I love video games, but it’s rare for me to play them right when they are first released. Normally it takes me a somewhere from a few months to a few years to get around to playing to a game. I’ve got a considerable backlog of games that I’ve been meaning to play and it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve been able to start chipping away at the list. With that in mind, I’ve created a series of posts called Late to the Party, wherein I discuss the games that came out in the preceding years that I’m finally getting around to experiencing. Today’s entry in the series is Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, referred to hereafter as just Black Ops 3. I must confess that I, like many others, have a certain fondness for abbreviating the name of the Black Ops series to “Blops,” but I try to maintain a slight veneer of professionalism with my writings, so I’ll refrain from using it here. This commentary will be spoiler free, and will be limited strictly to the game’s singleplayer campaign, which I played by myself.

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Black Ops 3 takes us back into the shadowy world of conspiracies and deniable operations that the Black Ops games are based around. This time the story leaps about fifty years in the future, where overpopulation, resource scarcity, and a new Cold War between rival blocs of nations are resulting in proxy wars and keeping the whole world on edge. Technological advancements have completely changed the face of warfare, with fully autonomous drones, humanoid robot soldiers, and cyborg supersoldiers rendering traditional human armies obsolete. You play as a nameless character, which can be male or female, and start the game with a mission to rescue high value Egyptian prisoners. The mission is successful, but your character is horrifically wounded in the process. To keep you alive, your character is given extensive cybernetic augmentations, thus inducting you into the small corps of American cyborg supersoldiers. Your longtime partner, Jacob Hendricks, although not injured in the previous mission, volunteers to undergo the same procedure as you, and afterwards the two of you, along with your CIA liaison officer, start following the bread crumbs to dig through the layers of lies and deception in Black Ops 3’s story and stop a mysterious threat before it results in worldwide catastrophe.

VR training

I hate to say it, but I think Black Ops 3’s storyline is the weakest of the Black Ops series. That’s not to say it’s bad, in fact it’s well written and acted, but compared to the other Black Ops games I didn’t find it as memorable. Though there are a few interesting twists and turns along the way, and the story feels like a natural progression from the narrative of Black Ops 2, it never really grabbed me and when I got to the end my reaction was something along the lines of “huh, ok.” I think part of this might be that none of the characters in Black Ops 3 got anywhere close to the level of depth, gravitas, and charisma that we got from Kevin Spacey’s character in the last Call of Duty game I played, Advanced Warfare. The story also takes a definite turn for the weird near the end, and while I think I know what the writers of Black Ops 3 were trying to do, it could have been communicated a bit better. As a final note, let me say that if you’ve never played the first two Black Ops games you don’t have to worry about getting lost as to whom everyone is and what’s going on. While there are a number of references to the earlier games, it works just fine as a self-contained story.

Fighting through Singapore

Black Ops 3’s gameplay is outstanding, and I would expect nothing less from a Call of Duty game. The same fast, tight shooting mechanics the Call of Duty series are known for return, but Black Ops 3 brings some new tricks to the table. Wall running, drone hacking, speed bursts, active camoflage, and other futuristic abilities mix up the standard Call of Duty formula, with different types of abilities grouped into one of three skill trees that you can unlock with experience points earned while playing the game. My personal pick was the Control group of abilities, which focuses on turning enemy technology against its users and allowed me to do things like lockup an enemy soldier’s exosuit, hijack a remote turret, cause robots to self-destruct, and switch enemy drones’ friend/foe recognition. A number of multiplayer elements have also been brought into the singleplayer campaign. You can create custom loadouts for your character to pick from before starting a mission and you can personalize your character’s appearance. Guns level up with usage, unlocking more attachments that can adjust a weapon’s characteristics, giving you an incentive to focus on particular weapons and learn how to best use them (and just as an aside, you cannot pick up random enemy guns without equipping a special skill, as in the future all weapons as ID locked to their users). The entirety of the eight hour campaign can be played cooperatively by up to four people, and though you can play through it on your own like I did, the design of the various spaces you’ll be playing in allows for multiple routes of attack, with much more open areas than you’d normally find in a Call of Duty game. Now, having praised how well Black Ops 3’s gameplay works, I do have to say, however, that I personally found the classic Call of Duty fun factor strangely missing from a good chunk of the game. While I wasn’t struggling to move the campaign forward, it wasn’t until the second half of the game that I really started enjoying it, and I’m struggling to understand why as it’s not because of any gameplay deficiency. For whatever reason, even though Black Ops 3’s game mechanics work extremely well, in the end I didn’t have as much fun as with it as some of the other Call of Duty games I’ve played.

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Creating a loadout

Whereas the graphics jump from Call of Duty: Ghosts to Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was easy to spot, the jump from Advanced Warfare to Black Ops 3 is less noticeable. In fact, you could be forgiven if you thought Black Ops 3 looked effectively the same as Advanced Warfare, and it wouldn’t really be an insult either, as Advanced Warfare was a good looking game. The improvements in Black Ops 3 are in small details like character faces, lighting, and some of the textures in the world. Water effects at times leave something to be desired but other than that you won’t encounter many rough visuals in the game, and most of the time you’ll too busy running or shooting to notice anyway. Audio is up to the usual Call of Duty standard of excellence in Black Ops 3, with the only real fault I could find being that some explosions are kind of quiet and/or don’t have much “boom” behind them.

Aerial assault (skip first 30 seconds to avoid potential spoiler)

Though I didn’t have quite as much fun playing through Black Ops 3 as the last few Call of Duty games, and the story is in my opinion probably the weakest in the Black Ops series, it is still a great game overall and I have to commend Call of Duty for consistently putting out quality titles year after year. Contrary to what internet trolls would have you believe, Call of Duty continues to adapt and innovate with the times, all while staying true to the core first-person shooter experience that they’ve refined to a very exact science. Black Ops 3 is yet another worthy successor in the Call of Duty series and an easy recommendation to any who enjoys the first-person shooter genre, even if I personally had a few issues with it.

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The future isn’t looking so good

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