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Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 Review

How did Activision’s latest Call of Duty title turn out? Read on to find out Robert Parris’ opinion on this, frankly, very bizarre entry into the franchise.

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Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is easily the weirdest Call of Duty ever made, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. Whether it be electrocuting imaginary wolves with the palm of your hand, or travelling back through time as a multiplayer specialist, or transforming into a strange squid beast in a Zombie infested 1940’s Chicago, there’s a significant element of crazy in Treyarch’s newest Call of Duty. Is it the best Call of Duty ever made? No. But Black Ops 3 is easily the most distinctive, biggest and ultimately one of the most fun out there.

The main campaign, is set amidst a dark and paranoia inducing future, where man and machine have become one, and explores some surprisingly dark moral implications of this technology. However, the campaign fails to completely tie these themes together by the end, and relies too heavily on gory shock moments to move the story along than significant character development. Fortunately the gameplay itself is great; the fast and fluid gunplay remains top of the console fps class, and the new plasmid-like character abilities add some much-needed spice to the level designs. You can now boost jump on top of buildings and run along walls, shoot nano bees from your hand, and turn invisible, to name just a few. What’s impressive is that most are actually worth using in Call of Duty’s frenetic firefights, successfully diversifying each of the larger and more complex levels than we’ve seen before.

Photo: Activision Publishing Inc.

Photo: Activision Publishing Inc.

These give way to some surprising emergent gameplay moments. For example around half way through the game you are tasked with destroying a massive 25 foot robot tank and its goons. One option is to blow away the infantry with regular weapons and then focus on destroying the tank. Or if you have the hacking ability equipped you can risk a lengthy hacking process and then take direct control of this final boss like behemoth and annihilate the ground targets with missiles. I even got an achievement for it too. It’s moments like these and the integrated XP ranking in each game mode that gives Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 far more replay value than any previous entry.

Every aspect of Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is playable with up to four people online and two people locally, even the campaign. Whilst it does get a little grindy towards the end, the story mode is still entirely playable solo. The real meat of Black Ops 3, the multiplayer, has undergone some significant changes compared to previous entries. The enhanced mobility present in the campaign has translated rather well over to the multiplayer. In one move you could be running across a wall, fire an explosive crossbow round into an enemy causing her to explode into a million bloody chunks, and then from the wall, boost jump onto the top of a building and snipe another enemy camping on the opposite building. It’s exciting stuff, partly due to the implementation of the new ‘specialists’. Functioning like heroes in MOBA’s you choose one of around nine characters, each with two distinct abilities. Reaper can transform his robot arm into a mini-gun temporarily, and Prophet can ‘glitch’ back to a previous location to avoid a gunfight to name a few. These single-use abilities run on a cool-down timer which is reduced by either earning kills or by completing objectives, and no matter how bad you are, you will get to use your ability around twice a match. Just make sure to use them before you die as they do not carry over into your next life.

The specialists help diversify the experience as they help shake up the leveling process, and present a compelling reason to keep playing to find out what the next blurred out character can do. The maps themselves are mostly great, they are colourful, and have a good sense of flow to them. However, the enhanced mobility means that it is easy to get flanked and you have to stay constantly moving in order to survive. Despite these advances, the multiplayer is by no means flawless. The touted underwater combat is woefully underplayed, with only a few maps supporting this design.

Photo: Activision Publishing Inc.

Photo: Activision Publishing Inc.

The only new game mode Safeguard, in which your team must escort a robot to a location on the map while the other team attempts to destroy it, is functional but forgettable and I doubt anyone will be playing it in a few months. Gunfights still generally boil down to the person who is aiming down sight first gets the kill, although the jump pack does give you an opportunity to escape if your timing’s right. The Killstreaks also seem to be a bit weak in my opinion, and difficult to earn (five kills for a UAV in Team Deathmatch—are you kidding me?!) However, everything considered, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3’s multiplayer is a significant improvement on the previous two entries. It is faster and deeper, and so far has remained well populated on the Xbox One version, which I used for the review.

The new Zombies map, Shadows of Evil, has also been a hit with the community, where either you alone or 4 people take on never ending waves of the undead, this time in a misty 1940’s Chicago. The star-studded cast includes Jeff Goldblum as a twisted magician and Ron Perlman as a murderous boxer as playable characters. The banter between these personalities is great and the map is filled with secrets and easter eggs. You can ‘become the beast’ which allows you to slash zombies with your squid like tentacles and unlock other areas of the map to escape to. In my opinion this is one of the best zombies maps ever made; it’ll take months to discover everything this mode has to offer. The top down zombie mode, Dead Ops Arcade, returns, which you can now also play in first person, and remains as much fun as it did back in 2010. If that wasn’t enough zombies for you, after you complete the campaign you get access to additional nightmares campaign mode which is essentially a sequence of zombified campaign levels, with an eerie unseen narrator tying the sequences together.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is an enormous game, but when competing with titles like Fallout 4, it had to be. Despite its breadth, the modes are all of good quality and the new movement and character abilities help spice things up (even if there’s a distinct whiff of ‘TitanShock’ about the new additions). If you got burned out on the series long ago, the gameplay tweaks and the 15 hours of single-player content alone may be enough to warrant a purchase. Even though Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 doesn’t significantly innovate the FPS genre, it does push the series forward in a meaningful direction.