It should come as no surprise when I tell you that Black Ops III is an out-and-out triumph. It also features the most viscerally graphic content of any Call of Duty yet…so if you’re the slightest bit squeamish, you might want to set the “graphic violence” settings to low. Oh yeah, of all the Call of Duty games, this is the least kid-friendly…so tread carefully if you’re getting this for your kiddos.
For starters, Black Ops has always done a bang-up job on presenting a story–however convoluted it is–and the third entry may be its heaviest hitting yet. I’ve been a fan since day one, and was very much of the belief that the first Black Ops would never be able to surpass its creepy Cold War tale, and have been woefully underwhelmed with the CoD single-player campaigns that came after it (though Kevin Spacey’s smug Jonathan Irons came close). A huge part of that is due to the clever story twists and hidden meanings that merit multiple replays, and Black Ops III may just have the most hidden meanings of all.
I have to admit, I’m on my second play through, trying to glean every last little seemingly insignificant detail, and I still feel like I’m missing everything. The game ends on such an odd note that I immediately started reexamining everything…which is no easy feat, seeing as how it’s not only the longest single-player Call of Duty to date, but also due to its immersion into the Black Ops lore–even though it’s set in 2065.
Without travelling too far into spoiler-land, the game has you filling the shoes of a generic soldier (which you can choose gender and basic facial characteristics)…and your name is “player”. No, really. With ALL the plot development and other goodness jam-packed into a single package, they’ve reduced your character to a generic soldier stereotype…or maybe it’s their attempt to break the fourth wall. Regardless, like Advanced Warfare, Black Ops III features an all-star cast, including Christopher Meloni, Marshawn Lynch and Katee Sackoff…and even though they look as realistic as their flesh and blood counterparts, their stories are so constrained (and often, convoluted) that you don’t get a real chance to identify with them. It’s a shame, because Sarah Hall’s (Katee Sackoff) segment feels like it should be a lot more intense. I mean, it IS…but since you never really have a strong grip on the other soldiers you encounter (aside from a brief training segment), their segments fall a little flat.
Visually, Black Ops 3 is fantastic, with brain-twisting locations and events that look stellar on the Xbox One. Seriously, don’t even bother with the 360/PS3 edition–its so dull compared to the current-gen systems. Sure, there’s still minimal texture pop (especially online and while split-screening) but on the whole, the engine performs like a dream. The only odd hitch for me was the “Nightmares” mode which has you playing through old levels, only this time they’re filled with traditional zombies. The weird part is that each chapter has a voice over from the “Player” explaining what’s going on (somewhat)…but they use the same in-game cutscenes, minus dialogue. It seems like a glitch at first, which is jarring, but you get (somewhat) used to it over time.
The Zombies mode has a significant overhaul this time around, with a strong story-based, Lovecraftian angle, starring Ron Perlman, Jeff Goldblum, Heather Graham and Neal McDonough. It has all of the same dark themes you know and love from prior Black Ops titles, including multiple maps, slick visuals and an actual story to complete. It’s also more streamlined in regard to goals, so you’ll actually feel like you’re completing a cohesive narrative, as opposed to fighting mindless waves of zombies for the umpteenth time. Add to that, you (or one of your party) will need to “become the beast” by drinking from an ornamental font, which transforms you into a electricity-shooting tentacle monster, wherein you can shock batteries to add power to them, destroy walls marked with mysterious glyphs, and tear through the horde of undead.
Multiplayer…ah multiplayer; THE reason so many will be picking up Black Ops III. I can honestly say that it’s probably the most fully-actualized multiplayer COD entry to date, and it will take you days to run through. For starters, there are NINE total “specialist” classes to choose from, as well as the tried-and-true “pick 10″ system that Black Ops is known for. Each gun levels on its own through repeated use, which in turn unlocks extra attachments and customization options.
Each specialist has two specific special abilities (of which one can be selected per game), and can be unlocked by gaining tokens, or by leveling over time. Straight out of the box, It’s an insanely interesting concept, which can allow you to turn the tide of battle…and not having to rely on scorestreaks just to get a boost can help even the least able player. And unsurprisingly, even though a couple abilities are designed for casual players, the majority of them are finesse moves that require actual character mastery–as opposed to the blind luck that I usually rely on.
It’s because of this that I can comfortably give Black Ops III a 10 for replay value–there are simply so many different avenues to explore and perfect, that it’s virtually impossible to dismiss Black Ops III as “just another Call of Duty title”…and straight out of the box, you’ll have a plethora of gaming options, all without having to shell out money on a DLC pack. Of course, I have zero doubt that when the DLC packs ARE released, they’ll be as fantastic as the retail launch, but between now and then you’ll have plenty of playtime.
All in all, it’s easy to recommend with one specific caveat (that most of you will likely dismiss, anyway): THIS IS NOT A GAME FOR CHILDREN. The extremely graphic nature of the content presented, while shown in a tasteful, story-driven way, probably shouldn’t be anywhere near a child. Plus, given the whole “total mindfuck” angle that most Black Ops 2 titles have, I doubt that they’d grab the big picture anyway. There are moments that I played in the campaign that will stick with me for awhile, and the ending left me with a series of “WTF!?!” feelings…but it just made me want to replay it, to see if I missed anything on the first go-round. That, combined with its stellar multiplayer offerings make picking it up a no-brainer.