Also On: PS4, PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Call of Duty: Black Ops III might not be the best Call of Duty game you’ve ever played, but it certainly continues the upward trend set by last year’s release of Advanced Warfare. The campaign in Black Ops III has some definite missteps, but as a whole, I’m pretty pleased with what Treyarch has done in this new sequel.
Like Advanced Warfare, Black Ops III is as much a sci-fi first person shooter as it is a military shooter this time around. Set in the future, you take on the role of an unnamed soldier, created from a handful of preset options, and quickly given cybernetic enhancements following a somewhat disastrous mission early on. These abilities add a number of gameplay functions to the game, including a neat U.I. overlay that points out nearby enemies, danger zones, grenade indicators, and more. You can even customize the overlay to some degree, with various options to dictate what the overlay shows, or how it shows it.
Your enhancements also provide additional powers, like the ability to remote control turrets and other robotic sentries, or ignite nearby robot combatants (and ideally catch a few nearby too). There are three different schools of abilities to unlock, done by spending points earned through the experience system that’s separate between the three major modes, campaign, multiplayer, and Zombies. Of course, you still have your standard assortment of weapons and attachments, equippable through loadouts, and also unlocked using those same skill points.
The new abilities are pretty useful throughout the campaign, which features stages that are seemingly filled with enemies, both human and robotic. That’s both good and bad here, as firefights can often spiral into nonsense, with bullets and grenades filling the air, as you constantly pop-up from cover and fire rounds at dozens of targets in large, open areas. I’m not a big fan of the level design for the campaign missions, which seem to feature a lot of dark, rainy locations that force you to make ample use of the new overlays to even recognize where targets are. Also, the design of the stages is somewhat bland, giving you a lot of open space for firefights, but with less concentrated, unique encounters from stage to stage. There’s a couple exceptions to this rule, including one stage late game that goes to some interesting places, but by and large the campaign portion of Black Ops III is surprisingly bland.
Thankfully, the multiplayer side of things is pretty great. I played a decent amount of MP during the last open beta phase, and I’m happy to see much of that seems intact here. I really like the different classes and abilities you can unlock, giving me something new to try besides weapon and perk unlocks. I think the class abilities are all different enough to make most worthwhile, and unlocking additional characters as I advance in level is a decent incentive to keep my interest up.
I also enjoy most of the maps here, which feature a lot of multi-level terrain that makes use of your boost-enhanced movement abilities, like wall running and the ability to clamber over rooftops and other obstacles. Add to that the various modes, most of which are returning favorites like Domination, Gun Game, Search and Destroy, and more. There’s a lot of different modes available, and a decent number of maps, which certainly helps the multiplayer keep from feeling stale or uninteresting up front. Leveling can be a bit slow, but that’s likely due to my pitiful online skill level and my over reliance on double xp boosts from previous games. All in all, I think the multiplayer side of Call of Duty has never felt better, and I can see myself being hooked to this for quite a while.
Finally, rounding out the modes, co-op Zombies makes a return here. I suppose it wouldn’t be a Treyarch Call of Duty without it, and by and large it seems to play in a very similar fashion to the previous entries. I’ve never been particularly great at this co-op mode, with “Mob of the Dead” being the only Zombies mode that I’ve spent a significant amount of time with. This version of Zombies introduces a new gumball perk system, and also features a separate leveling system from the campaign and standard multiplayer modes. I still wish the objectives were better explained, as I found myself referring to FAQ’s to even understand why my goals were here. Also, playing this mode with random folks is less than ideal, so if you’re interested in Zombies this year, I’d certainly urge you to find a dedicated group. I did enjoy the weird noir setting, and thought the character designs were pretty sharp, but it’s not my favorite aspect of the game.
Still, despite being a little lukewarm on both the campaign and zombie mode this year, I think the MP side of Black Ops III is absolutely fantastic. It plays great, runs great, and has plenty of unlockable content to keep you busy in the coming months before we start to see the standard DLC roll-out. Provided you come to Call of Duty with multiplayer in mind, I think you’ll be very pleased with what Black Ops III has to offer this year.