Call of Duty has been experimenting with incorporations of fictional future technology (like in Black Ops II and Advanced Warfare) but it rarely felt like it was embraced wholeheartedly and in truly novel ways. In Black Ops III the technology changes the gameplay and drives the story.
Black Ops III builds on the events of Black Ops II that occurred 65 years prior. Over that time, technology has become more embedded in the military’s approach on the battlefield and led to combining man with machine, and creating men out of machines with the inception of advanced artificial intelligence.
I have always enjoyed and preferred the Treyarch take on the Call of Duty franchise. They have deeper more interesting stories to tell that are dark, psychological, and always compelling. Black Ops III is no different in that respect, and in fact surpasses what has been done previously in the franchise.
Although it may maintain the same ideas from previous Treyarch games and all Call of Duty games before it, the single player campaign is more than just moving from one mission to the next in a big budget action movie spectacle.
Just like in multiplayer, you gain experience to unlock new equipment, which is then used to create a loadout with customization options from wardrobe and character gender to weapons. The most notable addition and customizable option is the Core Upgrades.
Using the Cyber Core Station you can make Cybernetic Combat Upgrades and progress them under three different skill trees: Control, Martial, and Chaos. Although you are limited to one active tree per mission, you can cycle through the different trees as you play, once you have reached level 20. This adds even greater energy and variety into the gameplay, but the only issue was that you seemed to get things very quickly and it took away the purpose of having them locked in the first place. This is probably due to the fact that the campaign itself is only around 6 hours long. Ultimately, it does add some diversity in the experiences you can have in the campaign, and allows you to tailor it to your particular play style.
Once you have made your way through the campaign, you unlock Nightmare Mode. This mode replaces humans with zombies and implants a plot surrounding an epidemic. It is more than a re-skinned campaign mode with Zombies, as it includes a new story that is weaved into the existing campaign.
Once again, Black Ops III brings the same fluid movement and fast combat that defines the franchise. Each iteration in the series builds on the next, implementing successful ideas from the last and slowly introducing new ones. It borrows the Thruster pack from Advanced Warfare, which perpetuated more verticality in the COD gameplay but was even more developed in this game with excellent multiplayer level design to support it. The Pick 10 System was kept from Black Ops II, which lets you allocate 10 points towards customizing a loadout with perks, guns, and equipment. This system worked great in Black Ops II, and just as well in Black Ops III.
There are some nice aesthetic customization features added, like Gunsmith and The Paintshop to change the look of your weapons, but the big addition to multiplayer gameplay was Specialists. Specialists are a collection of 9 different soldiers, each with either their own specific special that is separate from a kill streak or a unique weapon. You can still create your own loadout but Specialists simply add an interesting tactical device to change the dynamic of multiplayer combat – especially since a team cannot be comprised of each Specialist.
There are some additions to the franchise that change the way you play and plenty of polish for existing mechanics, but at the end of the day it feels like a Call of Duty game, no substantial changes here, which is not necessarily bad because it continues to be fun.
Black Ops III: Zombies includes all of the staple features from the typical zombie mode and has some fun little additions. The “Become the Beast” turns you into a monster with devastating, wriggling tentacles, “Gobblegums” gives players random temporary buffs, and there is great use of a combination of zombies and a variety of different monsters, like the flying yellow Parasites and the three headed tentacle beasts called Margwas.
The biggest changes were incorporating an XP progression system similar to that of the campaign and competitive multiplayer, and a full Zombies campaign narrative. The XP progression allows you to not only level up and unlock new perks and weapon kits, but carry over success from one round to the next. As you get unlocks you can apply them to your loadout before a match begins – adding the ability for players to specialize and formulate an effective synergistic team.
The Zombies story is separated into two plotlines, the Shadows of Evil Epilogue with all new characters, and the second plotline that furthers the story from previous games called “The Giant”. Both of these stories feature great celebrity appearances with plenty of hilarious sound bites to entertain you, including: Jeff Goldblum, Ron Pearlman, and Heather Graham.
As far as the map design goes, Shadows of Evil is one of the better ones with plenty of variety in the elevation, openness, and overall layout. There is a dark and misty Noir feel to it that is perfectly captured through its beautiful models, graphics, lighting and shadows. A great personal moment was when it was so dark in a corridor that the muzzle flash was the only thing illuminating the lurching zombies, creating a terrifying strobe effect. It’s the small things of that nature that contribute to the grander feel of the map and campaign.
It doesn’t feel like an enclosed area like many of the maps in previous games, as it is so open and varied with detailed backdrops – because of that it can actually feel like a campaign level at times. There is just so much effort put into in making detailed, unique buildings, and neon signs that are not repeated to fill the area, which makes you feel more engrossed in the environment.
The new take on Zombies is mostly a typical Zombies experience, aside from a more aesthetically detailed map, but it has enough changes to make it refreshing and fun to play again.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III does have a ton of new features, but most of it was tweaking parts of the formula to see what sticks and polishing staples in the series. There were some bigger changes with Specialists, extended narratives, and connected progression systems, but nothing that was game changing or substantial.
Despite mostly keeping the status quo there are enough changes to keep you interested and willing to jump back into Call of Duty once again.
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