Format: PC, PS3, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Xbox One
Released: November 6, 2015
More than anything, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 prides itself on being the biggest, most fully-featured, entry in the franchise to date. Developer Treyarch’s return to the series brings a lot of new ideas to the table, introducing some substantial changes to the well-oiled formula. Shooting your way through the chaotic campaign, manic multiplayer, and grisly zombies mode, as well as an additional revamped campaign, make for some great moments comprised of a lot of aspects that have made Call of Duty enjoyable over the years. This amalgamation of content highlights both the peaks and valleys the series has navigated over the course of its last few installments, many of which point to the Black Ops entries as standouts. The third chapter in Treyarch’s depiction of futuristic warfare finds itself focusing on cooperative play and mobility, with a wealth of customization transcending to each and everyone of its modes. Yet, Black Ops 3 feels light on longterm inspiration and innovation, leaning on a robust suite of fundamentals that neglect to truly challenge or elevate any one of its offerings. In terms of structure, Black Ops 3 is the most evolved and modifiable Call of Duty yet, with customization playing a big part in each of its modes. For the first time in the series, you can create a character to take through the campaign, with both male and female protagonist options available. Black Ops 3’s narrative launches with promise, shedding intriguing commentary on the state of technical military advancements and world conflict. However, the story simply lacks the gravitas to make the experience enjoyable through and through. The majority of campaign missions are comprised of navigating linear pathways and mowing downs waves of enemies in an effort to reach the next objective. There’s little motivation to care about the moment to moment gameplay, despite its robust controls and production values. By the time the forth or fifth mission rolled around, I was already settled in the repetitive routine of shooting everyone on screen, then rushing the objective. Not much is done to freshen up the traditional approach Black Ops 3’s campaign takes, with the overall pace of its gameplay and narrative feeling stuck in the past. What begins with a series of engaging concepts, eventually resorts to a lifeless, conventional shooter that shows signs of life, but never fully capitalizes on them.
What keeps Black Ops 3 interesting the longest, are the cybernetic modifications that change the way you approach certain situations. These futuristic abilities range from controlling enemy drones and turrets, to exploding robot combatants’ cores. In concept, these abilities are entertaining–harnessing a future where technical advancements change the odds of war–but the lack of enemy variety and repetitive nature of firefights, hinder them from gaining the momentum they deserve. While the futuristic abilities quickly lose their novelty in the campaign portion, fortunately the modernity of the gameplay finds itself at home within the multiplayer section of Black Ops 3. At the forefront of the competitive multiplayer are specialists, unique soldiers who excel in certain play styles. Each character is equipped with a special ability or weapon to aid them in battle. Before beginning a match, you’re given the opportunity to pick between the two options, both which typically reflect separate approaches. However, in reality, the abilities of each specialist aren’t game-changing, as they’re only available a few times during any given match. This results in a back and forth that never really pushes the odds of a round in a definitive direction. All in all, the specialist’s functions come across as half-baked, for the majority of modes don’t take advantage of their potential. At this point in time, the Call of Duty series seems too held up in its roots to fully account for innovation, and Black Ops 3 is a prime example of this struggle. Nonetheless, multiplayer represents Black Ops 3 at its strongest. Both the refined movement system and map design lend to the enjoyment of each match, complementing the faster pace of battle. It’s a satisfying accomplishment to pull off the perfect combination of the jump pack and wall-running in combat, as the precise controls and level design make the moves feel tangible. Where as Black Ops 3’s predecessor, Advanced Warfare, got too hectic for its own good with the traversal options it presented, Treyarch’s follow-up is toned down in all the right ways. Though at times inconsistent, Black Ops 3’s maps feel built to elevate the precise traversal of its movement, with variety in terms of clash points and elevation adding to each maps’ appeal. As to be expected, Black Ops 3 feels great to control, and multiplayer is the best place to experiment with all of its possibilities. Yet, as the hours pass and your arsenal of specialists grow, Black Ops 3 is light on the variety needed to keep the experience fresh and exciting. While the maps excel in design, the modes and experience-based progression are straightforward, resulting in a loss of novelty before Black Ops 3 can fully prove itself, longterm.
The new Zombies mode, suitably titled Shadows of Evil, is the strongest version of undead slaughter since the original Black Ops. It’s full of infectious personality, sporting its 1940s setting and aesthetics while the bodies pile up. Shadows of Evil is led by a star-studded four character cast, consisting of Jeff Goldblum, Heather Graham, Ron Perlman and Neal McDonough. Bizarre, adequately describes the gist of Black Ops 3’s Zombies mode, though it plays much like the mode has in the past, and that’s not a bad thing. Money is earned by repairing breached barricades and killing the walking dead, to then be spent on upgrades and weapons to survive the onslaught of increasingly challenging waves. The big change to the formula in this iteration is the ability to customize weapons and perks before diving into the bloodbath. This manifests into an interesting dynamic the mode had yet to see, adding yet another layer to the frantic mayhem of massacring the dead. Shadows of Evil isn’t the only place zombies find themselves in Black Ops 3, for a secondary campaign, Nightmares, becomes available once having completed the main story. Nightmares is essentially a recycled, reimagining of Black Ops 3’s original campaign missions. You’ll shoot your way through the same level design, chasing after the same objectives and watching the same animations, but now fighting zombies, instead. There’s no profound narrative hidden within Nightmares interpretation of the campaign, but the bleak voiceover and occasional amusement that come from putting the dead to rest once and for all, get the job done.Conclusion: Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 should be recognized for its wealth of content, especially in a climate of shooters that have seemingly forgotten the importance of shipping a complete game. Although, Treyarch’s homecoming feels insubstantial in the grand scheme of things, adding little that moves the series forward in meaningful ways. Black Ops 3 is every bit Call of Duty, at heart, and it simultaneously stands as the entry’s biggest strength and weakness. When looking at the working parts under the hood, Black Ops 3 excels in regards to mechanics and production values, but the familiarity of the experience prevents it from expanding into something memorable. Hardcore fans will find Black Ops 3 a satisfying installment, but for those of us looking for the franchise to evolve in a big way, Black Ops 3 feels like an insignificant step taken in a blindly inflexible direction.
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