This Fall can throw all the feral ghouls and Imperial Walkers they want at Activision, but nothing will stop them from carrying out their annual Call of Duty holiday assault on game consoles across the world. For their attack this year they’re throwing out their franchise’s most tested soldiers. With Infinity Ward still seemingly trying to find their direction in a post-Respawn world, Treyarch has officially become CoD’s hardened veterans, and this year they’ve brought their biggest gun with them: the Black Ops series.
As most of our staff is either trudging around Boston trying to find fusion cores or taking flight alongside Rogue Squadron, it’s up to Sir Lance Paul “The Apostle” and “Brother” Myke to take arms against the 54 Immortals for our review of Call of Duty: Black Ops III.
Full nerd-disclaimer: I have not played a Call of Duty game since they left WWII. At that time I was a huge fan, but (in all honesty) a ton of FPS games came out and I stayed away. Obviously a little too long.. from the amount of fun I have had in this new futuristic Call of Duty: Black Ops game.
Treyarch’s 3rd edition presents itself like one giant Michael Bay film, and I was OK with that. Between the fast-paced boat chases, vehicle assaults, and air-to-air combat segments, there is never a dull moment. Black Ops III has the most mind-bending and bizarre plot, I felt like I was watching and gaming a mix of Terminator, RoboCop and Halo all wrapped into one.
Without giving you any of the spoilers, or ruining the twists that happen after the second arc in the main campaign, I will give you a little bit of the DL. Basically, the premise sees your character (The New Recruit) become part machine due to activity in combat with squad leader John Taylor (Christopher Meloni, Law and Order SVU) and showcases a device called the DNI (Direct Neural Interface). The DNI, which basically gives you all the cheat codes from yesteryear, highlight abilities that allow you to see enemies behind walls, show danger zones, predict angles of grenade bounces as accurately as a game of Hot Shots Golf, and allow the player to remotely hack such things as turrets, drones and evil robots!
See– I told you, Terminator. Your player also learns a set of core skills, or abilities, which he can upgrade after different missions that will add attacks and hacks to your gameplay. I really only used the Swahili nanobots flies, however, and the ability to rip out a robot’s heart and throw it as a grenade. Yes, it is as cool as it sounds (“I totally agree” – Editor Myke). Also a nice added feature was the ability to switch out your weapons at the same time you switch out your core skills in game, you know, just for those moments where a sniper riffle is more fun.
While the campaign is exhilarating and offers tons of upgradable freedom, it does have a sense of repetition. Besides the major story arcs, I still can’t tell you the difference between levels; it becomes room after room of targets to kill. You move from building to building hoping for interactive sequences that take you out of the monotony. When they do happen it does show some very interesting future warfare options. Some of my favorites were either having to use a bolt driver to keep yourself planted while heavy winds or tidal waves washed over you, or your exit chopper being shot down mid repel, forcing your soldier improvise his way down a building–only having to survive through an Endor-looking tower situation. I would definitely say bring a friend through this 8-10 hour campaign, it will make it go quicker as you kill room after room of repetitive humans/robots and robot mini-bosses that are all programed with the same AI.
(Due to limited time with a late press copy, your favorite Nerd Apostle didn’t delve too much into the multiplayer aspects of Black Ops III. Since that’s chiefly what COD is known for, Myke will shoot down those points for all of you online geeks just down below)
Next up was the Zombie mode, which to me is one of the best parts of this new COD. It places four players in a co-op survival mode set in the roaring 20’s! You play against wave-after-wave of zombies, bugs, and other scary things as you trek through a film noir setting — all with jaw-dropping cutscenes that push an actual story along. There is nothing like popping off headshots as cool jazz plays in the background. As you progress through unlockable city settings, your cast of characters come together to escape this nightmare. New weapons and gumball fueled powers are unlockable, bringing back flashbacks of The Darkness game a couple years back. The mode is intense and is not for the fair of heart wanting to go in alone. This mode is my favorite from the game and really showcases all that Black Ops III has to offer as a game and replay qualities.
I have been told there are additional secret games to unlock and even a whole alternate campaign to discover, which really impresses in the current day and age of the paid DLCs and Expansion Packs. This game is fun and will continue to entertain even once you are finished playing the oft-repetitive campaign. Overall, Call of Duty: Black Ops III is an incredibly strong game to add to your X-mas wish list with something for everyone.
Black Ops III doesn’t adventure to make any huge steps for the franchise, but it never needed to — it just needed to stand its ground. This game follows the same blueprint that Modern Warfare drew up in 2007 with a whole lot of new paint and lots of fancy furniture: a whole slew of new features, and some new tricks for all the game’s familiar modes. Of course Treyarch offers that trademark polish we’ve come to expect from a Call of Duty game, too.
However, some of the new content suffers from growing pains and stretches too far beyond what has been tried-and-true for the series, creating some frustrating moments in the single player campaign in particular.
The story that COD:BO III’s campaign takes the player through is just as dense as ever. There’s still a lot of fabricated political exposition thrown at players constantly between missions, but now that’s confounded by a plot that’s basically the super mutant lovechild of almost every novel that Phillip K. Dick ever wrote. Couple that with the fact that most of the characters, even Taylor (voiced by the very welcomed Christopher Meloni), are as robotic as the soldiers you have to fight against. Unfortunately, the emotional throughlines of the story rely too much on very broad character development that’s far too easy to predict. The pacing is perfectly adequate and gets the player from one firefight to the next and the set pieces that come in between are just as ridiculous as ever, most notably a sequence that happens early on in the game that has you surfing on an ocean liner that’s rampaging through a coastal city in an apocalyptic-ally large hurricane. Some of the set pieces wear on the experience, most notably some repetitious on-rails vehicle chases and a very ugly attempt to have you pilot a jet.
The biggest leap in Black Ops III has to be the ability to play the entire campaign cooperatively with a four-soldier squad. Halo 5 did this better within the story as their co-op campaign was cannon: both Chief and Locke had their own squads with their own personalities. BO III’s co-op has the same awkwardness that the first few Halo’s did and tries to convince every player that they’re all the protagonist. Treyarch does get points over 343 with the ability to join public cooperative games in a smooth, Borderlands-esque way. To accommodate for the three other soldiers you can fight alongside, levels have widened-out giving teams multiple routes to the objectives. Now a few players can flank, while others grab good sniping positions. Also new is the appearance of “Briefing Rooms” in between missions, which was probably done to make co-op cohesive and easy to join, but it also serves as a way for players to customize their campaign experience by giving them the ability to choose between various special abilities and weapon loadouts.
The game’s futuristic setting isn’t simply an excuse to keep some of the better gameplay mechanics from Advanced Warfare, it actually brought the single player mode into a post-Bioshock world with the addition of Cybercores. These DNI Enhanced Perks take the form of three different playing-styles. Control allows you to take over enemy robotics. You’ll be able to hijack hostile turrets, shut down enemy robots, or completely overload aerial drones and turn them into living grenades that destroy anything around them. Martial adds a whole set of melee and close combat maneuvers to your arsenal, giving you abilities such as the Concussive Wave which uses repulsor technology to throw enemies back and kill them. Chaos is a whole lot of fun and lets you do things like turn robots into fireballs or release fatal nano-fireflies to plague your enemies. These abilities are optional to use, but make the gameplay that much different from all the Call of Duty games before it.
The science-fiction elements also create some campaign variety in the enemy types. In another (probably) subconscious nod to Halo, a lot of the enemy waves will feel a lot like the Covenant. There are weak robot “grunts” for cannon fodder, a few “elites” that either have blast shields or are just plain tanks, and a whole slew of tanks that need to be destroyed in various ways. Now every firefight is that much more engaging, rather than the digital shooting gallery of the old CoD campaigns. Sadly, that variety doesn’t seep into “boss encounters”, or the lackthereof. Instead we’re treated to awkward moments where you traverse abstract levels that represent the mind of different characters and all the Psych 101 tropes that plague the most basic types of stories from the genre. While these sequences are initially interesting — and are a different way of getting into the character’s heads — they eventually culminate in the more boring shootouts of the game and suffer the fate of the other more dramatic sequences that are so scripted they become linear to a fault. Even when I dropped the difficulty down to “Regular” from “Hardened” I died multiple times until I followed the very strict path the story set me out on.
Since we covered most of our thoughts about the multiplayer in our Beta Roundup all I have to add is that the rest of the maps the game has to offer are just as varied and fitting to the new game mechanics as the ones that were available in beta. Safeguard is the one big addition to the multiplayer lineup and functions like a King of the Hill type domination mode with a moving “hill.” In Safeguard teams take turns escorting a robot to their opponents base. This mode really concentrates the action in one spot and can lead to some very chaotic matches. The addition of more Specialists add some very unique, and mostly balanced special abilities into the mix; the customization feature thankfully makes it so that every match isn’t populated by players that all look like the same specialist.
Yet at the end of the day, Team Deathmatch still reigns supreme as Treyarch still has yet to fix the fact that any objective-based MP match doesn’t award points to anyone playing off of the objective, but still aiding the team. For example: in the aforementioned Safeguard mode, points are only acquired by being in position right next to the fucking robot making you a sitting duck that doesn’t have any real chance of contributing to the team escorting. However, the long range player that’s sitting a ways away from the robot — like any soldier with common sense would — only gets points for kills, which are usually far less than any objective based points. This leads to players not given the incentive to play the object of the game, making most of these games (save for Domination) just more Deathmatch. Throw all the cool modes you want at us Activision, it still won’t mean a damn until there’s a reason to play the game.
On a more deliciously trashy note, Zombies is the most fun version of the mode since it’s inception in the original Black Ops. The 1920’s film noir atmosphere, along with some VO done by Ron Pearlman and fucking Jeff Goldblum brings the camp in the funnest way possible. Now that the series has firmly planted its roots in this console generation, Call of Duty once again has the ability to bring on new fans while finding ways to surprise the old ones. While it hasn’t fixed any of its core problems, Black Ops is as polished and well-produced as ever. Good riddance, Modern Warfare — the battle of the CoDs is now won.
The full version Call of Duty: Black Ops III is now available on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC and a multiplayer only version is available on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.