Black Ops III is more of the same, and while it’s a load of fun, the series now desperately needs a reinvention.
For a long time now, Activision and all the development teams responsible for moving the Call of Duty franchise forward have been trying to keep the popular shooter series relevant through evolutions, rather than revolutions, adding some new tweaks and handy new innovations in every new game to keep things fresh(er), but still playing it safe by not moving away from their uber-successful formula too much. And the Black Ops games developed by Treyarch have always been the highlights of this long-running series.
With Black Ops III, Treyarch have attempted more new things than we’ve ever seen in a Call of Duty game to date, and there’s more content here than any of us know what to do with. But does all of it work? Not always. Black Ops III is, undoubtedly, a very well made game, and the multiplayer mode here is as fun as ever, but there’s a feeling here now that the franchise is starting to get a little stagnant and what once shocked and awed in previous entries such as Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops just doesn’t have the same value here anymore.
"The futuristic setting in Black Ops 3 does so much more- it changes the way we play Call of Duty quite significantly."
There’s plenty here that works, and a few things as well that don’t, and the end result is a Call of Duty title that is good, but nothing special, and nowhere near the heights of previous entries a few years back.
The best thing Treyarch could have (and have) done here was throw us into a completely new setting. The World War and Cold War settings in earlier titles (and Black Ops) made for some thrilling scenarios and often-riveting narratives, and the contemporary warfare stories in the Modern Warfare trilogy gave way to some of the best set piece events we’ve seen in the franchise, but the futuristic setting in Black Ops 3 does so much more- it changes the way we play Call of Duty quite significantly.
Abilities such as being able to run along walls, Prince of Persia style, or hacking into drones and making them go boom, Deus Ex style, lend another dimension to the combat, whereas the core gunplay itself feels tight and thrilling as always. However, there’s also an element of player choice in Black Ops 3 that we just haven’t seen in Call of Duty thus far. By player choice we don’t mean the (somewhat) branching storylines of Black Ops 2. No, while the combat arenas in previous games were merely narrow corridors disguised in vast environments, with nothing for you to do but move forward, shoot and reload, Black Ops 3 gives you much larger fields to test your new cyborg abilities in.
And now, thanks to that, rather than simply having the option to go forward, you now have the option to go sideways. We know, stating it like it’s a big deal sounds ridiculous. This is something that a lot of shooters have done a long time ago, and done it very well. But as far as Call of Duty is concerned, it is a big deal. You can now choose to flank your enemies while your AI companions or your friends in co-op mode/multiplayer go in other directions. The battlefields in Black Ops 3 are much larger and they ultimately make for more intense, more thrilling, more exciting encounters.
Add to that the advanced mobility that abilities such as wall running and ground sliding provide, not to mention all the other abilities you have at your disposal- such as sending a swarm of “nanobots” (robot flies) to attack your enemies- and you have more freedom in gameplay itself than Call of Duty has ever managed to offer thus far. It’s nothing special, and the areas aren’t nearly as large as we have seen in other First Person Shooters, but it still significantly changes the way you play Call of Duty.
"The story itself is asinine and mindless- as you’d expect from this series at this point- so there’s no question of you wanting to play more to find out what happens next. The writing is a collection of generic lines brought to life by regular, gruff, angrily voiced soldiers. The only thing that will keep you going in the campaign- if you do keep going in the campaign- is the undoubtedly thrilling gunplay."
However, this new feel to the combat doesn’t manage to hold your attention for the duration of the campaign. And that’s what the issue is- for the first time in a long time in a Call of Duty title, the campaign is actually of a decent length. While recent Call of Duty titles merely required around five to six hours of your time- four, if you played on easier difficulties- to blaze through the single player story, Black Ops III’s campaign lasts between eight to ten hours. And while there are the typical over the top set pieces and the familiar, tight gunplay to keep you going here, the single player campaign just doesn’t excite you the way those in Black Ops or Modern Warfare 2 did.
The story itself is asinine and mindless- as you’d expect from this series at this point- so there’s no question of you wanting to play more to find out what happens next. The writing is a collection of generic lines brought to life by regular, gruff, angrily voiced soldiers. The only thing that will keep you going in the campaign- if you do keep going in the campaign- is the undoubtedly thrilling gunplay.
But we all know what you’re thinking right now- if you’re buying Call of Duty, chances are, you don’t care much about the single player campaign. What you care about is whether the online multiplayer is worth the $60 you will spend on the game. Good news- it definitely is.
"Testing your skills using your extremely agile, mobile warriors against actual people, with the wild card of all your cybernetic abilities thrown in- makes for a blast of an experience, and one that you will surely keep coming back to."
The same abilities and movement options, coupled with the excellent map design you see in the campaign is in full effect in the online mode as well, and it works much, much better. Testing your skills using your extremely agile, mobile warriors against actual people, with the wild card of all your cybernetic abilities thrown in- makes for a blast of an experience, and one that you will surely keep coming back to.
What’s even better is that you have the option to customize your character to great lengths, illustrated perfectly well by the new, revamped class system. Be it something as simple as the gender of the character of what clothes you want him/her to wear, or something as typical of the Call of Duty games as what loadout you will have or what cool new abilities you want at your disposal, you can decide everything. By the time you’re really into the multiplayer mode, what with all the swarms of unlockable abilities, weapons and items, chances are you’ll have a character this is undoubtedly your own in nature and persona.
Having the option of choosing which powers and abilities you want- based on the class you pick for your soldiers- adds a new dimension of strategy to the electrifying multiplayer mode. There are certain powers and abilities that work better than others depending on the map you’re playing in, or the type of enemies or classes you’re fighting against, or the situation you find yourself in, and having the right powers in those situations often comes in very handy.
"Ultimately, Call of Duty: Black Ops III is exactly what all previous games have been for some time now- an evolution, rather than a revolution."
The stupidly popular Zombies mode from the first two Black Ops titles also makes a return here, to no one’s surprise, and it is as good as you’d expect it to be. This is a completely new take on the Zombies mode, providing the kind of innovation we’ve all been yearning for in Call of Duty titles for many years now- and without spoiling much, we’ll say this- it works. It works wonderfully. Not to mentioned the added bonus that is the Nightmares mode- essentially a repackaging of the campaign, but with its story this time focusing on a zombie epidemic. This Nightmares mode is more deliberate and slower in its pacing, but it’s a nice surprise and works well for the most part.
Ultimately, Call of Duty: Black Ops III is exactly what all previous games have been for some time now- an evolution, rather than a revolution. The multiplayer mode is a load of fun, and Zombies keeps being a pleasant surprise, but the added layers to the gunplay do very little to move Black Ops III away from the formula that this series has strictly stuck to these last few years.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Tight, thrilling gunplay; Cybernetic abilities and movement options such as wall running and ground sliding add new dimensions to the combat; Larger arenas lend player choice to the combat; Engaging, addictive multiplayer mode with loads of customization options; Zombies mode has been re-invented wonderfully; Nightmares mode is a pleasant surprise; A lot of content to make this game worth a purchase.
More of the same- almost too much now; Campaign can be a chore; Story in campaign is mindless and silly; Gameplay is starting to get stale if you’ve stuck with Call of Duty over the past few years.
Black Ops III is a very well made game, and one that gives you a great deal of content to reward your purchase, but there’s a feeling here that the developers are maybe playing it too safe, and this long into the franchise’s lifespan, we’re in desperate need of a re-invention.