Treyarch has never been afraid to take the Call of Duty
gameplay in new directions. In Call of Duty: World at War
they added a third game mode with zombies. Call of Duty: Black Ops
introduced Wager matches and COD Points. Their last outing, Call of Duty: Black Ops II
, provided the first real change to the all-conquering multiplayer with the Pick 10 loadout customisation system and a campaign that offered branching storylines.
Now working on a three year development cycle, Call of Duty: Black Ops III
feels like their most adventurous release to date thanks to the addition of a campaign that has been designed for four player co-op, all new character customisation options, new game modes and mini-games, and increased mobility that improves upon the ideas introduced in last year’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
. The result is the biggest change in direction that the franchise has taken yet, but while Treyarch has helped to breathe new life into some areas, others fail to reach the level that we have grown to expect from the franchise.Black Op III
’s campaign begins in the not too distant future of 2065. Your unnamed character, who for the first time in the franchise can be fully customised with a choice between male or female and a range of different ethnicities, is on a mission in Ethiopia to rescue a hostage from the NCR -- the game’s bad guys who are introduced with no explanation as to who they are or why they are bad. After successfully securing your target, things take a turn for the worse during the extraction when you are quite literally torn to pieces by one of the newly introduced enemy combat robots. In order to save your life you are fitted with advanced cybernetic enhancements (yes, this is sounding like the start of Advanced Warfare
), along with a DNI (Direct Neural Interface) that allows you to not only control your new super soldier limbs and gadgets, but also communicate with machines.
Once fitted with your new enhancements, the campaign begins in an interesting fashion as you are taught how to make the most of your new abilities, such as increased mobility that allows you to traverse the environment in new ways (see: Titanfall
), augmented vision that will highlight enemies on screen even when they are in cover, and a suite of new upgrades that will allow you to take over enemy machinery and send out swarms of nanobots to distract and kill. It feels exciting and fresh for a series that has existed on very similar gameplay for the past ten years, but then the majority of those skills are removed from you in the next mission, instead introducing skill trees that you will need to unlock as you progress.
After the second mission the story attempts to explore topics such as AI consciousness, human augmentation and the idea of interconnectedness, but the storytelling and acting aren’t up to the job despite this being the most cutscene driven Call of Duty
yet. In previous CoD campaigns, the stories have felt like an interactive Michael Bay movie with a clearly defined reason why this group of people are bad, why they must be stopped, and an end objective in sight. Black Ops III
’s attempts at building a more substantial plot result in a disjointed and muddled eight hour slog that layers on more confusion at every possible turn and lacks the set pieces for which the series is known. This is further hampered by a script that resorts to swearing at every given opportunity and over-the-top voice acting even when it doesn’t really suit the moment. This culminates in very little emotional connection between the player and any of the game’s cast of characters, leaving scenes that are meant to be thought provoking with no real impression at all.
While the story as a whole is a disappointment, the actual gameplay on offer is as smooth and fun as it has always been. This is also easily the best looking CoD release to date featuring some especially nice lighting effects. New elements do help to provide a refreshing change to the standard gameplay that we’ve seen before, the most significant of which is the addition of four player co-op. Built from the ground up to incorporate co-op, level design is more akin to that found in Halo
than previous Call of Duty
games, with large open areas filled with groups of enemies for you to fight through. Added to the new mobility, there’s also a lot more verticality in level design that allows for a number of different methods of attack and a slightly less linear feel than normal.
Before each mission, players can choose a loadout similar to the way that they would in multiplayer with new weapons and abilities becoming unlocked as you progress through the campaign's dedicated ranking system. This allows for some tactical teamwork to help cover every possible eventuality that you may encounter throughout the level. Sadly the moments where strategy is needed are few and far between, the only real exceptions being when the game throws some of the new bullet sponge enemies at you.
When playing solo the campaign is less interesting due to a lack of pacing. Most missions feel like a copy of the last as you fight off waves of nondescript enemies in slightly differing surroundings. Even when the game does attempt to change the action by providing the now standard vehicular combat missions, they end up missing the mark and have been slimmed down. The new cyber core abilities do come into play more when alone and there are moments where the combination of the tight shooting mechanics and special abilities really work well together to provide something completely new to the series. The only downside is that the way they have been implemented doesn’t really allow you to fully explore all of the available options until you reach rank 20, which will be long after you’ve finished the campaign.
Being a Treyarch release, Zombies have once again returned as Black Ops III
’s third game mode. This time around the game is set in a fictional film-noir city with an interesting cast of characters. Much of the gameplay remains the same as it has been before with cash awarded to buy upgrades to survive the next wave by repairing barricades and killing enemies, although this time around it does come with its own XP and perk system that will allow players to customise weapons and abilities before each match begins.
The biggest new addition is the ability to transform into the Beast by interacting with shrines that appear throughout the city. The Beast is incredibly powerful and allows you to make short work of zombies, but it doesn’t last for long periods of time. As the Beast you are able to grapple up buildings to discover points of interest and interact with barriers that will unlock areas to find summoning artifacts, which are the mode's primary objective.
Multiplayer is Black Ops III
's biggest plus point, featuring the same smooth shooting mechanics, fast movement and the addictive progression system for which the franchise has become known. The addition of the new traversal abilities from the campaign are available permanently to everyone, which allows for some different approaches to competitive play. It feels like the perfect step forward from the double jump ability that Advanced Warfare
provided last year, even though they are mechanics that others games have featured before. Unfortunately the game’s map design doesn’t always make the most of the increased mobility. Where some maps provide interesting routes to wall-run and traverse in order to gain a shortcut to an objective, or a flanking position to your enemy, others offer the same style of map design that we’ve seen since Modern Warfare
In addition to the Pick 10 system that allows you to refine your weapon and score streak loadout to your personal style of play, Treyarch has also introduced basic classes in the shape of Specialists. In total there are nine available, with four being available from the start. Each one has a different appearance but, most importantly, they also have a choice of two special abilities that you can unlock and take into Battle. Each specialist has a very unique perk for you to try, from Ruin’s Overdrive that provides a temporary burst in speed, to Reaper’s Scythe minigun, which all operate on a cool down timer. None feel especially overpowering as they only last for short periods of time. The real art of mastering each ability comes with learning when to trigger them to reap the most benefit.
As well as the standard game modes that we’ve come to expect from Call of Duty
, Black Ops III
includes a number of mini games and new modes that make this the most content filled release yet. Nightmares mode is unlocked upon completing the campaign, which allows you to replay the campaign with zombies replacing human enemies. Dead Ops Arcade II sees the return of the overhead twin-stick shooter that first appeared in the original Black Ops
, and there’s even a Freerun mode that acts as a virtual playground where you can chain together the different moves that your increased mobility provides.
The achievement list in Black Ops III
is spread across the main three game modes on offer with the majority coming via the campaign. Campaign achievements are largely what you can expect from Call of Duty
with each level rewarding an achievement upon completion, and others available for performing different tasks and set actions. One achievement is rewarded for completing the game on the new Realistic difficulty
, which will provide a tough challenge for some. Personal Decorator
will be the most time consuming achievement in the game as you will have various objectives to complete that will require multiple replays of the campaign.
This year's Call of Duty
is a mixed bag that will polarize opinion depending in which part of the game you find the most enjoyment. All of the previous mechanics that have made the franchise what it is today are still there and they feel as good as ever. If you play CoD
for the campaign, Black Ops III
is a low point featuring a confusing and uninteresting story, poor pacing, cheesy dialogue and over-the-top voice acting that results in a story that resembles what the outcome would be if you dropped the cast of Team America: World Police
on the set of Inception
or Source Code
. Zombies once again provides a fun alternative, and the setting and new gameplay additions are enough to keep it feeling fresh for fans until the next DLC pack hits. Multiplayer is as well balanced as it has been for a while and provides the same fast-paced experience that is known and loved. The addition of increased mobility adds a new way to traverse the world and even helps to bring new life into game modes that we have been playing off and on for the past ten years, but this is hit and miss as only some maps allow you to truly explore what it has to offer.Black Ops III
's biggest plus points are that it's the most content-filled and best looking release in the series yet, and there are enough new additions to the gameplay across all game modes to help freshen things up for returning visitors. It's a good game for sure, but it does very little to stand out from what's already available and, in some areas, doesn't live up to the standards that the franchise has set over the years.
- Enhanced movement changes the gameplay
- Multiplayer and Zombies are as fun as ever
- More customisation than ever before
- Confusing and forgettable campaign
- Map design fails to get the best out of the increased mobility
The reviewer spent 30 hours playing all of the available game modes, earning 29 of the game's 47 achievements. An Xbox One review copy of the game was provided by the publisher for this review.