Game – Call of Duty Black Ops 3
Publisher – Activision / Treyarch
Release Date – November 6th, 2015
Platforms – PC, PS4, Xbox One (full game) Xbox 360, PS3 (multiplayer only)
Call of Duty Black Ops 3 and the three year cycle of development was taken full advantage of by Treyarch with an insane amount of content at launch for a shooter. While the “shower them with content” idea works great in theorem, in practice it is simply not practical in BO3. . With so much to do in Black Ops 3 and so many options, one would think you would have endless hours upon hours of fun while playing. Now, while in theory there is some logic to this frame of thinking, in reality there was simply TOO much individual content in Black Ops 3 which resulted in not enough total content in each of these individual areas. As a result, the collaborative result of Treyarch’s effort felt rushed and detracted from the overall game. It’s a shame too because with so much potential and build up for some of the new and returning options in the franchise it could have, and should have, been much more. Think “too many chefs spoil the soup” type of thing.
Let’s start with the campaign (the first one as there are two) as it received the most buildup of this year’s installment with the new implementations into the game. Time wise, you’ll need about 10 hours or so to complete it, most likely upwards of 12 depending on your difficulty level you choose. The premise story wise of the campaign features your character headed up by Christopher Meloni as Commander John Taylor (no, not the catcher from Major League). It takes place forty years after Black Ops 2 in 2065. Human military personnel are reminiscent of something out of the Jean Claude Van Damme movie Universal Soldier. Soldiers are augmented with various AI technology that allows them to read others thoughts, control their movements etc. Of course, since it’s technology, something goes awry and the soldiers start to flip out and need to be stopped. Your job, is to do just that all the while finding how and why this happened. It’s a point in time where technology has surpassed human understanding and humans themselves are essentially more inhuman than human with all the technology in them. Singularity. When technology has surpassed human thought.
The concept sounds cool I admit. The execution, however, is where it lacks with a mix of both good and bad. On the good side, there is so much more campaign wise in Black Ops 3 that it makes your head spin at first. It’s not your typical wash, rinse, repeat COD campaign like there has been in the past. There is always so much going on gunfire wise that there isn’t a lull in the action. If you don’t really care about the story and just see how it ends, for the first time you are able to just skip right to the end. Just play the last level and boom, you’re done. Doing this, however, makes you miss out on some of the new additions to the game and if you’re playing it, you should at least check them out. In between levels you return to safehouses where you can do all the typical COD things like change up loadouts, etc. The new special abilities, called Cybercore, can be upgraded and enhanced as well. During the levels, these let you take on abilities like being able to command AI bots or set the enemy bots on fire among a host of others. We won’t spoil them all for you, but there are a few that you can experiment with and there is simply way too much going on to wrap your head around
There are also hidden easter eggs in these safe houses, including the arcade game Dead Ops 3, which you’ll have to search around in one of them for. Again, it’s up to you to find and we’re not going to spoil which one it is for you. After all , that’s part of the fun: Thrill of the hunt. These new features are beneficial to the campaign, but in the end it just felt boring because of a number of features. First, is the lack of characters. After the second level everything is the same other than the environment which changes but doesn’t have an impact on the game itself. True to COD form, you find yourself locked in a tunnel vision, straight ahead shootout. Kill bots move forward. Kill bots move forward. Absent from the campaign itself is any sort of “special” objectives to change up the game play. I was expecting something of the sort of destroy some bunkers to move on or anything really in addition to killing enemies to add to the story. Unfortunately none of that is present during the game and it’s simply kill enemies move forward, kill enemies move forward, next level. Rather than adding it to the game, it was strange to see Treyarch keep the additional story details in the safehouse data files, which you can read if you want. This I recommend doing as if you don’t, it will look like even more of a hodge podge than it is and completely confusing. Reading the files at least provides more insight into the Black Ops 3 story but it doesn’t remove the repetitive game play or enhance it in any way unfortunately.
The first campaign (yes, remember there are two) ends with a feeling reminiscent of something you would get out of a Michael Bay film. There are crazy explosions and action all over the place but when it’s over, you find the substance incredibly lacking and asking yourself “What did I just watch?”. The second campaign, however, admittedly is pretty cool. Personally, I’m more of a Battlefield guy than a COD guy and even I was impressed with the second campaign. This campaign is a reworked version of the main campaign with a slightly different layout in levels.
Called Nightmare, it’s a zombie campaign. I know, don’t freak out. It is cool. Nightmares mode has a brand new story line completely separate from the standard campaignn. There are new characters, new dialogue, new objectives and even a creepy, Mass Effect Harbinger like voice over character that is always lurking in the background as you’re playing. This campaign is actually much better than the game’s normal campaign as it does what it needs to do correctly. Featuring zombies, the missions are slower than the main campaign and story wise, it rebrands things focusing on a zombie infection turning people into the undead rather than malfunctioning human/machine hybrids. We liked this campaign and it should have been the main campaign mode in Black Ops 3 as surprisingly, as a second mode which only unlocks AFTER you beat the main story, seems to have more attention to detail and effort put into it than its mainline counterpart.
Of course, co-op campaign is in Black Ops 3 as well this year and we tested it out, especially using the Realistic mode, which is a one shot one kill mode added to the game this year by Treyarch. Word of advice – Don’t do this. The obvious frame of thinking is co-op equals more people playing which will equal easier time winning especially against harder odds like one shot one kill, right? We thought so too but it’s totally not the case. In co-op, there is a scaled difficulty setting that adds more levels the more players you have. With one shot one kill or even Veteran difficulty, it’s incredibly insane to try and complete the level. One of the game’s enemies, called a Warlord, takes two to three COMPLETE magazines to kill. Now, on realistic that’s hard enough to do because there are of course other enemies on screen at the same time. While playing solo. Add a friend into the mix introducing a second Warlord as well as other enemies and now you have a recipe for disaster. It’s a difficulty mode that is welcome if you play solo but not in co-op. I understand the mentality of the whole “Yeah, but it forces you to use strategy” frame of thinking but that’s not what this does. The extra enemies takes away from strategy and makes it pure luck in order for you to survive, like 85% luck 15% skill. By ALL MEANS play Realistic on solo campaign as it adds to strategy and detracts from the whole COD has no strategy mantra slightly but just enough to increase your pulse just a little more.
The standard zombies mode is back and of course Black Ops 3 gives its own twist. In a no name city in the 1940’s, we’re treated to a noire type zombies mode featuring four actors of the likes of Heather Graham, Ron Perlman, Neil McDonough and the Chaotician himself Jeff Goldblum. What this mode does, along with the Nightmare zombie campaign, is what I wish the main COD campaign did. Ever. Just for one game. It makes experimentation and planning a must. Zombies has always been difficult and this year’s version, called Shadows of Evil, is nothing short of that. A simple decision like unlocking this door instead of that may lead you to salvation or an endless horde and guess what….you’re dead. There is something cool about seeing people in 1940’s garb and fedoras mowing down zombies left and right and that added to the overall feel of the game mode we had. To be honest, we wanted to stop after a few rounds because we were getting wiped by round three. On the other hand, after sticking with it we were able to get up to around 15 or 20 rarely depending on a combination of luck and most importantly, skill, which severely is lacking in the main campaign typical to true COD form.
This is what everyone wanted to see, right? How did Treyarch switch it up on us this year? Well, a couple of ways actually but none that held up too long unfortunately. With nine specialists in the game, four of them are unlocked at the beginning for you to choose from. As you level up during matches you unlock certain other specialists each at their own levels and having their own individual special abilities. Of these enhancements they are a special ability or a power weapon but the kick is you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Only one of these is available to carry at any one time and you have to choose which you think is better based on the corresponding character and map/mode you plan on playing. Pre-release we heard about some of the different specialists that would be available and for us the one I was looking forward to the most was Seraph. One of her abilities is a one shot kill handgun that literally kills your enemies with one shot. For someone like me who is more of a defensive player with a modest K/D ratio, this was going to be the weapon that would put me over the top, or so I thought. Remember, you unlock various specialists as you go with different unlocks for each along the way. The one shot kill ability was in the lower 20’s but by the time I got there I was bored out of my mind. This came from a combination of things. Remember the “Too many chefs spoil the soup” at the top I mentioned? This is mainly what we were referring to. With so many options available, it became difficult to focus on any one thing. By the time you get a certain character leveled up to where you want to be, you’re too bored with the lack of variety to test out another character as learning with the new character will take just as much time as your first one, and so on and so on.
Those new or not to savvy at multiplayer will need to check out the Freerun mode. It’s a practice mode that allows you to test out some of the new abilities each character has including wall running ala Titanfall. It helps newer players and is a good addition especially with the maps in Black Ops 3.
Black Ops 3 is an odd animal of sorts as what is in the game (absent the main campaign) plays and flows well in and of itself. Unfortunately, there is so little variety to the game that it gets pretty boring pretty quickly. We played through the entire campaign, both main and Nightmares, and when it was over we had that “Ok, what’s next?” feeling. In multiplayer matches it became frustrating, and will even more post release, with the separation of both veteran/pro gamers and your standard COD gamer. One of the main discrepancies of Call of Duty as a series is how a couple of players can skew the entire match for either the good or bad for you team depending on how good or bad they are. This flaw is only enhanced in Black Ops 3 because of the hit or miss ability due to so many options. Now, veteran players won’t really mind as it may just take them slightly longer to get their loadouts ironed down per character and map and they’ll be ready to go. Newer or average players will see a combination of frustration from both the variety of options as well as increased difficulty due to the more prepared veterans that they’ll stop playing sooner. We saw this in our early preview, which admittedly was mostly reviewers at the time, and it STILL occurred. That’s reviewers who play games for the purpose of reviewing them were quitting early. Granted, it was a small microcosm of the time, but it’s only going to be enhanced with the general public.
With so much added into Black Ops 3, Treyarch went too far because due to the number of options alone there was never enough added into any one part to make it complete. The campaign lacked because of the zombies which lacked because of Nightmare mode which lacked because of multiplayer option. Too many chefs spoil the soup. With so many options available, it became obvious the plan of action was to simply overwhelm with options. Now, sometimes this can be a good thing if done properly or options are integrated into one another. In Black Ops 3, however, each thing is its separate entity not tied into any other option and as a result lacks detail and never really gets the full effort. It’s as if during development over at Treyarch when someone said the normal “Hey won’t this get bad feedback?” the response was to say, “Don’t worry about it, we still have this and this and this they can play” Again, I get the approach and completely understand it. The execution, however, is where Black Ops 3 lacks. Too many chefs spoil the soup.
- Overall Score: Take it or leave it. Hardcore fans of the franchise may enjoy some new features, but overall wait until it’s on sale to play it. Not full price
- Audio: Mediocre. Nothing stands out or takes away from the game audio wise in Black Ops 3. Your standard audio which is exactly where it should be. Nothing more, nothing less
- Graphics: The best part of Black Ops 3. The action, flying bullets, explosions all whip by you in a frenzy that will make your head spin in the fastest COD game yet. No real graphical issues to note in Black Ops 3 as it’s the area where it excels the most
- Gameplay: Hodge podge of a big variety but too much to apply the attention needed to any given mode at a given time. What is in the game flows well, but little variety as a result of the content quantity results in quick boredom setting in