3D console gaming on test: COD Black Ops

3D console gaming on test: COD Black Ops
We played Black Ops in 3D on Xbox and PS3

On 9 November, Call of Duty: Black Ops, went on sale in the UK. And by the end of the day it had sold 1.4 million copies in the UK alone, making it the biggest launch in the history of console gaming.

Everyone who picked up a copy knew they'd bagged themselves the latest entry in the annually updated, frequently excellent Call of Duty series. But how many people knew they'd also bought arguably the highest-profile showcase yet for the new 3D technology?

Activision, the studio behind the game, announced just weeks before the game launched that it would be playable in 3D on both Xbox 360 and PS3, using one of the new breed of 3D HDTVs.

And while the decision seemed alarmingly last minute considering the effort needed to create a convincing 3D image, it certainly chimed with the widespread belief in the AV world that it will actually be games that make or break 3D's latest quest for world domination, rather than films or TV shows.

The potential for 3D to enhance a gaming experience is clear. It should, for instance, help make a game world feel more real, engaging and, above all, immersive. Furthermore, the addition of depth could be used to introduce an extra layer of skill to shoot-em-ups and driving games.

Basically, adding 3D to games could make them feel more lifelike, thus satisfying what's seen as one of the holy grails of modern game development, at least where certain genres are concerned.

Black Ops 3D on Xbox

As ever, though, the proof of the 3D pudding is in the eating. So it's time to don our camouflage gear and a pair of 3D glasses, and settle down to the cold, hard business of shooting things in the third dimension.

Will 3D help engross us more in the game world? Will it give us an edge or prove a hindrance, especially in the super-fast world of online play? And will it deliver the same experience on both the two main consoles?

Kicking off with the Xbox 360 version, choosing the 'Stereoscopic 3D' mode from the options menu immediately kills the mood.

For up comes a page of dire warnings about the potential effect long-term 3D viewing might have on your health. This hardly fills you with confidence about the experience that's to follow, and you have to question if any technology that comes with a health warning can ever become truly mainstream.

Trying to put such thinking behind us, we fired up the Executive Order single player level, on the grounds that it contains an impressive mix of very wide, open spaces and tight corridors that should test everything that 3D has to offer. And pretty much immediately we felt mixed emotions.

Sense of depth

On the upside, the sense of depth is, as expected, more pronounced than it is in 2D mode. However, the impact isn't quite as strong as we would have liked, suggesting that the game designers 'played it safe' in depth terms as a result of applying 3D retrospectively to an already complete game engine rather than designing it with 3D in mind from scratch.

It might have been helpful if the option to shift the sense of depth yourself had been provided, as it was with the first 3D console game, Avatar.

The depth effect is still sufficient, though, to boost the sense of space that you're dealing with and moving within. A bit of good technical news, meanwhile, is that while the game runs a tad slower in 3D, things still feel pretty fluid. In fact, there actually seem to be less moments of slow-down during very action-packed sequences than there are when playing in 2D.

It becomes apparent once the shooting starts that having a real third dimension to aim into does change the gameplay mechanics. Though not necessarily in a good way, as the gameplay actually feels harder.

There appear to be two reasons for this. First, if you press the left trigger button to look down your gun's sight, the extremely sudden shift in depth of the picture throws your vision off momentarily, leading you to lose focus briefly on your target.

More disturbing, though, is the fact that aiming just seems to become less accurate in 3D. Your crosshair's relationship with what you're shooting at isn't as tight, turning even fairly accurate players into 'spray and hopers' at times. Not ideal if you're playing on the game's intensely tough Veteran difficulty.

John Archer
AV Technology Contributor

John has been writing about home entertainment technology for more than two decades - an especially impressive feat considering he still claims to only be 35 years old (yeah, right). In that time he’s reviewed hundreds if not thousands of TVs, projectors and speakers, and spent frankly far too long sitting by himself in a dark room.