Call Of Duty: Black Ops III Review: Going Dark — One More Time

Let’s face it: Call of Duty‘s annual installments tend to border on the boring, “same old, same old” shoot ’em ups, even though they are almost always summer-blockbuster level romps with bombastic spectacle and a multiplayer element that has more dedicated players than any other game franchise. The one true caveat to this has always been Treyarch’s entries, which have changed the game with each installment, adding the Pick 10 system, Zombies mode, and some of the best maps the series has ever offered. And now, Treyarch has rolled out their final Black Ops game with the 2015 Call of Duty game, aptly titled Black Ops III, and their journey into the world of Cold War-era secret missions, the CIA, revenge-minded madmen, and technology running rampant has come to a close. And it comes to an end with one of the most science fiction stories ever attempted in a Call of Duty game — and it’s magnificent.

The story in the solo campaign shoots ahead 40 years after the Raul Menendez attacks from Black Ops II. Those attacks changed the world — and the undercover spy game as well. Operatives had to become smarter, faster, stronger, as the threats grew larger and more widespread, technology advanced to the point of Direct Neural Interfaces (DNI), which essentially linked an agents brain to a computer program, which in turn gave the agents skills that no human should ever possess.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 Review

Players are introduced to new characters in Black Ops III. Alex Mason and his story is over. Here the player creates a new character (choose between male and female, different faces/races) and they are thrown into a new conflict, alongside new partners Jacob Hendricks and John Taylor (Christopher Meloni). Hendricks and Taylor have a history, as hinted at in conversation, and it doesn’t seem pleasant. After a mission goes sideways, the player is then given the experimental DNI enhancements, along with a lengthy — and fun — training level for the new gifts before the story picks back up five years later. The enhanced operatives have been keeping the world safe from the shadows, but, as in all good stories, things go bad, and soon, the world is at risk by one of their own.

The DNI cyber core enhancements give the player some awesome new skills. Since this rig is hardwired into the brain and the physical body, this isn’t an exosuit like in last year’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. There are three distinct cyber core trees to expand and customize with new skills, skills that allow the player to control mechs, direct swarms of nano-insects, and even immolate enemies. Pressing the direction pad allows for switching enhancements on the fly, as well as turning the tactical view and enhanced vision modes on and off. Both are very welcome additions to the game. The skill sets for the DNI are player upgradable, paid for with earned tokens, which gives a level of customization in how the character works and fights. Between missions, the player has a safe house where all DNI cyber cores, armor/outfits, and weapon customizations are handled.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 Review

The players records, medals, and collectibles are all on display and the safe house changes as more are collected. There are even some surprises hidden in the safe house, including a return of the top down side game, Dead Ops Arcade, so keep your eyes open and look everywhere. The safe house itself is the hub for all things Black Ops III, including reading the codex files collected by finding intel and just by finishing missions. These codex files fill in the back story of the entire Black Ops saga, and — according to Black Ops III director Jason Blundell — a lot of it is based on historical facts, as relayed by retired U.S. Colonel Oliver North, who served an advisory role on the first Black Ops game. The safe house is a new addition to Call of Duty, and it gives the player a much needed breather between blowing up stuff in the games’ 15 missions.

The solo campaign (which can also be played in co-op mode, both online and spilt screen couch co-op) runs about eight to 10 hours, depending on how much players search levels for intel and how much tweaking they do to their load outs in the safe house. Customization (in all modes) plays a huge role in Call of Duty: Black Ops III, and as with anything, the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III Review

In the later missions of the campaign, the story begins to unravel, and Black Ops III goes from a military shooter into the realm of hard science fiction. There’s even a playable level that recreates a famous battle from World War II (which is recalled again in Multiplayer as the Infection map, which is one of the best in the game). It’s definitely the weirdest Call of Duty story yet — and that’s a good thing. Themes are explored here that have never been attempted in a Call of Duty game, and by the time the story wraps, I was haunted by what Blundell and Craig Houston, the writers, came up with. I found the ending satisfying — if not a little insane.

As for the multiplayer mode, Black Ops III stays the course from the previous games, keeping the pick 10 system, and Treyarch’s wonderful maps return. The biggest difference in BOIII is in the specialists. Nine different specialist types can be selected, each with two unique skills that can be chosen from. For the first time, a bow is used in a Call of Duty game and it works well. Each specialist has strengths and weaknesses that must be experimented with to find the best to suit your play style. The specialists can also be customized fully with new unlockable outfits and weapons.

The DNI augmentations allow for players to boost jump, power slide, and run on walls with incredible fluidity, and the maps were created to give players plenty of opportunities to do each. Swimming and aquatic kills are both available here too, and camping underwater and shooting enemies as they run by unaware is fun and exciting, even if you only get to do it once or twice before people figure it out. There is always some noob who will get shot by a guy sitting at the bottom of a pool.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III Review


The multiplayer game modes are pretty standard Call of Duty affairs, with two new exceptions. Uplink, which plays like some weird version of water polo — on land — with guns, and Safeguard, where players are tasked with defending/attacking a mech drone as it makes its way across a map. I found both of these modes fun and exciting, but they don’t compare to the more fast-paced modes like Team Death Match and Domination, or the squad-based modes like Capture the Flag, Search and Destroy, and Hardpoint. There is even a mode to create custom games, where creators can add bots to the game and all specialists are unlocked for use, if so desired.

As players fight in MP, they earn money and cryptokeys, which can them be used in the Black Market to buy cool news things like weapons skins, attachments, cosmetic augments and so much more.

Treyarch has also integrated a global lobby system, where each game mode is now tied to the player, so switching games from campaign to zombies to multiplayer is done from the same menu, with the same friends/parties giving Black Ops III a connected feel on all game modes.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 Review

The last major mode in Black Ops III is the vaunted Zombies mode. Treyarch created the mode back in 2008 with Call of Duty: World at War and to say that it took on a life of its own would be an understatement. There are two distinct games in the Zombies mode: “Shadows of Evil” and “Giant.” In “Shadows of Evil,” four unlikely characters — each with a bit of darkness in their past — are brought together in a mysterious 1940s-era metropolis called Morg City, and they are forced to survive wave after wave of zombies, while trying to solve the mystery of why they are there by collecting relics and completing rituals, even as more and more zombies pour through doorways and windows. It is, by far, the biggest Zombies mode yet, and honestly could have been a free-standing game on its own. And with the likes of Jeff Goldblum, Heather Graham, Neal McDonough, and Ron Perlman playing the four unlucky souls, both in mo-cap and voice, “Shadows of Evil” has a good representation of Hollywood here, and each actor kills it — literally and figuratively. “Giant” is a continuation of the “Origins” zombie mode from Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 Review

Call of Duty: Black Ops III signifies the end of one of the most ambitious stories that the series has ever tried to tell. From the jungles of 1960s Vietnam, to the destruction of 2020’s Los Angeles, to a future where man and machine are one — and that is not a good thing — developer Treyarch has really moved the entire Call of Duty franchise forward time and again, and they have left their indelible mark on the first person shooter genre forever. With the Black Ops story finished, only time will tell where Treyarch will go for their next trilogy of games. Personally, I want to go back into the jungles of Vietnam, which has never had the same love in FPS games like WWII has, and maybe, just maybe, Treyarch does as well.

The future is equal parts bright and cloudy on where they will go next, but one thing is for certain: The Black Ops story has wrapped up as arguably one of the best Call of Duty games to date, one that has so many layers of customization and context in all three main modes. It’s the kind of game that haunts you well after finishing it, and the multiplayer maps and new abilities and weapons almost beg players to keep coming back for more. The Zombies mode is the most fleshed out — pun fully intended — and adds a new level of enjoyment in a game already bristling with fun and exciting things to do.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III Review

To put it simply, Call of Duty: Black Ops III is one of the best games in the series, and proves that after all these years, there is still more to add to the annual franchise to keep it fresh and cutting-edge, even if that means going sci-fi while still telling a story seeped in actual world history and events. It’s a far cry from the “same old, same old,” and it’s definitely not boring, and that makes it a huge win for fans new and old.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III is available now on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The PS3 and Xbox 360 version does not have the story campaigns, and is focused solely on the multiplayer elements. We did not get a copy of those games for review. This review is based off a PS4 copy of the game provided by Activision.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 Review
out of 5

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