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Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 review - A game of three halves

Seth Barton
26 Nov 2015
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Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 screenshot
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
40
inc VAT (PlayStation 4)

Bigger than ever, with three hefty modes, Black Ops 3 provides plenty of bang for your buck

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Specifications

Available formats: PC, Xbox One, PS4 (multiplayer-only versions on PS3 and Xbox 360)

The latest Call of Duty is a big game. It had a huge development budget, with marketing to match, and will undoubtedly sell by the truckload, to both dedicated fans and occasional gamers, regardless of what critics write in reviews like this one. It's big in terms of content too, with three hefty modes (on PS4, PC and Xbox One, at least - it's multiplayer only on the PS3 and Xbox 360), plus numerous extras to boot. Bigger isn't always better, but there's certainly value for money here, and something for pretty much anyone who enjoys looking down the sights of a virtual assault rifle.

The campaign has been lengthened and now supports 4-player co-op throughout. Zombies has two settings, each with its own sets of characters. Then of course there's multiplayer, which now has its own roster of characters, each with their own unique abilities, as well as a new movement system for more fluid action.

It's a more cohesive game than ever before; the various modes feel similar in terms of how you move, the feedback from weapons and even AI behaviour. This is probably a result of better software engineering over the more generous 3-year development cycle. A good example is that you can switch out your enemies in the campaign for zombies. Plus you get split-screen play in every single mode, whether you're playing online or offline. It all shows just how flexible and capable Treyarch's technology is.

Campaign

The campaign is more substantial than ever, at around 12 hours in length. However, the longer running length exposes the narrative as a bit of a mess. It's clear that far more effort has gone into it, but as a single-player experience it simply doesn't mesh together. It struggles to explain and mesh its setting, characters and plotting into something greater than its parts.

As a series, Call of Duty has undeniably had its moments. Its high points gained a sense of place and pathos from real-world events and conflicts, such as the Russian conscript assault in the original game or Modern Warfare's sniper mission in post-Chernobyl Pripyat. Here though we're once again in a near future dominated by constant low-level conflict, or at least I think we are.


Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 screenshot

The best science fiction worlds are defined by a single idea, which clearly defines the kind of story being told and the characters involved - in the way Rapture defines Bioshock. Black Ops 3 is set in some vague new cold war, but then hops around various locations without ever really explaining why everywhere you go, or why everyone is always shooting each other.

Unlike some previous outings, the game doesn't jump between different characters. Instead it takes on a more RPG-like design, with you selecting your character's appearance and gender as well as being able to upgrade and customise your loadouts - in exactly the same way you have in the multiplayer modes for years. This all makes sense in the co-op mode, as each player has their own unique avatar, but it means your character lacks, well, character in terms of the campaign plot. The supporting cast aren't bad, but don't do enough to carry it without your character's input.


Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 screenshot

OK, you didn't come for the story, and it's not all bad, but the game is running a little too close to the Destiny way of doing things, and we've seen how that turned out.

One the plus side, the whole thing ticks along nicely, with imaginative locations, frantic action sequences and huge firefights - whether you're alone or playing with others. The latter is great fun and has plenty of replay value too, thanks to variety of gear options and difficulty levels.


Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 screenshot

The near-future setting allows for plenty of high-tech warmongery. The guns remain resolutely bullet-based, but your opponents include both man and machine. While human opponents largely stick to cover, robotic soldiers advance on you and take more firepower to down, while a variety of drones and larger ED-209 styled enemies also make the odd appearance.

Thankfully you can now carry a specialised heavy weapon like a micro missile launcher as well as the usual pair of regular guns. You also get to choose from three skill trees of cybernetic abilities, letting you freeze robots in their tracks, immolate human foes with nanobot swarms, or simply punch people very hard indeed. They're all good fun, but only become essential at higher difficulties.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 screenshot

The campaign may lack stand out moments and characters you'll care about, but it's good fun, and bonkers enough towards the end to keep your attention until the credits. Being able to cherry pick your favourite moments, and you will have some, and replay them with friends on higher difficulties is rather brilliant. If it had to stand on its own it would be hard to recommend, but it really is only a third of a much bigger package.