Published on December 1st, 2015 | by Chris Scott0
Call of Duty: Black Ops III Review
Summary: Playing and feeling like Call of Duty should is Black Ops III’s biggest positive and its biggest negative.
Same Old CoD
After feeling somewhat fatigued by Call of Duty: Ghosts, Call of Duty: Armored Warfare reinvigorated my interest in the series. Coming on the heels of Titanfall, Armored Warfare delivered a fresh feeling Call of Duty game. Shooters were evolving to incorporate more and more mobility into their gameplay. They were designing around a sense of verticality that hadn’t been there in the previous generation. Shooters were once again fun and exciting.
Though, as much as I liked Armored Warfare, it was clearly just Activision’s opening act to their main draw, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, the second sequel in the most popular subseries of Call of Duty. Where Ghosts and Armored Warfare played it safe from a business perspective, both releasing full feature complete versions on the last gen consoles as well as the new gen ones, Black Ops III goes almost all in with the new systems. This year, Black Ops III throws only the multiplayer fans on old consoles a bone, with a special multiplayer only edition. If you want the whole feature-complete package though, you’ll need to play it on Playstation 4, Xbox One, or PC.
Black Ops III certainly has the look and feel of the big stage performer featuring all the bells and whistles you’ve come to expect. It also projects an air of confidence that neither Ghosts nor Armored Warfare necessarily had. It actually seems so confident in itself, what with its menu screen adorned by the nameless operative lording over your screen, that it actually feels a bit cocky.
If nothing else, Black Ops III is loaded with content for players of all types. Solo fans have their campaign. Co-op fans can play the campaign together as well as participating in developer Treyarch’s latest iteration on their popular Zombies mode. And competitive multiplayer fans have a slew of new maps, weapons, and special abilities to explore in this year’s addition.
The campaign and the competitive multiplayer have a new focus on mobility and special abilities. Last year Advanced Warfare introduced players to a new, more mobile Call of Duty. That continues with Black Ops III, although Treyarch’s approach to mobility is completely different.
Advanced Warfare’s exo suit’s allowed for fast paced play but they felt very different from the other big mobile shooter of last year, Titanfall. That distinction is now gone. Black Ops III feels like it was cut from the same cloth as Titanfall. Wall running and jet-pack jumping are all in play here and Treyarch has designed both the campaign and the competitive multiplayer around this fast paced modification.
The lines between campaign and multiplayer have always been pretty well drawn but Black Ops III blurs them dramatically for this installment. Instead of being outfitted by what the narrative dictates, Black Ops III gives you access to a Safe House in between missions where you can outfit and design your custom loadout, for your custom character, complete with perks. As you play, you’ll earn experience points that unlock points to be spent on weapons or special abilities. It’s basically multiplayers progression system bolted on to the campaign.
The design certainly works but in the past there was something special about being forced into a role I may not have been comfortable with, like say the Ghillie suit level from Modern Warfare 4. Because of this, I approached nearly every encounter the exact same way and I feel some of the variety from past campaigns is gone because of that. There are a few occasions where the game requires you to do something and it will give you the special weapon to do said thing but these instances are few and far between.
I’ve never really minded the roller coaster shooter ride that Call of Duty has offered over the last decade. They’ve always been fun and enjoyable. Black Ops III doesn’t change that but the entire campaign just feels a bit underwhelming and maybe even a bit safe. And that is the biggest problem with the game, and a theme throughout all the modes, the game is underwhelming and safe. Where Black Ops and Black Ops II pushed the Call of Duty franchise to its limits and helped it grow, Black Ops III is a step back. And some of the encounters feel on par with the worst one’s Treyarch has done in a game going back to Call of Duty III and World at War. One’s where gunfire is coming from all angles and you can’t pin down how to advance.
And none of the campaigns issues are alleviated by the nonsensical story being told. Black Ops III is near incomprehensible. Past Call of Duty titles have certainly had their nonsensical aspects, but Black Ops III takes that absurdity to a whole new level of dumb. Michael Bay wouldn’t even put that in a film level of dumb. Character motivations are never properly explored, some characters just act directly against established aspects of their personality, and sometimes things just happen because they look cool.
Finishing the campaign though unlocks a secret second campaign, entitled Nightmare, that eliminates some of my issues but brings a host of its own. Nightmare mode brings zombies into the game as the primary enemies. It’s weird but more fun than the main campaign. That said, I played a couple levels of it and shut it off. I just didn’t really care enough.
Something else I care zero for but tried to give a fair shake to was the revamped Zombies mode called Shadows of Evil. This Zombie mode ditches the mobility of the campaign and competitive sides of things and puts players in control of an eclectic group of film noir stereotypes. The core conceit of Zombies hasn’t really changed over the years and it returns pretty much intact with a couple new additions. If you’ve liked past iterations, I imagine you’ll continue to enjoy it. It’s not a mode for me but with so much else on offer, it’s not something that needs to be for me.
Where Zombies and the campaign failed to grab me, I was hoping the multiplayer would hit the spot. Thankfully, it does so to some extent, more because of the core Call of Duty gameplay being fun to play than anything Black Ops III brings new to the table.
Black Ops III does bring more to the multiplayer arena than just the mobility. It also features a specialization (class) system that grants players use of special ability in game, separate from scorestreaks. These special abilities can be both active and passive and you can custom design the specialists to work within your standard play style. The active abilities seem comparable to special abilities in Destiny, and using them well can be particularly devastating to the other team. And the fact that they aren’t locked behind scorestreaks means that everyone has a chance to be the badass in the game at least once.
I feared the Titanfall-esque mobility and special abilities would hurt the game flow but Treyarch have designed their maps very smartly and it feels good moving around the map at high speed while shooting exploding arrows at anything that moves. I do wonder if returning to the multiplayer in 3 months will tell a different story though as I can see the skill gap widening considerably over time, but right now the game plays and feels like Call of Duty should.
Playing and feeling like Call of Duty should is Black Ops III’s biggest positive and its biggest negative. Despite having those new mechanics, none of it felt engaging in a way that will have me continuing to play for a long time. And in a year where the shooter competition is far more fierce than it has been Call of Duty: Black Ops III not being engaging is the worst sin it could commit.
This review was written with material provided by the publisher on the Xbox One console. For more on our review process, please read here.