Call of Duty: Black Ops III Review

By Blair Nokes on November 21, 2015

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare really changed the core gameplay mechanics with the insanely popular first person shooter by adding the EXO Suit and its abilities, giving players the freedom to boost in the air. This translated very well to its single player campaign as levels were larger than before to accommodate the added verticality, and also elevated competitive multiplayer to a much faster pace. Since Activision now has three development studios doing different Call of Duty games, the cycle has now landed on series veterans Treyarch to show us how they plan to move forward. Treyarch are previously known earlier Call of Duty titles, like CoD3 and Call of Duty: Big Red One. Most nowadays will remember them for the ever-popular Black Ops instalments and World at War; both of which included the fan favourite Zombies mode. Fans were eager to see what kind of Call of Duty to expect, and if Zombies would make a return. Utilizing the breakthrough that Sledgehammer paved, Treyarch continued the shift to advanced warfare and went many steps further. Call of Duty Black Ops 3 may be the most ambitious Call of Duty to date.

The story is set in a rather dystopian future of 2065. Fans will note that this would make it 40 years after the events of Black Ops 2, so to say a lot has changed would be an understatement. Most of the warring countries would use covert means behind enemy lines, as other advances such as air assaults were rendered obsolete thanks to vast increases in high-tech air defence. With all the technological innovations, society became resistive of fully adapting, to the point where protests were made to put a halt on all further progresses. From the military perspective, these advancements led to the rise of the use of robotics, and they now play a major role in combat. Similarly, supersoldiers have also been designed to blend a human instinct with robotic strength and speed. The player gets to choose between a male or female protagonist right off the bat, and will accompany a team of black ops members with supersoldier capabilities.

You begin the game infiltrating Ethiopia for hostage rescue and retrieval before you are brutally beaten to a pulp by a robot, removing both arms and breaking your right leg. From here, you undergo robotic augmentation and cybernetic enhancements so that you may still continue the fight. These cybernetic enhancements allow you to mentally and near-telepathically communicate to your teammates with the same enhancements, and it allows you to communicate with other machines as well. Five years after the events in Ethiopia, you are now under the command of CIA agent Rachel Kane, tasked with investigating a CIA site in Singapore that has recently gone quiet, only to find out that the site had been compromised by the 54 Immortals "“ Singapore's most powerful criminal organization. And without spoiling too much, expect your fair share of plot twists as you uncover the truth behind the attacks.

The story as a whole is decently done; I feel as though I was more attached to the characters in Advanced Warefare; however Black Ops 3 goes above and beyond in terms of just about everything else. The campaign is fairly beefy for a Call of Duty campaign "“ clocking in at about 15 hours on Veteran mode, so players can scale the total time accordingly based on difficulty. Speaking on that, there is also a new difficulty above Veteran; Realistic really ramps up the difficulty and offers the most challenging experience for players. You will also get a new campaign setting once you complete the game once so be sure to keep an eye out for what's in store. Some of the most memorable missions are scattered throughout the campaign, with my personal favourite being a rather"¦nostalgic experience towards the end. Each mission is not only vastly different in terms of setting, but also in their structure. With Black Ops 3, the vast majority of levels are set in larger, more open areas to give players the freedom to carry about a mission as they please. There are of course funnelled segments to fit the pace of whatever's happening, but on the whole they took the best part about Advanced Warfare's climax, and decided to run with it for the course of the game. Another great thing to note is that the campaign is designed for 1-4 players online co-op.

One of the biggest changes to the campaign is the addition of the home base. Before each level, you get to interact in a sort of virtual menu prior to each deployment. Here, you can customize your character's gender and appearance, customize your weapons and upgrades, train in VR training, view your service records, collectibles and medals, and interact with a computer labelled as the Data Vault. One little gift to you readers is that the popular twin stick shooter Dead Ops Arcade makes a delightful return and is unlocked by interacting with something in the Data Vault. This is by an large one of the most impressive things that's been added, as it both lets you feel like a Black Ops agent planning your next move, and it keeps the player in the game at all times, even down times like this when past games would simply be loading the next stage.

Like the EXO Suit in Advanced Warfare, Black Ops 3's cybernetic humans come with a new set of goodies to keep the gameplay feeling fresh. The biggest improvements are with the cyber cores and cyber rigs. Cyber cores are upgraded using the same universal upgrade points that you could also use to upgrade weapons, allowing players to cater to their own specific playstyles. Cores allow you to augment your character so that they do things like add more melee combos, hack into opposing machines to either disable or turn them against each other, make human enemies spontaneously vomit in the wide area of effect, or even rip the core cell out of a robot and use it as an explosive. There are loads to choose from, and all are separated into 3 class systems that you can choose either before each mission in the safe house, or during missions when loadout drop boxes appear. Players who get to level 20 will be able to sift through all three on the fly.

Boost jumping as freely as you could in Advanced Warfare has been a little toned down, but now we have the addition of running on walls. The mechanic is very simple to use, incredibly satisfying to kill in motion, or avoid fire, and definitely contributed to the level design to accommodate such free movement.

Zombie mode makes a triumphant return with two confirmed story segments: Shadows of Evil and Giant. Keep in mind that the retail game includes the first chapter, with later chapters being included in DLC or Seasons Pass holders. Jeff Goldblum, Ron Pearlman, Neal McDonough and Heather Graham all lend their voices as the main characters for Shadows of Evil, which is set in the fictional Morg City in 1942. Giant focuses on a story using alternate versions of the characters fans will remember from the Origins map in Black Ops 2. There's also a new XP progression system tied to Zombies.

Multiplayer is, as always, the biggest focus of any Call of Duty, despite seeing how much Treyarch decided to put into Black Ops 3's other components. This year hosts a new momentum-based movement system. The chained movement allows players to fluidly move throughout the map wall running or sliding while having complete control of your weapons. The biggest feature for this mode is Specialists mode "“ this lets players choose and rank up nine elite Black Ops soldiers. They all have their own look, personality, and weapon loadout, changing how you would normally engage in combat. At its early stages, the weapon classes seem like the need a bit of tinkering, as sub-machine guns don't offer much in the way of a response to many of the other gun classes that outclass them in damage or range.

The visuals for the gameplay are rather stunning at times. Set pieces, some of the character designs, level design, use of colour, and depth of field are all very well done. The particle and physics of some of the levels as you progress and watch things crumble, deteriorate, or alter in any way look remarkable in motion. Enemies are scattered at distances in some levels to compliment the scope of what you're playing in. Unfortunately, the cutscenes take a little dip in quality, with a bit of latency in mouth movements, jagged transitions, and the occasional audio cutout. Aside from those hiccups the audio and sound design is exactly what you have come to expect from a Call of Duty title: loud, full of bass, and great gun sounds.

Final Thoughts

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 isn't without its set of flaws, but Treyarch definitely stepped up their game this year, putting equal amounts of attention to all of Call of Duty's components. The single player has some memorable sets, and possibly the largest maps to date, and loads of replayability especially with online co-op. Zombies is Zombies and sells itself on that alone, but Treyarch still manages to entice players with new XP progression, and interesting stories to keep players going throughout the year. And multiplayer gets a reworking to compliment the new cybernetic movements of the Black Op Elites. In a month where everyone's bank accounts are screaming in agony, Black Ops 3 offers a complete package for those that want to get the most out of their dollar.

The new Safe House in between campaign missions is something I hope stays with future installments.
The new cyber cores offer great ways to strategize your game, and wall running is a great new addition to the core mechanics.
Specialists is a great new system for multiplayer that adds more personality to the competitive scene.
Facial movements can be off during cutscenes.
Audio cuts out in places.
Guns may need some attention in balancing.
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