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Call of Duty: Black Ops III Review

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Overall Rating:       8.3







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Release Date:

November 6, 2015

If one wanted to be a little callous, one could simply say "Call of Duty is Call of Duty." That might be a halfway decent summary of the latest entry in the blockbuster franchise but of course, we'd be doing a disservice to the whole review process. On top of which, it's not really fair to make the implication that CoD never changes or innovates; last year's Advanced Warfare is a great example of a series that tried a little something new. And while I can't say Black Ops III is groundbreaking or revolutionary in some way, I can certainly say it's a solid and entertaining - albeit expected - installment. It's just too bad the campaign can't rise to the challenge.

I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with Advanced Warfare's visual accomplishments on PlayStation 4. Maybe it was simply because I was looking at the first CoD on next-gen consoles but even so, I felt inclined to praise those visuals. I can do the same for the new Black Ops, as the battleground effects remain top-notch and the bombastic set pieces make for an eye-popping graphical feast. It's also important to mention the quality of the map design, which I tend to lump into this category. However, all that being said, I'm a bit underwhelmed at the presentation here and perhaps it's because it's not a significant improvement over last year's effort. It looks great and it's plenty stable but that's not enough to blow me away.

I treat the audio with a similar smile and shrug of the shoulders. We once again have good voice performances, a really effective soundtrack, and the sharp sound effects one expects from a game with such a massive budget. The balancing is just about right and when you're in the midst of the action, that great audio envelops you completely and amps up the overall immersion. This franchise has always excelled in this category and I see no reason to knock Black Ops III for any marked decline or stagnation. At the same time, I also can't say it moves beyond Advanced Warfare. In some respects, it might, but in other respects, it's pretty much the same ol' same ol'. Again, though, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

It occurs to me that as the campaign hasn't been a focal point in CoD - or just about any FPS - for some time, I probably shouldn't start my gameplay analysis with the narrative. After all, nobody is buying this game for the campaign, right? They're playing to throw down with their friends online and that's that. So, we need to tackle the multiplayer offering, which brings us deeper player customization and the appreciated addition of Specialists. Toss in those aforementioned top-tier maps and you've got a multiplayer-centric shooter that storms out of the gate, firing on all cylinders. You might start to notice a few drawbacks the longer you play, but nothing that will put a serious crimp in your enjoyment.

In addition to the traditional loadout system that features 10 open slots for weapons and equipment, there's an added layer of depth. This results in more tactical strategy decisions; for instance, you can only select a power weapon or special ability for a match. Once equipped, that weapon or ability charges several times during the course of play and this is where the game starts to shine. For example, the Outrider's Vision Pulse ability acts like an enhanced visibility mode that lets you spot foes through walls. I really liked experimenting with the special weapons and skills because these really do add a gameplay dimension that didn't previously exist in this series. Specialists really are the bomb, damnit.

At first, I thought I'd hate having to choose between a special weapon and ability. But as I started to play more, it was clear that such a limitation puts a very specific spin on each and every match, depending on what players select. Really, if you could equip both, every match would feel more like a traditional free-for-all, although admittedly with more variety than usual. Most won't give CoD a lot of credit for providing players with strategic obstacles but the Specialist addition can be considered one of the more intellectual features. Okay, so I'm using the loosest possible definition of "intellectual" here but you know what I mean. As you log more hours, you start to figure out which weapons and abilities work best on which maps.

The possibilities are actually pretty cool, if not exactly endless. You get four Specialists to fiddle around with and it takes time to unlock others, which some gamers may not appreciate (impatience is all too common in the world of shooters). The other possible downside is that when you stop talking about the Specialists, you're left with a still robust yet anticipated multiplayer experience. There are a lot of the same modes, the gameplay balance still feels familiar, and the experience-based progression is nothing new at this point. But it all serves its purpose; it keeps you coming back for more, and there are still a ton of weapons to unlock and build up. And with some of the best maps in the series, you're not often swearing at "stupid map design" after you bite the dust.

Then there's the new movement...well, new for Black Ops, I guess. It's not the same as the fresh action mechanic in Advanced Warfare but it's not entirely unique, either. The good news is that it puts a cool spin on the standard action; just when you think the game is reverting to standard CoD fare, the wall-running and sliding reminds you of the changes. Plus, this gameplay addition allowed the designers to be that much more inventive and creative when it comes to the maps. I daresay you can credit this faster, more dynamic action with helping to spur arena creativity. Chances are, you'll see even more imagination in the maps that are bound to come down the pike via DLC packs. As for core control, yeah, it all works fine.

Lastly, the Zombies map Shadows of Evil offers a very different experience. Led by the likes of Jeff Goldblum, Heather Graham, Ron Perlman and Neal McDonough, we follow a truly weird story that involves lots and lots of zombies, all set in some fictional 1940s city. This isn't your everyday zombie massacre and in fact, it almost seems like Treyarch put more effort into this zombie narrative than into the main campaign. You get caught up in the horror and surprising mystery of the mode and you're forced to continually experiment. I have to say, I was a little shocked at the difficulty, as it seems almost too steep for a mainstream title. But with a little practice, I'm sure the CoD veterans will fall in love with these characters and their terrifying ordeal.

And I guess that brings us back to the campaign, which I would describe as an entertaining disappointment. That's not really an oxymoron because on the one hand, I can honestly say I had fun playing through it. On the other hand, I can honestly add that there were times when I was confused or just plain bored, and the pacing occasionally felt way off. It's a hodgepodge, really; a mix of good and bad and one that ultimately doesn't click. It's too bad, too, because Black Ops has always had the best storylines in the franchise in my opinion. This one offers some high-adrenaline fun, like underwater escapes and aerial dogfights, but aside from that, there isn't much to get excited about. Sometimes it felt like Treyarch was just trying too hard.

What I mean by that is there are sequences you've never played before. There are gameplay segments that do seem interesting at first (like when you get the chance to control drones), but it all slides back to mass gunfights. That's the only problem. Perhaps the big saving grace is the ability to play cooperatively with a friend, which does ratchet up the fun factor. It's always more entertaining to blast through enemies with a buddy, right? Unfortunately, the developers didn't take the chance to create new opportunities for teammates. All they really did is toss more enemies into the fray, which feels old-fashioned and above all else, like a missed opportunity. It's harder, yes, but it's certainly not more inspired.

In the end, Call of Duty: Black Ops III is a good shooter that falls somewhere between "safe" and "chancy." It gives you great maps, awesome Specialists, a truly challenging and interesting Zombies mode, and a solid and more dynamic control mechanic. It also has a convoluted and uninteresting story and a co-op mode that doesn't consist of much more than extra enemies. The multiplayer is about as deep and addicting as ever, though, and you have to appreciate the general quality and stability of the technical elements. I doubt long-time fans will be disappointed and in fact, I'm willing to bet they'll be plenty happy. Aside from that, I don't see Black Ops III ushering in a lot of new players. But there are so many current fans, so does it really matter?

The Good: Well-produced, attractive graphics. Great sound effects and voice acting. Some of the best maps in the franchise. Specialists give multiplayer added strategy and zing. Zombies is a surprisingly inspired highlight. Solid and engaging control. Multiplayer is bound to be well-received among fans.

The Bad: Story is convoluted and poorly told. Co-op campaign option is a missed opportunity. Multiplayer can degrade into the same ol' gunfights at times.

The Ugly: "There's so much you can do with a co-op campaign...the least you can do is try."

11/9/2015 Ben Dutka

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New Comment System

Legacy Comment System (8 posts)

Monday, November 09, 2015 @ 10:18:49 PM

Advanced warfare still looks like a DC game to me but twitch comes at a price. So maybe black ops has some butt scooting like vanquish? I hope the Nazi Zombies are good. That sh*t is supposed to be as hard as hell. It's likely the only part I'll end up playing. We need more Ron Perlman, and he needs more Hellboy III.

Anybody else getting Fallout 4 tomorrow but working all day and half the night? I'm hamstrung about playing a few hours Wednesday at 5pm or waiting until the weekend for full on catheter madness.

I hate everyone who took away my pip boy edition. Screw you guys, I'm goin' home.

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Monday, November 09, 2015 @ 10:51:35 PM

Gonna rent this just to play the single player...

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015 @ 1:36:18 AM

This is perhaps the best CoD to release since MW2. It's actually more innovative to the veteran CoD players like myself than it would seem to someone who doesn't play them a lot.

I actually don't agree about the campaign because yeah, while it's an FPS and it's typical in that you fight through waves of enemies. If you dive deep into the upgrades for your character you could tackle the game in many, many different ways than just shoot, cover, repeat as suggested. It's quite the experience when compared to past entries that were focused on shooting on rails. The downside is that you really do have to dive deep into the upgrades and look closely, as it's not as relevant as it should be, being they can create entirely different ways to play. This also makes the replay value super high. Add the mp and zombies and it certainly deserves higher than an 8 in that category.

There's a lot more good here than in the past few entries, AW aside. This series is heading back up since AW in my opinion.

There are a few new modes as well, one which you try and escort a robot to an extraction point or stop the escorting team. This is a very fun and brilliant addition that reminds me of the escort mission in Socom 2. They've done good with this game, it seems like Trey arch took proper care to give the fans something fresh.

Last edited by bigrailer19 on 11/10/2015 1:39:11 AM

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015 @ 9:51:55 AM

Someone needs to adjust the vertical hold on the html

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015 @ 10:23:50 AM

I agree with everthing said in this review, with the exception of the campaign. But thats only because I don't play a COD campaign expecting oscar worthy writing and story. I play it to kill the bad guy during the story and play multiplayer with friends.

Bigrailer, add me: tron04

Btw, mw3 was the last COD I thoroughly enjoyed, even though I've purchased every entry to date. I hated all of them after that until this one. AW's boost jumping got old SUPER quick, and It seems as if Treyarch toned down it's effectiveness to the perfect level.

The spawns in Blops III seem slightly better than any previous entries, and hit markers actually work
better than I've seen in years. I hate the zombie mode though...too much work to excel at the higher levels.

Last edited by PS3_Wizard on 11/10/2015 10:30:53 AM

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Eros Twixfreak
Tuesday, November 10, 2015 @ 10:31:14 AM

Anyone playing this yet? I am curious about the new movement mechanics. Have gotten so used to AW's exo. BTW I will be getting this game soon.Anyone looking for online play mate add me: HuskyBlue.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015 @ 11:01:31 AM

This is better than AW. You can jump high just like AW, but it's not as jack rabbit intensive as AW. The wall running is really fun and is strategic when you get good at it. The wall running built into every MP map. The maps are very good. Treyarch makes the best CoD games with a huge bang for your buck.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015 @ 10:59:00 AM

Having so much fun with BOIII! This was one of those purchases I needed help to get. Sony Rewards helped as I spent a ton of money on games this fall. If you hate CoD just to hate CoD you are really missing out on an amazing and complete package.

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