Treyarch has been quite a power player when it comes to the Call of Duty series, starting with the underappreciated Call of Duty 3 and then moving into World At War almost effortlessly. However, it found its biggest peak with the Black Ops series, starting in the past with a stirring tale and eventually shifting into the future with Black Ops II, leading up to quite a satisfactory conclusion.
Now we have Black Ops III, the latest entry in the series, and, yep, all bets are off. This time around, you’ve got all kinds of futuristic abilities to use, thanks to the utilization of your DNI (Direct Neural Interface) system. This, combined with the combat know-how of your squad leader Taylor (Christopher Meloni), takes you all over the globe as you battle a mysterious terrorist organization. But working alongside your partner Hendricks (the always-dependable Nolan North), you soon discover that not everything is as it seems.
The game takes more of a cinematic approach this time around, with big set pieces you aren’t in control of, but leading up to some fun shooting scenarios, from mowing down robot hordes with a semi-automatic cannon to fighting your way up a series of walkways as a Wraith drone floats overhead. It’s certainly exciting, even if it does go off the rails sometimes in terms of logic. Hey, maybe it’s best to forget the plot and enjoy the ride.
Another factor that makes the campaign worth considering is the four-player co-op support. This adds an excellent dynamic that actually makes it more worth playing through, as you work together as a team to uncover the truth behind the robot uprising. (Yep, there are robots, but don’t worry, they put up just as convincing a fight as the humans.) It works fundamentally well, even as a slight sacrifice of the frame rate, and should be a welcome feature in future Call of Duty games to come.
But the campaign is just the beginning. Multiplayer gets a tremendous boost thanks to the addition of Specialists with varying styles of play, and this pays off wonderfully as well, as you can change up your combat style at the drop of a hat and use a number of game-changing special abilities. Even if you don’t understand one Specialist, there’s certainly two to three more that will suit your style of play.
The modes are a great assortment to choose from, including familiar favorites like Kill Confirmed and Team Deathmatch, along with a few oddball modes. The Pick-10 system is even better than ever before, with plenty of add-ons for current weapons, as well as new goodies to unlock. You can also shop around the Black Market and find yourself some cool weapons to add to your arsenal – more than enough reason to come back, even if you’ve covered all the bases.
Also included in this fun game is Shadows of Evil, the most fantastic take on Zombies mode to date. This time around, you’re guiding four unlikely heroes against the hordes that are incoming, using a number of talents, abilities and other items to try to stay alive as long as possible. I think the main reason I enjoyed this mode the most is the inclusion of top-notch talent like Ron Perlman and Jeff Goldblum. They really add something unique – and entertaining – to this mode.
Oh, and if you’re not done yet, there’s an alternate Campaign to unlock, as well as plenty of Nightmares to endure. That’s a lot of content for a Call of Duty game – perhaps the most loaded we’ve seen to date – and hopefully Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games will keep up with their incoming efforts. Treyarch set a new bar here.
The gameplay is engaging, filled with not only run-and-gun action, but also some tactical choices, thanks to the varying DNI abilities that you can choose from. Whether you’re slamming your fist on the ground to send a shockwave to everyone’s system, or overtaking an automated enemy to fight from a different perspective, there’s a lot of variety here. Sometimes wall runs can be a bit odd to execute in certain spots, but overall the controls really click.
As for the presentation, the frame rate can be a little off at times, but considering the scope that everything is happening at, it still runs impressively well, with lots of plenty of slick moments and beautiful cinematics to soak in. The soldiers look terrific as well, especially Meloni, who pours every bit of menace he can into his character – and it shows. The game also benefits from a strong soundtrack filled with exciting tunes, as well as good voicework and sound effects to make the experience feel even more complete.
There’s a LOT to keep you busy in Call of Duty: Black Ops III, no matter what kind of game you’re looking for. The single player campaign is a bit nuts, but still enthralling; the co-op component is a fresh ingredient for the series; the Shadows of Evil Zombies mode is marvelous; and multiplayer is as loaded as it’s ever been. This may be one of the most fulfilling Call of Duty games I’ve played yet, and as manic as it may be, it certainly backs up everything it promises. Kudos to Treyarch for going the extra mile, and proving that, yes, it’s still one of the best developers for this job.