Call of Duty: Black Ops III is a futuristic first-person shooter. Set in 2065, you play as a technologically advanced super-human – think Robocop drafted into the military. This continued focus on futuristic war allows for even more tech and toys to be layered into the classic CoD gameplay.
You can never accuse the series of skimping on content, and this latest Treyarch installment once again features a story focused campaign, futuristic multiplayer, and film noir zombie mode.
Black Ops III's campaign only loosely ties into the previous Black Ops titles. That said, however inconsequential the connection, the theme does keep this part of the Call of Duty universe locked on to a very definite path of ever advancing military tech - along with the occasional pondering about what it means to be human.
This materializes in the form of a cybernetic overhaul for your player created hero after they are critically wounded - allowing for all sorts of impressive tech. These include a visual overlay that can be constantly used to highlight key elements of the world, weapons such as a micro-missile launcher that automatically locks onto targets, and powers like swarms of electronic drones that feels more Bioshock than Call of Duty. This is joined by a more agile feel to the action – but I guess that’s to be expected with robotic legs.
The problem is that all of this is simply used in service of traveling down the typically one route roller-coaster path towards the story’s conclusion. This doesn’t feel out of place for the series, but previous years branching stories had me hoping for more from this latest installment. I guess Treyarch were more focused on keeping the action looking fantastic and fluid - which it does - to worry about my love of narratives.
While the single player may feel a little lackluster this year, Black Ops III has really layered on the multiplayer options – right down to the ability to play through the entire campaign in full four player co-op, which brings an undeniable extra level of entertainment to the ride.
Multiplayer also takes full advantage of the futuristic setting, with all of the loadouts, perks, and Killstreak bonuses updated to be suitably sci-fi. Though, despite their overhauled appearance, each still fits into predictable roles.
Take, for example, my personal favorite the R.A.P.S. - Robotic Anti-Personnel Sentry – which is basically just the K-9 bonus. Why do I like it? Well, it looks like a bad Robot Wars entry. Unfortunately, compared to the massive Cerberus tank, it’s pretty useless.
Multiplayer keeps the action nice and mobile in a similar fashion to Titanfall, with the ability to slide and wall run. As well as making the whole thing feel snappy, it all so adds verticality to the world that creates new tactical options.
Black Ops III's multiplayer also introduces nine character Specialties. Each of these can be upgraded individually, and come with their own unique abilities and weapons. Classes like the Nomad are able to set drone traps, while the Outrider is more reliant on powerful bow skills. These abilities allow for different tactical options between classes, and do manage to mix up the standard CoD multiplayer dynamic a little.
Add to this numerous game modes - including the return of Hardpoint, Domination, and Team Deathmatch – and multiplayer fans will have plenty to keep them going.
For the Treyarch trifecta though, you need Zombies – and the mode is back with a vengeance. Set in the 1940s, this has a distinctly different feel to the rest of the game. But it does retain everything fans of the mode love, with a hint of Lovecraftian horror, and an all-star voice cast that includes Jeff Goldblum. I feel I need say nothing more.
Rejuvenated or reanimated?
I had huge hopes for Call of Duty: Black Ops III. It marked the first time that Treyarch had three years to work on a Call of Duty game (rather than two), and I can’t help but feel that it falls short of my expectations with its lack luster campaign and by-the-numbers futuristic progression. Of course, as dedicated players begin to play around with the new features additional depth will be found, but with my interest focused squarely on the single player I can’t help but feel a little let down.