Call of Duty: Black Ops III is a difficult game to review, as in many ways the series does improve, especially over lacklustre titles like Ghosts. But too many of Call of Duty’s staple issues are still inherent here and haven’t been fixed since the series’ jump to next-gen consoles.
The problem with annual releases of video game franchises like Call of Duty is that a lot of them tend to fade into one another, making it difficult to differentiate one from the other. Call of Duty has become synonymous as of late with a slew of futuristic locations, making it difficult to discern what a Modern Warfare or an Infinite Warfare title actually looks like. Black Ops III follows suit with another near-future setting and a campaign mode full of robots, futuristic weaponry and a hilariously poor story full of convoluted, nonsensical plot points. Thankfully, Black Ops III boasts an impressive amount of content to chew through, including an extensive zombie mode, a 12-hour campaign, and the usual slew of multiplayer shenanigans this game has become infamous for, and it’s sure to please long-term fans of the franchise.
The campaign serves its purpose for the most part and is enjoyable if you can switch off from a lot of the questionable plot developments. Early on the story introduces key gameplay mechanics including wall-running and the cyber core abilities, allowing you to play with different weapons early on before diving into several different locations to undergo a coveted Black Ops mission. There’s a good mix of robotic and human enemies to grind through although late on this does become increasingly tedious as most large enemies require a combination of spraying gunfire and a blast from a rocket launcher repeated at least five times to defeat. The lack of variety with enemies will see you grinding wave after wave of the same expressionless robots, too, which does detract a little from the enjoyable, over-the-top action littered throughout the story. There’re certainly some nice ideas here and the final mission in particular sees all hell break loose as you try to infiltrate a highly fortified building to stop the main antagonist of the game.
Call of Duty has always been infamous for its archaic structure, advancing the game from area to area, relying heavily on trigger points that in turn spawn enemies and the next set-piece rather than more intelligent designs seen in other shooters, and Black Ops III is no exception to the rule. Most areas (unless you’re playing on Veteran or Realistic, of course) can be avoided altogether without firing a single bullet through a mixture of skill and speed-running to the next checkpoint. This is especially problematic late on when enemies respawn constantly, forcing you to take unnecessary risks, and destroying any built-up tension by sprinting through the middle of a battlefield to help automatically push your clueless, friendly AI higher up the map. It’s not quite as bad as some of the older games, especially the first Black Ops that literally spawned enemies in the middle of a corridor unless you ran forward to engage the next area, but it’s still noticeable enough to detract from what’s otherwise a relatively enjoyable campaign.
Once you’re finished with the campaign, there’s a fleshed-out Zombie mode here too, complete with the usual array of power-ups, waves of blood-thirsty undead, and areas to unlock. Much like in previous games, you accumulate points through killing the undead with headshots and with those points you can unlock new areas, different weapons, and place traps to kill more zombies. In usual Call of Duty fashion, all of this can be played with a plethora of other characters, both as local co-op or online. To mix things up the mode also includes Gobblegum machines that, when interacted with, unlock a host of enhancements including faster reload speed, extra damage, and more. Despite boasting a good selection of maps, the base game only includes a single map, further reinforcing the desire for Activision to push DLC on consumers for a more rounded experience with this mode.
The multiplayer options are exactly what you’d expect from a Call of Duty game, with Team Deatchmatch the go-to mode for most people. Unfortunately pay-to-win exploits and DLC weapons do sour the experience, playing a huge part in turning the fortunes of games that certainly detract from the skill needed to play these modes effectively, with the usual array of bottleneck maps failing to innovate or provide as memorable an experience as much as some of the gameplay mechanics do. Still, there is enjoyment to be had here (especially if you mute all microphones when you take the experience online) but for those new to the series or who don’t mind dying repeatedly, the slow trickle of extra weapons, ammo slots and skills make this a mode worth persevering with.
If most of the core elements of Call of Duty have remained the same this year, the same can’t be said for the gameplay, mixing things up with the added implementation of cyber core abilities and wall-running. These game-changing abilities range from inflicting swarms of flies on enemies, hacking robots to turn on their own kind, boosting your own speed, and more. These can be a little awkward to implement in the middle of a tense firefight though, requiring you to hold L1 and R1 and meticulously aim for enemies, making Veteran and Realistic modes incredibly difficult to pull off these abilities repeatedly.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III is a difficult one to review, as in many ways the series does improve, especially over lacklustre titles like Ghosts. But too many of Call of Duty’s staple issues are still inherent here and haven’t been fixed since the series’ jump to next-gen consoles. Woeful friendly AI and a convoluted campaign are littered with trigger points for spawning enemies and advancing the story, giving it a more archaic feeling than the futuristic setting would suggest. The setting itself does feel overdone now after the previous few games, although the added cyber core skills and wall-running do a good job of at least trying to mix things up a bit. Black Ops III isn’t the worst in the series and certainly boasts an impressive amount of content, but next to titles like Modern Warfare and World At War, this one pales in comparison, feeling more like an echo of the critically-acclaimed shooter it once was than an innovative step forward.