I’ve always been the type of gamer to be far more interested in the narrative set pieces of games and less on the multiplayer player vs player modes. I know a large group of people who hardly, if at all, touch the campaigns of Call of Duty. Myself, I usually play the multiplayer for a week or so and then never really load it up again. I’m not terribly great at it, and find I die far more than I kill, so it gets old pretty fast. I tend to prefer going through the explosion filled campaign and then moving on to another game.
For the first time in the franchise Call of Duty has brought forth the option to gun up as a female protagonist. Much like the movie ‘Alien’ where Ripley originally was written as a male character, they cast Sigourney Weaver and then left the script mostly unchanged. The overall story in this game would be no different if played through as the male lead. Some hiccups in the audio department here also has a NPC calling your character a “he” and “boy scout” a few times during the campaign. It’s clear that having a female hero in this game was an afterthought, however; it’s a nice step in the right direction for the industry though, so I’ll take it where I can get it.
Black Ops 3 also brings 4 player co-op to the series as well, and wow does the game really benefit from it. Having a player stealth through a courtyard as another player snipes from a distance, only to be stopped by a huge force of robots and about to perish when another player jumps from above and ground pounds them to dust. When those moments present themselves, and it is fairly often, it’s a real treat to see. It’s a shame that the games’ length shortens greatly when you are playing with friends.
When you pick your gender of solider to start the game with, you’re thrust into a rescue mission with your CO, Hendricks. Hendricks is your typical gung-ho, ask questions after they are dead kind of solider and his outbursts can be a bit annoying throughout a few missions. The rescue mission goes horribly awry in a super violent scene that sees you, much later, fitted with cybernetic arms and having a system called DNI installed in you.
DNI, Direct Neural Interface, allows you to use a variety of abilities in the game. It also factors into the plot in a very big way. After the tutorial chapters where they let you sample some of the many abilities you’ll unlock in the game, you’ll come back to the real world and have to pick from 3 different categories of abilities to then craft your solider. When you come across weapon vaults in the game you’ll have access to change to another ability should the situation call for it. Once you hit level 20 though, you’ll be able to swap between the 3 types at any moment.
Abilities are separated into 3 categories: Control, Martial and Chaos, each of these have 2 sub categories and a main ability.
Main Ability: System Paralysis: Hack an enemy robot or turret to disable it.
- Debilitate allows you to shut down enemies with Augmentation Breakdown by hacking into enemies to force their gear to betray them. Servo Shut out disables robotic locomotive systems. Surge Allows you to hack a robot’s power cell and cause it to overload.
- Hijack consists of Ravage Core, which is a physical attack to rip through the armor plating of a robot and tear out the power cell and use it like a grenade. Remote hack is as advertised allowing you to remote hack any robot or turret on the battlefield. Protocol Override rounds out Hijack with turning a robot into a friendly for a limited time.
Main Ability: Overdrive: Temporarily boost motor controllers to move faster, aim better and swap out weapons faster.
- Cunning Gives you access to a smoke screen, the ability to shut down opposing forces weapons, and the use of active camo.
- Fury unlocks Overwhelming force, which is a devastating shoulder tackle. You can also access a power punch called Take-down and finally Concussive Blast that is a massive bomb of a physical attack used to decimate groups of enemies.
Main Ability: Sensory Overload: Take over 3 enemies’ combat sensors to emit a high pitch screech from their ear piece and a bright strobe from their optics.
- Panic gives you the ability to simulate an airborne combat robot attack, this is called Misdirection. Electrostatic strike is an open palm attack meant to short out human and robot forces. Cacophony gives you remote access to blow up fuel and power containers.
- Devastation contains the final 3 abilities. Immolation which shuts down robot forces from a safe distance, Blinding Swarm unleashes dozens of firefly nano bots that unleash hell, and finally Sonic Anti-Personnel, a wave you emit out to forces that induces a violent muscle spasm to human opponents.
You can upgrade each of these abilities by earning Fortification kits. The then boosted abilities enhance their own features by allowing you to use more of them in most cases, and make them more potent in others. For example, with Blinding Swarm, it’s upgrade allows the nano bots to set enemies on fire. A few of these abilities are triggered using basic melee or other button prompts and don’t have to be selected as a core ability. Fortification kits are also worked into the weapon unlock and upgrade systems as well. I found that one of the starter weapons for me just worked too good to even need to use points in that category.
The story starts out like most Call of Duty games in which you’re thinking you are heading in a particular direction with the main story only to have the same betrayal and conspiracy that every Call of Duty game seems to add in. I don’t mind this formula, I just wish the series would change it up as Advanced Warfare danced around some of the same themes and that was just last year. The campaign is pretty solid and its cast of characters are mostly enjoyable. Taylor and his team are vastly underused to create any real tension between the two teams, and Rachel Kane, your CIA contact is the only stand out character.
You’ll have access to a tactical interface that allows you to see enemy forces, weapon and ammo crates, as well as grenade distances. I found this extremely helpful as while the action is heavy and frantic, it allows you to get a handle on where everything is. It also lets you see the arcs your grenades are tossed and you can make some awesome bounces off the walls to ricochet a grenade exactly where you need it go. If you find this mechanic cheapens the difficulty, you can turn it off at any time.
Vehicle missions are few and far between, but are extremely satisfying when they occur. Regardless of whether it is riding shotgun behind a gun turret, or on a hovercraft or flying your own on-rails V-TOL aircraft, each and every one of these moments is a spectacle to itself.
As you progress through the game you’ll earn bonus experience from completing accolades. These vary from completing the level without dying or getting 5 head-shots within 10 seconds. These can get very creative and looking to complete them all can lead to playing the game in a very different way than you would be used to. I found myself always wanting to redo a section just to check it off the list.
In between each mission you will have access to your command center, you can replay old missions, jump into a training arena, view collectibles, customize your character and gender, buy guns and upgrade your abilities. It is also here that some of the narrative tissue between levels is explained and you get some nice character moments, even if they are just voice overs.
Graphically the game is a mixed bag. Some areas look stunning and then you come across environments that are meant to be rushed through and the surrounding areas are so poorly textured. Some details in the levels are just not there, where other levels have so much to look at. You can tell that the engine that COD is using is just outdated and needs a vast overhaul. The game looks good, just not great. You can play the whole campaign in split screen co-op, so I’m not surprised the game has visual shortcuts.
Most, if not all of the characters, are portrayed by actual actors. Familiar faces from Law and Order, SG-1 and Battlestar Galactica round out the main cast with a few more that may take a trip to IMDB to fully figure out who is who. They all look nicely rendered, but are far from the best character models seen so far on this generation of consoles.
Multiplayer has always been at the forefront of why a large majority of people still stick with Call of Duty, regardless of which title or version, and this years edition is extremely robust in not only the feature sets of what’s available to you, but the fact they created a class system to shake things up. These classes, called Specialists offer a huge variety in special abilities that take time to charge up much like those in the campaign. Each Specialist has the choice between 2 abilities. As you progress and raise your rank, you’ll unlock the vast majority of them.
- Gravity Spikes: Spikes that create an explosive shock-wave when slammed into the ground, destroying all enemies within close range.
- Overdrive: Cybernetic leg upgrade that enable a temporary burst of speed.
- Sparrow: Compound bow that fires bolts with increasing range the longer it is drawn. Enemies explode on impact.
- Vision Pulse: Pulse the surrounding area to reveal all enemies within range.
- Tempest: Charge-shot weapon that fires an arc of electricity, lethally shocking targets and chaining to nearby enemies.
- Glitch: Flash back to a previous position while keeping all other conditions intact.
- War Machine: Grenade launcher that fires bouncing grenades which detonate after a short time or by hitting an enemy.
- Kinetic Armor: Reactive armor that deflects enemy bullets away from the body. You are still vulnerable to headshots and non-bullet damage while active.
- Annihilator: Massive high-calibur revolver that fires devastating rounds with increased bullet penetration.
- Combat focus: While active, all score earned will trigger a bonus multiplier towards scorestreaks.
- H.I.V.E.: Deploys trap pods which release a deadly swarm of nano-drones when triggered.
- Rejack: Recover from the position of your death with an injection of nano-particle serum. Cannot Rejack when killed by a Specialist weapon.
- Scythe: Minigun that transforms from the arm and delivers high damage in a tight cone of fire.
- Psychosis: Spawn clones that run forward to distract enemies.
- Ripper: Arm upgrade that equips a lethal blade for extended melee lunge attacks.
- Active Camo: Become nearly invisible for a short duration.
- Purifier: Flamethrower that fires a steady stream of heat, scorching enemies within close range.
- Heat wave: Emits a massive heat blast that stuns enemies and destroys hostile equipment.
The multiplayer still uses the Pick 10 system from previous games making sure that the equipment you bring with you doesn’t make you too unstoppable. You’ll have to balance what you add to your weapons and perks.
There is a Black Market within the game that uses the Cyrptokeys currency. You can purchase common supply drops or rare supply drops, each containing a variety of different unlockables. As you play you will unlock more and more keys to use to obtain these items. I do have to say that the speed to which you unlock the keys for an average player is far too long. I’ve played for a few days so far and only have unlocked 1 of the rare kits and about half way to unlocking another.
There is a season pass that you can purchase to gain access to all future map packs when they become available, it’s set at a steep price of $49.99 for the 4 packs. This time around it seems that there was no special edition that contained the pass and that’s unfortunate as $49.99 is just far too expensive to justify.
After playing the multiplayer for a solid 10+ hours I really have to commend the team at Treyarch for their progression system. I always felt that each round I was playing I was earning something. I found the balance between how much damage I could take and dish out was perfect. While my K/D ratio was nothing impressive, I never felt that the game was unfair in any way. This is easily the most satisfying PVP that Call of Duty has offered by far.
The multiplayer also boasts jetpacks and wall running and each of them work so well in tandem. I’ve managed to kill a few players while wall running, and running and jumping with extreme speed and height is frantic and exhilarating. The campaign, depending on if you played it solo or with friends, will vary from 6-10 hours. Upon completion you will unlock the variant campaign “Nightmares” that sees you revisit a few levels from the campaign with a voice over of your character narrating a story about a zombie outbreak. I wish the in-game audio had been altered as you do see the characters talking, but all audio regarding the narrative is simply told through narration. It’s a fun extra diversion and a blast to play through in co-op.
Zombies, a regular staple in the Call of Duty franchise, returns with another set of celebrities all playing a variety of different characters set in a fictional 1940’s city.
- Jeff Goldblum voices Nero, a magician.
- Heather Graham plays Jessica, a burlesque dancer.
- Neal McDonough is Vincent, a detective.
- Ron Perlman voices Campbell, a boxer.
Each is presented as a very vocal character within the narrative of the world this Zombie outbreak takes place in. In typical COD zombie fashion, you’ll gather points via kills to find new weapons and repair sections around the map to contain the zombie hordes. You’ll also use the points to expand the map and open mystery weapon chests.
There is a perk system here that revolves around chewing bubblegum. Each flavor has different abilities such as having the zombies ignore you for 10 seconds. You’ll earn currency you use to gain access to better gum, and you are able to create a playlist of gum that is available to you via the gumball machines placed around the level.
Overall, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is fun, feature packed and as usual, gives the bare minimum of updates to a series that needs to drastically evolve. Its campaign, while sometimes confusing, is enjoyable with its cast of characters and action set pieces. It’s not revolutionary by any means and if Call of Duty hasn’t enticed you in yet, then it’s not going to this time around. While Zombies this time around isn’t near as good as it was last year, it still is a solid experience. Multiplayer is a lot easier to get into, and the specialist system is fantastic, despite having to unlock most of them.
It is also worth noting that all future map packs will see their release first on Playstation 4. The PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game DO NOT feature a story campaign and only contain zombies and multiplayer at drastically trimmed down graphics when compared to the Xbox One, PC and PS4 versions.