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Review: ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops III’

Spencer Fawcett walks us through Activision and Treyarch’s latest and greatest ‘Call of Duty’ offering.

Another year, another Call of Duty game released. Like clockwork, publisher Activision has three separate studios working on putting out their annual Call of Duty game. SledgeHammer Games developed the mixed Call of Duty Advanced Warfare while Infinity Ward worked on the lackluster Call of Duty: Ghosts. Critical and fan darling Treyarch always seems to push the envelope of the franchise while retaining the core of the gameplay with new additions. Call of Duty: Black Ops III is the latest entry and in the face of other multiplayer shooters on the market, makes a great argument to be the game you invest your time in.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III carries the torch from Advanced Warfare in that it gives you a suit that allows more agility and adds more special abilities to your repertoire of death-dealing devices. In the campaign, these come in the form of three cyber cores that are varied enough that they incentivize the player to replay certain missions of the story. Maybe you want to run through and disable the robots for easy kills or unleash a blinding horde of nano-machines, called fireflies, that light up your enemies. The game’s biggest touted feature for this year’s campaign is the inclusion of three other players that can aid you in missions. While the story will rarely refer to the extra players canonically, it’s welcomed.

What isn’t welcome is yet another cookie-cutter plot of espionage intrigue that with an outcome that anyone who has seen a Hollywood action/sci-fi film in the past ten years can predict beat-by-beat. The game starts off with the player (male or female soldier) in 2065 on a mission in Ethiopia accompanying Jacob Hendricks. While the mission goes successfully, the player is savagely ripped apart by a robot. You wake up intermittently from your coma and learn about the state of the world and your new cybernetic powers. All this sounds exciting but the story never stars the player. Jacob Hendricks is the focus and is given a much broader range of emotions. The player character is stuck halfway between obedient and completely disinterested and you’ll often wonder why you’re the sidekick to the protagonist. Nightmare missions are post-campaign missions that replace the enemies with zombies and have their own story, but it’s barely worth mentioning as it feels tacked on.

What Treyarch is known for is their cooperative zombie mode and it returns in full force with plenty of sights to take in and with prettied up visuals that the current generation of hardware enables. You play one of four characters that have sinned in the fictional Morg City - a 1940s metropolitan city right out of a noir film rife with femme fatales and crooked cops – and now must do battle with the undead. Some celebrities lend their voices to this year’s zombies including Ron Perlman as a murderous boxer and Jeff Goldblum as a magician who can’t make his debt disappear. The banter between the characters is easily what sells the game mode as each one is out for themselves, which could certainly unintentionally parody the player’s own potential intentions of leaving his/her companions for the undead horde.

The mode is best played with three additional friends as the strategies and cooperation make for the most exciting moments. A new addition is the “Mark of the Beast” where any player with the points can become a Cthulhu-esque monster. Players additionally have access to all the weapons and attachments for the guns in Black Ops III so there’s an added element of strategy to customize your gun before the carnage even starts. Black Ops III makes use of gumballs in conjunction with the sodas the players can drink for extra perks like more health or quick revives. Gumball perks are interconnected with power ups while some have more passive abilities such as letting you shoot while sprinting as well as affecting the behavior of the zombies. Black Ops III’s mantra seems to be: “expand and indulge.”

Call of Duty: Black Ops III multiplayer capabilities are as massive and diverse as ever, especially with the player’s specialist abilities. From the get-go, the player has unlock tokens where they can unlock a character called a specialist. Each one has their own unique special ability that has to charge with points accrued from killing other players or focusing on objectives. They range from bow and arrow wielding to quicker movement speed to robots wielding chain guns. With the bow-wielding and ground-smash characters, I was immediately reminded of Destiny for better and for worse. It’s not hard to believe that gameplay elements would cross over under the Activision publisher banner - let’s just hope that the next game won’t have fire hammer-wielding military soldiers.

Black Ops III stresses player agility by allowing players to power-slide on the ground and run on the wall for quick escapes or pathways to vantage points. It’s clear that this newfound agility was influenced from last year’s Respawn/EA’s Titanfall and in that respect it feels severely limited. The maps support one or two ways that the player can wall-run on vertical surfaces but they don’t feel designed for a wide range of movement. Often, I would run towards a wall, hoping that it would be runnable, and hit it like Wiley Coyote and plummeted to my death. It’s severely gimmicky and should have been expanded upon.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III sets the standard for how much content shooters should have in 2015 and being that Call of Duty is the 800-pound gorilla every year, its welcomed and appreciated that Treyarch is the exception rather than the status quo. With a 4-player co-op story, zombies and multiplayer, there’s enough incentive to revisit Call of Duty yet again. If you’ve sworn off Call of Duty in recent years, Black Ops III certainly makes a good case to fly under the radar with it.  

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Spencer Fawcett is a screenwriter who also does production work for NBC/Universal. He has written for Parade Magazine and ASUs The State Press. Twitter: Whizbang813

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