Call of Duty: Black Ops III is Video Game Juggernaut

Call of Duty: Black Ops III
Call of Duty: Black Ops III. Activision

Call of Duty: Black Ops III is one of the biggest surprises of the year. I’ll be honest—I had pretty much written off the annual iteration of the CoD juggernaut, given that it landed in stores in a season that we all expected to be critically dominated by Fallout 4, Star Wars Battlefront and even Rise of the Tomb Raider over on the Xbox One. Another “CoD” game. Yeah, OK. That’ll be fun but do you have anything new?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that Black Ops III breaks new ground. However, it does bring enough new friends to the party to remind why it’s an annual guest. The multiplayer is robust, featuring a number of toys with which to play and solid, creative map design. And the single-player campaign, while narratively as ridiculous as a Transformers movie, is well-paced and fun, integrating some of what people love about the multiplayer offerings of this franchise into that half of the experience.

Call of Duty: Skynet Edition

If you’re hoping Black Ops III grounds the franchise again in something realistic like its original incarnations after the futuristic combat of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, keep dreaming. The Call of Duty franchise still exists in a ridiculous future of sci-fi weapons and unimaginable threats. There are times when Black Ops III feels like a Terminator sequel, as you’re battling sentient killer robots. Where’s Sarah Connor when you need her? And yet the pace rarely flags, and the graphics are phenomenal. It’s ludicrous, but it knows it’s ludicrous. Many people have compared the Call of Duty to a hit franchise like Michael Bay’s Transformers series. If that’s true, Black Ops III is the one that has its tongue in its cheek, knowing it’s insane but embracing its own insanity in a way that’s infectious. Jumping back in after the attacks on Paris last week, I was worried that the campaign might hit a little too close to home when it came to world events. Then I followed a glowing time traveler across the fields of Bastogne (not kidding).

Black Ops III is dumb fun—it’s what we want out of a Summer action blockbuster but so rarely get.

It's All About the Multiplayer

And then there’s the multiplayer, which is the main reason anyone plays a CoD game. The maps are all relatively simple and familiar. In fact, one hopes that the map packs (which will be coming to PS4 this year after years of Microsoft getting a one-month exclusivity window) get a little more adventurous as the year progresses. It’s not that they’re “bad’ to start. Far from it. Maps like “Stronghold” and “Aquarium” get the job done. But if you’re looking for inventive design like in something like Battlefield 4, you won’t find it here. These are really just arenas for chaos.

Same Old Song, New Instruments

And that chaos this year has a LOT of new bells and whistles, most of which come in the form of “Specialists,” characters that differentiate style of play and give you new toys with which to decimate your enemies. For example, my Specialist has a weapon called the War Machine, which comes active after a certain amount of time in play and allows me to launch grenades like I’m getting paid to do so out of a giant cannon. Different Specialists unlock as you progress, meaning that multiplayer is always providing something new. In fact, this is the most unlock-heavy multiplayer I’ve ever seen. Every match seemed to provide new weapons, perks, specialists, etc. with the potential to alter the way my next game would unfold. I will say that it’s infuriating that there’s no balanced matching in Black Ops III. I’ve been playing for days, my rank is in the 20s, and I still have almost always the lowest rank in any match. From day one, I was getting my ass kicked by people who had been playing for 48 straight hours and were rank 50 already.

That’s no fun.

Verdict

But I kept going back. Even as it forced me to put aside my time in the wastelands of Fallout 4 and as other obligations took hold of my schedule, I found time for a quick Kill Confirmed or another mission in the campaign. Black Ops III is the most addictive Call of Duty game in a very long time. Activision and Blizzard design these games to be long-term habits—titles you play not for a few days or weeks but the 12 months until the next one comes out. Black Ops III may be one of the biggest surprises of the end of 2015, but it’s a game I’ll be playing for most of 2016. VERDICT: BUY IT.

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