Call of Duty Black Ops 3 Is All Over the Place

The abstract ideas work early on, but fail in the final lap.

The “Call of Duty” series is one that has been with us for almost as long as I can remember. The stories have taken gamers from World War II to the Cold War, and into the future. The stakes have been raised, nuclear weapons have been detonated, and eventually the world lost its current foothold and fell into chaos. When “Call of Duty” decided to take a stroll through the future of warfare, instead of sticking with the present, I was a bit hesitant in taking the ride. It felt like they had jumped the shark and pushed the story too far, and that the story would suffer due to the major departure of content. I was both right and wrong in my assessment.

In “Call of Duty: Black Ops III” you step into the boots of a solider that is fighting a battle that the events of “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” lead to. The year is 2065 and battles are fought with bullets and technological warfare. The world that the game inhabits is a dark world and something that novelist, William Gibson would be proud of.

Your loosely customized character is brutally attacked by a bloodthirsty machine in the first mission and has to undergo cybernetic enhancements that endow her/him with a Direct Neural Interface. This DNI can be used to hack into networks and raise hell by hijacking the enemy’s infantry, releasing sonic blasts that cause humans to puke out their insides or take control of armor to crush the person wearing it. There are three different ability trees that offer you different ways to play the game. The upgrades also allow you to wall run, jump higher, use enhanced vision, and a bunch of other cool stuff.

You play as a member of a Black Ops team that has been partnered with the CIA to investigate a location used by the CIA that has cut off communication unexpectedly. When you arrive one of your teammates that attempts to mind link with the central computer, begins to malfunction and begins to spread that glitch to other teammates. While trying to discover what is infecting your team you have to fight savage groups that roam the wasteland like the NRC and The 54 Immortals.

When you discover that part of your team might be murdering the good guys it falls onto you and your remaining team to figure out what is being covered up and who is behind it all.

The first few missions that introduce you to your DNI are some of the most interesting in the game. These place you in a “Matrix” type world where you are running simulations in events that already took place in history. For example, you are able to try to change the events that lead to a terrorist bombing of a train. These don’t actually change the events of the real-world but they do test your abilities to handle situations like this in the future. During these missions one of your team (that is accustom to DNI ability) leads you through different scenarios. These scenarios familiarize you to different physical, weapon and cybernetic abilities. This is a good example of how making a tutorial level doesn't always have to come with boring tedium for the developer or the gamer.

This simulation tutorial works, however, in the final parts of the game levels play out in your mind. When your character attempts to link with another DNI in order to gather information, it takes you into that persons headspace including their dreams and nightmares. These are not just cutscenes that you watch and then move past, although they should be, they are entire levels that are filled with triply visuals and abstract sociological commentary. I appreciate COD trying to give a fresh perspective in a game that usually resolves around the same tropes, but these levels bog down the game and make for an anti-climactic ending.

This was an interesting enough world to have cybernetic warfare and smooth gameplay in and have a good time, without introducing ghost in the machine scenarios or veering the story too far off course. The world the game inhabits is a character that is pushed into the background and overlooked despite it being the crowning achievement of the campaign. I appreciate a COD title that attempts to break the mold of what is expected from the series, but instead of sticking to a path the game tries to split direction in too man ways and ends up spreading itself thin because of it.

The campaign starts off interesting enough and offers some cool mechanics into the gameplay that could have made it one of the best COD titles yet. However, the head trip, mind link stuff toward the end stops it in its tracks and only allows it to crawl past the finish line.The characters feel wooden and don’t allow for much natural development. Black Ops III does do a great job of creating an interesting world design to spend your time in but that only goes skin deep and makes the campaign the weakest mode in the game.