We take Black Ops 3 for a ride on the PS4, Xbox One and PC.
Call of Duty is one of the few major video game franchises that still has a presence on last gen consoles. Despite being one of the most successful franchises in the games industry, it’s rather disappointing to see Activision not focusing exclusively on current gen consoles but instead also opting for a last gen release. Don’t get us wrong, Black Ops 3 still looks good on current gen consoles but one has to sit back and wonder how much is Activision making off of that last gen base and what kind of compromises they are doing to achieve their deadlines.
Talking about compromises, it seems that Call of Duty Black Ops 3 indeed made some on current gen consoles. When you are targeting five different platforms and are basically using the same modified engine for a number of years, optimization hiccups will eventually start kicking in. And this is precisely what is happening with Black Ops 3. The first sacrifice that Treyarch made is the pixel rendering solution on the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game. The game runs at a dynamic resolution on the Xbox One and much to our surprise, the PS4 as well. In the several analyses that we have conducted throughout 2015, it seems that Call of Duty Black Ops 3 is the first ever game on the PS4 to run at a dynamic resolution. Talking about specific numbers, the PS4 resolution scales down from 1920 X 1080 to 1360 X 1080 whereas the Xbox One version jumps down from 1600 X 900 to 1280 X 900. This is a step back for the series since Advanced Warfare managed to run at a native 1080p resolution on the PS4.
Furthermore, performance is a mix bag on the consoles. The game tries to target 60 frames per second but unlike Halo 5: Guardians, the experience is not a locked one. Frequent drops along with v-sync engaged result into screen tearing. For some odd reason, the static scenes such as the player entering a vehicle or cutscenes are rendered in 30fps. This results into a rather jarring experience since the switch from 30 to 60fps is almost instantaneous. There is nothing much going on during these sequences so we wonder why these are not running at 60 frames per second to begin with.
Head to head comparison between PS4, Xbox One and PC versions of Call of Duty Black Ops 3. If possible, select 1080p and 60fps option for best possible video playback quality.
We also wanted to talk a bit about the PC version of the game. We have been hearing reports of severe memory management issues with the game’s engine. Call of Duty Black Ops 3 is apparently eating up all the memory [up to 16 GB] when maxed out! Even if you tone it down to medium or high settings it will eat up your entire 8 gigs of memory as well. This has resulted into several issues suchas crashes and freezes. Furthermore, there also reports of the game eating up 12 gigs on memory on Nvidia’s Titan GPUs. This is simply unacceptable. For players who are using the i5 range of CPU processors, they need to modify their configuration file so that the game uses only two threads instead of four. This should resolve any blue screen of death issues that you may encounter. Personally speaking, we did not experience any such issues but we do know that they exist. What we did experienced was constant frame rate drops specially where there are a lot of volumetric effects such as water in the nearby environment. The water simulation seems to be a big CPU pusher draining down performance thereby deteriorating performance and reducing frames.
Call of Duty Black Ops 3, just like Advanced Warfare, features a plethora of PC settings ranging from enhanced ambient occlusion [resulting into softer shadows], motion blur, AA options and texture quality. The texture quality on consoles are equivalent to the high settings found on the PC. Shadow dithering is observed but it’s not that bad as we first made it out to be. For the most part, the console versions use ambient occlusion resulting into sharper shadow edges, especially in cutscenes.
We witnessed a few asset streaming issues on the Xbox One and PC versions wherein objects such as a vehicle will load a tad later compared to the PS4 build. We are not sure whether this happens on the PS4 but we did not encounter any such issues while playing. The console and the PC versions use a physical based deferred renderer allowing the materials to react dynamically according to the light sources. Furthermore all three versions employ skin subsurface scattering but for some reason its implementation on the Xbox One versions leaves a bit to be desired, perhaps due to a lower operation resolution.
Overall, Black Ops 3 seems to be a game that is extremely demanding on CPUs. It’s not rocket science to understand the reasons behind the game’s continuous struggle to run at a locked 60fps on consoles and PCs. The implementation of a high quality AA solution along with the engine’s continuous endeavor to reach 60fps takes a toll on these mid level CPUs in the consoles. At the end of the day, we can’t help but feel that Treyarch pushed out an un-optimized game out of the bag. We are expecting patches that may fix these issues in the future but Activision seriously needs to ditch last gen consoles if it has any intentions of innovating with the Call of Duty franchise from a visual standpoint.
Additional reporting by Tim Cook.