Game Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 - Once more 'round the gun

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
Game Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 - Once more 'round the gun

Call of Duty’s annual iterations are best described as Michael Bay movies in video game form; you mow down bad guys, and blow up a lot of stuff. In the franchise’s latest instalment, Black Ops 3, you still shoot bad guys and blow up a lot of stuff, but also ponder cyborgs’ humanity.

Out of the recent Call of Duty titles, I’ve typically enjoyed the Black Ops storyline a lot more than those found in other instalments. They’re not high art, but I love the emphasis on intrigue and espionage; it’s a nice contrast to the bombastic over-the-top action of Advanced Warfare. But much like Advanced Warfare, robots are back in the mix; it seems like just about every nation has their own robot army on standby. As a result, there’s less grandiose spy stuff in this title when compared to Black Ops 1, but you still get to do a little bit of detective work.

Set in a dystopian future, Black Ops 3’s story focuses on robotic warfare and cybernetic enhancement. As an overarching theme, it looks at the consequences of man merging with machine, and surprisingly, it’s much more than an excuse for gunning down robots, people, and robot-people. It’s an interesting story that does a great job of exploring these ideas and goes places I didn’t expect; I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. While it’s not necessarily deep when compared to other games, it challenged my notion of what a Call of Duty campaign could or should be.

Sadly, developer Treyarch scrapped the branching storyline from Black Ops 2, and instead opted for a more typical linear campaign design. There’s also a few callbacks to previous titles, however you’ll only notice these if you’ve played Black Ops 1 and 2; they’re just little interstitial references to make you go, "Hey I remember that!".

For the first time in the series, you’re able to play a female character in the story mode. The player character’s voice acting is the main difference; other story characters don’t react to you any differently. Being able to create my own character was a nice touch though; I felt a little more invested as a result.

Gameplay-wise, the guns feel great to shoot (as always) and your cybernetic enhancements provide you with a plethora of ways to take enemies on. These include turning enemies against each other, tearing the cores out of robots, and exploding enemies with your mind. The abilities really help when combating large groups of enemies, or in handling particularly difficult scenarios. They’re more than just a fun distraction.

Certain enemies can be tedious to fight. There’s a number of large mini-boss robots that require you to shoot a weak spot before they become vulnerable to explosives, whereas others are simply immune to your cool cybernetic abilities. It makes you question why they included them in the first place.

Cooperative play is also available in the campaign; up to four players can group together.

Multiplayer in Black Ops 3 is pretty much exactly what you’d expect; create a loadout, choose a game mode, fight guys and level up to gain access to new guns. All the usual gameplay modes are here; team deathmatch, free for all, gun game and others. New to the series is ‘arena mode’ which is meant as a heavily balanced evolution of League Play from Black Ops 2 - a mode where only wins count towards your level rather than XP, similar to a ranked or ladder mode. Another major and somewhat controversial change is that melee attacks are no longer a guaranteed kill. Personally, I’m not a fan; as a result, a gun always feels like the better alternative, whether you’re stealthily hunting someone down, or wildly attacking in a state of panic.

Black Ops’ famed Zombies mode also makes a return. For those unfamiliar with it, Zombies is a cooperative game type where you’re forced to defend an area from - you guessed it - zombies. As you slay hordes upon hordes, you’ll earn money to buy weapons and unlock new areas of the map. I’ve never been a huge fan of Zombies - it’s a little too repetitive - but it’s an interesting diversion at least.

Regarding performance, the game ran great on my reasonably-specced PC at moderate settings, and looked fantastic. While the game’s character models are becoming incredibly life-like, environmental design is easily the highlight. One part of the campaign has you fighting on a ship in a heavy storm. A huge tidal wave sweeps you and the ship onto land, crashing right into a subway station. While the set piece itself is jaw dropping, you’re seamlessly thrust back into gameplay, without the need for any loading screens. In-engine cut-scenes like this are pretty amazing to see, looking at them from a technical perspective.

I’ve always enjoyed Call of Duty’s story and cooperative modes more than its multiplayer. Black Ops 3 delivers enough interesting content to make it a worthwhile purchase, particularly if you have a few friends to play through it with. The campaign by itself is definitely worth a play through or two, but I imagine most players are going to be more interested in the multiplayer, which is more of the same as previous years. That said, if you’re interested in Black Ops 3, you probably know by now what you’re getting into. It’s a prettier, shinier, more cybernetic Call of Duty.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 was reviewed on Windows. It is also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. A stripped-down multiplayer only version is available or Xbox 360 and PlayStation 4.

Cybershack Score - rating backgroundrating 4

Story is surprisingly interestingVery iterative
Best in class gunplay with fun new abilitiesSome guns have odd sound effects
Four player co-op campaign is a nice touchTedious boss fight design

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