Please note that this review covers the PS4 version, and some features are not available for the PS3/Xbox 360 versions
Treyarch does an amazing job once more with another installment in the Call of Duty franchise, Black Ops 3. The series has come a long way from the World War II era setting of World at War, to Cold War settings of Black Ops 1, and the more recent near future settings of Black Ops 2 and now 3. Just like Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games, Treyarch tries to keep the Call of Duty fresh and engaging for it’s fans, and I feel that it has succeeded with those objectives.
Upon starting up the game and getting the necessary content downloaded to be able to play single player, I brought up the menu and happened upon the Identity section and was immediately taken aback when I explored further into it. I was taken aback due to the fact of the sheer level of customization that can be done with individual weapon setups. A new feature in the franchise is the ability to customize optics, attachments, camos, and paint jobs. In addition to that, the player can save multiple variants of individual weapon setups and use them across Campaign, Multiplayer, and Zombies, provided that the weapons and attachments are unlocked though each mode. One thing to note is that similar to the emblems, paint jobs add an individual flair if one wants to take the time to make use of a whopping 64 layers for the left and right sides, and the top of the gun. All of that can be done within Gunsmith or Paintshop sub-menus. Also making returns are unlockable calling cards and customizable emblems, franchise staples introduced in Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops 1, respectively. Expanding upon those two features you are now the abilities to unlock calling cards via Campaign, Zombies, and from Supply Drops found in Multiplayer.
After spending time playing around with a few weapon setups and sticking an obligatory “Trans Pride” camo design on one of the LMGs, I went to multiplayer. In retrospect, I would recommend playing Campaign first to get a greater idea and context of how the Specialist abilities work. That said, it is quite easy to pick up and figure out if one starts the game up and immediately goes for multiplayer. One of the new features this time around, is being able to choose a specialist class and have an additional weapon or ability to your loadout that gets granted to you after the meter charges a certain amount of time. During my playthough, I was given a choice of which Specialist class I could use, and went with Battery. I would eventually unlock the Outrider specialist, as I wanted to see how varied the weapons can be. Afterwards, Specialists can be unlocked via Unlock Tokens, which are earned from leveling up your character. One question I’ve seen raised quite a bit during online matches was if level/weapon progression is different from each Specialist or not. Thankfully though, that is not the case, as the only separate progression sets for Specialists are the head and body gear aesthetics.
A few newer gameplay mechanics that will be familiar for anyone that’s played Titanfall or Advanced Warfare are the abilites to wall run, boost jump, and power slide, which complement the layered maps quite well. Something new though, is the ability to swim and fire your weapons while submerged in water! While there was limited swimming in Advance Warfare multiplayer, this adds some more dimension to maps. Taking from Black Ops 2 once more is the Pick 10 system in place for class setups, which allows for considerably varied choices for how to play online. For those not familiar with that system, its the ability to choose ten features ranging from perks, weapons, attachments, to things like grenades and wildcards. The wildcards allow abilities to possibly set an additional perk, or even up two three additional attachments for the primary weapon should you chose to go that route. In addition to that, with each level gained during progression, a crytokey is earned to use at the Black Market to unlock rare camouflage for weapons or optic reticles, for example. As mentioned earlier, the high level of customization for class and weapon setups is absolutely amazing.
Going into the standard Multiplayer playlists are the staple game modes such as Free For All, Team Deathmatch, Gun Game, and Search & Destroy; but the three that stood out for me were Uplink, Safeguard, and Free Run. Having not played Advance Warfare terribly much, I quickly found out that in the gametype Uplink, the player has to take a drone that’s in the middle of the map, run it into enemy territory, and toss it into the enemy uplink station to score. It’s about as hectic as Single Flag CTF was from my MW3/BO2 days and reminds me of that game type quite a bit. After playing that a bit, I went onto try Safeguard, where one team tries to lead the robot from their side of the map, while the other team tries to stop them from achieving that objective. Having played Team Fortress 2’s Payload game type and loving it, I felt quite at home playing a few matches. With Free Run, I found myself going though an obstacle course completing objectives like swimming, wallrunning, or needing to fire a weapon though a specific target while being timed for the performance. It’s an interesting little game mode to compete for the best times and see how your friends do. After playing numerous matches of different gametypes, I’ve noticed that the connection quality is very good this time around, especially compared to the previous releases on the previous generation of consoles over the years. It’s refreshing to have a near-consistent low ping connection while playing. Also making a return for the second time around in the Black Ops series is fan-favorite Nuketown, bringing it into a simulated world and taking advantage of the new gameplay mechanics. Nothing is more satisfying than running and boost jumping into one of the windows of the houses and blasting a sniper with a shotgun blast, and then softly land on the ground below. Matches are just as hectic as I remember them back when I played games on Black Ops 1 and 2, and are just as fun or dreaded if you’re playing with a good team or not.
After Multiplayer, I started up Zombies and was amazed at the visual quality when comparing it to Black Ops 2 Zombies, and was still surprised that there’s a separate leveling and progression system contained just in the zombies mode. Upon starting up a solo session, I watch the intro cinematic showing four separate people killing others for varying reasons, only to be taken to a zombified Morg city by a being calling himself the Shadow Man. He calls for repentance of their sins by completing four rituals for him. As with standard Zombie fare, it can take quite a while to achieve this and discover the map’s Easter Eggs. In addition to the now unlockable weapon setups, and how you many now chose from what may pop up from the Mystery Box, a new feature is GobbleGum. Similar to persistent upgrades from Black Ops 2 Zombies, GobbleGums are special unlockable abilities that can be bought from a GobbleGum machine during gameplay. While only one ability can be active at a time, it can be lifesaving after some of the later gums are unlocked. One such ability, Phoenix Up, is to be able to revive all teammates while they keeping all their Perk-a-Colas; which is a great nod to Final Fantasy’s Phoenix Down. Whatever else might be hidden away to be discovered by players remains to be seen.
After all that fun, I started up the campaign and to my pleasant surprise; I could chose the gender of the soldier I’d be playing. The first mission introduces you to the characters that will be seen during the remainder of the game and I was again amazed to see the high graphic quality that’s being put forth by the game engine now. Having started my playthough on Hardened, I expected it to give a decent challenge going though, and I was not let down while playing though objectives.
After getting though the first mission and getting knocked back from the exfil point, I was half-expecting to be either immediately rescued or grabbing my weapon to shoot the robots that were attacking. To my disappointment, and eventual horror, my character did get rescued- after getting both arms viscerally torn off and a leg being shattered by one of those robots. After being rescued, while my character was being cybernetically enhanced, I was put though a digital simulation for what new abilities were being given to the character. Some of those abilities demonstrated were ones like being able to wallrun, visualize threat assessments to see outlines of friendlies and enemies when objects are blocking your field of few, and being able to hack robots to make them explode. After getting though that, I was introduced to a hub area called The Safehouse, where the player can edit loadouts, cybercore setups, see collectibles that have been found during levels, and figure out where to go next with missions.
A major boon to the Campaign, all levels are available from the start and playable with up to three other people, giving a nice co-op experience. Levels and set battles are huge, giving the larger possibility of choice of how to fight though and definitely adds replay value for campaign missions. Finally, a Realistic difficulty setting has been added, which gives a nice experience boost for unlocking stuff in the campaign, but at the cost of dying in one hit.
As mentioned at the beginning, this review was for the PS4 version, so I’ll touch a bit on differences that are with the different versions of this game. Due to hardware and memory limitations of the PS3 and Xbox 360, there is no campaign included and framerate is locked to 30 FPS for Zombies with a varying lock of 30-60 FPS in Multiplayer. To make up for that, those versions of the game are $10 cheaper. In addition to that, custom paintjobs, gunsmith, NUK3TOWN, Theater Mode, The Giant zombies map, and gibbing aren’t available. Disappointing though is that there’s no Season Pass available, which brings into question how DLC might be handled for those games. Development for those versions was handled by by Beenox and Mercenary Technology. For the PC edition, much to the delight of PC gamers, dedicated servers are back. In addition to that, Treyarch will also be releasing map editing tools early next year for end users to construct their own maps, game modes, and have servers with modded content. This time around, PS4 users will have an advantage over Xbox One and PC owners as there’s a signed deal that DLC will be first coming out for PS4 and then for the One/PC 30 days later.
Overall, this is a great game to have for an engaging multiplayer an co-op experience, and does enough to keep the overall game experience fresh enough for veteran players to play for a newer experience, and for newbies to break into the series. Having played though Call of Duty games for the past six years, multiplayer is at it’s core some “more of the same” tried and tested formula for Call of Duty multiplayer. While matches can get a bit repetitive at times, thankfully there’s enough variety of playlists and customization for setups to help keep things fresh and creative. The addition of the Specialists to multiplayer may give someone playing an edge, or that someone might be on the unfortunate end of an explosive shockwave, resulting in a flurry of foul language from at least someone. Zombies is fun as always with each iteration, and I can’t wait to see how the next set of stories comes though via DLC. This is a definite must-buy if you’re into arcade-type shooters.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is out now for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC