Call of Duty: Black Ops III
Release Date: 11/06/2015
When Activision announced that it had hired a third team to produce its yearly Call of Duty franchise, it might have seemed like a stretch. However, this would mean each team would get extra time to refine each game in the series. That should mean improved quality across the board, right? I was particularly excited to see what Treyarch could do with an extra year. I was a huge fan of Black Ops II, although I felt some of its features ended up being a bit underdeveloped by the time constraints. I got my hopes up that Blops 3 would transcend the genre and take the franchise into new heights. Alas, it is but another cog in the CoD machine. It still has all the bells and whistles, but gone a step or two back instead of forwards.
The key to the Blops games is a trifecta of modes. You’ve got the campaign, the online multiplayer, and the infamous zombies mode. Each of these modes is expansive enough to keep you engaged for many hours, and each offers at least some reason to keep coming back for more. They each play quite differently as well. As such, I’m going to talk about them individually rather than attempt to talk about it all at once.
First up is the campaign. The story follows you and a dude named Hendricks. The two of you are cyber-soldiers; elite troops with mechanical prosthetics and neural implants. This gives you enhanced strength, speed, and endurance. It also gives you the ability to hack just about anything. It even offers up some interesting cyber powers such as the ability to overheat robotic enemies and send a swarm of nano-bots to distract your foes. It sounds like a recipe for a crazy sci-fi adventure, right?
Well, it ends up being a slightly twisted rehash of the typical CoD tropes. You see, a group of fellow cyber-soldiers have gone rogue and done a number of nasty things. This includes releasing CIA secrets and butchering civilians. Your job is to track this group down and stop them by any means necessary. In the mean time, you’ll learn the awful truth of why they went nuts, and worry about the chances of you ending down the same path. It has a few interesting moments where you’re wandering through a twisted cornucopia of someone’s memories and a few hilarious nods to the previous games. However, the game doesn’t give you a reason to care about any of the characters, so the big moments have no impact whatsoever.
Whereas the previous Blops let players make choices that effected the outcome of the story, this game takes you down a straight forward path. The story plays out the same no matter how many times you go through it. The upside is that up to four players can share that experience online, or up to two in split-screen. Adding more people doesn’t change up the plot a bit, but it does give you a friend with which to joke about the story’s awful writing and litany of unanswered questions.
Perhaps the worst part about the campaign is that it wants you to come back for more. Between missions you go to a hub where you can spend unlock tokens to get new powers and create new guns and class types. Different missions will let you utilize a variety of different setups. There’s no way to unlock it all the first time. However, the game will force you replay the same levels, sit through the same in-game scenes, and hear the same awful dialogue every time you go back for more. All of the accolades and unlockables you can earn simply aren’t worth this retread. There’s something to be said about some of the levels having engagements that can handled in different ways, but it isn’t enough.
Beating the campaign the first time unlocks a bonus campaign called “Nightmares”. This basically adds a zombies-flavored bent to the proceedings. New voice overs are played over the scenes that talk about a world gone to hell when the undead are released upon an unprepared populace. It can be weird, but sometimes hilarious in the right ways. The cool thing is that the gameplay is switched up. Weapons have to be picked up from enemies, bosses fight differently when the enemies are all zombies who rush you, and you’ll need to work more closely with your allies to get the job done. While this mode isn’t as fleshed out as it could have been, it’s still a fun little extra.
Oh, and you can also find a new hidden mini-game during the campaign. While you’re in the hub, you can look at your computer. There you can find “Dead Ops 2”, a sequel to the twin stick shooter bonus from the Blops 2. If you get into it, you’ll find just that extra bit of value.
The new zombies map is an interesting one. It takes a group of well known actors such as Jeff Goldblum and Heather Graham and dresses them up as a rag tag group in a fictional city. As you might imagine, the group finds themselves beset upon by waves of zombies in an area chock full of secrets to uncover and powerful weapons to wield.
If you didn’t get one of the fancier versions of the game, this map is all you’ll get, but it’s expansive. You can transform into an eldritch beast in order to fight enemies and/or open up hidden areas, as well as uncover rituals that will allow you to fight boss characters and unlock some unique gear. You can play this mode as a simple survival mode (see how long you can last), or you can work with some buddies to see how much of the lore you can discover.
Much like the other modes, you’re enticed to continue playing by a persistent leveling system. Leveling up gives you access to better weapons and perks. These perks come in the form of gumballs that can be purchased during play. As you unlock more, you can customize your potential gumballs for each mission, giving you a bit of control for where you’ll end up down the road.
It should be noted that this map is particularly tough. You have less room to move around in, and the zombies hit faster than ever. You can take an extra hit, but that’s often irrelevant. Getting hit once usually slows you down enough for them to finish you off, and it will be up to some hapless teammate to save you or risk going down themselves.
The mode is still completely stand alone. It has very few of the new bells and whistles the others do. In particular, wall running isn’t really a thing here. There’s a section or two where it comes up, but you won’t be zipping along with your thruster pack and picking off zombies while racing across the side of a wall. It’s kind of a lost opportunity. Still, the mode is there for the fans of that mode. They’ll likely have a blast with it.
The online multiplayer is the same as it’s always been. You play matches, level up, unlock new gear, and work towards prestiging. The basic modes, including Team Deathmatch, Free-For-All, and Domination are still there. However, some shiny new changes mix things up an appreciable amount.
For starters, the thruster pack from Advanced Warfare returns. You can use this to double jump, get extended jumps, power slide, and run on walls. The maps are all designed to use this feature as well, even the obligatory Nuketown map. This creates a chaotic sense of fun as maps now have even more ways for you to engage in firefights. The mechanic is a little more refined as well, which is a plus.
Also new are underwater portions of maps. Previously, water meant death. However, you can now swim. Several maps have areas where you can swim to try and get by enemies undetected. While underwater, you can fire your gun as normal, but your visibility will be greatly reduced. This allows for some great ambush moments, but it can also leave you defenseless if people above you see you down there.
While you create a class using the pick 10 system from the previous game, you no longer create your own character. Instead, there are about ten different “specialists” for you to choose from. Each comes equipped with two different versions. The first version usually gives you some kind of neat weapon, while the second offers some unique tactical option. For example, the character named Battery has a powerful grenade launcher or the ability to absorb shots without taking much damage. Another character gets an explosive bow or the ability to have vision of any nearby foes. These special weapons and powers are only usable for a brief time before they must recharge, and they are never usable at the start of a game. These are powerful tools that can give you a great advantage if you use them correctly. However, some might miss creating your own character. It’s kind of a shame you couldn’t just pick a power instead of picking a character to play as.
There is a new mode this time around. Dubbed “Safeguard”, the mode involves one team trying to escort a robot to the other side of the map while the other team tries to stop them. The robot only moves when an ally is near it, and it rarely moves in areas that afford great cover. This means you’ll have to juxtapose safety with the desire to win the round. It’s an interesting mode in that the movement of the robot creates battlegrounds in smaller areas. You’re forced to move with it, which keeps camping to a relative minimum and also keeps aggressive play to an appropriate high. Time will tell if the mode catches on, however.
With these additions, its easy to forget some of the things the game has lost. Combat Training is no more. You can still create custom games against bots, but there’s no mode dedicated to it anymore. The squad mechanic is also gone, which means we’ll likely never get to see how a more fleshed out version of that would have ended up. The strike force missions, which let you command forces from an aerial view with the option to take any troop or asset over, is also gone. The latter two modes were some of the more promising aspects of Blops 2, and it’s sad to see Treyarch was uninterested in pursuing them further.
Visually, the game is the typical incremental improvement. It still uses the same style, despite the more sci-fi bent. Character models look fine for unique characters, but enemies are largely copied and pasted to different locations. One battle in particular is noticeable in how every enemy looks the same. Facial expressions are wonky, and you still can’t get people to emote when they’re talking during gameplay. However, the locations are well thought out and full of detail, and the performance doesn’t dip even during the more hectic parts. The city you explore in zombies mode is a artistic plus as well. It’s set in a 1940’s era town complete with a dusty boxing ring, old phone booths, and plenty of old fashioned advertising. The game looks pretty good, although it’s not top of the line at this point.
The audio is all over the place. The zombies actors do a bang up job. Jeff Goldblum is the man. Everyone else is pretty decent. Christopher Meloni of Law & Order fame stars as the main antagonist of the campaign and does a decent job of it. However, the player character, whether you go with the male or female option, is burdened by a terrible script. There’s a particular scene where your character starts chanting in hysteria. It’s some of the worst acting I’ve heard in years. The music would be worth talking about if you could hear it over the cacophony that is gunfire and yelling. While it is enjoyable enough during quiet moments, you’ll rarely notice it. And of course, you’ll hear little during online play that isn’t your teammates screaming obscenities. It comes with the territory.
If you want to see and do everything in Blops 3, you’re going to be at it awhile. The campaign is over six hours long, and tacking on the nightmare modes doubles that easily. The zombies mode will likely take you dozens attempts before you’re satisfied. Finally, the multiplayer is designed to keep you coming back for hours at a time. There is a ton of content on this disc, and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth if you take the time to explore all of it.
Short Attention Span Summary
Ultimately, this game is a letdown. The campaign is a drastic step back in quality. Being able to go through it with other people doesn’t make up for the lackluster story and boring level design. The new zombies map is just another zombies map when all is said and done. As for the multiplayer, it simply refines a mechanic from another game while adding the specialists. It’s a fine game overall, but it’s not the best Black Ops game by a stretch. It feels phoned in to a degree, which is especially disconcerting because of the extra development time it had. If you’re here for the multiplayer, the game is great. If you’re here for the zombies, you know what you’re in for. If you’re here for the campaign, you should probably just go elsewhere. Another year, another Call of Duty.
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