Call of Duty: Black Ops III Review

Gaming
8.5

Great

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Call of Duty: Black Ops III
Developer
: Treyarch
Publisher: Activision
Platform: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows (Reviewed)
Release Date: 6 November 2015
Price: $59.99 USD – Available Here / $99.95 AUD – Available Here

Video Review

Overview

Sledgehammer Games. Infinity Ward. Treyarch. Each of these three publishers have a now three year development cycle to work with on the yearly Call of Duty franchise, with each also having their own base of fans. While Infinity Ward dropped the ball a bit with Ghosts, Sledgehammer introduced a lot of new mechanics along with a gripping narrative full of celeb fanfare to re-capture the imaginations of many longtime fans. Treyarch is the cool guy of the bunch though, and is ready to bring their own slice of the pie to consoles with Call of Duty: Black Ops III. How does this entry fare with its longer development cycle? Let’s find out.

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Story

Well, I wanted to come in here and say that if you liked the first two Black Ops title’s story, you would be pleased with the telling presented here – but I’m still unsure after going through the campaign what to think. I still have memories going through the story modes for the original Black Ops, Modern Warfare 2 and 3, and even Ghosts – and coming out with a decent one way or the other type opinion. I hated Ghosts, but loved the audacity Modern Warefare 2 had to challenge the consumer’s perception of actual war. This title doesn’t try to prove anything, and instead delivers one of the most sub-par stories in the franchise’s history.

I will sum it up for you. You start out as a character who is 100% human in a world that is inhabited by other humans and beings who have had modifications to grant them special abilities in combat. You then see a grizzly scene and well – your character becomes one of them to stay alive. It is the future, and I am down for some cybernetics, but I almost want to say that this plot got its wires crossed a bit too much and came off as a game in a complete identity crisis, trying to decide if it wanted to be edgy, boring, or a rip-off of where Hollywood was 20 years ago when we went through the whole robot phase in cinema. I felt as if this campaign was a remake of a movie that Will Smith directed – as its so forced. Sure, there are some likable characters. That said, how can I connect with these faces if all the campaign boils down to is a way to set up the theme for multiplayer and the abilities within. Its a paper thin tale that has no merit. Yeah, it will fit in nicely with your powers, but don’t expect to be gripped by this blockbuster that could have been of a mode here.

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What is weird is that there are other narratives in the game that actually do come off as highly interesting, found in the game’s Zombies mode – Shadows of Evil. This story features four characters who are a mix of murderers, liars, and other lovely folk who must come together in a 1940’s noir styled environment to survive hordes of zombies. There is also talk from a guide of a curse, which blends into gameplay and assists the players as they shoot their way through wave after wave of undead foes. The story isn’t deep by any means, but its fun and has a few random twists that make it feel like a gritty B movie from start to finish.

Gameplay

At the core, Call of Duty fans know what they’re getting. Black Ops III performs very well as a first-person shooter and when it comes to the gameplay that fans expect, you will not be let down by the performance whatsoever. To go to the goods however, you would do best to go straight to the online multiplayer, where players go head to head in the new maps. I know speaking of Halo Reach here is kind of inappropriate as these two titles are vastly different from each other, but the new specialist system within multiplayer kind of feels like it is trying to do what Bungie did for Halo with this title. Starting out, each player has the choice of a power weapon or a special ability to which they can use to get an advantage against the opposing team. Battery is a great example of this as this character has the ability to fight off gunfire with Kinetic Armor and still manages to destory foes quickly with a large grenade launcher. You still have to charge up an ability to use it, but that short wait time is worth it for the awesome results.

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The other specialists on the list bring balance, featuring an engineer that can teleport across time, a nice bow for the Outrider, and so on. These abilities blend so well with the new mechanics and maps – making everything fit like a well designed puzzle. I had a blast with multiplayer as more specialist abilities continue to unlock as you play, and while those wanting a pure COD game may object to these additions, I am on the other side that says this franchise needs this breath of fresh air. The only reason I disliked the campaign was because it felt like a tutorial for multiplayer. That alone robs the single player from that irreplaceable narrative that drops their jaw and makes them respect the team so much who crafted this game – so they then have to play more – and then turn to multiplayer. While Black Ops III totally abandoned that draw, it makes up for it with a multiplayer that is an absolute joy to play. It is also needed to speak about what that loyalist will get as this still very much feels like the Call of Duty you know and love despite the icing – as powers only last so long and the deep customization with ten slots is sure to keep you busy with your unlocks and perks. Same COD, different flavor – so to speak.

Zombies mode features multiplayer as well, but you can play alone. Now I love the setting, the whole mysterious aura of the cast and story, and so on, but playing this solo is extremely difficult. This is pretty much a wave by wave fare as it stands with a ton of opposition and a goofy yet fun story and the ability to morph into a…thing (you kind of have to play it to understand just what this beast is), but it still is a good time – just with a steep learning curve for those going in alone. What makes the mode is how addictive it ends up being. There is always another path to take, another weapon to use so you might survive for just a little longer. Its rare when a first person shooter can create an experience that keeps you going on the same little path for hours at a time, but the Zombies mode here is a slam dunk.

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The maps in Black Ops III are fantastic with a great mix of platforms and structures that can be played from several different perspectives. This means that while some could wall run and tag another with a blade, others could use that same spot for a different use based on their equipment or ability. This allows for limitless variation on the battlefield and also means that no match ever has the same result of the one prior. Campaign has some nice little locales as well that are linear yet easy enough to get used to, and those who enjoy their time in the mode will be happy to know that they can go back as a prize for beating the game in “Nightmares”, which remixes the entire plot with zombies and somehow is more enjoyable overall. I hate most zombie anything as the subject gets boring after so long, but considering the pacing and fresh take on a rough story – well, lets just say its worth it to finish the campaign – no matter how slow it may seem.

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Visuals

This is gaming’s equivalent to a summer blockbuster. Do we really expect Call of Duty to look bad? Not one bit. Black Ops III looks phenomenal and may be one of the best looking entries in the entire franchise as it runs at 60 frames per second and has some of the most detailed maps we have seen to date, capturing that shiny-steel perception of the future, with soldiers that look equally as impressive running about through the landscape. Sure, we have seen female models used in big budget games before, but for the designs to look as lifelike as they do – I must give it to Treyarch for finally offering up a well made version of the other side of the coin. That being said, when you design your character in the start of the campaign, that is the same face with a different hairstyle for each model. I guess this is just a nitpick compared to the rest of the quality that went into the main product, but it is something I made special note of while going through campaign as it did seem a bit rushed.

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Audio

The voice acting is wonderful within Call of Duty: Black Ops III as of course Activision and Treyarch ensured they hired fine talent who all sound very believable in their roles. We have Jeff Goldblum, Heather Graham, Katie Sackhoff, and many more other talents lending their cords to the game, and most – if not all of the celebs taking part do a great job of bringing the characters to life. Black Ops III also features the usual sound effects from the weaponry and other bits that do a lot to make the battles come alive – bringing a heavy dose of atmosphere to an already stellar presentation.

PC Report
By Jamie Laike Tsui

Call of Duty’s PC version has been a bit of an afterthought for the last several years. Many veteran PC gamers still reminisce about Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare PC release, and it has been seven long years since any of us has seen “dedicated servers” and “Call of Duty” uttered in the same breath. Treyarch seems committed to turning the ship around and improving the quality of Call of Duty: Black Ops III’s PC release. The early announcement that the PC version would support split screen multiplayer was a good start. The announcement that mod tools and dedicated server support for unranked and modded games launch for Black Ops III in 2016 quickly propelled the game onto the top of Steam’s sales charts in the matter of days. So is Black Ops III’s PC release really the Call of Duty game PC gamers have been waiting for all these years?

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The minimum requirement hasn’t changed since last year’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare release and neither has the engine’s preference for lots of RAM and VRAM. The game more than happily gobbles down available RAM, especially during loading. It is rare for me to see a game that so happily takes up almost 13 GB out of my 20 GB of RAM like Black Ops III does while loading levels. Those with video cards armed with more VRAM than me have been reporting that the game is just as greedy for available VRAM at higher graphic and resolution settings. 2GB of VRAM from older generation video cards, like the Nvidia GTX 670 in my rig, are definitely starting to show their age. Call of Duty: Black Ops III didn’t look the prettiest, but my GTX 670 paired with a i7-4790k could at least push out 60 FPS for the most part on low to medium settings at 1920×1080.

Treyarch has done a great job with Black Ops III’s graphic options. The settings screen is torn out of the wish list of every PC gamer out there. It is easy to navigate and plenty of PC specific options are available. A generous field of view slider goes up to 120. The game’s render resolution can be set independently of the game’s actual resolution, which will let lower end systems at least run the game at an acceptable frame rate average frame rate of 60 FPS. The often ignored split screen mode is available in Black Ops III. Even better is the option for vertical or horizontal split screen that allows for multi-monitor co-op with each player utilizing one screen each when combined with Nvidia Surround or AMD Eyefinity set ups. The only downside is the fact menus on these mutli-monitor set ups are stretched across all monitors.

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Call of Duty: Black Ops III’s PC release needs some patching and optimization. The frame rate isn’t consistent, tanking horribly at times. The game seems to be struggling with input lag, especially when the frame rate drops below 60 FPS. Stability is still a work in progress, with several crashes throughout. There are also some bugs that need stomping. Black Ops III is not playing well with Windows’ audio settings. On one of our test rigs, the game would forcibly set the microphone volume to 100% and refuse to return the volume to a normal level until the game alt-tabbed out. On another rig, Black Ops III’s audio was barely audible because the game would play all sounds at the voice chat’s default 50% volume, even though the game’s volume was set to 100%. The game has Steam Family Sharing enabled which is a great feature for PC gamers, but right now there is a persistent bug that leaves the game unplayable online for the family accounts.

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I believe the PC version would have benefited greatly from being held back a month or two to give Treyarch the time to properly focus on it. While I understand the demand to release a PC port at the same time as its console brethren, no one benefits from a poorly optimized and buggy PC release. To be fair, Black Ops III isn’t the worst example of a mutli-platform PC release, but it isn’t exactly the shining example of a PC version done right either. Treyarch has shown they are serious about making a proper version of Call of Duty for the PC, but they still have some ways to go before they reach that goal. If Treyarch can properly patch and optimize Black Ops III in the coming weeks and months, they may well be on their way to returning the series back to its former PC glory. But that is a future filled with possibility, what is important is right now. If you are willing to roll your sleeves up and do some leg work, Black Ops III can be very playable. However, most PC gamers will probably want to give Black Ops III at least a few more weeks of patching before deciding if they should buy the game.

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Overall

Call of Duty: Black Ops III is a great entry in a franchise that gets a lot of flak for being the same thing every year despite its changes. It is obvious that the franchise wants to change as even with the high quality of the gameplay, you can still see a game battling itself for a new identity as it tries to put on every mask to make the player happy. This wouldn’t work for most titles, but oddly – I found as an overall product (not speaking about the campaign), there is some sort of bizarre, second rate charm with Treyarch’s latest, as it still is very Call of Duty, but a Call of Duty that has covered itself in glue and is just rolling around in everything it can find that is relevant in 2015, hoping the good parts stick. It is a more honest experience, and one I had a blast playing as even though there are a lot of crazy risks taken – the payoff is definitely that much greater as a result. Good show, Mr. Duty. Good Show.
Capsule Computers review guidelines can be found here.

8.5

Great

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