Having three different developers at the helm of video gaming's biggest franchise has been an interesting move by Activision, and one that has put Call of Duty in a bit of an identity crisis. Last year, fans were treated to the excellent Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. The first offering from Sledgehammer Games took an established series to new heights with added mobility, and a phenomenal campaign mode. Now just one year later, Treyarch is back, bringing yet another entry to the Black Ops sub-series.
Sadly, instead of any sort of iteration, Call of Duty: Black Ops III is a considerable step back not only from last year's Advanced Warfare, but also previous Black Ops games. This may be surprising to read, after Black Ops III had an impressive multiplayer beta just a few months ago, but the beta was short enough to mask many of the game's shortcomings, and focused on the game's best mode – multiplayer.
For the first few rounds of multiplayer, Black Ops III is a blast. The new emphasis on mobility makes the game feel a lot like Titanfall, and that is definitely a good thing. Players can run on walls, and have a boost jump that allows players to move around similarly to Advanced Warfare, but with more freedom. If this all sounds awesome on paper, it's because it absolutely is. The mobility being so much fun is also why the multiplayer becomes so frustrating. Instead of maps being designed around the player being able to run on walls and boost to high areas, they instead seem like standard Call of Duty maps. In fact, the whole game feels like the added mobility was tacked onto the game after Treyarch saw how well received Advanced Warfare was.
This feeling becomes apparent after running into the many invisible walls that litter those multiplayer maps. Just because you can boost high enough to reach a rooftop doesn't mean you can actually run across it. Instead, players will often find out that they can't walk on areas they can actually reach just because Treyarch decided to make that part of the map inaccessible. It's frustrating, it takes players out of the experience, and is a constant reminder that this is a game of missed opportunities.
Once players realize how limited the mobility really is, they can start to enjoy the multiplayer once again. The shooting is just as polished as one would expect in a Call of Duty game, and Treyarch has actually done some very interesting things with how the multiplayer is structured. The biggest of which is that players choose from different characters (similar to a MOBA), each equipped with different abilities. These abilities, that can only be used after they charge up during a match, range from protective armor to devastating special attacks. It adds an extra layer of strategy to a series that has become known for rewarding fast reflexes.
It's also worth noting that Black Ops III has a staggering amount of multiplayer modes. From standard Team Deathmatch to Capture the Flag, the game has just about every mode that fans have enjoyed in the past (besides Headquarters.) The most interesting new addition is Safeguard, a mode that has players trying to escort a robot from one side of a map to the other while an opposing team tries to kill it. Much like escort missions in games, this mode isn't particularly captivating, but at least there are other modes to play.
Like the multiplayer, the campaign is also a mixed bag of interesting concepts that don't quite fulfill their promise. The story, which has absolutely nothing to do with previous Black Ops games, takes place in the year 2065. This is the furthest in the future that Call of Duty has gone, and Treyarch takes advantage of this in a few neat ways. The most impactful new feature is that the main character in the campaign (who is never given a name despite being fully voiced) has been enhanced with cybernetic implants. These implants open up a lot of new gameplay mechanics, ranging from enhanced HUDs that reveal enemies, to a special ability (such as hacking enemy robots) that runs on a cooldown timer. These are both great additions to the gameplay, but sadly they are stuck in a campaign that is largely boring.
While previous Call of Duty games have had some of the most memorable action sequences in gaming history, Black Ops III is devoid of any memorable moments. Instead, players just go through area after area of nondescript enemies. It starts to feel repetitive very early on, and the game never presents enemies in an interesting fashion. The campaign also fails to take advantage of any of the added mobility that shines in multiplayer, as it is all completely optional. Yes, the ability to use a boost and run on walls are both unlockable upgrades in the campaign. This means that the story never takes advantage of these abilities, and levels weren't designed around using them. Once again, the new mobility isn't emphasized and is more of an afterthought than anything worthwhile.
Despite the combat in the campaign being largely dull, Call of Duty: Black Ops III almost makes up for it in the story department. It's not a great story (as it predictably is about how cybernetics can go wrong), but it's a story that manages to go to some weird places. Even if the weirdness resulted in what is probably the worst moment in the entire series (a terrible nod towards World at War), Treyarch still deserves some credit for trying something new.
Speaking of World at War, for the first time since 2008, Call of Duty has a cooperative campaign mode. This makes the campaign more enjoyable, but we very much doubt that many will want to play through Black Ops III repeatedly. More interestingly, there is a pretty enjoyable wave-based survival mode that is hidden away in the campaign's lobby room. We've no clue why it's tucked away in a lobby and not in the main menu, but nonetheless, the mode is more fun than the other survival mode in Black Ops III.
Also, Zombies is back once again. The popular survival mode refuses to die, just like the undead enemies that players have to kill within it. There isn't much to say about the mode, as players either love it or hate it at this point. Black Ops III currently has two separate maps for the mode (one of which returns from World at War), and the new one has an awful setup that seems straight out of a bad horror film where four murderers have to redeem themselves by taking on wave after wave of zombies.
If those two maps don't fill your appetite for shooting zombies in video games (despite most people getting sick of them by 2009), then you'll be thrilled to find out that there is a new mode called Nightmares. Unlocked after finishing the campaign, the mode replaces all of the enemy soldiers with zombie counterparts. This is even less fun than the already flawed campaign, but at least it is appropriately named.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III is the most content-filled game in the entire series. While that would normally be a good thing, the problem is that none of the content is particularly interesting. From the underwhelming campaign to the disappointing multiplayer, there isn't much to really recommend playing over last year's game. Call of Duty: Black Ops III is just okay, but being just okay isn't enough to keep players entertained when there are so many better offerings available from the same series.