It feels kind of weird starting a Call of Duty review without me mentioning how new I am to the series, but the truth is I can’t really call myself a newcomer anymore. I played Ghosts back when the PS4 launched and since then I have been pretty hooked on the series. I played and reviewed Advanced Warfare last year, bought the Modern Warfare games and Black Ops games and here I am again reviewing the latest from Activision and Treyarch with Black Ops 3.
By now you probably have a pretty good idea what to expect from a Call of Duty game. A relatively short but action-packed campaign, tight multiplayer and some of the prettiest graphics, but does that all hold together to make this year’s release worthwhile? Let’s take a look.
Ain’t nothing dull about these black ops
I won’t waste too much time on the visuals of the game because there are only so many superlatives you can throw out there. The graphics in Black Ops III are nothing short of spectacular with some of the best character models I have ever seen. My character’s beard was so realistic I was almost (almost) jealous.
Facial animations are one thing, but the whole level design including buildings, foliage, fires and even the distant animations look amazing and certainly finds a great place for all that 60fps action that goes on. The game is incredibly smooth and I didn’t have a single issue with frame rate drops or anything of the like. It’s one quality filled experience from start to finish.
Campaigning for a campaign
The campaign is always my favourite part of the Call of Duty franchise, much to the disbelief of many. I always find them fun to play through and the non-stop action with explosive set pieces just doesn’t get old.
Black Ops III is a different beast, of course, to Advanced Warfare, Ghosts and the WW2 based games. It’s got an edge to it that borders on the totally weird… and by that I mean almost supernatural feel to it. The story in Black Ops III revolves around the fight between human and AI with a concept called DNI. The basic idea is that the AI abilities of DNI assist soldiers with their abilities making them almost like super soldiers.
It takes a look at a special operative team as they battle to find out what happened in a classified mission which resulted in test subjects not making it out alive. It’s not an overly original concept but the majority of it is presented well. I don’t want to give away much of the story but it is full of twists and turns, with some character development along the way, albeit not quite as much as you’d hope, but more than you’d possibly expect from CoD.
One thing that wasn’t great though was the voice acting. After having Kevin Spacey and co last year it was definitely a drop in quality. Some of the voicing sounds robotic and out of place, and it’s not helped by some of the dialogue at time. It doesn’t detract from the game but it could have been better.
Similarly, I couldn’t help but feel that the campaign had a little less “oomph” about it. I always liked my experience with CoD to that turning point in Ghosts where I became intrigued. That mission where you enter a building at night, repel down the side, jump in and take out a floor of enemies silently. It just felt so special at the time. Advanced Warfare let me take control of a mech suit, which was pretty epic. Blops III doesn’t quite have anything like that. It’s really just one room filled with enemies to shoot moving to the next and the next with little to no set pieces in between. It’s still great to play through but that was a bit of a let-down.
All in all the campaign is enjoyable and the fact that you can play it in co-op makes a huge difference too. There’s nothing quite as great as shooting things in the face with a couple of mates. It also helps with the Cybernetics aspect of the game which Blops III introduces.
Soldiers, thanks to the DNI have Cybernetic abilities which are almost like added on superpowers of sorts. There are three trees available with different options such as controlling a turret, malfunctioning a robot with one button or turning invisible. Playing solo will generally result in you focusing on one of the trees, but playing co-op opens up so many options and ways to combine your skills that it adds a whole new element to the game.
I personally loved the Cybernetics and made particular use of going invisible for periods of time. It worked well and adds a completely new dimension to the way you play the game. It also adds to some replayability as you might want to try different skills on a second playthrough.
What adds even more replayability is the fact that once you finish the main campaign you unlock a new mode called “Nightmares”. I only looked at this briefly but it’s the same campaign only the world is infested with Zombies. It’s a great touch and adds a little something different to the campaign making it something I will definitely be playing again.
More modes than you (or a certain president) can count
One thing Black Ops III does not do, is skimp on modes. Aside from the campaign and Nightmares (which can be played in numerous ways) the game has a Free Runner mode included. This mode puts you on a course as a sort of first person platformer. It’s a great way to get used to the new controls, the wall runs, the boosts, the shooting and much more. The courses can be a little frustrating, but it’s a fun addition if nothing else.
I also discovered a “hidden” mode while playing the campaign called Dead Ops 2. It’s presented as a little arcade game with 8-bit graphics intros and all. The actual game is a top-down, twin stick shooter where you have to take out hordes of zombies before moving to a new area. It reminded a lot of Dead Nation but had some extras like little boosts, different guns and a modifier which suddenly throws you into first-person view for a short time.
Dead Ops 2 is meant to be a side mode, but I ended up playing it for over 2 hours when I first discovered it. I have barely heard anyone else mention it so make sure you check it out. If you need to know how, just ask.
Zombies mode is probably my favourite inclusion. While it was a paid for add-on, and an expensive one at that, in Advanced Warfare, it is included in Black Ops III. There are two maps to start as you pick your character and weapons that you want to take with you into the noir inspired environment where you must fend off hordes of zombies and other undead enemies within a confined space.
The voice acting in Zombies (which includes Jeff Goldblum, I mean come on!) is superb, far better than the main campaign and with the right mix of humour and information makes the mode a joy to play. It’s best with a co-op partner (up to 4) as you try to expand the area, build up barriers, earn money and improve your weaponry to ensure that you aren’t taken out by one of these monsters.
There is a great little system built into the mode where you eat gumballs that give you perks or time based advantages, as well as being able to improve and upgrade weaponry along the way. Zombies is definitely not an easy mode, even with a friend, but it is a ton of fun and almost worth the money alone.
Of course then, there is the multiplayer. Now for many people this is the be all and end all of the CoD franchise and I am glad to say that in terms of the offering I have been suitably impressed. There are 11 different modes in total which can be played online, split-screen or via LAN and it all works as you’d expect. Free-for-All is always a lot of fun but Uplink and Team Domination have to be my favourites.
It helps that (on PS4 at least) there are local servers which meant that the lag was absolutely minimal for me at almost all times. The menus and process of getting into games is seamless and a clear strength of Black Ops III is just how much fun the fast paced online multiplayer is. It does require you to get your eye in but with all the different modes it just never gets old.
Added into the multiplayer is also a “specialist” option. Everyone must choose a specialist before going into battle and what that gives you is a certain special ability which can be unlocked while in the arena. Things like exploding arrows and other weapon abilities add even more depth to the multiplayer, it’s not just about the ‘shoot first ask questions later’ (okay, it mostly is).
The last thing worth mentioning is that all the modes run separately in terms of levelling up. The way the campaign is set up means that you generally only carry your own loadout during a mission. In-between missions you can spend fabrication kits to upgrade just about anything, get perks, attachments, new guns, new grenades and new Cybernetic abilities. There is a built-in experience level for the campaign.
Multiplayer and Zombies has its own levelling up system so what you get in campaign won’t carry through. I like this setup as it once again adds replayability to the campaign if you want to get all the weapons and extras, but it also means that you can concentrate on each mode separately and try different things for each.
Black Ops Mission Complete?
I have been impressed throughout my experience with Black Ops III thus far. The campaign, while not the best, was still excellent while the Cybernetic abilities and fast pace really lend to the overall experience. With Dead Ops, Zombies, Nightmares, Multiplayer, Co-Op and Free Runner there is just so much on offer that I have to think it’s the most complete CoD package I have ever seen.
There’s a lot of (misguided in my opinion) hate for the CoD franchise, but I think if ever you wanted to try get into the series this offers the best value for money. At the very worst it’s impossible not to have fun playing the game with a buddy or three so take a chance and pick it up, you won’t be sorry.