The Call of Duty cycle goes round again. This year, Treyarch step back into the light with their excellent Black Ops series, unfortunately the campaign doesn’t hold up to the excellence of the previous titles but zombies and competitive multiplayer more than fill the void.
Black Ops has gone über futuristic. What Advanced Warfare started, Black Ops has continued, and then some. Consequently it feels like the story has jumped series rather than continuing the dark and sinister storyline of Black Ops. The campaign plods on but goes out with a bang, ending on some mind twisting missions and a sequence that sticks you at the controls of a VTOL.
The campaign is rife with tech, futuristic weapons and robots – it’s like Syknet has brought down Judgment Day and you are smack bang in the middle of it with little to no explanation as to what the purpose of the mission is. The story then is rather lost, poorly told and tries to be too clever for it’s own good. By the time the credits rolled it had lost me on the way, with little care for the soldiers I met or the story it attempted to tell. The level structure can’t escape from being linear either. Each area might be large enough to offer multiple routes through, but it’s little more than the usual CoD shoot ‘em up grind with the odd set piece thrown in.
New to the game are cybercore abilities – cybernetic enhancements that can be used to manipulate electronics, close the distance to your target or generally create chaos among the enemy ranks. The cores are fun to use and offer a slight distraction from the run and gun CoD mechanics, however, they are a little cumbersome to select and choose the correct attack for your current predicament and I often relied on the same two abilities.
The campaign’s saving grace is four-player co-op – things are always more fun with friends – and if you make it to the end, there’s an extra campaign that unlocks and it’s pretty damn awesome – Nightmare is an alternate campaign with an undead twist and it’s bloody brilliant.
While the cybernetic cores don’t make the jump to multiplayer, the excellent new movement system does. This new mobility is pitched somewhere between Titanfall and Halo. The new combat opportunities it brings are fresh and a welcome change from the repetitive nature of the yearly CoD. It works really well once you get your head out of Titanfall, and an excellent Mirror’s Edge playlist helps ingrain these new abilities. Your magnetic boots stick to the surface enabling you to wall run – environment traversal is no longer just a means of getting from point A to B – and presents some great combat options.
The multiplayer maps are exceptionally well designed, putting those from previous titles to shame. The different wall run areas aren’t obvious, which means you’ll need to keep your head on a swivel for traversal opportunities. An invisible wall does block off some areas, which puts a dent on the freedom of movement while underwater areas of each map make for a great change of pace to firefights – I’ve had some intense battles while submerged.
Specialists are at the heart of multiplayer this year. Each character has a unique weapon and ability, one can be selected to use and it gradually charges over the duration of a match. There are several characters to choose from and the abilities provide an additional option to your combat – a bit like scorestreaks – but open to all as they gradually recharge and don’t reset when you respawn.
One thing that really turned me away from the series was the overuse of kill and score streaks. At times I would get pounded by wave after wave of air strike or gunship attack. Thankfully it’s been dialed back in Black Ops 3 and although at times this still happens, it was far less frequent. Melee kills have taken a step in the other direction. Now it takes a couple of good gun butts to put someone down – best stick to your guns.
Bots return, which is great if you want to get some practice in or if you need a break from the CoD community, and the pick-10 loadouts also return. Weapons, equipment and perks unlock as you rank up, and can be selected after you’ve spent an unlock token to purchase them.
The star of the game is the excellent Shadows of Evil zombies. If you picked up the season pass you also get The GIANT map – a remake of Der Riese. Zombie Veterans will chew up the hidden objectives of Shadows of Evil for breakfast, but those that take it at face value could miss its hidden charms so grab a mate who is well versed at zombies and you too will soon fall to its undead heart.
It didn’t take long for me to become hooked to trying to best the map – it’s an absolute blast – and beyond the wave-based survival there’s a ton of extras to uncover. The bonus zombie campaign, the new Dead Ops arcade and Shadows of Evil make the zombie content of Black Ops III cause enough to buy the game, that is if you are a zombie fan.
Black Ops III does have it’s fair share of troubles, from the inevitable balancing of weapons that Treyarch will undoubtedly fine tune over time, to some really strange server drop-outs. The most frustrating issue was some odd occurrences of lag. Sometimes I had to work extra hard to score a kill, players were like bullet sponges while I dropped from a single shot. I even managed to score a kill on someone who was nowhere near where I shot my gun! The campaign suffers from the odd bug too; from textures failing to load and on a few occasions my progress didn’t save. With the huge amount of content in Black Ops III I wonder if Treyarch have spread themselves a little too thin?
There’s something for everybody in Black Ops III – it’s guaranteed to satisfy your CoD itch and the online maps are some of the best I’ve seen in a Call of Duty game. For me, zombies easily steal the show.
Thanks to Xbox and Activision for their support
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