Okay, so I’m going to level with everyone here for a minute. There was a time, not so long ago, when I was a huge Call of Duty fan. I was first introduced to the series with Call of Duty 2 and began sinking countless hours into the game with friends and by myself. I would eagerly buy each new installment, and just plough through the campaign, and play online when my parents graced me with some Xbox Live money. But then something happened. The series changed to a yearly installment model. It wasn’t bad at first, but as each passing entry released, something was missing. The once exciting, invigorating, and innovative series grew stale in my eyes. It began to feel like more of a reskin of older games I loved, just without the excitement and newness that came along with it. I began to fall out of love with Call of Duty. Despite its immense success, I just couldn’t enjoy what it offered. Each new title surrounded with the hype, and huge sales numbers turned me bitter. It felt like there wasn’t anything left for the series to offer except a supremely polished gameplay lacking any soul. That was before I played Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. This is the shot in the arm the franchise needed. It keeps the Call of Duty formula we’ve all come to know, but adds so much more, that it feels like the first big step forward for the series in a long time.
Players are dropped in the kind-of distant future of 2065, 40 years after the events of Black Ops 2. The world is a mess of overpopulation, extreme climate change, and mass displacement around the globe. Countries develop more sophisticated ways to fight, and the use of robotics is more commonplace in the military. While on a mission to rescue a kidnapped politician from the evil NCR, you’re critically injured by a battle bot. You’re beaten so bad that once you’re rescued they essentially have to turn you into Darth Vader. You’re part man, part machine, and, you get your own robo-version of the force with something called Direct Neural Interface (called DNI for short), so you manipulate machines around you. This is the beginning of your life as a new and improved Black Ops soldier and gives you a reason to use all the new game mechanics. The one you’ll use the most is the wall run ability. It’s a really fun addition that changes up the way maps are laid out and can allow for different ways to get to any destination. Normally I have issues with parkour in games, usually because you never quite get the angle you hope for, but in this instance, it worked almost perfectly every time I used it. The DNI is such a game changer in other ways, too. The very nature of your abilities and upgrades alter your strategy as you go into any battle. You can take control of enemy machines, or send out a swarm of killer nano-bots if you have the skill. It gives you an alternative to any situation. You get an opportunity to really think out your next move, which is something pretty rare in twitch shooters.
After your training to get used to these new mechanics, five years pass and you’re tasked with the investigation of a blacked out CIA outpost in Singapore. Without getting into spoiler territory, this is the first big event that gets the ball rolling in a plot that feels like it has something to say about the progression of technology and how much control it has over us, with the DNI tech literally controlling the thoughts of some characters. But if feels like they stopped just short of fully committing to a social commentary. That’s okay though, because this isn’t really the place to have these types of discussions, even if it is an interesting take. The plot isn’t without its issues, though. To start, the characters are very one-dimensional. I never fully got behind anyone, or their motivations. Some of that has to do with some truly cringe-worthy scriptwriting and even worse delivery. Some of the dialogue only exists to show players the limitless technology the people in this universe have at their disposal, but it just comes across as awkward and forced. There is no need for a soldier to ever tell me the chocolate bar he’s eating is indescribably good; that’s a weird thing to say before you’re deployed to a battlefield. There is also something really strange about the voice of the main character. It doesn’t suit him at all and feels more comedic than serious. I couldn’t take him seriously a lot of the time, and that’s never a good sign.
That’s okay, though because we have Jeff freaking Goldblum in the game! Well, not in the main story; he’s one of the characters in the all-new Zombies story, Shadows of Evil. This tale is set in the fictional Morg City in 1942 and follows four characters, each with their own dark, messed-up pasts. They’re offered a chance at redemption by ritualistically sacrificing people to the Shadowman. This is the standout version of Zombies. Its intense Noir setting and over-the-top, bonkers plot twist made this one of the most enjoyable parts of the game. The second storyline, The Giant, is an alternative take on the original characters of the series. It’s nowhere near as captivating as the other plot, but it’s Zombies and still fun. The gameplay is similar to the versions of the past. Players take out waves of undead and demonic creatures while slowly upgrading their weapons and unlocking new parts of the map. It’s fun to play alone, but with people online is the best way to go.
That goes for almost every part of the game. We all know by now that this series’ bread and butter is the online play. The community is always strong, and sometimes vocal, but they’re loyal and Black Ops 3 spoils them. It’s all about mixing the old with the new, similar to how DNI added something fresh to the normal COD gameplay, changes to the online mode make this game feel fresh as well. To start, all maps are built to accommodate the boost jump and the all-new wall running mechanic. This means there are many alternate paths that wouldn’t be imaginable in past games. Players will be familiar with the Pick 10 System that’s back where players choose 10 items for their own customizable loadout, with up to six attachments on any gun, but they’ll be pleasantly surprised with the all-new “specialists” characters that replace your generic soldier from past entries. There are 10 different characters to choose from, and they all have little backstories that make each one unique. They also give players the choice of a special ability or weapon to bring to the battlefield. I really liked this addition, as it adds a level of individuality to the game; their personalities are all different and they have their own taunts and things to yell, too. This is one of the most fresh and fleshed-out online experiences to hit the series in some time.
I was legitimately surprised with how much I enjoyed Black Ops 3 as a whole. For a series that has felt so stagnant for so long, it’s nice to see a big step forward in the franchise. It reminded me why Call of Duty is one of the most influential series’ on the planet, even if it didn’t reflect that for a while. But by adding something fresh to a tried and true formula, Treyarch set a benchmark for the series, and I feel bad for the talented men and women at Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games who have to follow this title up. Not only did this title remind me why I love videogames, it reminded me why I loved Call of Duty all those years ago.