Review: Call Of Duty Black Ops 3 Is A Quality Routine Albeit Simple-Minded
Will our annual Call of Duty wield some surprises?
- Worth The Time?Depends on your level of investment in the Call of Duty franchise.
- Things LovedThe new movement system is fun to use. The cybernetic powers in the campaign can be satisfying to use. The visuals are great. Shadows of Evil is an amazing zombie mode filled with an enormous amount of content and charm. The Nightmares mode, however small, is a nice bonus. The game is functionally sound, running optimally across all modes. The multiplayer remains fun. You're definitely getting a lot of content for your money.
- Things HatedThe campaign is absolute trash and not worth your time. Severely unlikable characters. Complete lack of variety in the campaign making it a one track ride through gunfire and explosions. The new Specialists in multiplayer are negligible and don't really change anything to the core game. A routine offering with not much to differentiate it from the pack.
- RecommendationIf you want more Call of Duty multiplayer and are interested in the Zombies mode, it might be worth your purchase. If you don't and would like to experience the campaign, stay well clear.
- Name: Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
- Genre: Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto
- Players: 1-18
- Multiplayer: Online and split-screen
- Platforms: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PC
- Developer: Treyarch
- Publisher: Activision
- Price: R799
- Reviewed On: PS4
As much as I often hate to admit it, I’m a closet fan of the Call of Duty franchise. Since Call of Duty: Modern Warfare blew me away and practically brought me into the world of FPS games all those years ago, I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for the series. Every year, without fail, I found some way to get the latest installment, I played the campaign on Veteran, played the multiplayer off and on for about a month and played whatever extra mode there was with my brother. Throughout the series’ lifespan, we saw dips in quality with one of the worst being with Call of Duty Ghosts which had a pretty pedestrian and uninteresting campaign, but somehow I still managed to enjoy it.
The Black Ops sub-series in the Call of Duty franchise started off really strong, delivering a narrative that was a bit more interesting and risque than previous installments. It introduced some intrigue and conspiracy to the already established “destined soldier that is bound to save the world” formula. Its exploration into the Cold War and the lengths that were gone to in terms of espionage and sabotage was fascinating. Black Ops 2 was one of the franchise’s strongest offerings in all aspects, least of which the campaign which introduced a personal struggle, multiple timelines and actual choice and consequence. As someone who really loved these games, I looked forward to Black Ops 3 and was even excited about the often overused angle of “man vs. machine” and the “implications of cybernetic humans and artificial intelligence”. Old hat, but done right it can still be compelling. What I got in the end was something a lot more regrettable.
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While I’m in full understanding that nobody plays the campaign, which is a statement that can be backed up if you see how rare the singleplayer trophies are, it still remains an integral part of the Call of Duty experience for many, including myself. This time around we are put in a character of our choice, either female or male and we can choose the outfits and the faces as well. The narrative is mainly concerned with a rogue agent from the unit you served in that is implicated in a gigantic disaster that killed 300 000 people and left a region decimated. There’s no real international powers at play, at least overtly, and the story is mostly a personal tale of revenge and conspiracy. It plays out in the very distant future where there have been significant strides in robotics, cybernetics and technology based warfare.
However, the game took first class on the SS Cliche since most of it plays out like a lame movie starring any of the men from the Expendables, just with that one dude from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit instead.
The dialogue and interactions between characters is insufferable. It’s like everyone got “fuck” as the their word of the day and professional soldiers that do covert ops and kill hundreds of people insist on calling me a “badass motherfucker” every opportunity they get. It is so very juvenile and you can see Treyarch really aimed for their target market of foul mouthed sixteen-year-olds who love explosions and talking about your your mom. There’s no deep thought involved in the narrative whatsoever and for the first time in the series, I was extremely bored. Usually I would polish off a Call of Duty campaign in a day or a couple of days at most since they were somewhat compelling, but this one was just a chore to go through. I dreaded having to continue the campaign and listening to people say “fuck” a lot and screaming in incomprehensible gibberish.
When I finally reached the end of the campaign, I felt relief that it was finally over. The story became nonsensical at the end and was being obtuse for obtuse’s sake. The characters were unlikable, there was no real personal stake in what you were doing and the setpieces were really underwhelming. The biggest problem with the entirety of the campaign was the lack of juxtaposition or pacing. There were no “slow” missions such as an undercover recon mission or the occasional stealth mission. It was all high octane violence the whole time throughout. The game was just a barrage of explosions and loud obnoxious noises that sound like Skrillex had a seizure.
The actual gameplay of the campaign is also mundane. Since the game was designed to facilitate 4 player co-op, some sacrifices had to be made to how the game flows. Unfortunately, those changes were for the worse since the game now feels much more shooter gallery focused than before. You walk into an area, a ton of enemies spawn and you have to polish them off. Nothing to break it up or offer some sort of respite, just mindless slaughter. There are now two main types of enemies namely humans and robots. Robots are a new addition and they behave much the same as humans, but they are much more tank-y and will take a lot more bullets to put down. While they could have been a more threatening enemy type, they just became a nuisance more than anything, requiring just a bit more work to put down.
As far as gameplay changes go, Black Ops 3 is more closely related to Advanced Warfare and its ideas of increased maneuverability with the help of augmentations. You can use thrusters to jump higher, wall-run and use optics to identify enemies and threats. The most robust addition comes in the form of cybernetic powers that you can use. This includes stuff like activating increased maneuverability, overloading your enemies’ optics, sending fireflies to kill your enemies and whole lot more options that are split into three combat styles. However, these powers are not altogether useful and will only really work in rare circumstances or you’ll find one that is effective and just stay with it. You can also customise your loadout, but it’s a bit misguided since you don’t know what you’re up against at first and you can potentially pick the wrong weapons for that specific encounter. You also have to unlock stuff through fabrication kits that you get by leveling up, but they were never really a problem to acquire.
Overall, the campaign was garbage. Instantly forgettable, filled with obnoxiousness in all aspects, not enjoyable in the slightest and had zero investment from me from start to finish. All it did right was give me a gigantic headache and I’m not even using hyperbole.
Treyarch had the Zombie mode on lock since they first introduced it in World at War with an expansive wave based Zombie mode that wielded much more than it initially laid on. Through their future installments, the Zombie modes kept getting more elaborate, ridiculous and much deeper than anyone can initially realise. This installment is no exception in the slightest. This time around there are two Zombie modes namely Shadows of Evil and Nightmares. Shadows of Evil is, for lack of a better word, the traditional Zombies mode. It features a cast of 4 colourful characters each with their own charm and an aesthetic reminiscent of 40s-50s era America. It also reminded me a lot of BioShock’s aesthetic a little in terms of the overall look and feel.
I will say this now: if you allow it to, Shadows of Evil will consume your life. There is so much to discover, collect and try out that you can easily lose yourself in it for a good long while. It facilitates and encourages multiple playthroughs so that you can see and do all there is to offer and there is quite a lot of that. Perks that you can buy from vending machines make a return, there are parts that you can collect to make awesome weapons, there’s a plethora of Easter Eggs to discover for the more diligent players out there and so on. You can even turn into some sort of monstrosity that reminded me way too much of The Darkness. The beast you can transform into for a limited time can open special crates and doors as well as provide power to certain areas.
The map looks gorgeous with some really excellent considerations being made to the aesthetic and all of the assets have been given a visual enhancement. Overall, Shadows of Evil is possibly the highlight of the Black Ops 3 package. It has so much content to sift through and is a blast to play with friends and discover along with them. If you’re casual, you can find some enjoyment in shooting some zombies in the face and discovering some absurd things and if you’re hardcore, you can possibly spend hours upon hours looking for everything and optimizing your runs.
Nightmares is a new zombie mode that opens after you complete the campaign once. Basically it adds a zombie modifier to pre-existing campaign missions and there’s a new narrative where the player character talks to a doctor about what they experienced. The entire story changes and the cutscenes are still intact, but just with no dialogue which is replaced by the voice over. While not really being a game changer, it is nice to have a linear zombie mode with a bit of a structure outside of the super complicated Shadows of Evil campaign.
Not a whole lot can be said anymore about a Call of Duty’s multiplayer since they are more or less the same in each iteration and everyone knows what would be there anyway. Black Ops 3 is no exception to this. Multiplayer contains all of the usual modes that we’ve gotten used to and any modes that are different are just slight variants of what has already been. The community still sucks with quickscopers and teabaggers around every corner. Some guns are more powerful and effective than others. There’s an extremely deep and complex progression system that will allow you to make a powerful class if you are willing to put the hours in. Pretty standard stuff so far.
The newest addition to the multiplayer is in the form of Specialists. These are basically characters that you can choose from that each wield their own special offensive capability as well as a passive bonus. As a match progresses with your character, they will unlock a special weapon that they can activate and unleash upon enemies. These weapons range from a grenade launcher, a bow and arrow with explosive bolts, a lightning gun, a minigun and so on. They’re additions to the already established score streaks, but their usefulness comes into question a bit. While they are pretty powerful, they also offer a handicap when they are wielded and can mess up your flow rather drastically. Also, they’re not really that good and instead of being excited when you gain the ability to use them, you can just as easily just ignore and go on killing people with your weapon. The passive abilities are nice, but they are also just slight bonuses that you get that don’t really make that much of an impact.
While the addition of Specialists are welcome, they are a bit negligible in many aspects. They can be removed and nothing of value will really be lost.
The multiplayer also benefits from the movement system that I’ve explained in the campaign portion. You can boost, slide and wallrun all over the map if you wish and it makes the gameplay a bit more frantic in areas. It takes a bit to get used to, but once you do it can be a whole lot of fun.
There aren’t really any revelations in the very specific areas of the multiplayer mode. Weapons are as balanced as they’ve always been, the scoring system is much the same, the netcode is great with me not even waiting all that long to get into a game and the maps have been well designed with varied locations and layouts. There’s nothing really to complain about when it comes to the multiplayer, but there’s also nothing to get excited about. It’s as routine as routine gets for a Call of Duty game and the addition of Specialists isn’t enough to set it apart from anything. If you’re a fan of the multiplayer and hoped for more of the same, you got it in spades.
Black Ops 3 leaves me conflicted inside. The game took some major missteps in the campaign making it one of the worst campaigns I’ve ever experienced in a Call of Duty game, but the Zombie mode is excellent with a ton of variety and charm, but then the multiplayer is severely routine. There’s certainly a lot of content here and if you’re an annual buyer of Call of Duty, you will not really be disappointed with what you’re given. There is also a considerable amount of polish done to the game with the visuals being rather great and the framerate staying buttery smooth. It is an impressive and functional package, but I can’t help but feel really disappointed with what I’ve played. It’s not a Call of Duty I can look back on and say “that was really cool” like I can when I think of Black Ops 1 and 2. It really shows the weaknesses of being an annualized series and for the first time ever I found myself becoming tired of Call of Duty. It made me long for something new and fresh and even made me miss the World War 2 days where there wasn’t as much dubstep and characters talking like they’re on their way to a kegger.
Is it still worth buying if you love Call of Duty and want some more multiplayer? Sure. Will it change anything for a non-fan of Call of Duty? Absolutely not.