Are a few major and minor changes enough to warrant a new entry in a series that has been around for over ten years? That was the thought I had while playing Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, the latest game in the hugely popular franchise. Developed by Treyarch, this Call of Duty follows last year’s Advanced Warfare. That game was filled with big changes to the fundamental gameplay of the Call of Duty series. And while Black Ops 3 has some changes and new ideas, none of it feels as “new” or “fresh” as last year’s game. And at times Black Ops 3 even feels like a step back.
Campaign & Story
Black Ops 3 is a sequel to Black Ops 2, the last Treyarch developed Call of Duty. It’s set in 2065, in a future that is filled with disease, famine, poverty, super cities and robots. It is not a fun future.In the campaign you create your own character, a first for the series. You can even choose to play as a woman, another first for the series. You and a fellow soldier get augmented with robot arms and legs and join a elite team of Black Ops soldiers. After a few years of successful missions you discover that one of your own has gone rogue and is now a major enemy.
After that point the campaign follows the same beats you expect from a Call of Duty campaign, explosions, shootouts, big set pieces, etc. Until about halfway. At that point the game’s story takes a sharp turn into “What the hell?” territory and never really comes back. The story is filled with bizarre hallucinations, strange moments and a villain who never really feels villainous or dangerous.
You can play the entire campaign in co-op, something that hasn’t been possible since World at War, and when my brother and I finished the campaign we just sort of stayed silent for a bit before saying, “What the hell was that?”
The writing just feels too complex and confusing to actually care about what is happening. I rarely knew what I was doing or why. I just shot people who shot at me. Though sometimes the missions had moments that were exciting or just so strange I was surprised it was in a Call of Duty campaign. It might not be a great campaign, but it certainly is the most bizarre and unique story in a Call of Duty game. I just wish it made more sense.
The co-op experience felt tacked on. It worked well and people could easily drop in and out whenever they wanted to. But I never felt like the game cared about the fact I was playing co-op outside two moments. One towards the end is a weird mirror scene involving you and your co-op buddies. The other moment was a mission where one player could fly around in a jet and shoot enemies while the other player stayed on the ground. I will say I enjoyed having someone to play with during the more bizarre moments. It was fun to just talk about what was going on. So even if Black Ops 3 doesn’t care about co-op in a meaningful way, I don’t think it hurt the story or fun of shooting enemies.
In both co-op and single player you can level up your character and unlock new abilities and weapons. You create your own custom classes and choose which weapons, grenades, perks and abilities you take into each mission. You can upgrade your abilities and switch between them and weapons while you play the missions in the campaign. It is an interesting idea, but I felt like it was worthless. The basic guns work great still and the abilities seemed too weak or situation specific to matter much. I spent most of my time using the same assault rifle and not using my robot future powers. By the end of the campaign I had mostly forgotten about them.
The campaign of Black Ops 3 is fun and definitely interesting.But the co-op doesn’t add much and the actual story isn’t well told or worth caring about. And I actually had a big issue with the world that Black Ops 3 depicts. As a sequel to Black Ops 2 it makes little sense. That game was filled with weapon tech like drones and tanks being taken over by a terrorist and used against the US and other countries. So the fact that 40 years later the world is even more filled with weapon tech and even robots and robotic brains seems crazy to me. Black Ops 3 doesn't feel like a sequel to Black Ops 2 and the campaign left me feeling disappointed. Maybe it needed more Kevin Spacey.
This year it was shown how important multiplayer is to Call of Duty. Black Ops 3 on Xbox 360 and PS3 doesn't have any campaign mode. Instead it focuses on multiplayer, which for most players is the mode that they will spend the most time in. And this year Black Ops 3 makes some changes to the way you play Call of Duty, but some of them feel like a downgrade from last year.
You no longer can double jump or thrust. Instead you can hold the jump button and hover up a bit. It isn’t as exciting or fast as the double jump from Advanced Warfare, but I still enjoyed it. Once I got the feel for how high I could jump it made it easy to navigate the levels and reach higher parts. You can also slide and that is a great way to get out of trouble. Or you can use it to slide into a room and shoot someone before they can even react.
For the first time in a Call of Duty you can now wall run. Wall running is easy to do and feels natural. You just run towards a wall and hold the left stick towards the wall. While wall running you can jump towards another wall and continue wall running. I got pretty good at running on walls in Black Ops 3 and on some levels I was able to go across the map without touching the ground. While you run across the walls you can shoot at enemies and I it was really satisfying to take out an enemy while wall running over a large gap. Sometimes I would wall run into an enemy player and the frantic gunfight that ensued as we ran towards each other was always fun, even if I got knocked off and died.
Wall running is fun but I was disappointed how little it factors into the actual multiplayer of Black Ops 3. Some levels feel really well suited to wall running, but others felt lacking. And even some levels seem to punish wall runners by making them easy targets for those still on the ground. Still, wall running in Black Ops 3 is fun and I hope it returns in future Call of Duty games.
Specialists are the other big addition to Call of Duty multiplayer. You still create custom classes and you still use the pick 10 system, which is the best custom class system Call of Duty has ever had. But now you also pick a specialist character. This character controls your appearance but they each also have a special ability. For example, my favorite specialist was Ruin who uses gravity spikes. Gravity spikes are just giant future ground spike things and when my special meter is filled I hit L1 and R1 and pound the ground killing anyone nearby.
Other specialists have abilities like a one shot one kill pistol, a electric rifle that chains to other people and kills them, an ability to let you come back to life and more. These special abilities charge up over time, but you can use perks and earn score to unlock it faster. Playing with friends who aren’t very good at Call of Duty or don’t get a lot of kills, the special ability was a fun scorestreak like ability they could use to get some kills. And yes scorestreaks are back, so if you love getting a ton of kills and calling in airstrikes, Black Ops 3 has you covered.
The specialist abilities never felt like they changed the game too much, which is a good thing. The abilities never felt broken or overpowered.I was concerned that all of these new special attacks and powers might ruin the flow and speed of Call of Duty, but they fit in nicely and I had a lot of fun with them.
Overall I had a lot of fun with the multiplayer in Black Ops 3. I wasn’t as impressed with it as I was last year’s game, but it still hooked me and I put a ton of time into before writing this review. And I want to play more. I do wish there were a few more maps and I have had some really annoying issues with teams being uneven, like 4 on 7. But these issues never happened enough to keep me from enjoying the multiplayer.
Zombies and Nightmares Mode
The third big part of this game is Zombies. Zombies has been a part of every Treyarch Call of Duty game since World at War, the game that started all of this undead nonsense. I’ve never been a huge fan of zombies in Call of Duty and I was excited to play this year’s zombies mode. That was until I saw the trailer for it.
This year in Black Ops 3 you can play zombies mode as Jeff Goldblum. Yes, that Jeff Goldblum. All of the characters in the Shadows of Evil zombies map this year are celebrities. Heather Graham, Ron Pearlman, Neal McDonough and Robert Picardo who plays the evil Shadowman, who seems to be in control of what’s happening.
Like previous zombies maps, you explore a large area and unlock new weapons, gear, abilities and rooms. Call of Duty zombies has slowly grown into a massive and complex thing with its own lore, characters and mechanics. This year Treyarch has brought back most of the older zombie mainstays, like random boxes, Pack-A-Punch machines, Perk-A-Cola machines and lots of easter eggs and secrets.
But this year Treyarch has added even more. You can now find gumball machines which give you random abilities, like never having to reload. And you also level up in zombies mode. New levels unlock new gumballs and customization options. If you enjoyed the previous zombies modes, you will probably enjoy this one. But if you are like me and never really cared about the zombies stuff in previous Call of Duty games, Black Ops 3 isn’t going to change your mind.
There is one other zombies mode in Call of Duty Black Ops 3, but this one is a bit of a spoiler. After beating the campaign you unlock Nightmares mode, which takes the campaign and adds new cutscenes and voice overs to make it into a zombies filled adventure. It feels like a strange idea, but if you don’t like the zombies mode this new Nightmares mode is more focused and less filled with weird machines and easter eggs. You can also play Nightmares in co-op, which is cool. I enjoyed it but I don’t have any desire to play it again.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is a big game filled with tons of modes and ideas. Some of these ideas are great and some are bizarre. The campaign is really bizarre and not very good, but still fun to play and experience. Zombies is more of that, if you liked it before you will probably enjoy it now. Multiplayer is still fast and action packed and the addition of wall running is nice, even if it doesn’t feel like all the levels make good use of it. And Nightmares mode is a nice little reward for beating the main game.
There really is a lot of stuff in this game. But I just didn’t find most of it to be new, fresh or really memorable. I enjoyed my time with Black Ops 3, but I didn’t walk away from the game in love like I did last year. Everything feels good, not great. Fun, but not exciting. If you want a new Call of Duty game, this is it. But if you wanted more than that, something new or an evolution of what was in Advanced Warfare you’ll probably be disappointed by Call of Duty: Black Ops 3.