Is there any singular gaming franchise that has divided the gaming community as much as the Call of Duty franchise? Yearly releases with minimal changes and little to distinguish the interchangeable stories of gung-ho soldiers have turned some gamers away from the franchise, but each November, the military shooter continues to be a sales juggernaut.
This year’s flavor is the third entry into Treyarch’s Black Ops line. Generally speaking, Treyarch’s games have always been better than their co-developers with better realized characters, more detailed worlds and modes, and of course, the ever popular Zombies mode. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 continues this trend, offering the best and most numerous features Call of Duty has had in years.
Make no mistake: if you’re not a fan of Call of Duty, Black Ops 3 won’t make you a believer, but at times, the game tries its damnest. Set in the even farther flung future of 2065 (seriously, can we get another WWII or modern day game? After four games, the future is starting to grate), soldiers have become more machine than man, and have been implanted with a direct neural implant that allows them to interact with robotics in the world as well as each other. This direct neural implant gives players their powers in the campaign lets you become super soldier Jedis, unleash a swarm of fire nano bees, dash quickly through the map, or turn invisible. There are three separate power trees, each offering their own abilities and play styles. Cool downs on powers prevent players from becoming too overpowered, and when playing on Realistic difficulty, where a single bullet can cause you to go down, it’ll take all your powers and help from your teammates to survive.
Yes, teammates. For the first time in Call of Duty history, four players can join together to play through the campaign. Four players can assume duplicates of an unnamed cybernetic soldier in their pursuit of a fellow squad of soldiers that went rogue chasing after the cause of a terrorist attack. At the start of the campaign, you can customized the avatar’s appearance and select their gender. Playing with four players creates a different dynamic than lone wolfing it. For instance, one of my teammates unleashed a nano swarm while I went invisible and snuck behind the enemy to deliver a brutal blow to the head.
The levels are designed to be larger and more open, which gives players a variety of options on how they want to tackle a fire fight. Do I go in through the top floor of an office and stealthy take out enemies or bust through the front door on a lower level? With the introduction of robots, Call of Duty includes several boss battles where you have to band together and fight against a giant roaming tower of death heading your way. These fights provide a nice change of pace, often acting as a crescendo to a mission. Choice is reflected in your loadouts. Between missions, you are taken to a safe house where you can fully customize a player’s armor and weapons to take into battle. As you progress through the campaign, you receive points to unlock more weapons, optics, and powers.
New to online is the ability to select specialists. Specialists are distinct soldiers with a special ability that builds up over the course of a match. For instance, the Sparrow unleashes a bow with explosive tip arrows raining down death on your enemies, while another specialist might let you see through walls. A cool down timer prevents players from being too overpowered, and the verticality of the maps mean a smart player can easily subdue even a Sparrow specialist. Jetpacks, continued over from Advanced Warfare, give the player an added mobility, along with the new addition of wall running. Maps are kinetic and fast pace, but never felt overly chaotic. One problem I did run into during my games was an occasional lag that made multiplayer almost nonfunctional.
Do you love zombies? Well, it’s zombie-palooza in this game. You get a zombie. She gets a zombie. Everyone gets a zombie. The zombie map, Shadows of Evil, rounds up actors Jeff Goldblum, Heather Graham, Neal McDonough, and Ron Perlman and pits them against a horde of zombies, ghouls, giant flying bugs, and hideous monsters. Zombies remains a source of fun, in part because when you get a group of friends together it’s always entertaining to see who lasts the longest, and also because of the added depth to the gameplay included. There’s now a level up system that lets players use perks and customize their guns. During a horde, you now have the ability to transform into a giant monster, called the Beast, and electrocute a group of zombies. Becoming the Beast is also required to access several of the maps secrets. It’s just a shame the power-up doesn’t last longer because mowing through a mob of zombies is always rewarding.
In addition to the normal zombies mode available at the start, you’ll also unlock a secondary campaign after beating the main campaign that replaces all the enemy soldiers with zombies and remixes the story. Unleashing your powers like the nano swarm on zombies provides a nice ‘what game am I playing’ amount of weirdness. And it’s easy to see how the entire mode might have been a DLC addition in someone else’s hands.This second campaign is worth a look if you ever wondered when the Call of Duty franchise is just going to say screw it and make everything zombies.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 isn’t going to win over anyone on the fence, but it proves to be a fun experience and, more importantly, a fully realized game. With so many shooters pushing toward an online multiplayer only format, it’s nice to see Treyarch take time to actually craft a campaign that’s worth playing through. Oh, and there’s zombies. Did I mention the zombies?