAA in DX11 mode.