Every since I first inserted the disk of Call of Duty 3 into my Xbox 360 I’ve been a huge fan of the series. From Modern Warfare to World at War all the way to Advanced Warfare, without a doubt, I’d have grabbed a copy of the game at launch. But for the past couple of years the games have started to lose my interest. They’ve tried to become something more than a shooter and I feel they’re trying to do too much at once.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is the latest game to do just that, and I’m saddened because Treyarch, up until now, were my favourite developers of Call of Duty and the Black Ops series had me hooked. With Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 however, I could easily just give it a miss.
I’m not sure if this is because its the third title in the series, as I felt exactly the same with Modern Warfare 3. I despised that game and the only reason I continued to play it was because it concluded the game’s story. Sadly that’s not the same with Black Ops 3 as it contains an original story in its campaign, though it’s hardly one to keep me hooked.
Treyarch has set high ambitions with Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. Not only has the multiplayer mode had a keen focus, but the campaign is no longer a single-player affair, no you and up to three other players can dive into the campaign and tackle the story together, which on paper sounds fantastic, right? But I found that in practice it’s probably the most disconnected campaign I’ve ever played.
So here’s the deal, the campaign is split into missions, as you’d expect from a Call of Duty game, right? Well the first two missions follow-on from each other, letting you get to grips with all of the game’s long list of mechanics, as well as trying to get you sucked into the game’s story, once you’ve completed these missions though, you’re then thrown into a central hub, a HQ of sorts where you can sort out your load outs, choose perks and augments, and much more.
Again, seems like a fantastic idea as the campaign becomes a more personalised experience, but in practice I felt it actually disconnected you from the story more than anything. Once I’d reached the hub I felt little drive to actually explore it. The hub offered no real value to me, nor did I want to check out any weapons, all I wanted to do was experience the story.
I know what you’re thinking… Why didn’t I just rush to the other side of the room and start the next mission? Well that’s exactly what I did, but I wish I didn’t have to do this, I wish I could have just continued the story and stopped when I wanted to, not when the mission was over.
Though I’ll admit I haven’t actually played a Call of Duty campaign since Black Ops 2, I liked the idea of playing it with my friends, having a more co-op experience in a Call of Duty game, but to me it just felt emtpy. Even with friends it felt completely flat. I couldn’t get invested in the game’s story, for the most part I found it fairly forgettable and due to the nature of the game, I also found it quite confusing. Is what we’re experiencing real, or is it just a memory as such?
Also, the game’s campaign was said to be more of an open-world arena where players could choose their paths, but again I felt this also fell flat on its face as no matter what, you always ended up at the same point, and more often than not, depending on the route that I decided to take, I’d always end up with one or two stragglers shooting at me from the beginning of that particular area.
Although I was excited about the idea of a campaign which me and my wife and a few friends could play, I felt quite disappointed with what the end result actually was. Sure, it’s fantastic that I can play a campaign mode with my wife, or with other friends from across the world, but it did feel very much like a solo experience throughout.
Visually, the game looks great. Having played on both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions, I have no complaints about the way the game looks at all. At points I did feel that the games framerate slowed down a little, especially when there was a lot going on, but all in all it was visually pleasing, even the transition from live gameplay to a gameplay rendered cut-scene.
Fortunately, as with all Call of Duty games, there’s a redeeming factor, and that’s the mode you’re likely going to spend all of your time playing. The multiplayer mode. And while for the most part it’s a top-notch multiplayer, there are a few things which I’m once again disappointed about.
One of those things is how complicated the multiplayer mode has become. Where Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare introduced some mild class customisation which has gradually been expanded upon with each game, Black Ops 3 takes the biscuit when it comes to the sheer amount of options available, despite only a few things being made available when you first begin your multiplayer campaign.
The game as a whole is pretty perfect. It’s your typical Call of Duty multiplayer with the addition of wall running and boost jumping. This expands slightly on the boosting added to Advanced Warfare, and for the most part it works, really well. It does take some getting used to, especially because we’ve always found that avoiding walls is a good thing, but once you get the hang of leaping around the battlefield, you can really switch up your game.
Because of this, some of the maps are really complex and take a little while to get used to, especially with the sheer amount of paths now available to you, but once you’re at one with the map, you’ll be whizzing around in no time.
Even the multiplayer modes are a pretty good mixed bag of both serious tactical modes, typical shooter modes, and more casual fun modes. I particularly like the Safeguard mode which has players escorting or defending against a robot who takes a little stroll around the map.
For those who play games like Team Fortress 2 or Dirty Bomb, you’d be instantly aware of this type of gameplay. For those escorting the robot, they’ll need to stay nearby and ensure it doesn’t receive any damage, for those defending, they need to unleash as much damage as possible and keep it clear of any opponents so it doesn’t move to the end zone. It’s a hell of a lot of fun and really mixes up the gameplay in Call of Duty.
Once you’ve been playing for a little while though, you’ll quickly start unlocking things, and while the Create a Class system has opted with the usual “Pick 10” slot allocation, there’s much more to the multiplayer than meets the eye.
Not only has the emblem creator made a return, but now you can create paint jobs for your weapons. This allows you to create a custom skin for your gun to add more personality to your pre-made character, also known as a Specialist. The specialists themselves can be customised too with different outfits once you’ve unlocked them.
Although this doesn’t take much away from the main gameplay aspects of the multiplayer mode, there is still an overwhelming amount of things for you to keep track of. However, if you’re the sort of person who enjoys deep customisation as well as having a million and one things to unlock, I’m sure this is a dream come true. For someone who just wants to play a multiplayer match, it can sometimes become a little too much to deal with.
One thing that Advanced Warfare introduced to the game, was the ability to customise your player, you could choose to be male or female, and chance the face accordingly. You could also add outfits and other items to the character to make it feel more personal to you.
In Black Ops 3 however, Treyarch has dumped out the generic character in favour of a number of “Specialists” each with their own set of special abilities. At first not all Specialists are unlocked, and you must pretty much level up to the max level in order to unlock them all. You can also choose from one of their special abilities to begin with, then unlock another once you’ve received an unlock token for levelling up.
While this adds a lot of variety to the gameplay, with each special ability having both its strengths and weaknesses, it does once again offer a feeling of disconnection with the character you’re working to level up, especially when you enter the battlefield and see three or four other players with exactly the same character. Sure, you rarely actually get to see your own character unless you die a lot, but it doesn’t feel as personal to you, especially coming from a game with such rich character customisation.
One final note about multiplayer. Having always played Call of Duty sitting next to my wife who also plays the game. I’ve never been so disappointed to load up multiplayer to find that our 16:9 aspect ratio is being forced into a 4:3. Ghosts didn’t do this, neither did Advanced Warfare, but Black Ops 3 on Xbox One has this forced perspective, complete with two ugly black letterboxes down the side.
This was also present in the local split-screen campaign and in the game’s Zombies mode, which left a bitter taste in our mouths. Surely by now Treyarch has figured out that having full-width split-screen with a slight field of view sacrifice is much better than making a 42-inch TV feel more like a 1990s box telly.
In addition to the campaign and multiplayer modes there’s also a new mode called Free Run. This is an odd little mode which tries to make the most of the new boosting and wall running system. Simply put, it’s a series of assault courses which players must conquer the fastest time possible. For those who have had enough of the campaign or multiplayer mode this is a welcome break.
It actually feels a lot like Mirror’s Edge in the way that it’s executed. It’s simplistic, there’s a single route for you to tackle, and you need to do it as quick as possible. It’s definitely a fun mode, but it’s not as competitive as I imagine Treyarch would have liked it to be. Sure, there’s online leaderboards and you can take turns with a friend locally to beat a score, but there’s nothing more to it than that. I would have perhaps liked the ability to race in real-time against a friend, for example.
Overall, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is a bit of a let down. I didn’t really have many high hopes for the game considering the story had no real ties to the original two, and to my utter lack of surprise the campaign was a big miss for me. However, the multiplayer, as always, has some redeeming qualities. Though as with most Call of Duty games, you need to get your head around the maps and the game’s new mechanics, once you do, it’s actually quite enjoyable.
The Zombies mode is your typical star-studded outing with a very familiar feel. Survive for as long as you can, unlock doors, seal up windows, and turn on the power. Sure the addition of an overarching story is enjoyable, and the addition of a weird Beast power-up is interesting, to say the least. But for those expecting more than your typical Call of Duty Zombies survival game, you may be a little disappointed. However, this is really the only part of Black Ops that Treyarch hasn’t overly messed with, which after sifting through the game’s various modes, unlocks, and more, is quite refreshing.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of Call of Duty: Black Ops supplied by the reviewer.