By: Jeremy Peeples
The Black Ops sub-series for Call of Duty has historically been one of its best. Its mix of faster than usual speed and a heavy emphasis on trying more sci-fi elements into its stories. It tends to mesh nicely with its regular inclusion of bonus mini-games and the always-popular zombies mode. Black Ops III plays it fairly safe with the presentation, but does take some big chances with a campaign mode that is one of the most graphic and unsettling yet in the franchise.
The campaign is playable with up to three other players. Set in the near-future, you mentally connect with each other and with machines – allowing you to do things like take control of drones and robots. Going solo is always an option, but it can make things seem like more of a grind because so much time is spent killing grunts and low-level enemies in waves. Luckily, small set pieces do move things along and you’ll learn more about the characters and the world you’re in with each one.
It’s a more cerebral storyline than usual, and nixes the time skips that have become customary. Instead, you stay in one timeline and see a single chain of events unfold. Things start with chaotic warfare that is probably the main reason why the campaign was nixed from the last-gen versions – they just couldn’t handle it, and progresses from there in gruesome fashion. You’re dismembered by robots and then rebuilt. After waking up, you learn more about the world and your allies, enemies, and so forth. It’s fairly compelling and aims to add some depth in ways that aren’t usually seen in the franchise.
2014’s Advanced Warfare from Sledgehammer Games gave the series the biggest burst in speed yet. You can still jet around to some degree with rocket powers, but you can’t just zoom around the environment all the time like in AW. Wall-running akin to Titanfall has been implemented, and like AW, you can still slide around while shooting. A wall-run mixed with a well-timed headshot is one of the most rewarding kills you can get – especially if you nail a mid-air enemy with one.
The biggest change for multiplayer is how you pick a character type from a grouping of specialists. Each has its own powers and weapons and with nine types of characters to play as, you’ll want to tinker with a different type over time. Some are better for long-range combat, while others excel at stealth, and some are perfect for close-quarters combat. When it comes to the early-unlockables, if you want to just rain down hell with sheer brute force, then the Ruin class allows you to do that with its shockwave.
Those wanting to play with a careful stealthy approach may want to go with the Outrider type. It’s a bit like playing the rebooted Tomb Raider games because you’ve got a modified bow and arrow as well as the ability to see enemies through walls and gain a bit of an edge on them. Players with patience may also enjoy the Prophet, whose charged-shot weapon takes time to warm up, but provides an instant kill if it hits. Finally, fans of sheer carnage will love the Battery type. There are no AAA or AAs here, just grenade launchers that turn into smaller grenades that cause sheer chaos to rain onto the map.
There’s a lot of versatility here and with a bit of experimentation, you’ll find a player type that suits you. Plus, leveling up and gaining unlock points enables you to gain new abilities – so it might be worth a bit of a grind just to earn a perk that you think will make a big difference. If it does, then all that time spent grinding was well worth it. Eventually, you’ll find a character type that suits your skillset – and then one that fits just how you want to play for that session too.
Zombies mode returns and mixes things up a bit. The Victorian setting is a new one and features a lot more silliness with the voice work. The magician played by Jeff Goldblum chews the scenery up exactly how one would expect, and since he’s bound to video game reality instead of movie reality, he’s even more bemused by things than usual. One neat thing here is that you can transform into a monster and just wreck stuff up super-quickly…for a short period of time.
There’s a crafting component built into this mode where you can build up barricades to protect yourselves from the zombies. Usually, they’ll just bide you some time – but you can rattle off a few shots while they tear boards down and maybe kill one or two that way. You unlock new areas with in-game currency (that thankfully isn’t tied to a microtransaction) and progress with a bit of teamwork as well since you can save your partners and vice versa. If you’re looking for a longer-term multiplayer session, then this is a better way to spend your time than the traditional multiplayer mode, which is good for sub-15 minute play sessions.
Whether you’re playing online or offline, you want to make sure you’re playing the game on the right controller. PS4 owners get DLC one month ahead of Xbox One owners, but the Xbox One pad feels far better for these kinds of games. When it comes to being disability-friendly, the Elite controller is a far better option than either the regular Xbox One pad since you can map things to any function you want and the paddles can be easier to use than the triggers and bumpers. The default controls are fairly user-friendly though, with the triggers remaining the best in the business for shooting games. PS4 owners being able to remap the buttons is a nice feature as well, but the controller doesn’t quite feel as good for shooters even with the larger hand grips.
Visually, Black Ops 3 looks better than Advanced Warfare did. There’s a lot more going on in the background, more giant things to battle than before, and still zero slowdown. The texture work is about on par with that game too, with slightly better stuff for the environment. Guns still look pretty slick and can be customized with even more elaborate paintjobs than before. Animations are a bit worse than before – with characters being stuck in the environment a little more often than they should be in the campaign. Luckily, this issue doesn’t crop up in the multiplayer or the zombies mode.
The sound design is fantastic when it comes to the campaign being full of atmospheric noise. You’ve got glass shattering, robots going nuts, and tons of gunplay. It’s all got a nice amount of oomph to it and sounds top-notch. Gunfire varies for each weapon, and you’ll notice little changes depending on alterations made to the guns as well. The voice acting is fairly good, and everyone puts a fair amount of effort into this. Musically, everything gets your blood pumping and that’s all you really need from a game like this. Is it stuff you’re going to want to listen to outside of the game? Probably not – but in the game, it works fine. Players with hearing issues can play the story mode just fine thanks to subtitles, but visually-impaired players would benefit from larger text. That’s a small thing that I’ve never really seen a game offer, but it’s an easy way to expand the player base – books and magazines have large print options, so why not make it an option for a video game as well? It would also be nice if some kind of sound effect guide akin to closed captioning, was added for at least the campaign since there is so much stuff blowing up at all times.
Overall, Black Ops 3 is an outstanding entry in the franchise. It retains a lot of the speed that made Advanced Warfare such a perfect gateway game for the franchise, and the pure fun that has defined the Black Ops sub-series. The campaign goes into some new directions, and the ability to have so many different types of characters to play as for multiplayer gives that mode even more longevity than it usually would. It’s a must-buy entry in the series, and its second straight top-shelf entry for both consoles and PC. Due to a lack of content though, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners should probably skip it though.
Overall Rating:Thoroughly Accessible
Visual Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Fine-Motor Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Auditory Rating: Partially Accessible
Released For: PC, Xbox 360 , PlayStation 3, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
ESRB Rating: M