Full disclosure: I am not a regular Call of Duty player. The last COD title I put ample time into was Modern Warfare, even with the series getting a new chapter every year due to the partnership that Activision has with both Infinity Ward and Treyarch. This year, it's Treyarch's turn to deliver a memorable experience with Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. Sometimes, a fresh perspective is a good thing, and I'll provide that to you as someone who is a fan of FPS titles but not necessarily a regular.
While the focus of COD titles is almost always the multiplayer and how deep it is, I'm a bit of a stickler for the campaigns. I enjoy the challenge of diving into a single player campaign, no matter how long or short it is. Public opinion says I haven't been missing much over the last few titles, so my expectations were a bit tempered upon loading up Black Ops 3. The campaign takes place in the year 2065, roughly 40 years after the events of Black Ops 2 for those who have kept up on the series. The world has been thrown into chaos with new technologies, climate change, various assaults, and so on.
Players will take on a nameless soldier and is joined by a fellow soldier, Jacob Hendricks. The opening of the campaign does a great job in setting the scene as to what's happened and what a player is about to face. After an intro, the player is thrown into Ethiopia where a rescue mission is about to take place. After a short sequence in rescuing a couple of prisoners being interrogated, the player is introduced to Commander John Taylor. While Taylor's character tends to demand attention, the real eye-catcher is that the soldiers with your team are cybernetically enhanced. It's a great way to set the tone because the player takes damage to the point where they are implanted with those same cybernetics. Once this sequence is done, the real campaign begins without the training wheels. Unfortunately, that opening sequence is probably the best memory I have of the campaign, but we'll touch on that later.
The meat of the campaign still relies heavily on being great with your array of guns, even if the title is trying to set the mood of a futuristic world that's a mix between The Terminator and Universal Soldier. The cybernetics are a great addition to single player with the ability to boost, slide, and take advantage of the enhancements provided in the opening stanza of the campaign. Even with these additions, though, the bulk of the gameplay is similar throughout most of the campaign as there are plenty of chaotic showdowns and shootouts. This is fun at first, but it gets old in a hurry. The background and music certainly helps to make up for standard shootout after standard shootout. The best example can be a scene where off in the distance a colossal thunderhead cloud is rolling in with a thunderstorm. Backgrounds don't get much better than that, showing that Treyarch wanted to take the visuals to the next step with this iteration of COD.
I had enjoyable moments throughout the campaign, but my biggest gripe with the single player action is that nothing really hooked me. The characters mentioned earlier, combined even with the special cameos such as Marshawn Lynch, were forgettable. There was no standout that made me emotionally invested in a character or a situation. It was simply "Hey, here's your objective. Don't bother with anything else!" in my mind, and that's what makes a game suffer. Having the player also take on a nameless soldier really hurts. Every shooter needs that one memorable character, whether it's Halo's Master Chief, Perfect Dark's Joanna Dark, or even Metroid's Samus Aran. Rarely does the nameless player work (Doom's Marine is the exception) on any level, and this decision really pulls away from the campaign having any lasting memory. While the action is still plentiful and enjoyable, the story is mediocre at best, and that's truly disappointing.
Thankfully, while Treyarch struck out overall at the campaign, they more than made up for it with their multiplayer modes. I'm a sucker for a good zombie killing mode, and Treyarch knocked it out of the park. Who in the world can resist a mode where Jeff Goldblum, Ron Perlman, and Heather Graham are involved? Dubbed Shadows of Evil as the game mode, the zombie action is stupidly fun and full of plenty of customization options. Players accumulate money as they knock off zombies, allowing boosts and upgrades to be unlocked as players attempt to survive as long as they can. The best upgrade, though, is the ability to turn into a gigantic beast that has the face of Kraken from Final Fantasy and the body of a steroid-infested manbeast. It's wonderful to transform into this creature and just wreak havoc on zombies while your partners fire away at the horde that manages to survive the onslaught. I probably had the most fun out of all the game modes killing zombies, because it's just a ton of fun.
The standard multiplayer mode is also very fun, though definitely a different challenge from the zombies since it's your typical online shooter. The maps feel well put together, primarily due to the nooks and crannies that can be ran in and out of. They're plenty large and allow the flexibility to run from rooftop to rooftop and even run against walls. The maps created seemed to cut down on the amount of sniping positions that are available, meaning that there is more direct combat instead of just a bunch of long distance shooters who have the steadiest fingertips. A big issue with the standard multiplayer though comes in the form of respawns. It seems like Treyarch cut down on the randomness of respawns and I found myself almost being spawn camped on multiple occasions. Also, while Winner's Circle is kind of a cool attempt at showing who the best players were, it was old after the second time I saw it. Can we just eliminate this altogether? The scoreboards and medals on a simple scoresheet are more than enough. Staring at someone's characters for an extended amount of time is just time wasted before I can get to the next match.
The multiplayer mode is loaded with options and customization far beyond what I saw in the zombie mode. Specialists are all the rage, giving a player the option to build their own warrior as they level up with certain abilities that give them advantages in specific situations. The biggest issue here is that, if you're just starting, perhaps you aren't sure of how you'll approach multiplayer yet and simply don't know what perk is best for you right out of the gate. It takes some time to get used to the frantic pace of multiplayer so learning how to use the specializations is crucial early on. Picking the wrong one can hinder progress and learning the sheer complexity of every little customizable weapon can be daunting, frustrating, and tiresome. I get that there has to be some type of focus that provides those who level up an advantage when hitting max level and prestige, but it's getting to the point where the casual player will simply be turned off. Hardcore players will love it, I'm sure, and that's fine. How about easing up on those options a bit and not making it feel like you have to go through an online course just to understand everything for the next title?
All in all, Black Ops 3 is a lot like a roller coaster. The build-up is average (campaign), the highs are exceptional (zombies!), and everything in between will be a mixed back of ups and downs (multiplayer). Treyarch knows what works best with Shadows of Evil and, even though I ragged on the vast amount of customization in standard multiplayer, I still enjoyed online matches. The campaign had some fun portions, but ultimately fell flat for me in the end. In all honesty, though, this isn't a surprise and most Call of Duty players aren't going to care about the campaign. They bought the game for a new multiplayer experience, even if it's been just slightly upgraded year to year.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been writing about games and entertainment since 2006 after starting out at Xbox Ohio. Since then, I have made the jump to Gaming Nexus and have enjoyed my time here. I am an avid gamer that has a solid old school game collection that includes the likes of Final Fantasy games, Earthbound, Gitaroo-Man, MvC2, and a whole slew of others. I have a primary focus on Xbox/PC games and PC peripherals and accessories. If you ever want to game against me, you can look me up on XBL with the gamertag GN Punk. View Profile