DISCLAIMER: the reviewer is not a fan of the CoD series, and is instead an obsessive futurist and Ghost in the Shell fan boy who thinks Ray Kurzweil is the coolest dude alive. This review should be taken at face value.
Call of Duty. No other franchise inspires as much disdain out of me as both a gamer and a game developer/concept artist. But seeing the trailers and press shots for Black Ops 3 peaked my interest, so when offered the review copy I jumped at the chance to try out the game and delve into the pseudo cyberpunk future that the fine folks at treyarch have created.
Black Ops 3 takes place in a distant future where man, machine, and AI have merged for better or worse. Soldiers with complex military augments and internet linked brains do battle with terrorists utilizing cruder versions of the same hardware. Basically it’s the nightmare scenario of Ghost in the Shell Hollywood edition for the college frat boy crowd. In fact Shirow Masamune would probably have I.P infringement grounds in most courts. Anyway, the world has been split yet again by mega corporations, self serving government officials, and growing terrorist factions. You play a male or female solider who at the beginning of the game gets literally torn apart by budget terminators. When a top secret government agency rebuilds you into a super fighting robot named Megam- the 60 billion doll- another nameless soldier in the world of covert operations that keep us all warm and safe in our daily lives, you are thrown into a world of espionage, battle, and black suit backstabbing. You play through about 4 hours of heavily scripted, enemy funnel headshot hallways and death arena rooms only to find out that, GASP exactly what you knew would happen in the first 30 minutes of arduous and intrusive tutorial “gameplay” missions happened. But hey, no one is playing Black ops 3 for the story, well no one but me apparently.
Graphically, Black Ops 3 does ok, though it is disappointingly sub par when compared to other AAA hits with similar or comparable budgets. Sure we have some kick ass Hollywood actors looking lifelike as all get out in the game, and their voice work is fantastic, but when you realize that many of the best looking parts of the game are heavily scripted and may as well be pre-rendered the rest of it starts to fall apart. It doesn’t look bad, mind you, but it doesn’t look as good as it should. Though, to be fair the game manages to maintain consistent visuals on all metrics. So it is functional, and not exactly ugly. It just lacks any real punch.
The audio presentation is fine. The soundtrack is ok, but not memorable, and the sound effects fit and work well with voice-work. Nothing about the audio stands out negatively or positively to be honest.
Now the brass tacks, the thing that makes CoD popular; the gameplay. Black Ops 3 plays pretty damn well, the aiming and controls are silky smooth and fluid. Control mapping is intuitive and sensible and new features like augment abilities and free-running add a lot of interesting dynamics to the gameplay. Multiplayer is given a slight breath of life with these changes, and since that is the bread and butter of the franchise, the gameplay choices are well taken. Frankly it all works well, well enough. Nothing stands out as adventurous, risk taking, or mind blowing but CoD doesn’t need that. The series has a rabid fan-base and solid footing to experiment on without taking huge risks, it seems like they made the right calls with character/loadout customization and new basic abilities. The game remains fun and feels as well balanced as it ever has. Further, Black Ops 3 has plenty to do to warrant a 60$ price tag. The campaign is disgustingly short and poorly written, sure, but the zombies campaign adds at least 4 hours on top of that, and of course the online component that fans and FPS lovers will eat up.
All in all, you know what you are getting when you pick up a CoD game. Jokes on me for expecting something that would delve into the ethical dilemmas of human augmentation, bionics, drone warfare, and the place of true A.I. in geopolitics, but I have Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner, and the classic cyberpunk game for that. Black Ops 3 may be treading some dangerous copyright waters with all of it’s themes, designs, and narrative; but what it does it does well enough to warrant your money IF you are a fan of the franchise. All negatives aside from the P.O.V. of a non-fan, some of the design work is really cool and the game is fun; which is the single most important metric.