Usually, with each holiday season, game companies are vying for those precious dollars and seeking the title of “The must-play game of the season.” But when it comes to the holiday game king of the hill, one franchise has rested comfortably on the top of the heap for the past several years. Call of Duty seasonal releases have become as predictable as the falling of the leaves and gamers eagerly await it with frothing excitement. The trouble with a huge, loyal fan base and a yearly release schedule are that it’s easy for a franchise to stale and rest only on past success. Does Black Ops 3 repeat the formula of its predecessors or does it truly deserve that top spot on your wishlist this holiday season?
The campaigns of Call of Duty, while formulaic, have always been the highlight of the game for me. While the multiplayer succeeds in occasionally making you feel like a badass soldier, the campaign completely delivers on this front. Black Ops 3 starts with the player picking out your character’s avatar and gender, a welcomed first for the series. From there you’re tossed into your first mission, which goes horribly wrong and you’re left maimed and for dead on the battlefield. Thanks to the help of some cybernetically modified soldiers, you’re patched up and repurposed as a super soldier, much like the beginning of Advanced Warfare. The training missions are presented in a slick, unique way that gets you up to speed on your new abilities. The big change in the campaign comes in the form of your cyber core abilities. Players can choose from three tiers of cybernetic abilities, anything from the ability to run on walls, to taking over turrets, even unleashing a swarm of nanobots that overtake enemies and explode. Since you can only equip one tier at a time, players can replay missions for a completely different tactical experience. In addition to the cyber core abilities, another big change is how players load up missions. You’re given the choice right off the bat to take on any mission in any order via the new Black site. The Black site is where players will customize load-outs, abilities, view stats and medals, and select missions. Overall, the campaign is a fully-featured portion of the game and not just a tacked-on mode to accompany an already popular multiplayer experience.
Truly the bread and butter of COD are multiplayer. The online experience is something that has been tested and tweaked into near perfection over the years and this iteration builds upon the pedigree even more. Black Ops 3 introduces players to specialists, unique characters with special abilities players pick at the start. There are nine specialists to choose from although only 4 are available to start. Players must rank up through multiplayer and spend unlock tokens for special weapons and abilities. Special weapons range from a bow with explosive tips to flamethrowers and swords, putting more emphasis on close-range combat. Specialists can be customized via unlockable outfits by completing total kills while playing as a specialist. The jump pack makes a revised appearance and players can wall run and power slide around the level making the usual fast chaos of a match even more so by allowing players to utilize more vertical space. The maps feel well designed and balanced and fan-favorite Nuketown makes a return.
Zombies mode gets an overhaul with the setting taking place in a noir style 1940s town. You can play as one of 4 characters, each with unique playstyles and background stories. For the first in the series, progress is now saved and Zombies has its own level progression system. While the zombie’s mode has grown over the years, this is the first time it feels like a standalone game and one that you can spend more than a few play sessions in. For those that have enjoyed the Zombies mode over the past few years, this offering will most likely be your favorite to date.
Treyarch has become the go-to developer for the Call of Duty franchise. Their work on the Black Ops series has been the most innovative and fun since the series first took a leap from the past with Modern Warfare. They had three years to work on this release and the extra time looks to have paid off tenfold. They could have simply rested on previous work and put out the same thing, but this offering has taken what worked and improved upon it across multiple modes. The changes breathe new life into a series that some have questioned for being stale over the past couple of years. The gameplay and sound design are great and the graphics are truly breathtaking in the hi-tech future world of Black Ops 3. In a time when game companies seem to want to nickel and dime you for content, it’s refreshing to see a big AAA title still want to do right by their loyal fans. Although players on last-gen miss out on content, this is still worth every penny. I can only hope the other developers in Activision’s employment take notes and continue to build off the work that has been done on Black Ops 3