Call of Duty: Black Ops III Reviews

Titanium Dragon
Titanium Dragon
TSA Score for this game: 640
Posted on 03 January 18 at 10:30
This review has 3 positive votes and 0 negative votes. Please log in to vote.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is a game that really wants you to know that it is pretty. The game’s splash screen is nice looking, the menus look nice, and the characters all are quite high-fidelity and mostly look quite good, though the odd NPC has a case of plastic face. The explosions are pretty, the guns are pretty, the robots are pretty…

But while all of this is nice, the eternal question facing me when I’m playing a game is “am I having fun?” And when I was playing this game, for much of its length, my response to that would be “Kind of?” at best.

This is a game I put down for a year between playing the first three missions and completing the game. That isn’t to say I didn’t try to play it again; I remember picking it up about four months after putting it down, deciding to replay the second (tutorial) mission because I’d forgotten the controls, then doing so again several months later, because both times, while I had beaten the tutorial mission again, I just sort of didn’t feel terribly compelled to play the rest of the game.

Indeed, I think it is safe to say that the only reason why I actually bothered beating this game is because it was eating up over 90 gigs of hard drive space, and thus, if I ever was going to beat it, I’d better do it now, because there was no way I was going to redownload it.

And this is kind of telling, I think. I had to make myself play through the game, and while it was never actually bad, it was never really compelling, either. There were lots of pretty battles in exploding and falling apart places - in fact, every single level after the first two missions features at least some part of the level falling apart around you, and some of the later levels, the whole level is falling apart around you. This trick gets a bit old after a while, doubly so as these are never actually threatening – I never once had the level fall apart under me and actually kill me, despite the game trying to seem threatening about it.

And this sort of faux spectacle held through much of the game – there were a lot of theoretically spectacular battles, but almost the entire game consisted of fighting just some dudes with guns or robots with guns, dressed up to try and look pretty. But I wanted the gameplay to be pretty too, and despite the fact that you can double jump and run on the walls, this was almost never useful in actual combat.

This is, I think, a big part of what made the game feel dull – you are a cybernetic supersoldier, but throughout the game, just a few bullets will kill you, forcing you to retreat to cover and gradually shoot out from it. This is not a game with click-to-cover mechanics – you have to organically take cover behind environment objects by moving/ducking/going prone behind them and then shifting around to take potshots before retreating – but in the end, it doesn’t matter much. Most of the game is spent hiding in cover, trying to avoid getting shot while your health regenerates, and almost every battle is fought in this exact same way.

This is a big problem, because it means that, for all the set dressing, the core of the game is pretty samey. There’s only a few battles where a boss (of which there are a couple) will actually either destroy the environment around you or move around to force you to react, and a small number of setpiece battles where enemies move to flank you or appear from various directions, forcing you to react.

Most of the time, you can just sit behind cover, shoot people, then go back to the cover while you regain your health, making it feel like a pretty standard FPS. Your cool cybernetic movement enhancements are only occaisionally useful in battle, and then, it is mostly just jumping up to a higher level, rather than making your way around the environment in an agile manner and raining down death on your foes while running along walls.

This lack of dynamicism carries over to the powers as well – in theory, the cybernetic powers are supposed to make you feel different from a standard soldier. Some were reminiscent of the plasmids from the Bioshock series.

But ultimately, these largely weren’t that interesting in actual gameplay. The problem was that a lot of them ultimately trivialized encounters. Fireflies, for instance, would fly out and set enemies on fire and distract them from firing – a very powerful ability, that only took a few seconds to recharge after it had run. I used this power through much of the campaign. But the problem was it was never really fun to use; I’d use the power, duck behind cover, then move out and shoot people (who mostly died anyway due to the fireflies, no further involvement necessary from me).

Armored warlord character? Well, I can just use the ability that screws up his cybernetic body parts, then murder him while he can’t do anything.

Powerful robot enemy? Time to hack it and take control of it.

Many of the theoretically more difficult battles in the game could be overcome with the judicious use of powers, but it seldom felt very engaging. There were only a small number of battles where I was getting seriously overwhelmed by huge numbers of enemies where the powers felt like anything other than a win button, and there, they actually did feel like they were interesting – a means of holding some enemies back while I dealt with their comrades. But in many battles, they ultimately just felt like something that would either be useless (if you had the wrong powers equipped) or which made the encounters very easy when applied.

This is not to say that the game was super easy, mind you; step out of cover too long on Hardened mode (the mode I played the game on, which seemed to be the standard one) and you’d quickly die. And I did so, a number of times.

But it didn’t ever feel challenging; my deaths came not as a result of the game really feeling like it was throwing a challenge I couldn’t overcome at me, but of punishing me for trying to do something flashy, like charge into a group of enemies with a melee power to kill them all with a powerful attack, or run across the walls to murder them.

“Just sit behind the cover, and wait for your health to come back,” the game seemed to be saying.

And so, I mostly did, throwing myself on the enemies only when it was necessary to get one of the accolades (in-game achievements) for doing something flashy.

The game has a bunch of unnecessary RPG elements tacked on. You unlock weapons, cyber powers, “tactical cores” (which I only used two of through almost the entire campaign – one of them being the one that allowed me to use the flashy movement that the game seemed to really want you to use all the time, puzzling me as to why it was even optional), and various other things by spending unlock points on them, one point per unlock. You gained these unlock points by levelling up in the main campaign – you get xp by killing enemies, and also by completing the in-game achievements (the accolades) for doing various random things in levels, which ranged from trivial to “takes some doing” to “enormously annoying and if you screw up once you have to start the whole mission over, despite it taking most of the mission to complete”. You also sometimes straight up get these for completing some accolades, such as not dying at all in a level, finding all the collectibles in a level (generally 6, though it varied), and getting a high enough score from killing enemies.

You also level up each individual weapon by killing enemies with them, which unlocks additional weapon attachments for them. Each weapon seemed to have 7 or so levels to it, meaning that using a weapon more let you use things like thermal scopes on them – but of course, if you fully levelled a weapon, you wouldn’t be able to level it anymore, and thus would lose out on xp gained by levelling it!

While I sort of appreciated the game trying to get me to use more different weapons, on the other hand, it was kind of annoying that I had to level stuff up to unlock various upgrades which greatly improved QOL with the various weapons, like faster reloads on the light machine guns.

All of this just felt like an additional grind that the game randomly tacked on, restricting player options for no really good reason. By the time I’d beaten the game, I’d maxed out my single player character level, but I still hadn’t unlocked everything, and I think I’d have to tediously complete almost all of the accolades in order to do so – a proposition that didn’t seem very fun.

I have to say that the collectibles were a particularly poor inclusion – the game’s levels are almost all designed to be fast-paced and intense, so why on Earth are you telling the players that they should stop, take a break from the urgent action, and go wandering around looking for random junk to pick up off of random shelves and suchlike? It was not only immersion-breaking, but it screwed up the flow of gameplay if you tried to find them. The rest of the game was designed around you not having to wander around the environment searching for weapons and ammo (a wise choice, considering the pacing), so why were the collectibles even there?

You might ask, “But what about the story?” And here I have to say that I wasn’t terribly impressed. I never really cared for any of the characters in the campaign – while they were well-acted, they all felt pretty generic. The only character I ever felt any affection for was the nameless protagonist, who was a determined fellow, but I never really felt compelled to care all that much. The plot itself felt kind of generic to start out with, then turned into a different sort of plot which was a bit more interesting – but sadly, wasn’t very well executed. The main villain of the game has vague motivations (which, as it turns out, is on purpose, but doesn’t make them any more compelling) and you mostly directly interact with it directly in the final stage.

The overall shape of the plot was kind of interesting, and the game pulled a very subtle twist out that is so subtle that it isn’t obvious in the game without freeze-framing a few bits of it. But there is such a thing as being too subtle, and the game was too subtle here – had the final level made it clearer what was really going on, it would have been a lot better. As it was, I was just like “Well, that was kind of clever” but I wasn’t particularly impacted by it.

And this is the problem – the game, on the whole, had a reasonably interesting plot idea, but it wasn’t executed in a compelling way. Just like the actual gameplay, the story was something that was pretty, but failed to actually engage me.

So, the single player was okay, but nothing to write home about.

Which is sad, because the multiplayer was not very good at all.

The multiplayer seemed to be all team deathmatches, all the time. No one seemed to want to play the other game modes. And the team deathmatches just aren’t very compelling as a gameplay mode – there’s a bunch of guns, but there’s only a few really different ones, and overall, it constantly felt chaotic and not very cohesive. The kill streak bonuses were not particularly fun – if you were getting creamed, it would just further ruin you, and if you were winning, it would cause you to win more.

I tried some of the other modes, but the overall gunplay in the game never really clicked with me as a player, and after a few hours here and there, I was done and not really feeling like I ever needed to go back. Again, there was an elaborate pseudo-RPG system of unlocking weapons and specialists and guns and whatnot, as well as random loot crates full of various cosmetics and a handful of weapons unlocks, but I just never could bring myself to care.

The zombies mode was somewhat more interesting – a horde mode where various types of zombies and demonic creatures came out to attack the group – but after playing a couple rounds of it, I quickly got bored with it. It wasn’t terrible, but it was just more of the same, and while it wasn’t a bad time while playing it, I didn’t feel any urge to keep doing so, either.

All in all, this is a game that I never felt like I needed to play it. I’ve heard of Call of Duty, and wanted to check it out due to its popularity. But on the whole, the game was very lukewarm. It was not terrible, but it was never great, and when I walked away from it, I never felt like I was missing anything, or that the game had really given me anything for the hours it had taken to complete.
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