This week “Call of Duty Black Ops 3” hits consoles and PCs across the globe but even the best Call of Duty game has a lot to compete with in the next-gen marketplace. There was a time when each “Call of Duty” installment brought something new to players but those days appeared to numbered. Looking back, the franchise was miles ahead of its closest FPS competitor but with a new generation of consoles and a diversified player-base to tackle, Call of Duty isn’t the behemoth it once was.
The real issue isn’t that “Call of Duty Black Ops 3” isn’t entertaining, it’s that other developers have gotten better and online competitions have moved-on from players just shooting at one-another. With “League of Legends,” “Counter Strike” and Online MMOs all battling within the same multiplayer universe that “Call of Duty” once dominated, the ‘Call of Duty’ limitations are starting to show.
Ironically, the farther the “Call of Duty” franchise moves ahead into the future, the further it leaves its legacy behind. The first “Call of Duty: Black Ops” was a twisted-tale of Government cover-ups and espionage, the second installment built on the popularity of the Black Ops brand and proved that Activision was ready to take a few chances with the game’s multiplayer modes and gameplay elements. The third-installment, ‘Black Ops 3,’ feels like the developers simply overextended themselves, offering so many choices and customizations that the story suffers from being too vague to include everything. The real burden is that while players have an amplitude of customizations available to them, both online and offline, it doesn’t really do anything.
On a positive note, the game is far more diversified than any of the previous installments have been in the past. Though that is a progressive accomplishment, the character you create is simply driven along the same path as everyone else, only with interchangeable skins and a few different animations to help the experience feel unique to the player.
Each option is nicely rendered through the cut-scenes though, so you can watch as your “generic soldier x” slowly unties the thread of the story. Fans might notice Christopher Meloni right away, he’s one of the top-tier talents that Activision grabbed to add a nice dramatic flair to the game’s campaign. Think of him as this year’s Kevin Spacey, a substitution that could only happen in a video-game.
Without spoiling any of the story for you, the game is more preachy than powerful. Touching on a few contemporary topics like private-militaries, government alliances with foreign rebellions and even artificial intelligence, the story didn’t wow me at any given point and it certainly wasn’t as engaging as the first Black Ops was.
The game utilizes skill-trees and level unlocks to outfit the best upgrades and abilities, but some of the better options may require a second play-through, or at least some clever player design on behalf of the player. Co-op is certainly a major push in this game and if you don’t plan on taking advantage of it, the game might feel a little more hollow I think.
The game’s simple linear design was implemented to allow co-op at any given level, allowing you and three of your buddies to tackle the game as a ragtag bunch of soldiers. There’s some really great customization options to be found here as well, including the ability to customize your gear and soldier according to your preferred play-style.
As I mentioned before, the story takes a back seat to the gameplay design and to facilitate the co-op experience the levels are very linear. This isn’t a negative point, just don’t expect any sort of open-world concept when tackling each stage.
Just like with every co-op design, everything you encounter has to be tough enough to take-on four human players. This could mean more challenging fun to some people but to me it meant dying a lot and starting over. Knowing that many four-player groups will most likely seek-out any all weakness in the game’s AI, the enemies that you fight are anything but traditional soldiers. Instead you are fighting the future army of the most advanced Private Militaries in the universe and the game takes on a more sci-fi feel than a traditional war-game. This may have been the very point in the enemy character design but it’s the least “Call of Duty” of the Call of Duty combatants that I can recall fighting. Playing the game in co-op (when I could) was far more enjoyable than the single-player campaign alone and I think the game’s popularity might suffer for it. I love co-op and I truly enjoy co-op campaigns when they are available but the game’s design does seem to punish players that would rather fight solo.
While the single-player offers you the chance to kill enemies with your friends, the multiplayer is the heart of the game and that allows you to once again make friends and enemies alike. Players shouldn’t be surprised by now that the multiplayer side of the new installment is far more controlled and balanced than the co-op or single-player modes.
The new Character Class system didn’t really set any new standards for great-gameplay with this installment. Even though each new class has their own abilities, the game toned-down their usefulness to the point that it almost doesn’t matter which class you pick. This may have been to keep things as balanced as possible for the launch of the game but if it was a major addition you were looking forward to, be prepared. I do sympathize with the developers on this point, knowing that it must be near to impossible to create dozens of load-out options and configurations while keeping everyone as equal as possible at any given moment.
Progression and character unlocks, both moving at a steady rate and rewarding enough to motivate players to keep trudging through battles, is still at the epicenter of the multiplayer experience. It’s what Call of Duty online matches have been for years and the system is still solid and remains firmly in play with this installment. Maps are cleverly designed and players should experience the same pre-fabricated bottlenecks that they have grown to love/hate in previous CoD games.
Once you get through the single-player campaign and the multiplayer games, you might want to take a break with the popular Zombies mode. This time around the Zombies mode is pretty ingenious, though the novelty is starting to wear thin.
Testing out the game’s co-op Zombie mode with my friends wasn’t an option and really that’s what the entire game-mode was based on. It was still a fun installment to the series however and I think the people that enjoyed Zombie Modes of yesteryear will get a kick out of the new secrets and hidden gems. Dead Ops, the same gameplay that was featured before, is also unlocked in the game.
“Call of Duty” was once the premiere multiplayer destination for players to take on their friends and fellow gamers, but with more options and better systems, that once singular destination is divided among a wide-array of terrific games. Even First Person Shooters, a genre that “Call of Duty” once single-handedly dominated for an entire console generation, have moved on to games like “Destiny” and soon “Star Wars: Battlefront.” With so many terrific choices at our disposal, “Call of Duty Black Ops 3” seems more nostalgic than innovative and the franchise needs to find a way to mix those concepts more fluently in future installments. If the last decade has taught us anything, it’s that online players are eager to accept new ideas and new gameplay elements when they are done correctly and “Call of Duty Black Ops 3” doesn’t introduce anything that I think players will demand to see in future games.
It’s a broadening world in the multiplayer universe and the more diverse the players get, the more Call of Duty shrinks back to what made it famous almost a decade ago. I think if you solely compare this installment to the previous Call of Duty Games, it will come across as a major improvement but I think players are starting to expect more from Activision after “Destiny” and from FPSs in general.