Black Ops III Review

It has now been over a week since the November 6th release of Black Ops III (ad). I’ve been able to put a considerable amount of time into the game and am ready to give my thoughts on this year’s entry in the Call of Duty series.

Campaign

WARNING: mild spoilers included.

  • Up to four player co-op
  • 12 hours to complete on Hardened difficulty
  • Complicated, all-over-the-place story
  • Levels are a bit more open and have more routes than normal
  • Cybernetic core abilities make this feel a bit like a Bioshock game

Story

In terms of story, Black Ops III (ad) is really just all over the place. You’ve probably heard that the game involves a disaster in Singapore along with some type of new, advanced soldiers and technology.

Basically, the game begins the same way Advanced Warfare began; an injured soldier is modified into a super solider through the use of futuristic technology. This time around, that means being given a “DNI,” which is basically a computer in your brain that is connected to the internet and to other soldiers with DNIs.

The DNI gives you cybernetic abilities, which you can upgrade throughout the campaign to complete three different skill trees. These abilities include things like being able to take apart or disable a robot soldier, hack enemy equipment, send heat pulses, make enemies puke themselves to death, and a whole lot more.

I think it is interesting that almost every ability requires your soldier to hold out their hand to perform. Something about that really gives the campaign a ‘Bioshock’ feel. It is really these cybercore abilities that give the campaign a different feel compared to previous editions.

Beyond the fact that you are a super soldier, I don’t want to spoil the story too much, but it ends up taking some twists and goes in a different direction than you perhaps would have thought. There also is just a lot of weird stuff in the story. Mind trees, mind wolves, dreams that become true, people unknowingly doing terrible things, and more.

Campaign mode also has four player co-op, a safe room for customizing your soldier, training, looking at stats, and practicing before missions, along with the much touted wall running and jump boosting.

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Gameplay

Let’s be honest, all of the Call of Duty campaigns feel a bit similar. Typically, players are ushered through narrow pathways into a larger area where they fight huge groups of enemies. Scattered throughout are set pieces and special gameplay like wall breaches, surviving some kind of amazing situation, manning a turret on a vehicle, controlling a vehicle, and more.

Sure, that has all been done before, but it is still fun! This year’s Black Ops III (ad) does take some steps to mix things up. Many of the levels seem to have at least two ways to go through them. We also get several interesting levels, like a WWII flashback, a subterranean network of passages, and a series of platforms on some kind of energy trees that feels like an Ewok village. Those special gameplay moments are back, this time including using a stake to prevent yourself from being blown away during a storm and manning a turret on a hovercraft.

Hardcore players will appreciate that a realistic difficulty setting has been added this year. While that mode is too difficult and frustrating for me, many will no doubt love it. We’ve been hearing that Halo 5’s legendary mode was a bit disappointing this time around as there wasn’t enough ammo. Perhaps those players could get on board with the new realistic mode in Black Ops III.

Graphics

As with the previous two Call of Duty installments, the franchise has improved graphics this year. Campaign wasn’t even released for last gen consoles this time around, which allowed Treyarch to do a lot more than they would otherwise have been able to do.

I’ve already mentioned the levels are much larger and have multiple pathways. The game is also gorgeous and is packed full of stuff. It seemed like you never walked into an empty room or area in this campaign. There was always stuff on the floor or walls, whether it be garbage, water, or some other detail.

Characters and Voice Acting

One part of the campaign that felt a little lackluster was that I just didn’t care about the characters. Almost every character felt like some kind of generic soldier or villain, and thus I just wasn’t invested in whether any of them lived or died.

Going along with these generic characters were generic voices. The voice acting was fine and well done, it didn’t get in the way, but I would have liked to have seen Treyarch differentiate between characters a bit more. Katie Sackhoff and Christopher Meloni stood out, perhaps just because they are recognizable voices to me, but everyone else kind of blended together.

Whereas Treyarch did a great job with the characters and voice acting in the Zombies mode, injecting a lot of personal flair and a backstory for each character, almost every campaign soldier could be described as generic.

Campaign Overall – 7.5/10

This year’s Call of Duty campaign is a difficult one to score, but I would at least say it is worth playing. I can’t say the story is that great, I found it less compelling than the past two Black Ops games, but it does enable for some cool missions.

The cybernetics core abilities really make the gameplay feel a bit different in this campaign. The safe room, four person co-op, and player customization options are all really nice additions as well. Graphically, this is the best Call of Duty game to date.

Multiplayer

  • The boost jump and wall running works well but maintains the ‘Call of Duty’ feel, unlike last year’s jetpacks.
  • 12 expansive, varied maps (plus Nuketown, 16 more maps coming as DLC)
  • New specialist abilities really add something new and interesting

Jetpacks vs. Wall Running

The online multiplayer has long been the primary feature to any Call of Duty game. Last year, I lambasted Advanced Warfare for their jetpacks, which I felt negatively impacted multiplayer. This year we get wall running and jump boosting. So do wall running and jump boosting wreck multiplayer?

In my opinion, they don’t. I’m not exactly sure why, but somehow those two new things just fit into the Call of Duty gameplay. Players always were running around, now they just can run on walls. Doing so often leaves you a bit exposed, and only the best seem to be able to shoot accurately while wall running or to use the new feature to sneak up on people.

The boost jumping is basically just a higher jump. You can still usually tell the direction someone is going to jump, unlike the jetpacks where a player could be flying anywhere.

I think a big reason the wall running and jump boosting isn’t wrecking the multiplayer gameplay is that the maps are set up in a way where you know where the wall running people might be, and in a lot of interior areas the boost jumping just isn’t helpful at all. Conversely, in Advanced Warfare every map was open and players were flying everywhere, which was just chaotic.

Maps

This year’s game comes with twelve multiplayer maps, along with the Nuketown preorder map. Treyarch intentionally built each map to have three main paths with two levels of verticality. That formula works quite well. Each map seems to have some big open areas for snipers and assault rifle players, along with some close quarters combat areas for the shotgun and SMG crowd.

I’m always for larger, more open maps, but I think this year’s map arrangements are a nice compromise for everyone. There should be some aspect to every map that every player likes. In the past, other Call of Duty studios have made their games way too SMG focused for my tastes, so I at least have to give Treyarch credit for thinking about all the players and not designing the levels for one particular playing style.

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Specialists

The big addition to the multiplayer this year are the specialist classes. Some of these classes include:

  • Ruin: an infantry soldier from a tough neighborhood who volunteered for cybernetic limb replacements, despite not having an injury necessitating it.
  • Seraph: an enforcer for the 54I crime syndicate who is known for her discipline in combat.
  • Outrider: a product of the Brazilian favelas, where she earned a place in the ranks of the Brazilian Special Forces.
  • Reaper: a combat robot prototype from a canceled government R&D project built by the Coalescence Corporation.
  • Prophet: a member of the British Engineering Corps.
  • Nomad: the last surviving member of an elite rapid deployment force that specialized in jungle warfare.
  • Battery: an armored explosives specialist, she crushed the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program.
  • Spectre: a presumed wet-works specialist about whom next to nothing is known. Has either twin blades for longer melee or can use active camo to sneak up on people.
  • Firebreak: A fire weapons expert with either the Purifier flamethrower or a heat pulse ability.

These specialists are pretty diverse, and thus far I’ve had fun trying out all of them. I’m still not sure which is my favorite, as all the abilities really could be useful depending on which game mode you are playing. For most game modes, I’m liking the Scythe with Reaper or Firebreak with Purifier. For hardcore, the Outrider’s sparrow can be especially deadly. For search and destroy or domination, the Spectre can plant or defuse the bomb before anyone even knows what is going on. The Nomad’s rejack can be great for Kill Confirmed. Battery’s kinetic armor and the Ruin’s gravity spikes seem to be the favorites of the people that kill me.

The specialist classes really just add another whole dimension to gameplay, and they are a lot of fun.

Loss Stat Prevented

One of the frustrating things with Call of Duty has always been that when you first look for a game, you were likely to be added to a game that was already in progress where your team was losing. If you finished that game, it would count as a loss. Well, no longer! Treyarch has now made it so that you don’t get a loss stat if you join a game in progress. You can still win, which should boost practically everyone’s win ratios.

Connection Issues

At the time of writing, we are five days out from launch, yet some connection issues still persist. Players often get booted for some unknown reason. I myself have found it impossible to save anything in Gunsmith without being disconnected.

Connection problems have always plagued Call of Duty due to their P2P setup instead of using dedicated servers. Hopefully Treyarch can get the connection issues sorted quickly. The issues aren’t typically game breaking, it just is an annoyance that occurs every now and then.

Multiplayer Overall – 9/10

I’ve long been a fan of the Treyarch Black Ops multiplayer, and this year’s edition doesn’t let me down. Certainly better than either Ghosts or Advanced Warfare, Black Ops III’s (ad) multiplayer has good maps and the specialists classes really add another dimension to the game.

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Zombies

  • Both the regular Zombies multiplayer and a campaign
  • The voice acting with Jeff Goldblum and Ron Perlman is excellent and entertaining.
  • ‘Become the beast’ let’s you grow tentacles and tear zombies apart
  • Customize your loadout before the game begins

One of the most beloved features to Treyarch games is the Zombies mode. This game mode, which began as an extra hidden unlock in World at War, has grown with each installment. In Black Ops III, Zombies is probably the main selling point for a lot of people.

Once again, you can play Zombies solo, in a private match, or online. Unless you have the preorder extra Zombies map (which I did not get), you only have one huge map to play on. This map is so big, that after 50 rounds of Zombies I still get lost all the time.

The Zombies game mode takes place in the 1940’s in a place called “Morg City.” As with the rest of this game, the graphics are gorgeous. You play as a group of four people that have all done bad things, which you can learn about in detail if you play the solo mode and watch the full intro. Those four people are brought to the Zombies map by the Shadow Man, for some unknown reason. The four people are all voiced by well-known actors. The banter that goes on between them along with the comments they make are a lot of fun.

The map itself contains a lot of secret areas, traps, machines, a train, and more. A new “Become the Beast” feature lets you use a purple chalice to grow tentacles, after which you can open special areas that are marked with an orange symbol, or you can just kill Zombies faster.

The Zombies mode has challenges to it, like doing various rituals. I don’t fully understand that and haven’t gotten further than a few rituals, but it gives players something to strive for when playing round after round of zombies.

In terms of gameplay, zombies feels very similar to how it always has felt. The mode has grown to be very robust and complicated, but that should only lengthen the amount of time you can play it before it grows stale. I didn’t encounter any real gameplay glitches or flaws, it all works seamlessly. The one issue is that in a public match, if your host quits, the game ends. If you are ten rounds in and someone quits, ending the game, this can be really frustrating.

Zombies Overall – 7.5/10

While zombies is worth playing, I’m not sure that it is worth buying the game for this one mode alone. I would have preferred multiple, smaller maps to the one large one that plays out similarly each time. The voice acting and the hidden things to do are all great, as are the graphics and gameplay. Hosts ending the game can be extremely frustrating.

Extras

As Treyarch loves to do with their games, Black Ops III has some bonus features to be unlocked. There is another Dead Ops game you can unlock at your data bank computer in the safe room, a wall running game, and also an entire additional zombies based campaign. Doing stuff like this really just gives the game that feeling that is was a labor of love, plus it gives so much extra value to the gamers.

Overall

Black Ops III (ad) is a very robust game. With three main game modes and a few extras, this game should keep anyone occupied for quite a while and is a really good value. The gameplay is solid and the graphics are great. The new wall running and boost jumping doesn’t wreck multiplayer, in fact, this is the best multiplayer since Black Ops II. Specialist classes really add to the multiplayer and are a lot of fun to try out. Zombies is as fun as ever, although I wish there was more than one map. The campaign story is maybe a bit lacking, but still worth playing.

Black Ops III (ad) gets an 8 out of 10.

Black Ops III

Black Ops III
8

Score

8/10

    Pros

    • Gorgeous graphics
    • Extremely robust game with three full game modes
    • Best multiplayer since Black Ops II
    • Excellent characters in Zombies mode
    • Specialists are a nice addition

    Cons

    • Story is really out there
    • Campaign characters fail to make you care about them
    • Connection issues persist
    • Would have liked more than one zombies map