Examining Call of Duty: Black Ops on PC

By Xav de Matos, Nov 12, 2010 3:30pm PST Although it has sold a record amount of units since launching on November 9, Treyarch's latest stab at the Call of Duty franchise came with its fair share of technical complications.

Of particular note was the game's performance on PC. As our review was focused on the console version of Call of Duty: Black Ops, we felt it was important to examine the PC version and note any issues with the game.

My primary focus is on the online component included in the PC version of the game, which has received the brunt of complaints but I also played some of the game's single-player mode to examine some of the issues users are experiencing there.

For the PC testing, I decided to approach gameplay from two sources: my current, high-end PC and my previous, aged system. This should give you a good indication of how the game plays on both min and max specifications.

Also, because a patch was just released to correct some of the game's online hiccups, I spent a good chunk of the morning playing the game on both machines again. I should also clarify that this is only basic testing to give people a general idea what the experience was like before the patch and today. It isn't a science and is not meant to be a complete technical breakdown.

High Spec Machine Min Spec Machine
Intel Core i7 950 @ 3.07GHz Intel Core 2 Duo @ 2.66GHz
ASUS Rampage III Formula ASUS P5LP-LE
Radeon HD 6870 Radeon HD 4890
Windows 7 Professional 64bit Windows 7 Professional 32bit

Note: Due to previous complications, the min spec machine was reformatted and Windows 7 was reinstalled.

For the test I decided to stick to the same server, replaying Domination on the map Nuketown. Since the map is so small, and Domination is so frantic--with a ton of explosions and kill-streaks being activated--this seems like the best controlled environment. (Note: Server location - Dallas, TX / Ping Av: 53)

Pre-Patch Testing
Framerates on the high spec machine during online play were fairly stellar, with very few hiccups. However--much like Brian mentioned in his feature yesterday--the game had trouble registering some of my shots. Often, kill cams would show me missing shots while the game noted them as landing when I was alive.

On the minimum spec machine, the game was nothing short of nightmarish. Constant lag spikes spoiled any chance of my getting enjoyment out of online play.

To get a sense of context for how the minimum spec machine stacked up, I loaded up other games I had in my collection. On minimum specs, shooters of similar visual quality ran smoothly. With Black Ops, though, CPU and GPU temps were extremely high as the system struggled to keep pace with the game. For the barest settings that seemed to indicate something not quite right by comparison.

Also notable was my kill/death ratio: on the min spec machine it was abysmal, while on the high spec box it was much more respectable. Admittedly, I'm not an expert player, so take from that what you can.

Single-player was a different nightmare. This "stutter" problem many report noticing appears to be directly tied to the CPU being maxed out--one of the core issues the game had at launch with dual and some quad processors--resulting in a freeze in the action.

While this test was specific to one server it should be noted that actually connecting to games before the patch was extremely difficult.

Post Patch Testing
The best thing I can say about Black Ops after the patch is that the server browser now functions correctly and connections actually hold. This was the same on both machines.

The max spec machine still ran smoothly after the patch geared toward dual and quad core systems. I saw less questionable replays from the kill cam. Single-player continued to perform well on my new system.

The min spec machine performed slightly better in some cases during online matches; however, the game tended to slow to a crawl as the game progressed and more action was thrown onto the screen. It's not as bad as a slideshow anymore but sometimes kicks into a weird flip-book cycle, which basically translates to a faster slideshow in some spots.

Single-player, however, still hangs for me on my old machine. Issues are reduced as I'm playing, but when the game takes control of the camera (and still in cinematics) frequent pauses occurred.

On the subject of lag spikes, a poster on the FPS Admin forums claims that the game continues to have some issues due to real-time stat streaming. The solution, according to the poster, is to set your game's priority to high in Task Manager. Also, it is noted that a high upstream helps. I'm connected to cable internet with a 50 Mbps downstream and a 2 Mbps upstream.

What Others Are Saying
Before the patch, I asked the Shack community about their bad experiences. In one thread, we had a number of users mention problems. On the Steam forums, things were far worse.

The core complaint is that no amount of adjusting the settings seems to keep the game from pushing the CPU to its max on hardware that meets the requirements, causing stutters in framerate. The online component also drew fire, particularly for dedicated servers that would see lag spikes even with very low ping. As performance of the game engine was improved with the patch, it appears that these issues are directly tied to the game's net code.

As the problems were happening, it was pretty quiet at Activision and Treyarch. We asked for a comment but received no word back; however, the patch was probably the response they were prepping.

Final Thoughts
It's become increasingly apparent that multiplatform games, when released on PC, get scaled back to match the console version. As I'm speaking specifically to the game's launch, a lot of the PC-centric content that found its way back into Black Ops after having been omitted in its predecessor, Modern Warfare 2, didn't work. Server lists wouldn't update correctly, for example, and the game didn't scale well for a variety of PCs; though, many people running i5 or i7 processor-based systems say they have no issue at all.

I should also note that, for me, the Theater mode does not work at all (pre or post patch); however, Brian says that the feature works just fine on his machine. According to both machines I used for this test, I had no recent games to pull video from. I'm not entirely sure what the issue is, as it works fine for me on console. Additionally, and this has nothing to do with any particular version or the game itself, the Call of Duty website is broken. This is why I could not provide any detailed per game breakdown--I wasn't aware it was broken until after I had played the games.

Having played Black Ops on PC and Xbox 360, I will say that I feel more comfortable playing it on PC. There are a few reasons for this, but primarily the game just looks better on PC. On console, the single-player component looks great but the multiplayer looks so washed out. Playing the game on the same monitor on console and then on PC using max settings, I just find myself performing better with the clarity the PC version provides.

Now that a fix exists, it's possible that your experience will be much better. My aging machine, though, still had issues with the game--issues which relative to the stated system requirements didn't seem like they should be happening.

As stated in the beginning of this article, this is not meant to be a technical breakdown of the issues Black Ops faces on PC; however, we felt that it was imperative that our community--a PC loving community, mind you--be given some indication of our thoughts on the game's PC version.

It was broken and a supposed fix was released. Your experiences may vary. Now it's just a matter of deciding whether or not that bad taste in your mouth can be cleared away so you can play a $60 game and not a $60 beta test.

Let us know how Call of Duty: Black Ops is working for you after the patch on the PC and consoles in the comments.

[Ed. Note: Originally we incorrectly listed the min spec machine as featuring a PentiumD chipset; however, the rig had been previously upgraded to a Core 2 Duo E6700 Processor at 2.66Ghz. The original listing was based on the PC's default specifications from HP--used to ensure motherboard model accuracy--and accidentally disregarded the upgrade. We apologize for the error.]

Disclosure: This test was completed on a PC version of Call of Duty: Black Ops provided by Activision via Steam.

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57 Threads | 167 Comments
  • ATTENTION PC BLACK OPS USERS: if you're having trouble with the PC version, to the point where the game is unplayable, then I would suggest you try to return the game. I know, the trouble of returning a PC game is pretty bad, and it might not fly; but there's lots of places that will accept the return if you say it is not working, like amazon. Show Activision that the PC version is unplayable in the only way they will understand, their wallets. When they get thousands of returns and demands for money back from retailers, they will listen.

  • Which (pardon the french) ass-tard actually came up with the grand idea to leave the testing of this game for the pc completely out of the loop?
    Exactly, completely out of the loop, except from LAN games. Otherwise the issues couldn't have gotten anywhere near this scale, where even pc's with the recommended specs have the biggest problems ever keeping up.

    No offence, but the PC platform should be equally respected, especially if you want to make well-respected shooters. It's hell easier to compare various 360s to each other and ps3's i know, but don't care.
    There's also plenty of kids owning a PS3 and 360, and their purchase is achieved easy, i know. But that doesnt give you the right to whore a game only to the consoles. (Im just extrapolating the situation, but it's obviously the general direction)

    Point is:
    You're a game-company releasing a title in which it's name has gotten a certain amount of attention, the CoD series. If you can manage to create a multiplayer game that plays well on 360's and PS3s, but that manages to have lag issues where hardware cant even be the issue (I have tested the game on i7's 920 and 960. GTX280, GTX280m and even GTX480m. Paired with up to 100mbit down/ 20mbit up internet and overall direct-server-ping of 10ms or less), then you just have failed.

    The scale, especially at launch day, at which the problems excisted clearly showed that no testing has been done over-the-net for PC.

    So, for the love of anything i hope they can listen to the following suggestion (constructive criticism alert) ;
    Next time, take your head out of your own arse (no offence) and give closed-beta-codes out with pre-purchases. Then you have FREE beta testers, WHOO! (and they need to actually fix their shit, for else everyone will ditch the pre-sale itself.)

    Is it so hard to use a brain, or is it so hard to have it at all? *sigh*
    Game developers managing to miss valuable lessons anyone would've learnt in the first year on game development. That's not even priceless, it's just sad.

    My overall opinion:
    People steadily playing their FPS on PC's like me, don't spend atleast 5 times the cash on a single machine as a console would cost for developers to start slacking when it comes to this platform, actually degrading the playability compared to the way cheaper console. (Don't hate me for preferring a mouse over a controller)

  • Myself and others online have seen frustration at the horrible randomness of spawn points. Its been seen to spawn just 10 feet from an enemy.. Some maps fair better than others at this.. But i'd hate to just try and blame it on map design when we should look at the game design..

    While i can see that random spawns are a way to combat the abomination of spawn camping. I am more preferenced to static spawns, as starting from more familar locations is quicker to get moving. random spawns just take too many seconds to say WTF am I. I've spawned on one side of map to die and get spawned on the other side of the map, just for it to happen again on the next death-- confoozles my sense of orientation. Is spawn protection an option as i still find myself dying within a second or 2 of spawning sometimes despite the random spawn generation.

  • I cant can't join online servers, all the game does is:
    It connects to the server (my friends saw my name i some servers)
    Then it loads the map, and starts saying "Waiting for other players"
    When it have been saysing "waiting for other players for a couple of minuts, i get an error saying "Lost connection to host".

    Does anyone have the same or a similar problem?

    Ive played MW2 and other PC games, which worked fine without any lagg or errors (so i don't belive its my computer) The combat training works okay, but it sometimes goes crazy and gives me a 200 ping.

    So my experience with the game, so far, isnt that great, due to the fact that i cant play online...

  • I am running an Asus P6X58D Premium MB; Core i7 2.4; 8GB DDR3 1600; Ati Radeon 5850; Patriot SSD and have had no issues whatsoever in either SP or MP at full settings. My friend is running a budget PC we put together about a year ago, Duo Core 2.4; 4GB DDR2 800; GeForce 9800gtx and has had to drop everything to bare minimum to play while still getting hiccups. Both of us were able to play MW2 on highest settings. I don't know what Treyarch has done on Bops; but they have really hurt themselves with those that can't afford to use the latest and greatest hardware which is a lot of the PC gaming community.

  • Black Ops is really unoptimized on PC.

    When I started singleplayer for first time (12 Nov 2010, after patch), FPS was 15-20, but after some time it normalized, and singleplayer became completely playable.

    Multiplayer is a different story. It's very hard to play due to LAGS and LOW FPS at SAME TIME. Through ping is mostly 60-70, it lags very strongly. In Source engine games (Counter-Strike: Source, Team Fortress 2) the 60 ping is same as 5 ping, and in Call of Duty: World at War (!) even 150 ping gives smooth gameplay. In Black Ops, it takes one second to just register knife slash. When I got my first Hind (it was very hard), the multiplayer became completely unplayable - ping raised from 100 to 160, entire server lagged and I got only 1 kill. It was very hard to move Hind 128 inches forward! I got only 1 kill.

    The lags are not only problems in multiplayer. FPS is low even on lowest graphics settings and even in Combat Training, and game looks like turn-based strategy. On my PC Modern Warfare 2 runs at 60-100 FPS even on highest settings, while Black Ops, which runs on modified earlier version of game engine, can't accumulate even 30 FPS.

    PC specifications are: Intel Core 2 Duo E4600 2.4Mhz, DDR2 2Gb (ignore this number, as I said, MW2 runs awesome), NVIDIA GTS 250 1Gb RAM, 1Tb ROM. DirectX applications running are Steam overlay and Xfire.

  • What about all the other broken stuff on the PC version?

    There is a bug list of the official black ops forums which is a mile long! All these have been raised by members of the public too. No comments from Treyarch at all. Maybe they are too busy counting all their money.

    Then there is the broken 'Play with your friends' ... Or lack of feature shouldnI say! It just doesn't work. The friends tab in the browser constantly refuses to show me which servers my friends are on. There is no way to form a party and then play a game with your buddy on the same team. It's worse than MW2 .... It really is.

    I personally feel like Ive been robbed. I remember world at war, treyarchs last PC game... And it was better than this. Buyer beware.