Call of Duty: Black Ops III Review (XONE)

COD BlOps 3 screen
COD: Black Ops III Screen. Activision

With a now three-year dev-cycle for Call of Duty games, developer Treyarch wisely used the extra time to fill Black Ops III with the most content any COD game has had to date.  Between two campaign modes and co-op for each, zombies, a top down shooter called Dead Ops Arcade II, and a full suite of multiplayer modes complete with optional A.I. bots, there is a ton to do in Black Ops III both solo or in multiplayer.  There's even splitscreen, which is something a certain other big Fall 2015 shooter can't boast.  In terms of sheer quantity of content, Black Ops III rules.  As far as the quality of said content, well, that is a little more uneven.  Read our full Call of Duty: Black Ops III review for all of the details.

Game Details

  • Publisher:  Activision
  • Developer: Treyarch
  • ESRB Rating: “M" For Mature
  • Genre: FPS
  • Pros:  Tons of content; bots in multiplayer; co-op; great gameplay
  • Cons:  So-so campaign; freedom of movement not utilized properly


Despite being Black Ops III, the story here has disappointingly little to do with the previous Black Ops games.  Instead it takes place in the far future - the furthest in the future any COD game has ventured - where cybernetics augment human soldiers in their war against an army of robots ripped out of "The Terminator".  Honestly, I've been wanting a full-on sci-fi Call of Duty for a while now, so the setting is certainly appealing.

The actual campaign, however, is just sort of dull.  The core gameplay is that sort of guided tour through a battlefield that Call of Duty has become - you go where the game wants you and shoot when it tells you to - but it is missing the epic-ness of many of the set pieces in previous games.  The set pieces and firefights and crazy stuff is still present, of course, but we've seen similar stuff for 8 years in a row now and it is all becoming a bit passé. They've been chasing the COD4: Modern Warfare campaign all this time and still haven't topped it.

Black Ops III's campaign tries to keep things fresh in a couple of ways.  First is the introduction of skill trees where you get to choose the cybernetic upgrades your character earns.  You can also select loadouts for the campaign with the same Pick 10 system as multiplayer.  This is likely why the campaign is so bland and pedestrian - they had to account for a wide range of character upgrade choices and loadouts, so they made it simpler to accommodate all of them.  The other change in BOIII is that you can play the campaign in co-op with up to 4 people.  Co-op always makes things better, and Black Ops III is no exception.

Extra Modes

As you play through the campaign, you unlock a bunch of new modes.  A freerun mode tests your ability to use the new movement system to wall run and double jump and nimbly get to the end of holographic courses.  The Dead Ops Arcade top-down arcade shooter mode also returns with a full co-op campaign of its own.  Also, when you beat the main campaign, you unlock a new campaign called Nightmares that re-uses the same campaign maps but replaces the enemies with zombies.  Nightmares is easily more entertaining than the standard campaign and worth the 5-hours or so it takes to unlock.  There is also a standard wave-based zombies mode that Treyarch has been known for as well. 


Multiplayer is similarly robust in its feature set.  Tons of maps.  Tons of modes.  And, better yet, you can play offline or splitscreen and add bots to the mix, so you don't have to play with mean Xbox Live people at all if you don't want to.  I love bots, so this option alone makes Black Ops III a step above other multiplayer shooters in 2015.  Character customization is a little different than before in that you get to use the Pick 10 system to choose what weapons and perks etc. that you want, but you also choose a character this time around.  Each of the selectable characters - only a handful at first but you unlock more as you play - has different special abilities and killstreak rewards.  These abilities are slow to recharge, but can earn you a few "easy" kills with smart usage.  The idea is that you pick a character with abilities you like and play around that.  In reality, however, everyone just picks the same character with the "best" ability, so there isn't actually as much variety in multiplayer as Treyarch probably hoped.

Something else that falls a little flat is that while BOIII uses an enhanced version of the movement abilities introduced in Advanced Warfare, none of the levels actually seem built with them in mind.  Invisible walls block off access to areas and paths you should be able to get to, which defeats the purpose of the extra mobility.  If you want fancy mobility you need to build a game around it like Titanfall, not just shoe horn it in because it was popular last year. 

Graphics & Sound

The presentation in Black Ops III is impressive.  The visuals in campaign are sharp and detailed and look fantastic, and the whole game maintains a rock solid framerate.  I've always liked the way Call of Duty games look, and the future aesthetic full of robots works well with the gritty realistic look of the graphics. 

The sound is also pretty fantastic with some of the best gunfire sound effects in the business. 

Bottom Line

All in all, Call of Duty: Black Ops III is a bit of a step back from 2014's Advanced Warfare in both the campaign and multiplayer, but it makes up for it just through the sheer volume and variety of total features and modes.  I also love the fact it has bots in multiplayer as well as splitscreen.  It is a step back overall, however, and the competition from other titles is a lot fiercer this year than usual, which make it harder to fully recommend.  Call of Duty: Black Ops III is still good, but not up to the normal Treyarch / Black Ops standard.  Rent it.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.