There’s so much to see and do, where will you find the time
I don’t really know where to start with this one. There’s so much game here that it’s going to take forever to explain everything, and you’ll probably just get bored and skip to the score box anyway. If only there was some way to force you to read everything…
Oh well, maybe one day.
Black Ops III is the Call of Duty on which many have pinned their hopes. Ghosts was trash and Advanced Warfare felt a little too much like a cut-and-paste job for my liking. So that’s three long years of waiting for a good Call of Duty game to come along and be the one I’ll miss playing most – which is how I felt about Black Ops II. Treyarch are in charge of this one and they seem to have taken over as the best team when it comes to making a good Call of Duty game – a status previously held by Infinity Ward. But enough with all that and on to the text you’ve come here to either hate or love reading, depending on whether or not it validates your own opinions.
First, the most important question: is it any good? Yes. It’s great. There’s so much game on offer here that it’s hard to believe it all comes in one box. While the basic game mechanics and overall approach to the formula doesn’t move the franchise forward in new and innovative ways, it does give players plenty to do across a variety of game modes. The single-player campaign, multiplayer and zombies each present a dizzying amount of stuff to do, and even after playing solidly for a few days you’ll still be discovering things. While all this complexity and depth can feel a little overwhelming, there are enough familiar mechanisms to make you feel at home. Let’s start with the single-player side.
The frozen forest
If you haven’t been following the Black Ops solo storyline, you don’t have to worry about feeling left out of the loop with Black Ops III. It doesn’t specifically follow on from any previous story arc so you won’t be left wondering halfway into the introductory drama who or what Henderson is and why he needs to die. And no, there’s no Henderson in the game – he’s just an example. Going in fresh you find out that Black Ops III is set in a bleak future and after some harrowing training you’ll be fitted with a Direct Neural Interface (DNI). This plot-enabling, semi-plausible medical science is there to add some fun gimmickry to the game dynamic. Maybe gimmick isn’t really a fair word to use because the DNI adds a lot to the game and makes it interesting to play.
The DNI allows you to hack computers and communicate with your team in interesting ways and also perform magic. Cyber magic. At the start of each mission you select “cyber core” abilities that range from allowing you to control enemy turrets and robots to releasing a swarm of firefly drones that can set people on fire. In other words, between reloads you can wave your hand about like a magician to finish off any stragglers. These cyber cores can also be upgraded.
It’s not easy chatting about the story without giving too much away, but know that it asks some interesting questions and poses some scenarios that might very well play out in the future of mankind. You’ll also get to pilot a jet as a fun distraction and play through a snowy, time-reversing level that will leave you impressed. There are robots all over the place and using your abilities you can even get them to fight for you – for a while at least. Other, larger robots halt your progress as you repeatedly die trying to disable and destroy them. The campaign isn’t very long and you could probably finish it in six hours. Of course you can always turn up the difficulty and finish it over a few days – but who does that?
I chose to play a female character which went pretty well, but I still felt that the game was always treating me like a guy – and would it kill them to let me have a swishing ponytail instead of a shaved head? A nice step forward in the future would be to construct a slightly different game experience based on gender selection. Changing the skin and voice is nice, but meaningless at the end of the day. The single player is a great ride and while it does little to evoke any kind of emotional attachment to anything, what it does do it does well.
There’s some incentive to replay missions because Treyarch have hidden collectables around the different maps. I found about half of them by just keeping my eyes open. You can also display what you’ve found in the game’s staging areas – I enjoyed displaying these collectable items on the little shelf next to my bunk. Made it feel like home for a while there. A nice surprise is the unlocking of the Nightmares mode once you’ve finished the main campaign. What this essentially does is more or less retread the original campaign but now with a slightly different story involving zombies. I tackled the first mission in co-op mode and it was great fun disabling a big robotic tank. The objective here was to disable its shield with gunfire and then for a short time it’s possible to use a rocket launcher to damage it. So I was firing and grabbing its attention in between shouting across the room to my co-op partner to hit it with a rocket whenever its shields went down. Of course during all this excitement zombies are still shuffling around requiring attention. This unlocked mode is yet another example of how much game you get in the box – and who doesn’t love putting down the undead?
Come in peace…
Then again, nobody I know is playing this for the single player. Call of Duty is really all about killing strangers in multiplayer, and I guess climbing the ranks faster than your mates. Black Ops III plays a lot like you’d expect, but I feel like it takes too long to settle in and get it together [I don’t think I’ve ever read a more open-ended, question-raising sentence. Which is impressive, so I’m going to leave it here. – Ed.]. Not sure why, but that’s just me. Graphically it feels very cluttered, but once you’ve played it for a while your eyes start to tune out all the distractions and you’ll be back on top in no time.
None of the cyber core abilities make it into the multiplayer and are instead replaced with specialist characters, each of which has a unique specialty. How these work is based around a meter on your screen that fills up while you’re running around the map killing dudes. When this meter fills you tap a key and you can unleash what is essentially a special weapon. Gravity spikes are a personal favourite, and will allow you to leap into a room and pretty much kill everyone inside. The various specialists are unlocked as you progress through the levels, with the final one being Firebreak – who carries a flamethrower. Enough said. Of course, knowing when to use their abilities is important, because if you die your ability ends and that meter starts filling again.
Outside of the specialists, you’re also able to jump multiple times, run along walls and even swim. Breaking the surface of the water and immediately killing an enemy will get you an achievement, so nice one there Treyarch for thinking of everything. The different maps are full of flanking opportunities where wall running or swimming gets you behind the enemy. These added mobility options will often see players gunning each other down while wall running, or simply taking to the air and making it rain lead. It all feels balanced and greatly refines the extra movement options that Advanced Warfare introduced.
“Black Ops III has all the makings of the next great, long-lasting Call of Duty multiplayer experience.”
One thing is for sure: playing Call of Duty in a World War II setting again is going to feel very pedestrian. Unlocking of guns and abilities and perks is all back and the Pick 10 system balances out the choices. The maps are colourful and busy but flow well and have multiple paths to navigate through. They’re also small enough that you’re never out of the action for very long, and overall it’s a very integrated experience. All the standard game modes are back including a new one called Safeguard. Here players on one team must escort a robot from one side of the map to the other. It’s fun particularly because it forces the team to work together a little more than usual. Some must attack the enemy team while others need to attack the robot and disable it.
Black Ops III is an immense improvement over the disaster that was Ghosts. It brings with it all the new, fun things that we saw in Advanced Warfare and then blends them with good map design and exciting game modes. There’s even a special mode for eSports called Arena where players can set up matches with ban systems to try and bring balance to the proceedings. This is a great addition and certainly marks the way forward for eSports in Call of Duty. Overall, the question of whether or not it’s a true replacement for Black Ops II will only play out in time. It’s just missing a map like Hijack – but each Call of Duty inevitably finds its groove which people settle in to, and Black Ops III has all the makings of the next great, long-lasting Call of Duty multiplayer experience.
Be the beast
Finally we have zombies. To be honest, I miss those original zombie maps where it was just a small location and your only goal was to survive. I don’t like having to learn massive levels which I always get lost in while still trying to avoid my neck being used as a chew toy. The first map, Shadows of Evil, is a very large zombie map and is carved straight out of the 1940s – but you can still get the ray gun. The characters are voiced by recognisable talent like Jeff Goldblum and Ron Perlman. They add a little something unique and special to the experience, and they show how seriously Treyarch takes their zombie mode.
Besides all the usual perks and upgrades, players can now modify, dispense and use “gobble gum”, which gives temporary buffs and abilities like respawning near the end of the round and increased melee damage. Littered around the map are Cthulhu-inspired pods, tentacles and an altar where players can become The Beast. Drink from the altar and you’ll transform into a hideous, zombie-immune creature that can power up perk dispensers, kill zombies and smash open boxes. This ability doesn’t last long and like everything in zombies there’s always a right time and place for everything.
Something else that’s new is the ability to rank up in zombies and apply that experience to upgrading weapons. So if you keep buying the same gun off the wall, it’ll improve over time. It’s definitely a zombie experience like no other and feels familiar while introducing many news things to the mix. Just one thing: don’t expect an easy ride on this one. It immediately feels tougher and there’s a betting pool going in the office as to whether or not the zombies start running sooner in this one compared to the last. Keep at it because the more you play the further you’ll get.
Cherries on top
But that’s not all: there’s another cooperative horde mode tied to the solo campaign that four players can enjoy – this is your typical survival run against increasingly tough waves of enemies. There are also speed runs where you can test out how fast you can move around a specially designed course, and of course the game offers many, many things you can do to customise your guns.
I’d say Call of Duty: Black Ops III is the best game in the series. It feels like the developers have spent a lot of time adding things to the game and making sure it all balances out in a fun way. There’s a lot of game here and while some developers might spend time simply rehashing the multiplayer and spend a few million dollars on the single-player campaign while adding pointless gimmicks, Treyarch have instead overachieved and spent their time giving the player a heap of stuff to do. This one is easy to recommend, especially if you’re feeling let down by other recent COD games.