Review: 'Call of Duty: Black Ops III' fails to make series feel new

Cover art for Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. (Courtesy/Call of Duty).

Every year, a new “Call of Duty” promises this will be the year the franchise finally gets innovative. Every year, we’re told this is the installment that will make things fresh again. “Black Ops III” makes that same promise, but despite some success, it fails to make “Call of Duty” feel even remotely innovative or new.

As with previous installments, the game is divided into campaign, multiplayer and zombies mode. We’ll start with the campaign, which is set some forty years after the events of “Black Ops II.” First, the game asks you to customize your operative. The options are limited to gender and one of nine facial types, a sign of things to come, as the campaign makes token gestures towards innovation but mostly fails. 

So we begin the campaign and to my great surprise, there is no cut scene to explain what’s going on. The player isn’t told who they are or what they’re doing. Instead, the player character is given a gun, an objective and an explosion, leaving the rest up to the player.

The opening level sets the bar very high, as it’s actually one of the best opening levels for any “Call of Duty” game. Although there’s very little plot or character development, a cast of characters is introduced and, more importantly, the player doesn’t get any of the cool futuristic powers. Instead, they get to watch teammates show off suits that enable them to become invisible and throw people across a football field. The level ends with a sequence wherein the player watches both their arms get ripped off, which brings us to the whole bio-augmentation thing.

One big change, at least from a storytelling perspective, is that only about half of the levels are set in the real world, with the other half set inside character’s minds or in a simulation. The longest of these nightmare sequences is close to an hour, dragging on way too long. Fighting the battle of Bastogne with futuristic weaponry is cool, but re-using a zombies map for the campaign is just lazy.

The main character gets a voice this time around, although maybe he shouldn’t have because the writing is absolutely awful. The main character’s best friend is annoying and then becomes counter-productive to the mission by the end of the game.

The other main character, an implied love interest, alternates between being sappy and being an ice queen. The story takes some interesting turns, especially towards the end, but the actual ending is very confusing. Overall, the campaign ranks below “Black Ops II” and “Advanced Warfare.”

Zombies is probably my favorite of the three modes, and is very well put together. Four distinct characters from 1920’s America battle hordes of zombies and, while there’s very little that’s new here, Treyarch has clearly built upon the foundation of their wildly successful mode. Some new monsters are added to encourage cooperative play, but zombies remains as fun and fluid as ever. 

The core mechanics of multiplayer are also something that Treyarch attempted to build on. Players can now go underwater and engage enemies there, which makes the maps more fluid and creates some fun new opportunities to ambush enemies. 

While the maps and gameplay are solid, matchmaking is seemingly worse than “Advanced Warfare.” In one match, two teams of three entered the game from the lobby, but by the end of the game, one team had eight players while the other team had just three. New players kept getting assigned to the other team, an inexcusable failure by the developers to balance their game out. 

Multiplayer also introduces some new “specialists,” with unique appearances and special abilities that the player can select. The abilities are fairly balanced, but some, such as the ability that transforms your arm into a minigun, are clearly superior to others. So while multiplayer introduces some new features, there’s nothing particularly innovative here, though it doesn’t take away from the great core gameplay that “Call of Duty” is known for.

Although I had high hopes for “Black Ops III” prior to release, there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before. The weak campaign will likely be forgotten given the popularity of the multiplayer and zombies modes, but there’s little to recommend for anyone who’s not already a die-hard “Call of Duty” fan.


Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.pankowski@uconn.edu.