6th November 2015
For me, Black Ops has always been the superior installments in the Call of Duty series. While Infinity Ward is the original and debatably more celebrated of the franchise’s switch-hitting studios, I’ve always found Treyarch to have more reckless abandon with their choices. They deal in weird pseudo-science and espionage inspired storylines, which makes me feel like I’m playing less shooter and more outlandish spy novel. Personally, I love this approach to the more traditional war game.
For my review, I’m going to talk mostly about the single player campaign and the gameplay mechanics. I could spend my review over-analysing all the main points about BO3’s online multiplayer, but let’s face it- you know already. At this point, the series has become another Madden, changing things up in minuscule ways, and never rocking the boat too much. I will go a little in-depth, and I’ve attached a preview I did a while back, but I decided to focus most of my critique on the single-player campaign’s storyline and the newly introduced ‘Nightmare’ mode. I also plan on writing a full review on the Zombies campaign, as I feel it deserves its own look.
Black Ops’ storylines always deal with the frailty of identity on a battlefield. Even without brainwashing or sleeper cells, the game makes it a point to highlight how out of body the experience feels for those fighting it. People become objectives, squares on a targeting screen, which simply need to be removed from the equation. The game questions the thin line between morals and honor, and always brooches the subject of ‘The Greater Good.’ While this formula has worked in the past, their newest experience comes across a lot shallower, and with far less wit and substance.
This time around, instead of dealing with chemicals or techniques exploiting the vulnerabilities of the mind, Black Ops 3 takes the Ultron approach and deals with technology bending our free will. It tackles the issue of transhumanism at it’s core; perhaps a little too on the nose. In a market that’s been flooded with fears of the Singularity, when computers become self-aware, I was hoping for something more to sink my teeth into. Sadly, this isn’t the case, and the game quickly become a cliche as you progress through the main storyline with its one familiar note.
The previous games had a wonderful way of getting characters to interact with you in the midst of the action, brilliantly conveying its themes and plot points. Instead of using the game’s engine to drive the story, this installment focused almost entirely on scripted cutscenes and drawn-out conversations before entering rooms. I felt the repetition way more this time around; watch a loading animation with narration, followed by a leisurely stroll to a doorway, shoot some guys, converse in another hallway, shoot some more. It gets old quickly, and the only reward is the pre-rendered movie you get to watch when you’re done. Gone are the integrated scenes in the action bits, and it feels like a step back for the series.
The hackneyed dialogue is some of the worst I’ve seen in awhile. Our soldiers come across some dead scientists, observing that they were killed in a sacrificial execution, one that was “done while they were still alive.’ Sadly, executions aren’t nearly as impressive when done on the deceased. With lines like “He’s going to overload his brain,” and even having the main antagonist verbally confess that “he is the bad guy,” I thought my eyes were going to roll out of my skull in a frantic search for the nuanced writing of previous installments.
It’s not just the script either, as things just don’t make a lot of sense narratively. AI bots, possessing a hive mind of technology, stand around outside of buildings looking at one another as if they’re discussing last night’s episode of Raw. Even though you too have cyborg technology that allows for nearly telepathic communications, it doesn’t stop your partner from openly talking to you, even while underwater. At one point, you’re shown a group of slavers who decide to blow off a perfectly enslavable couple’s heads for no reason, other than inciting an obvious ‘bad guy’ label for you to shoot at. A rogue AI, with aspirations of world domination, has very specific needs in order to escape. Not to mention, BO3 has an ending you’ll have to turn your mind off to enjoy. It’s sad, but the game simply falls on its face and has very little to do with the Mason storyline.
While the locations are visually dramatic, with tons of floating platforms to rocket jump and dash towards, they come across as nonsensical and drab. In the pursuit of giving your character an opportunity to use your jumper packs, the developers seem to have forgotten how gravity and mass works. They’ve made a physics anomaly out of their world because it seems like they wanted something falling in every scene. You open a door, and debris magically falls from the heavens, even without a real opportunity or placement for it to do so. Every location either looks like it’s on a planet with a sun that’s been connected with a 100 feet cord, or a maniacal Bill Gate’s dark basement that hasn’t been cleaned in years. While I understand that we’re dealing with war-torn areas, some locations are littered with rubble and carnage, despite having no reason to be in a state of disarray.
Treyarch’s newest entry just lacks the overall polish I was expecting from the third installment in their most profitable franchise. The game is fairly buggy at launch, and it hinders the experience.. If you’re not able to connect to the online service, you’ll be locked out of your campaign. After this had happened to me, I exited the game and returned, only to have it think I was on a previous mission. Every time I load the game now, if I can even connect, I still had to tell the game I was further along in my campaign. You’ll sometimes clear a room, and stand around for a whole minute while you wait for your partner to give their absent-minded “all clear” before being able to proceed. I had several moments where I either got stuck, or fell through the floor, and had to restart the mission. They’re not awful, or even game breaking, but it was enough for me to feel like I should mention it.
I know this is reading like I hate the game, but I really didn’t- there’s some cool stuff in here. Wall running is a great addition to the franchise. While I didn’t feel like the game fully utilized its new assortment of Power Core techniques, they are a nice addition and do add some strategy to the gameplay. While this may be true, you can still run through the game with your guns, never needing to use them, which makes them feel tacked on rather than integral. I also really enjoyed the home base that you go to between every mission. It provides a wonderful way of receiving the internal conflict of your team while adjusting your loadout and Power Core abilities. You can also check out your awards and collectibles, something that adds some replayability and insensitive to jump back to previous missions.
Graphically, the game has some of the best facial animations around. Utilizing the talents of Christopher Meloni, Katee Sackhoff, and Tony Amendola, the game does an amazing job of capturing a nice range of subtlety and conviction from these actors. Character move with believable realism and even the robots have some thoughtful and well-conceived movements. While I wasn’t a fan of the environments, everything else is top notch. When the game does tip into the digital psychedelic, the experience shines with mind-bending layouts and unforgettable set pieces. All the gun models and textures look fantastic, and might be my favorite in the series thus far.
Probably the most grievously tacked on though, and most ineffective is ‘Nightmare’ mode. Man- I was super stoked for this entry, which promised to provide a Zombies experience with the narrative set pieces, but sadly this entry isn’t even worth playing all the way through. All of the game’s animations, due to their campaign-centric performances, are overdubbed with expository nonsense to fit the pre-rendered segments. This leaves your main character verbally making sense of a storyline that wasn’t built for the visuals. Then, when you do get to the zombie blasting, you find that the maps were designed mostly for cover-based shooting, rather than the narrow, maze-like maps the series is famous for. Simply put, this is a half-hearted attempt, I would’ve rather never played than seen in such a broken and unrewarding state. I hope they continue supporting the Zombies fans, but this is lower than pandering.
Multiplayer is the same it’s always been. If you want to hear my thoughts on it, it’d be great if you checked out my full thoughts on the newest fragfest, but I’ll briefly touch on them here. Swimming is a fantastic addition to the franchise and adds a lot of dynamics to the maps that utilize it. Shooting through water has kind of been debunked, but these super weapons make the feat possible, and it is awesome having underwater shootouts. It also becomes a more tactical way to flank your enemies on the field. The new Specialists system takes some time to appreciate, but after a while you’ll learn which of these soldiers work best for you, and will feel as natural as Killstreaks after awhile. Everything else has stayed mostly the same, except the Arena mode where you can vote out or save weapons or killstreaks through a democratic process. While I like this idea, it takes far too long to get past the voting, and then everyone’s adjusting their loadouts; leaving you waiting while you watch minutes evaporate from your playtime. If you’re not tired of the experience yet, then BO3 will provide your itchy trigger finger with the soothing satisfaction you’re looking for, but I must admit it does feel like a stale piece of bread fresh from the market.
If you’re buying the game for the multiplayer, this entry won’t disappoint. It’s still as fast-paced and ruthless as it’s always been, and the additional moves and weaponry didn’t cross my eyes any. If you’re one of those people who enjoyed the single player experience, sadly there was a reason the company dropped this aspect from last-gen ports. Sure, it allowed them to put all the information into its main draw- but it’s better left on the chopping block because it’s a nonsensical mess. Now, if you’re a fan of Zombies- hang around the site a little, because I hope to have a full review of “Shadows Of Evil” up within the next day or so- which I felt deserved its own discussion and makes this game easily worth the purchase price.
DISCLOSURE: Trevor Anderson attended a Black Ops 3 party in Los Angeles during the week of E3. Food and refreshments were provided at this event.
Wall running and swimming is a fantastic addition to the gameplay.
Online has been changed enough to keep it fresh while staying familiar.
Graphics are fantastic, and the storyline’s actors give an all out performance.
The game’s story is laughably bad and makes little sense narratively.
'Nightmare’ mode is offensively tacked on and does little to hide its shame.
Multiplayer does enough to stay fresh, but it’s age is really starting to show.