Reviews// Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Posted 27 Nov 2015 14:22 by
E3 2015
E3 2015
?I don?t play Call of Duty games for the story.? Actually, I do play Call of Duty games for the story. Back when the series was (slightly) more grounded in reality, I hugely enjoyed battling through World War II. History is a huge passion of mine and I got a kick out of interacting with key moments of the war.

Consequently, when the series became all about ?Modern Warfare? I kind of lost interest. Although the Second World War has its share of moral ambiguity, it pales in comparison to the quagmire that has been ?Modern Warfare.? For this reason, I?ve never felt particularly engaged with games set in the current and near future. It?s not so much the moral ambiguity, but the fact that despite nukes going off left and right, they never manage to reach the epic level attained by games set in the Second World War, possibly because the significance of that conflict is so deeply ingrained in the collective psyche that even taking a set of machine gun nests feels significant.

Enter Black Ops. Whereas the other games of the Call of Duty universe continued to depict a specific version of the future, Black Ops returned to the past. The original game focused largely on the Cold War era, specifically the actions of a fictitious operative working for the CIA. Whilst the game touched on a number of important stages of the era, it was the developer?s attempt at exploring psychological warfare during that era that I found most interesting. It is this aspect that continues in Black Ops 3.

As with the mainline series, Black Ops has now left both the past and present day and is set in what is rapidly becoming, release by release, the more distant future. The rationale for doing this is easy to understand as regarding game mechanics. Historical shooters had, it seems, gone as far as was possible and the future setting offers very few constraints. However, innovation in Black Ops 3 feels far less integral to the game experience than the developers were probably hoping, although its narrative fits perfectly.

In Black Ops 3?s future, soldiers are inevitably equipped with enhanced abilities. The player chooses a ?core? which then provides a specific set of abilities, such as controlling robots, enhanced movement, invisibility etc. So far, so Deus Ex. In theory this should provide a fresh way to engage in battle. However, the way in which these abilities were presented meant that it was only towards the end of the game that I began to feel comfortable using them. For the whole middle section of the game, I completely forgot how to use them, instead sticking with the more traditional ?shoot everything that moves? approach. The reason for this is the way they are introduced.

The opening missions of the campaign give the player full access to all of the abilities. A few tutorial levels demonstrate how they work and when they will be useful in different situations. However, once these levels are over, the abilities are stripped away, leaving the player with only a gun to rely on. On completion of each mission, the player is awarded with the ability to upgrade these abilities, but this is not made explicitly clear. Consequently, I played a lot of the campaign without them.

Happily, this didn?t impact my enjoyment. However, this does raise questions as to the reason for their inclusion. Although once mastered, the abilities make the game more enjoyable, they never feel essential. For this reason, it feels like their inclusion is a bit of a missed opportunity because they don?t really offer any significantly different ways to approach each mission. I wasn?t expecting Deus Ex or even Dishonored-level opportunities, but something other than, ?this makes killing easier? would have been nice.

The campaign story is slightly more coherent than previous games in the series and focusses primarily on the usual current story telling trends, privacy concerns, the dangers of artificial intelligence and a world in which national governments seem increasingly irrelevant. It?s a reasonably lengthy campaign that begins to wear out its welcome towards the end.

Whilst the inclusion of abilities does help to prevent gameplay from becoming monotonous the level design, whilst quite beautiful, is rather formulaic. There is nothing here to match ?No Russian,? ?Mile High Club? or Vendetta, from World at War. Nothing truly feels epic or even significant. Future wars are already beginning to feel played out and I hope that Treyarch look somewhere else for their next instalment in the franchise. There are hints of this with the inclusion of ?Nightmares,? a game mode unlocked once the main game has been completed. I won?t spoil what happens here but it?s an interesting way to reimagine the main game and is highly enjoyable.

One of the key strengths of Black Ops 3 is the amount of content available. Aside from the aforementioned ?Nightmares? mode, the game also includes the now obligatory ?Zombies? mode. This features two separate story campaigns and although they were obviously not enough to stand alone as separate games, there is a generous amount of content to get to grips with. Playable in multiplayer this may provide something for those pining for Left4Dead 3 (at this stage it looks like it?s the best we?re going to get. Thanks Gabe). Indeed, multiplayer support is truly excellent, with the usual competitive, but also cooperative game modes. These are particularly impressive as the campaign mode is playable with up to four players, with Zombie mode providing further incentive to return.

E3 2015
E3 2015
Venturing online to play competitively was not as terror-inducing as I was expecting. Sure, there were the usual screaming teenagers, but they are easily muted. Upon connection the player is given the option of choosing a tier to join.

As someone who hasn?t played Call of Duty online for several years I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was still able to hold my own in the lowest tier. I put this down to the sheer number of players online, thus making matchmaking extremely easy. There?s always someone of a similar skill level available for a game. In multiplayer, the enhanced movement abilities, whilst close to Titanfall, never feel overwhelming. As with the campaign they feel more like a complement to the usual gunplay rather than a major innovation.

I didn?t play this edition of Call of Duty for the story. I played it because overall it was tremendous fun. It?s not my
place to tell Activision what to do next with the franchise, but if the overall package is as solid as this one then I?ll be back next year.

+ A huge wealth of content.
+ Visually impressive.
+ Extensive co-op options.

- Abilities don?t really go anywhere.
- Future war beginning to feel played out.
- Campaign is a little too long.

SPOnG Score: 7/10

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