Disclaimer: We Got This Covered was invited to Activision’s review event in California, where we were able to spend two full days with the game.
After branching out from its gritty, reality-inspired World War II origins, Activision’s money printing Call of Duty franchise has taken gamers on a journey through both modern and futuristic settings, as well as some of war’s other historical fronts. Take Treyarch’s Black Ops sub-series as an example, as what began in the Cold War era then took us into the 1980s and further ahead into a fictional 2025 era with its second outing. Now, the popular subset returns for its third iteration, which paints a dark picture of our world as it enters the year 2065.
On a planet that has been ravaged by powerful storms and is dealing with widespread unrest, Call of Duty: Black Ops III‘s nine hour-long campaign mixes technology with humanity, and ends up being more than a bit of a mindfuck. It begins with a bang, too, as your chosen and customized male or female operative falls victim to a robotic enemy that rips them apart and leaves them for dead. It’s technology that ends up saving our avatar’s life, and it brings with it a host of advantages.
At the crux of this new super soldier is the ability to traverse the environment in new ways, by power sliding and even wall-running, the latter of which helps to revitalize the brand, especially when it comes to multiplayer. Alongside these new movements, a special DNI implant allows the specialized military heroes to interact with technology with ease, giving them the opportunity to download and interpret code at a blistering pace. It isn’t without its faults, though, because these improvements come with scary downsides, and something about the program simply isn’t right.
Black Ops III really sets its soldiers apart from past Call of Duty games through their unique Cyber Core abilities. Unlocked by player choice and spread out through three different trees, these special augmentations do a great job of changing the odds in heated battles. Some of the highlights include being able to hack and control enemy robotics such as turrets and drones, sending out waves of flying nanobots to distract and destroy enemy combatants, and turning robotic foes into ticking time bombs. Needless to say, they’re helpful options to have at one’s disposal, especially when you’re playing on harder difficulties. After all, Treyarch has no qualms about the fact that it made things more challenging this time around, and that’s something I definitely noticed when I played through the campaign on hardened by myself.
The soldiers’ ever-powerful DNI and cybernetic enhancements also allow for an improved view of the battlefield. Of the two very helpful new overlays, my personal favourite was a night vision view that would turn every enemy in my vicinity orange, so that I could identify and pick them off easier. It works outside of darkened zones, too, which makes it even more of an asset than you’d imagine. That’s not to say that the other toggled viewpoint is a slouch, though, because it helps you scan the environment and identify, plus type label, every enemy in your area. On top of that, it also helps to highlight incoming threats, such as missiles.
All of the above-mentioned personalization helps make Call of Duty: Black Ops III the most customizable entry thus far. It helps that, through natural progression, players are gifted with unlock kits that can be redeemed for different Cores or other unlocks. You’ll find this option in the pre-mission safe houses, which are scattered around the world and all offer the same things, like Core loadouts, weapon customization, player service records and unlockable player outfits. You can clothe your soldier as you choose, thanks to a decently varied selection of suits and helmets. There’s also a combat simulator if that interests you.
What really drives the need for player customization and expression, though, is the game’s newly-implemented four-player co-op. Now, for the first time ever, four friends can team up together to take on the campaign and experience its twisted storyline together. I wasn’t sure of what to think when this feature was first announced, but I enjoyed the time I spent playing with peers and co-op loving gamers will certainly appreciate the opportunity to play through a Call of Duty campaign with their pals.
Playing co-op makes for a more challenging experience, and Black Ops III‘s new realistic difficulty will make things even more difficult for those who wish to test it out. If you opt to enlist into this crazy setting, you will need to be smart and incredibly tactical, though I honestly don’t know how you’ll manage to come out victorious in a mode that basically turns Call of Duty into a one shot and you’re dead affair.
I referenced it above, but this is probably the longest series campaign to date, clocking in at about nine or ten hours in length. It’s an interesting and thought provoking narrative, too, with solid mission design and plenty of them to play through. There’s a load of political intrigue relating to the CIA, more gunplay than you can shake a stick at, and some memorable moments. That, in addition to a cast that features familiar faces like Law & Order‘s Christopher Meloni and sci-fi icon Katee Sackhoff.