Call of Duty: Black Ops returns the franchise to competent multiplayer gameplay with the restoration of dedicated servers, console commands and a server browser. It also includes numerous excellent maps with great design and much better balance in terms of weaponry and killstreaks than Modern Warfare 2. By all rights it should be a halfway decent multiplayer game with a fairly competent singleplayer campaign right now.
But that would be discounting Treyarch’s incredible ability to screw up any PC game they develop – a feat they’ve managed to pull off yet again with Black Ops. The game is getting rave reviews across the globe based on review copies that do not represent the final product. Meanwhile all the gamers who actually bought a copy are experiencing a game riddled with performance issues, bugs and poorly implemented features that are a testament to Activision/Treyarch’s utter and complete lack of QA for PC releases.
Some of you may recall how gamers were warned away from Elemental: War of Magic a few months back. That game was released in much better state than Call of Duty: Black Ops – and I’ve played both – and its developers actually immediately sat down to patching and keeping the community in the loop. The only official notice from Activision/Treyarch has been that they’re aware of the fact that the game is broken all to hell on PC.
So consider this to be your ‘early warning’: do not buy Call of Duty: Black Ops on PC until its countless problems are resolved! What problems would those be? Read on for the full lowdown.
The worst oversight has to be the configuration file mix-up that causes the framerate to drop dramatically in both multiplayer and singleplayer. Treyarch managed to ship the game with a configuration file that tells it to use a single-core processor and multiple video cards by default. That’s a setup no one has, because Black Ops requires a dual core processor in its minimum system specifications! At least this problem can be fixed on the user end by editing the configuration files (found in C:/Program Files/Steam/steamapps/common/call of duty black ops/players) in notepad. Search (Ctrl + F) for multi and set multiGpu to 0 and multithreaded_device to 1.
Ridiculous oversights aside there is another, even more serious, problem hampering the game on the multiplayer end. Steam ramps up its processor utilization until the processor starts hitting 100% repeatedly which, combined with more wrong values in configuration files for both clients (max_packets too low) and servers (seta rate too low), causes massive stuttering in multiplayer games. There are a number of tweaks to greatly reduce the stuttering, which I’ll post separately after this article, but there’s no singular functional solution and there doesn’t appear to be anyone who is not affected by this problem.
Another, less common, problem is that of being unable to connect to the master servers. Numerous gamers are reporting that they can’t connect to the multiplayer servers at all, despite having all firewalls turned off, all ports opened and being able to play Modern Warfare 2 just fine. It can’t be attributed to the load placed on the master servers either, because most people connect just fine and I’ve helped a friend test it at 2 AM when the load on the servers was fairly low at only 50.000 players.
There are also numerous problems with the way the friends system is set up. It doesn’t support the Steam friends system despite being a Steamworks game, so it’s impossible to send invites to gamers who aren’t in-game and you can’t join a friend in their current multiplayer game from the Steam friends menu. There is an in-game friends system that detects all your Steam friends, but this is also broken because it doesn’t even bother to filter out the friends that don’t own Black Ops ensuring a ridiculously long list that is impossible to sort or search through!
It’s also impossible to play alongside friends, because there is no party system in place and it’s impossible to change teams on ranked servers. Anyone you invite to your game will randomly be placed in the team with fewer players as opposed to your own team. The friends menu is also hidden down in a corner in ridiculously unobtrusive lettering, clearly illustrating just how much Treyarch wants you to play with friends: not at all. As a result, Black Ops is actually a lot less fun to play with friends than Modern Warfare 2.
Not to mention the atrocious menu system that has nifty left and right arrows for any setting that can be changed, but only scrolls to the right even when pressing the left arrow!
It also seems that Treyarch has pulled several dick moves on people who purchased dedicated servers for Black Ops. The most important one being the fact that there’s no way to actually connect to a server by IP, because the connect <IP> command is not even supported! This means that the only way to join your own dedicated server is to try and find it in the horribly broken server browser that only shows about 800 servers out of 7000 and doesn’t remember your favorites.
And then there’s also the fact that dedicated servers apparently cannot be used to host wager matches or zombie co-op, which was conveniently only announced after the game was released and dedicated server pre-orders ended. This also results in there being only 18 wager match servers with 6 slots each, which is woefully insufficient for 80.000 concurrent players.
There are also numerous issues with server load and bugs in the dedicated server package. The most problematic being the outdated list of servers in the server browser, resulting in a lot of hits that are actually full or result in infinite “connecting” loops. The friends list is similarly outdated to the point where it took nearly two hours before a friend I was talking to on TeamSpeak actually registered as “in-game” in the Black Ops friends menu. Meanwhile most of the official Treyarch servers are stuck at a bug where the server doesn’t progress beyond the scoreboard to the next map.
Call of Duty: Black Ops is one game that you’ll want to hold out on if you haven’t purchased it already. It may get better with time, but there’s quite a bit of patching to do before it gets to a decently playable state. Those who’ve been unfortunate enough to already waste their money can look back here in a bit for a tweak guide to greatly improve performance and reduce stuttering, but even that will not completely eliminate these problems.