It’s been just over twelve years since the Call of Duty franchise was created and in the time since then, gaming itself has made huge leaps in quality, bringing ideas galore to the table. Call of Duty cannot and should not rest on its laurels; hence it needs to constantly add improvements and enhancements every year. Where can Black Ops III developers, Treyarch, take the series to ensure that the shooter fans aren’t left thinking it’s the same game every year?
Well, they’ve certainly managed to switch things up and go all out when it comes down to the sci-fi elements of this shoot-em-up.
The best place to start is the new-gen exclusive Campaign mode, offering a story for up to four players to tackle either online or locally. You are placed into a hostage rescuing mission in the year 2065 with Commander John Taylor, who’s accompanied by a team of cybernetically improved soldiers. Things go wrong and after a severe injury to the main character, the only way to prevent certain death is to be equipped with cybernetics too. Then it’s all about getting to grips with these new powers and putting them to good use.
Unfortunately, throughout the expansive areas that the missions were based and all the explosions that followed, I was generally left bored and irritated for the most part. Not being able to keep up with the apparent story being told due to some really poor writing that included repetition of a truly memorable phrase, for all the wrong reasons – “Train go boom”. It didn’t even look that great except for a handful of characters that had instantly recognisable faces.
What about the action though? Because the set pieces and variety throughout most CoD campaigns are usually the part you can always bank on right? However, the one found in Black Ops III becomes monotonous real quick due to a lack of any changes to the approach for nigh on every level. Even the enemies which are no longer limited to humans alone, but also robots, are a tad yawn inducing. Especially when it pits you against the same over-sized robots about five times across two levels. To take it down requires a ridiculous amount of ammo to be used, making it a bit of a chore.
Sure, people may enjoy the more supernatural themed later levels that completely mess with the mind and potentially the zombie infested replayability that comes with completion, but will many stick it out and get that far? Doubt it.
Considering it was supposed to be a great co-op experience, it’s equally bland whether you’re with friends or going solo. Black Ops III can throw as many cool abilities such as manipulating robots or going invisible at us that it wants, if the story doesn’t connect with the player and there’s very little variation in missions then it’s all in vain. I miss controlling a dog or being stealthy; just something different every so often wouldn’t go amiss. There’s also a lack of situations where one of the decent features of recent times in shooters, wall-running, can be of any benefit.
It’s safe to say that the Campaign is a far cry to that which I’m used to seeing from the series, but fear not because there’s always Multiplayer. This is where many an hour will be spent taking in the vast selection of game mode playlists and high octane gameplay. You’ve got all the standard types such as Team Deathmatch, Capture The Flag, Search & Destroy, Domination, Demolition, Hardpoint, Kill Confirmed and Free-For-All; a few of which are available in Hardcore mode without the HUD, limited health and friendly fire, enabling your pals to take you out by accident over and over again.
Everyone should know what to expect from those game types, whereas the ones I’ve not mentioned may not have a concept as well known. Uplink is my absolute favourite of all the modes and is an evolution of the popular Halo mode, Grifball. They’ve simply replaced the swords and hammers with guns galore, whilst attempting to throw a satellite drone into the enemy’s Uplink Station and have added in all the obstacles that generally populates a CoD map. There are few better feelings than throwing the drone halfway across the map to a teammate, before certain death, to claim an assist.
Safeguard takes the classic protect the leader type mode, makes the leader a robot and urges you to protect it as it attempts to reach the enemy base before the time runs out. Teams take turns to escort the robot; making sure someone sticks by it otherwise it’ll just stand still. The opposing team has to take out the escorting players or damage the robot enough that it powers down for a short while. As the robot gets closer, everyone panics and all manner of grenades get used in the hope that one will help secure a victory.
Then there are the Bonus playlists, featuring Chaos Moshpit which mixes small maps with different game modes to cause frenetic goings on, Mercenary Moshpit where parties aren’t allowed across various objective based games and then the bigger team sizes in Ground War. Gun Game has always been my go-to game for something a little different; here, getting kills with a weapon advances you to the next one until you’ve got a kill with all the weapons on offer to win. It’s always funny to see the person in the lead get knocked back down a gun after a swift knife to the face.
I’m putting all my cards on the table now, I don’t think my reflexes are up to the pace that’s involved in near on every multiplayer mode, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate how fluid the action can be or how cleverly designed the maps are. Each of the twelve maps manage in some way to incorporate enough sneaky passageways, plenty of wall-running sections and a whole host of routes that interconnect, to allow the player strategic opportunities galore. Visually they aren’t the best; however they’ll take you across the globe from an aquarium in Singapore, to the woodlands in Northern California, to a World War II simulated village in France. Plenty of variety in the environments ensures that none will become boring too quickly.
Customisation is always a bit overwhelming for me, or maybe it’s the fact I don’t care to set up lots of different classes kitted up with various weapons and perks to suit specific situations. All of it is there though to not only add attachments but also the ability to personalise the weapons by choosing things like skins and reticles. It seems as though there aren’t as many weapons as there have been in years gone by; still, there’s enough choice on offer. One of the biggest decisions to make will be which Specialist to take into battle.
With nine different characters in total, the Specialists each come with their own special ability to use during matches once it has recharged. These soldiers, all given a Callsign, are unlocked using level-up tokens and so you must choose wisely early on or you’ll end up burning through these tokens on Specialists instead of unlocking guns and scorestreak rewards etc. Abilities are pretty damn awesome, such as a ground pound using spikes to cause a close range shockwave or the freaking cool electricity shooting weapon ability that Prophet has – one which can chain kill nearby enemies!
For those gamers who prefer a more private affair, you can set up your own custom games, with the option to fiddle with the rules, to invite friends and acquaintances into. The more skilled shooters can try their hand at the hardcore Arena ranked playlists which are currently in a Beta phase; this is where the best of the best should hang out. That’s almost everything on the Multiplayer side, except for the Freerun mode that works as a practice arena of sorts. There are only four courses but they’ll certainly put your movement skills to the test and allow you to get to grips with shooting on the move, in mid-air or even during an epic slide.
I’ve briefly mentioned zombies already, with their appearances in the Campaign, but this wouldn’t be a CoD game without an actual Zombies mode. And as if by magic… there is one. ‘Shadows of Evil’ is the map on offer to all who delve into Black Ops III Zombies and is set in the 1940s on the streets of Morg City. With a stellar cast (Ron Perlman, Neal McDonough, Heather Graham and Jeff Goldblum) portraying the controllable characters, this has a potentially cool story to tell. Sadly, you need to have a decent team to advance through the rounds of evil creatures coming your way; something I lacked.
Nevertheless, Morg City looks the part for this bygone era and there are plenty of guns available to buy plus new areas to open up during the action. One of the sweet new features are the bubblegum stands filled with Gobblegum. Here is where you’ll gain access to a randomly selected perk from your set chosen before venturing into the city. Over time you’ll earn Liquid Divinium to use in unlocking more perks to choose from, thus possibly making it easier to last longer once the best perks are available.
Call of Duty Black Ops III brings a hefty amount of content to the table with plenty of modes to sink your teeth into and a lengthy campaign too. It’s the campaign alone though that really hampers this from being a fantastic game for both solo and team players. I’ve never been so disappointed with one of the CoD campaigns; it has just made a poor attempt at being a co-op story when it could barely stand up as an enjoyable solo offering.
If you only look at shooters for the online multiplayer then I can barely fault Black Ops III, with only a couple of matchmaking issues being the negatives. Should the idea of a four player campaign be what you’re after, then I’m afraid that you won’t be too happy.
Call of Duty Black Ops III hits the mark with every shot, until it comes to the campaign where they seem to have run out of bullets.