Review – Call of Duty Black Ops III

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Never again. That’s what I was saying to myself after the terrible Modern Warfare 3 : never buy again a Call of Duty at launch. But given the positive memories I have from Black Ops I & II and that it’s crucial year given the first Playstation partnership, circumstances make me shed 70€ at this end of year.

Even though the multiplayer was decent at that time, campaign was the main interest in the past Black Ops games. I therefore naturally throw myself into solo play in this third episode.

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The story of Call of Duty Black Ops III unfolds on a world plagued by natural disasters and civil insurrection. An interesting setting but isn’t being developed correctly afterwards. In the somewhat dull first missions, you face several paramilitary groups and chase a traitor from your unit. Nothing very original or exciting so far.

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The campaign becomes increasingly enjoyable as it allows you to customize your loadout like you would do in competitive multiplayer. It’s actually the same frame, so it will feel familiar immediately. The other good news is that the weapons are unlocked way faster than in competitive multiplayer, which allowed me to try this little one, the SVG-100, very peculiar bolt-action sniper rifle with its little air vents that cool it down after firing. You are also able to choose an upgrade your DNI, cybernetics equipment. Because in Black Ops III, very much like Deus Ex Human Revolution, you are half-machine.

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Call of Duy Black Ops III is into futuristic warfare like never a Call of Duty has been before. Besides human soldiers, the campaign will throw you against various robots and mechanical weapons. Their patterns of attack are fairly different from each other, which will surprise the player almost every time. Treyarch does deliver some quality action scenes despite other having little interest (the aircraft sequence for example). It’s even more enjoyable that the campaign-related trophies are unlocked in Hardened difficulty or higher, which makes you give your best and it’s very rewarding. The overcome that, you have the choice between 3 skill trees of cybernetics : hacking, brute force and jamming. This allows you to use the technology according to your own style, or try them all. Jamming can make robots implode or disturb guards, but the must remains hacking enemy mechas to turn them against your opponents!

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The campaign is even better with friends in the brand new cooperation mode, huge innovation of Call of Duty Black Ops III. Even though finding a public match turns out to be a headache at times, it’s quite easy to begin any mission with some buddies. The game system emphasizes interdependence and mutual aid because if one player die, the mission is a failure! The cyborgs are more solid and fiercer than ever, for more heated combat. Cooperating with 3 other players really transforms the campaign’s experience : as a sniper, I found myself covering the others from afar, which I can’t do alone. The only drawback is that you can’t filter difficulty, making it necessary to get in and out until you find a suitable game.

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Despite de very bland start, Black Ops III’s story takes a very different turn compared to other Call of Duty games. The chase of the traitor quickly becomes a desperate struggle against some computer virus affecting soldiers. This is not about patriotic war and stuff, and y the way, your own administration turn out to be shady characters. This bold setting is welcome, even though the narrative is too imprecise to connect the various ideas in it. There is still a somewhat deep design work in Call of Duty Black Ops III, including some psychedelic delirium in the 2nd half and interesting concepts like the Forzen Forest, which personally recalled deep-rooted memories. In its chaos, the story eventually makes relevant sense and develops a vision of what it wants to communicate to the player. The music was quite discreet, except here again the theme of the Frozen Forest.

Graphically speaking, this last entry indeed looks a lot better than the previous PS4 games. The modeling has been refined quite dramatically (it’s obvious when you play Advance Warfare just after), backgrounds and lightning effects are far more impressive, the outlines feel sharper.

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Then we come to competitive multiplayer, and that’s where Call of Duty Black Ops III fails, horribly. The idea of specialists is good, but there is a snag : they aren’t extremely specialized in whichever way! Just choosing one special move/power between two isn’t much. I did expect passive skills to make a difference. I picked the Outrider, basically the recon class with some kind of modern Ninja look.

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The bow is as cool as you would expect, but tricky to use and not that much of an advantage in battle. You can modify the range your your shot with the analog button to adapt your current situation, and in any case it makes a small explosion at impact (like the arbalet in Black Ops 1). Note that as it is a Specialist weapon, you can have it only during a certain timeframe. The problem is that you lose it immediately when you are killed, which is not the best choice given how fast the action is. The Outrider’s second tool is a sonar which allows you see nearby enemies through walls, but its reach is far from being good. In the end, the Outrider is a recon soldier without any relevant advantage (not even like the sniper perks of the Modern Warfare series), and actually nothing more than a skin of the standard soldier (when you look at other players, she is never used as a sniper).

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Let’s stress again the fantastic general design of Call of Duty Black Ops III, futuristic weapons being crafted in the smallest details. Just look at how precise the modeling of those tiny parts is! It really is a damn fine interface for modern weaponry lovers. The user interface is also splendid : the Specialist here seems to be lurking in what appears to be some sci-fi city like Coruscant.

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But the dream collapses after just a few hours : the maps are ridiculously tiny and full of obstruction. It is a MIRACLE to have even 30m of range! In those conditions, scoring with a sniper rifle is absolutely impossible. It’s unbelievable : the maps in Modern Warfare 2 were 3 times as large, and that was in a PREVIOUS generation. Look, there are CORRIDORS IN THE FOREST! Multiplayer battle are still 6 vs 6, while Battlefield 4 have been delivering 64 players maps for 2 years now. This translating a very clear intention from the developers to keep the gameplay as poor as possible so that worthless noobs can have fun. And the magnifying of the scopes is pitiful, x2 at best… Seriously, even the PSO1 on my airsoft gives more precise aim!

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As always since Modern Warfare 3, the episode of infamy, assault rifles and light machine guns are a lot to precise from any distance for us snipers to win any encounter. Not only that, but run speed has been increased and double jump causes the enemies’ movements to be unpredictable. It’s like duck hunt but here the ducks are hunting you too! Every game is a unbearable confusion of mediocrity and random game design. Team Deathmatch looks like a Free-for-all and Search & Destroy is not even an option given the awful weapon balance. Like my character says when she loses : “I didn’t sign up for this shit”.

I can hardly be satisfied of Call of Duty Black Ops III given its main feature, competitive multiplayer, is broken like never it has been in the series. Campaign was a cool experience, especially in coop, but are 10h of gameplay worth 70€ nowdays? It’s another debate. The illusion of the Frozen Forest echoes another, the ghost of the Call of Duty of the Golden Age when every gameplay style could join the party and have fun. I recommend to keep Advanced Warfare which is a lot more enjoyable in multiplayer, or invest in Battlefield 4 for true sniper gameplay.

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