Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 is Treyarch’s newest entry into the long-running Call Of Duty series. Though it shares the Black Ops name there’s very little to link it to previous Black Ops games except the quality and care Treyarch have put into the design. Quality doesn’t always mean good though, so is it worth playing?
Black Ops 3 takes place in a near future setting where neural interfaces, cybernetics and nanomachines are available to soldiers, and presumably everyone else too. As is typical of Call Of Duty you have to get mangled to get your body augmented, because just starting as a sweet cyborg super soldier would make it too much like Universal Soldier. The first mission forces you to play without your augments on the first run through but can be revisited with them. It serves to highlight just how much more powerful and varied your abilities are when you’re augmented.
The augmentations take the form of two unique parts – the DNI which is your Direct Neural Interface which gives you two different augmented vision modes (more on those later) and the Cybercores, which are three unique sets of powers.
The first Cybercore is Control which allows you to lock up the servos on robots, change their IFF function or turn them into suicide bombers. You can also make enemy armour malfunction and crush the wearer to death amongst other things. By far the best ability is the remote hijack function that allows you to take direct control of an enemy drone and wreak havoc, especially if the drone you steal is one of the incredibly powerful PAWWS mecha.
Second up is the Martial core which gives you super strength punches, the ability to turn invisible, create shockwaves and generally be a terror to the enemy in close combat. Combo melee attacks enable you to quickly dash between closely spaced enemies while one-shooting them. Personally I found it to be the least useful, but the third Cybercore more than makes up for that.
Lastly, we have Chaos – entirely focused on decimating your enemies with remotely detonated grenades, setting them on fire, launching swarms of enemy frying nanobots like Firefly from GI Joe and making your human enemies puke themselves to death. It also has some distraction and disabling effects too but why distract when you can explode?
All three Cybercores are great fun to use, though martial feels like it’s not as useful as the other two. Once you max out your campaign mode level at 20 you can equip all three Cybercores at once and swap between them at will, allowing you to quickly adapt to any situation even if the gun in your hands isn’t up to the task at hand. It helps that these powers are an absolute blast to use, often literally, and after about 40 hours in the campaign mode alone I’m still having fun deploying nanobots and stealing enemy robots.
The ability to choose your own loadout returns from Black Ops 2 but in a vastly improved form. Now you can equip 2 guns plus their attachments, 2 tactical abilities, lethal and tactical grenades and up to 3 wildcards. What does all that mean? Well, it means you have a lot of variance in how your personal character will play.
Tactical abilities vary between making you flinch less to giving you a jetpack or deflecting grenades and rockets. They can mean you have access to routes you wouldn’t normally have or the ability to pick up enemy weapons which are normally locked to their original wielder. Wildcards act like perks, allowing you to carry an extra grenade or equip extra attachments or a second primary weapon. There’s not as much of an impact on your play style with Wildcards but having up to six attachments on your primary weapon is pretty sweet.
Grenades and weapon attachments are exactly what you’d expect, there’s nothing revolutionary but your choice between flashbangs or EMP grenades might change the way you have to handle a few encounters. Weapon attachments have some effect on your weapon’s handling but you won’t be maxing out one stat or buffing the damage to one-shot-kills with a pistol or anything insane like that.
Black Ops 3 is about more than the guns though. The story is surprisingly intelligent, on the surface it’s a dumb tale about some shooty dudes doing shooting but there’s an undercurrent of transhuman philosophy and something more I can’t spoil. The transhumanist aspect is handled rather bluntly but that’s perhaps due to the limited run-time of the campaign making it feel like the conclusion is rushed.
Once the main story is finished, Nightmares mode is unlocked. This new mode revisits the campaign maps in a different order and as a different character telling a related but different story and also adding in the undead. Like the campaign and zombies modes it mashes together it can also be played in coop and is an absolute blast to revisit the same maps with a different scenario playing out.
Cooperative play can be anywhere between two and four players, each with their own individual loadouts and the ability to equip a friend’s loadout so you can access weapons and mods that you don’t have unlocked yourself. Playing together opens up some new tactics; one we employed was using the new tactical vision mode so that one player could scout and mark targets while the other sniped them through walls from a safer position. Having varying Cybercore abilities further mixes it up; one player might focus on disabling humans while another focuses on robots or one might hijack a bot to escort another player or scout for them. Our cooperative games were full of us asking the other to deploy an ability or cooking up quick combat decisions.
We haven’t spent as much time with multiplayer as we have with the campaign but it’s an absolute blast. The matchmaking doesn’t seem entirely balanced, often one team will stomp the other into oblivion but even in a match like that there’s likely to be a few clench moments of personal triumph. The weapon unlocks are handled separately from the campaign but it’s pretty much the same deal so it’s instantly familiar.
The official dedicated servers did a good job of handling games while we played and we only experienced one game with minor lag in about three hours of continuous play. The days of host advantage are thankfully gone and the server handles differences in ping well from what we could tell, though more play time might refine that observation. With the promise of custom maps, mod tools and unranked dedicated servers on the way next year, there’s even more to look forward to.
Mobility plays a big part in Black Ops 3 mainly in the form of the new slide and wall-run mechanics that allow you to engage enemies from unexpected angles or move with unexpected speed briefly. It’s a nice change to have an option and if you’re fast-thinking you can make an enemy waste their magazine on a wall as you dash past and hose them with your own weapon. It’s more or less a direct copy of Titanfall‘s mobility mechanics except you can shoot while wall running and sliding, make of that what you will.
On a final note, at the time of review there were some pretty serious performance issues on PC and the campaign mode often dipped into single digits on the FPS counter. Treyarch have acknowledged the issue and released a day-one patch to fix some of the issues but plenty more still remain and several days on from release there’s still some bad performance problems that really need ironing out.
Black Ops 3 is a big package. The replay value, especially for those who like to unlock everything or complete every challenge, is huge and the multiplayer component is stable and lag free for the most part. If you’re not the kind of player who wants to unlock everything or do every challenge there’s still a substantial amount of game here and cooperative play just adds even more to the replay value of the often neglected campaign mode. Zombies is better than ever before, the guns feel like guns and the new maps are a blast to explore and figure out how to open up but you won’t get far alone in that. Overall, it’s great value for the money this year and one Call Of Duty package where it’s worth exploring the whole thing, especially with friends.
Better with Friends: Cooperative play is an absolute blast.
Lots to See: Seriously, there’s just so much content in every mode.
GI Joe: Firefly never gets old.
Shooting Gallery: It’s still CoD, if you don’t like it this won’t change your mind.
Performance Issues: Very very serious performance issues.
Lonely: You won’t get far in Zombies without friends.
Each year we are back at the exact same spot with another Call of Duty hitting the market. Currently there are few active sub-franchises running with arguable the most notable being – Black Ops. Treyarch, the developer of each BlOps games has always tried to push the franchise ahead introducing as much innovation as possible. Black Ops 3 is no different. We are given a new storyline, addictive multiplayer and lovable zombies. If that wasn’t enough we also get a full campaign co-op and a “New Game+” that is not just the same game with tougher enemies but a completely new approach in the same levels, where instead of regular enemies you get to fight zombies. Even if you’ve had more than enough zombies already one has to at least commend the developers for putting in the effort into something that most of use aren’t even going to see.
With all the new shiny stuff here comes the ugly part – the performance. Even though this affects mostly just the campaign part, at the moment the game is in a very bad shape. Just after five or so minutes, the performance dips to unplayable levels with intolerable stutters that suck all the fun out of the experience. The developers have admitted the issues and sworn to iron them out soon.
Even with all the flaws Black Ops 3 is as solid as a CoD games gets. The shooting is pleasing, the levels and environments are detailed and the game is full of content and different activities with arguably the biggest difference brought in by the co-op. There is nothing radically new or revolutionary here but that also means that the game is not breaking what works and works well. For the time being the biggest issue is the performance but as soon as it’s resolved, and it will, this is one solid game that will last longer than its predecessors just due to the expanded ability of playing with your friends.