Black Ops 3 is weird. There’s no other way to say it. The once revered franchise which touted itself as a historically accurate military shooter has ventured into the realm of the supernatural in recent years by jumping into the field of futuristic technology and brainwashing, which is a much-needed change of tone, but Black Ops 3 takes things to a whole new dimension in the series.
Even calling Black Ops 3 a sequel to Black Ops 2 is a stretch. While there are light references to events from Black Ops 2, this couldn’t be a further standalone game if it tried. The six-eight hour story campaign is set in the not-too-distant future, and, like most similar sci-fi fare, it includes some overwhelming techno-lingo to familiarise with. Black Ops 3‘s McGuffins, so to speak, is the “Direct Neural Interface,” or DNI for short, which is a technology that allows humans to mentally interact with computers, weapons, and other people. It introduces superhuman new abilities for the player – adding a lot to the standard Call of Duty gameplay – but it also has dire consequences with regards to maintaining the humanity of the game’s characters.
It’s difficult to go into the story without giving away too much, but Black Ops 3 introduces some pretty convoluted areas of narrative to try and wrap your head around. If you have a tight grasp on sci-fi concepts around artificial intelligence and augmentation, you should find a lot to enjoy with the way the story pans out. The game begins to explore some genuinely interesting and taboo topics around the future of warfare and what it means for the winners and losers involved in the conflicts, but on a deeper, human level.
These technological influences lead to more interesting battles and scenarios in the campaign, rather than moving from one shooting gallery to another. Players have a jetpack-like boost jump, wall-running abilities, and Cyber Core power-ups, which can be upgraded to allow the player to overheat robots, unleash a swarm of nanobugs, or hijack enemy turrets and drones.
Not only has the primary arsenal been ramped-up, but there are some fun and inventive missions in the campaign too. Breakout missions in the final act disrupt the routine. One makes you alternate between dogfighting in a jet and battling enemies on foot. The other involves hacking into someone’s mind and fighting the memories of a long-past battle. There’s also some great mini-boss fights with giant mechs and tougher enemies that require some strategy to defeat. These moments Call of Duty at its best: big showpiece missions that feel distinct both in style and in the challenges you face.
While these gameplay elements fall into place nicely, it still has to be said that while the story is fascinating, it’s presentation of the story is nothing short of peculiar.
Multiplayer at least allows the same new traversal abilities that the campaign suggests, but makes them consistently available. You get all the movement abilities in online matches, rather than having to equip them in your loadout as in the campaign, and the gameplay is much better for it. Sprinting through a level, jumping over an obstacle, wall running, and grabbing a kill with a sliding shotgun fire delivers some great satisfaction.
Newly added Specialist abilities – temporary power-ups like a short-range teleport and cluster grenade launcher – blend nicely into the scorestreaks of multiplayer, providing ample moments of unfair advantage that offer a brief rush of power, without disrupting the flow of the match.
After multiplayer and outlandish campaign come to an end, there’s always fending off the undead in the fan-beloved Zombies mode. The 1940s setting and tonally noir presentation is an amusing spin on the mode. You and three teammates collect artifacts, earn money, and explore an ever-expanding labyrinth of rooms, giving this mode a refreshingly distinct feel from the rest of the game. But be warned, Zombies is tough. Your party may include a crooked cop, a boxer voiced by Ron Perlman, and two-bit magician voiced by Jeff Goldblum.
While outrageously perplexing and completely misplaced in the Call of Duty world, Black Ops 3 is one of the most refreshing entries the franchise has seen in years, and Treyarch should be applauded for their bravery and departure from the norm.