After spending the past two days with the Wii U version of Call of Duty: Black Ops II, I have found all my worries about the GamePad's ability to handle fast-paced first-person shooters melt away. In fact, I may now consider the Wii U my go-to console for future FPS games ... when I'm not playing on PC.
I was worried that the stiff analog sticks of the GamePad would make precision difficult, especially given that Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge felt somewhat unwieldy at times. After my first match, however, I was sold. The GamePad is excellent for first-person shooters, and I am actually finding myself enjoying Black Ops II more than I had before -- and I quite liked it already.
[Note: Screenshots are just PR ones, not Wii U ones]
On the whole, Black Ops II doesn't differ too much from its other console alternatives. There's no extra touchscreen gameplay or gyroscopic aiming. Even the Strike Force stages are played traditionally, which does seem like a bit of a missed opportunity. However, I do appreciate that extra controls weren't simply tossed into the game for the sake of it -- it's good to establish early that Wii U games can just be regular videogames if they want.
When playing alone, the touchscreen is used for maps, mission details, and on-the-fly setting alterations. This last point, I found to be incredibly useful, as I was able to manually tweak the sensitivity of my aiming while playing the game, rather than having to pause and do it from a disconnected menu. The option to test sensitivity as I adjusted the slider allowed me to reach a level of personal precision I've never experienced on a console before. It's a little thing, on the face of it, but it's minor touches like this that can really make a difference.
There is a dual-screen mode allowing the entire game to be played on the Pad, and it looks pretty damn good, albeit with the slightly drained color that comes with the deal. This option also opens the game up for local play, with one user utilizing the Pro Controller and TV, and the other on the Pad. While the smaller screen will always be a bit disadvantageous in multiplayer, the option to have friends playing side-by-side is always going to be welcome.
As stated, the GamePad is shockingly enjoyable to use for first-person shooting. The control scheme is at first a little confusing, since the face buttons have all been mapped to commands different from the Xbox 360 controller. Once that hump's been gotten over, however, I have to say I don't think I've enjoyed a console FPS this much in a long time. The large surface area of the Pad makes long-running online sessions comfortable, while the analog stick and trigger placement is almost perfect for the genre. After my initial fears of the GamePad's viability, I am more than pleased.
Online activity is nowhere near as thriving as Xbox Live and PC, of course. There have been complaints that only Team Deathmatch is being played while many of the more obscure game types are out of commission due to lack of interest. As an almost exclusive player of Domination, I can't say I'm too displeased with the turnout, and I have to confess I'm enjoying the lack of assholes, not to mention the fact Xbox Live is full of people who play COD twelve hours a day and, ravage every game they're in. The Wii U experience is a lot less intense, and I think those who dip in and out of COD, rather than play it all year long, will gain extra enjoyment from this version, since the "pro" players are all on XBL doing their thing.
Connection stability is decent, though not perfect. For the most part, matchmaking is fast, and games run smoothly. Every now and then, however, there will be connection issues that get in the way. I wouldn't say it's much more intrusive than what you'd get on the Xbox Live version, but do be warned that you get every game running smoothly forever.
The biggest complaint people have had with this version is its performance, with reports of framerate inconsistencies getting in the way of the action. In my time spent in the game, I'm yet to encounter anything as egregious as some have reported. Aside from one or two brief hiccups in the solo campaign, I've found the game running pretty fluidly with no major issues dampening my fun. That's not to say I couldn't be hit with an onslaught of framerate dips the next time I boot it up, but I can only report on what I've seen, and I've so far seen only very minor issues.
At least when it comes to playing the game normally. Streaming the action to the GamePad appears to be putting some strain on the Wii U, strain I've not seen in other titles. When playing with the two screens on, the framerate dips are certainly more noticeable. This is perhaps an issue developers will have to be conscious of in future.
The game mostly looks on par with the Xbox 360 version, albeit with the removal of dynamic shadows and a slight roughness to the edges of distant NPCs. It's certainly nothing like the awful jaggedness seen in Warriors Orochi 3, but it's definitely not what I'd call "dramatically better," as a certain beef-flavored Nintendo executive claims.
I've not been this keen to play Call of Duty since Call of Duty 4, and that's not something I say lightly. Maybe it's just because of my massive fat hands, but using the GamePad has been a distinct joy, a feeling of finely tuned comfort that has caused me to reclaim some of the passion I'd lost for this series over the past year. Is everybody going to feel that way? Absolutely not, and I'm not about to tell you that, if you've gone off COD, this'll magically make you love it again. I will say, however, that this launch title bodes well for the GamePad's future in the FPS genre, and I'm not just excited to see what Aliens: Colonial Marines can do with it.
With my enjoyment of Black Ops II on Wii U, my last residual skepticism pertaining to the GamePad has all but eroded. It works. It works well, in fact.
And that works for me.