Black Ops 3 - 1

Console:  PlayStation 4

Pros

* Excellent Multiplayer Experience

* Plenty of depth across all modes of play

* No shortage of Unlockables and Customization

* Co-op Campaign

Cons

* Gone are the incredible cinematics of Advanced Warfare

* Campaign mode still manages to drag on even with new additions

* User Interface needs some work

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It’s that time of year… The latest entry in the Call of Duty series has arrived and brought with it plenty of staying power.  November is no longer only set aside for Thanksgiving, it’s now a month that both causal and hardcore gamers celebrate as they stand in line to be among the first to step foot on the battlefield.  There are no shortage of shooters on the market, but Call of duty has managed to fight it’s way to the top and cement it’s place as one of the go-to games for competitive multiplayer action.

There aren’t many gamers that haven’t seen the cultural significance of the franchise and witnessed some of the crowning achievements of its past, but what is a game like Black Ops III need to bring to table to maintain the stature of the series?  Is this entry a worthy addition to the franchise or better than the previous games?  These are a few of the questions I set out to answer.

Presentation:   B

Let me start off by saying Black Ops III looks great.  Not quite the stunning visuals that we find in the Battlefield series or the upcoming Battlefront, but environments and models are packed with detail and looks as crisp as ever.  First person shooters are known for having incredible levels, interesting multiplayer maps, visually impressive weaponry and I can easily say that Black Ops III delivers in all these aspects.

Bringing highly detailed weapon models that you are able to not only customize according to your playstyle, but aesthetically change using the extensive paint editor is a very welcome feature.  I probably enjoy this feature the most since weapons usually take up about twenty percent of the screen at all times.  You can unlock various camo patterns for your guns like normal, but you can also customize the look even further with decals and lettering.  Just picture the editor that is found when creating your Call Signs, but apply that to the gun world.  This feature tends to add a small amount of individuality amongst the players, but I only wish a similar feature was applied to the character models.  While you are able to customize various aspects of your soldier, it just isn’t quite as in-depth as I would hope.

The introduction of The Specialists (while nice) doesn’t really help this problem.  Instead of distinct looking players, you will only see an arena filled with the same nine specialists.  I really find this disturbing since we have seemingly moved into an era where customization is taking the forefront in games in the past few years.  Advanced Warfare seemed to be moving in the right direction regarding shaping the look of your soldier, but Black Ops III feels like a step backwards.

Advanced Warfare also has a leg up on this one in terms of the cinematic presentation.  I can’t say that I was completely impressed with this year’s offering and again I felt that somehow this area also took a step back.  Graphics are far from the most important aspect of any game, but with the Call of Duty franchise you expect hard hitting action, stellar graphics, and plenty of wow factors.  While I felt that Black Ops III looks great, plays super smooth and sounds good enough; I just wasn’t as impressed with the presentation as I felt I should have been.  A franchise that sets out to make every entry a cultural phenomenon and enjoys the perks of a seemingly endless budget should hit harder than this.  I realize you are at the mercy of the hardware and I’m not asking for miracles I don’t think, nor am I saying that this is the defining moment of the game, but after playing AW last year I was completely floored by the single player experience.  BO3…. Not so much.

Black Ops 3

As you can see the game still looks great and definitely beats out most modern day titles, but with the yearly release cycle I have no issue with saying that Call of Duty can be its own worst enemy.  Every year brings the new title and I can’t help but notice the gaming community gets more and more critical.  Visiting any forum unfortunately brings a barrage of negative comments criticizing every aspect of even the most stellar titles.  Of course you can’t dwell on these comments or are you able to please everyone, but having such convincing digital actors on screen for AW raised the bar for reaching the so-called uncanny valley.  It’s a shame to see that missing from the BO3 campaign, and I only hope that we see a more unified presentation in the future across these yearly entries.

Have I complained enough?  Let me be clear, I’m not bashing this title and I think the overall presentation is still very impressive.

Single Player :  A

Let’s get to the good stuff shall we?  Gameplay runs at a stellar 60 FPS and brings with it the excellent combat mechanics that this franchise is known for.  While I thoroughly enjoy Call of Duty, I am also a big Battlefield fan and enjoy taking in both experiences for what they are.  I have been playing games for almost thirty years and there aren’t too many shooters that I haven’t at least tried out.  You can say what you want about the franchise, but in my opinion there is no other shooter that does first person combat like Call of Duty.  There is a reason why COD has been the reigning champ and is typically the go-to game for head to head competitive gaming.  I may get a bit of backlash from these statements, but let’s be truthful here.  There are plenty of other games that do certain aspects better, or promote a more team based atmosphere, but when we are talking reflex shooting and precision aiming there isn’t any competition.  I have yet to find another shooter that plays as smooth as COD and for that reason alone I don’t see this franchise going anywhere for a long while.

The single player offerings this year are split into three major categories, these being Campaign, Multiplayer, and Zombies.  Let’s dive a little bit into the Campaign shall we?  Without boring you with the story elements that you read in almost every article or review, I will sum it all by saying that we are treated to a fairly entertaining sci-fi storyline that sets players up for the use of cybernetic mods and plenty of load out configurations.  The base game mechanics still bring some of the vertical aspects introduced in last year’s entry, but manages to leave out the Exo-Suits.  Instead you gain the ability to triple jump, run along walls, and upgrade a handful of cybernetic abilities.  One of my favorites included launching a swarm of Nano-bites to engulf enemies while I’m able to keep firing in additional directions.

You are able to customize loadouts and switch these even in the middle of levels once you come across the proper stations.  Being able to completely change my arsenal mid-level not only served to mix up my tactics, but I also found this to be very fun and managed to keep gameplay fresh.  It has always seemed like COD brought with it some of the longest levels and this entry is no exception, so the ability to switch things up half way through is very much appreciated.

Speaking of level design, the Campaign supports up to four players playing co-operatively so you can expect a slightly different experience than usual.  While you can still play alone, the levels are much more open-ended and bring with it slightly larger environments.  Don’t get this confused with being non-scripted however, BO3 is still very much a heavily scripted set-piece experience.  You will simply find way more avenues to proceed through a level, and enjoy more options when deciding how to attack each “cluster”.  This serves the aerial aspect perfectly as most of the time, you have the option to stay at ground level or propel yourself to higher ground.  This was probably my favorite aspect of this portion of the game and I would love to see COD continue along this path.

One other new addition to the single player campaign is the addition of the new Safe House feature that you will visit in-between missions. This acts as a central hub to customize your loadouts, weapons, and upgrade your cybernetic abilities. You can also look at medals earned and various items that you came across during your missions. There is even an accessible computer for browsing the Personal Data Vault where you can find a wealth of information on the various weapons, locations and the backstory to keep you up-to-date. I wouldn’t say this was a groundbreaking new feature, but it certainly served as a welcome distraction and a nice break from the action on occasion.

Multiplayer: A+

This is what we are all here for right?  Most likely if you bought Black Ops III, you are getting it to join your friends online to battle it out non-stop in the extensive multiplayer suite.  Let’s hold off on that for a moment however…

ZOMBIES!!!  Yes, for the second year in a row we have zombies.  Sure you can play this mode offline by yourself, but I find this mode to be best enjoyed as a multiplayer experience.  Shadows of Evil is set in the 1940’s and brings with it the usual epic zombie infested struggle for survival.  This year brings together a cast of Jeff Goldblum, Heather Graham, Neil McDonough, Ron Perlman and Robert Picard for yet another cinematic mystery to be solved with tackling the neverending assault of zombies trying to tear your head off.  Just like the single campaign, this gameplay mode is packed full of options and customization. I absolutely love the depth of this mode, but I would have really liked to seem more steps to further explain how all of the included systems function. While I’m no stranger to the zombies mode, I feel like most things are left to figure out on your own and newcomers could serve from a bit more information from the start.

Shadows of Evil

Once again the zombies mode proves to be a welcome addition and brings with it the frantic action and chaos that everyone comes to love. It is still surprisingly satisfying to take out a horde while being backed into a corner. The level of adrenaline surging through your veins while playing is something that most games these days still fail to produce. I am happy to see the inclusion of this mode and I hope that getting this two years in a row makes for a great precedence.

Last but not least, let’s get to the standout portion of the game. I hate to say it, but yes the Multiplayer portion of the game is still the best part about the package and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has ever set foot into a match.

The biggest new feature is the addition of nine specialists. You are unfortunately forced to pick one of these when creating your character resulting in the above complaint of everyone looking alike in the matches. You are able to slightly customize these characters with different armors or helmets, but the models never change and the faces follow suit. That is my only real complaint however as this new system is actually quite a bit of fun. Each specialist brings with them two unlockable skills that can dramatically sway the direction of encounters. You are able to purchase these abilities or additional specialists with unlock tokens that are earned in matches. For instance I started off using the Specialist: Battery and chose the Kinetic Armor which quite effectively dissipates shots to the body for a limited period of time leaving you only vulnerable to headshots. The other unlockable ability equips me with a grenade launcher that brings with it bouncing frag grenades. I feel like this system works extremely well and really manages to mix up encounters. Even though most people look alike, between the limitless loadout options (brought by the pick ten system), the unlockable specialist abilities, and aerial combat it’s very hard to predict what exactly your opponents will throw at you.

Black Ops 3_Specialist Ruin

I find this level of competition to be extremely fun and immensely challenging. Call of Duty is known for its competitive gameplay and with as many options as this one, you have to bring your “A Game” every match. Obviously Treyarch knows this since they added a ton of really great eSports options and systems in place. There is even a whole arena dedicated to ranked matches and the much appreciated CODcaster mode makes its return.

Replay Value: A+

I could honestly go on and about all the features in this game, but do you really want to sit here and read that much or do you just want to go play the game? The bottom line is I have never seen so many options and unlockables in a first person shooter before. This coupled with the amazing multiplayer mode that Call of Duty is known for; there is absolutely no room to complain about the value of this package. Black Ops 3 will keep you busy for an insanely long time and each of the three modes brings more depth than most other single player games on the market.

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What more is there to talk about?  Plenty… I haven’t even touched on the Free Mode mini games that are taken straight out of Mirror’s Edge (With a Call of Duty spin), or the very enjoyable Theater Mode that lets you revel in the success of your most stand out matches. I haven’t talked about “Safeguard” the new attack/defend mode that makes you escort a robot to the enemy’s base while trying to prevent the other team from disabling it. I also didn’t discuss the Black Market feature that lets you purchase supply drops with earned Cryptokeys.

Again this game is massive and is no doubt worth every penny. If you are a Call of Duty fan and are wondering if Black Ops III comes out strong, rest assured Treyarch is taking no prisoners with this one. Sure I started off with a bit of nitpicking and I would love to see the three included modes become a little more cohesive in their presentation, but this is a solid entry with a massive amount of options.

Overall: A

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