There was one question I just could not stop asking myself throughout my playthrough of Activisions latest Call of Duty shooter; why on gods green earth is this game branded with the moniker “Black Ops”?
Obviously, this is the third in the series, but for some odd reason, Black Ops 3 has no connections to the previous two, and seems to never actually warrant the Black Ops title. Granted, some may say that this is a trivial matter, but I for one think that it perfectly encapsulates the differences (both bad and good) of this latest in a long line of Call of Duty games. Let us proceed to unravel why.
First up the story, which, whilst being completely unrelated to the previous two games, is actually quite a departure from traditional COD games. The year is 2065. Augmentations and robotics are rife across the world, with many people now having brand new DNI’s implanted into their minds, allowing them to interface with robotics and technology the world over.
If the plot sounds familiar, that’s because it’s been done many times before in other forms of media: Ghost in the Shell springs to mind for example. Where Black Ops 3 deviates though is in the philosophical applications of DNI’s. Very early on in the game you’re taught that you can interface with another person’s DNI, allowing you to see everything they’ve ever thought. Doing so will make them brain dead, and it’s through this moral ambiguity that Black Ops 3’s story actually stands tall.
You see, whilst it’s a nuisance that there’s no relation to the previous two games, Black Ops 3’s futuristic story manages to carve out an extremely believable and unique world. The use of DNI’s to interface with peoples imaginations and memories allows for dramatically different and crazy landscapes, with the stylised future feeling fantastic, even going so far that it would feel right at home in a Deus Ex game.
With an AI intent of never dying eventually making its way into the plot, the moral ambiguity starts to increase a notch or two. The characters that take part can at times feel like stereotypical caricatures, but overall they help to give the story more believability, showing how different personalities can help in truly showing a devastating force. Overall, by the end of the 8-10 hour campaign I was left feeling hugely satisfied with what I had just taken part in, something I can’t necessarily say for other Call of Duty games (I enjoyed the previous Black Ops games, but don’t take too fondly to their stories).
This isn’t an understatement when I say that the futuristic setting helps to add more to the gameplay than any COD game before it. Your suit not only has augmentations that allow you to do things like hack enemy AI, or cause explosions at a distance, but also allow you to traverse the environment at tremendous speeds. Wall running, double jumping and sliding are all present, and they add such a sense of speed that it’s going to be hard to go back to previous Call of Duty games I haven’t played before (e.g. COD Ghosts).
About those augmentations: they’re fantastic at changing up the “strategy” (I use that word lightly) of a traditional Call of Duty game. In the past you’d run from encounter to encounter, shooting down everything you saw without thinking. With the new abilities to hack, destroy and paralyse enemies you’re given greater freedom to take any challenge that is thrown at you how you would like to. For my part, I admit I relied on the instant kill robot feature a little too much (especially when it’s upgraded and can explode other surrounding robots), but the versatility of different options to mess and tinker with is truly astonishing, and weird in a franchise that’s become accustomed to pushing out the same features year in, year out.
The addition of a new “Hub” world base between each mission is also another weirdness that truly sets Black Ops 3 apart from anything that came before it. During each level, you’ll pick up and find collectibles, as well as modification kits that are earned through levelling up. Back at the base you can choose to use these kits to upgrade your abilities, make new guns, or simply upgrade existing weapons. The collectibles you find can also be showcased on your walls, along with any accolades that you’ve learnt in tough missions. It’s odd and small, but all of this makes your playthorugh feel personal: you get to choose what you want to do and what you want to showcase within your base, making everything, from load outs to mission completions feel rewarding and personalised, with a sense of progression which is always present.
The new enemy types were a welcome departure from constant humans being able to just hide behind buildings and objects in the environment. Robots march towards you without hesitation, which are first seems really simple (just shoot them right?!?) but soon becomes a challenge in itself when you also have to worry about other enemies firing at you. Then there’s the big enemies; these monstrosities can be seen as bosses, as they require a lot of rockets, and a lot of bullets to be taken down. There’s also drones, which are weak but high in number, and finally bullet-proof humans. All this variety makes for a challenging experience, especially when you have multiple enemy-types homing in at you at once. If anything, the enemies on display push you more and more into using your augmentations, which results in a splendid gameplay loops of running, firing, hacking and repeating, all whilst trying to stay alive.
Graphically, Black Ops 3 is an absolutely stunning game. I took so many screenshots throughout my play through that at times I would die from taking in the scenery rather than actually playing the game. Characters brim with life, environments look just as stunning as anything you’d ever see within a Crysis game, and for the most part my 1070 GTX was well and truly put through it’s paces. There are times where you can see that Treyarch are still using the old COD engine, all with glitchy AI and the same animations as previous games, but these times are few and far between.
Finally, the music, which for the most part was ignorable. You’re not really going to come to a COD game for it’s music, especially with so many explosions and so much gunfire going off at all times. On that note, the explosions were just as explosion-ey as ever, with guns sounding like what you’d expect a future model of an AK-47 to.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Black Ops 3. The changes made since the last Black Ops were significant enough to keep me more than entertained, with the new augmentations and hub world helping me feel that this was my own personalised experience. The only thing I just cannot get my head around is the use of the Black Ops name. There are so many changes, such a different story, and overall no relation to previous games that I don’t see a need to use the moniker at all. For a title as fantastic as this, Black Ops 3 deserved its own franchise name, God knows it deserves it for how much of a departure it is from the tried and tested COD formula.