Call of Duty Black Ops III review: Gunning for glory
Call of Duty: Black Ops III (PS4/XOne/PC); rating: 9/10; Age: 18+
A TRAILER featuring Cara Delevingne, a zombies mode with characters based on Heather Graham, Ron Perlman and Jeff Goldblum – Call of Duty has now passed from wildly successful videogame to pop-culture touchstone.
Like critic-proof movie blockbusters, it almost doesn’t matter whether futuristic shooter Black Ops III cuts the mustard, it will still sell by the shedload. Perhaps surprisingly, though, developer Treyarch takes no prisoners, delivering a new Call of Duty fizzing with energy and stuffed with content.
Treyarch gained fame playing second fiddle to CoD creator Infinity Ward, taking turns as a gun for hire to keep the franchise running in alternate years. But in taking on the Black Ops strand, the studio earned its spurs with strong, story-led campaigns featuring cracking soundtracks.
Judged by this high standard, however, Black Op III’s story mode counts as a near-failure. Echoes of the Halo 5 good-guy/bad-guy campaign and a nod to Christopher Nolan’s Inception get lost in a narrative wormhole.
It results in incoherent, disjointed slabs of action built clearly for four-player co-op – but feeling stodgy with fewer numbers. Expansive levels can’t hide their linear limitations and CoD’s new focus on rocket-suit-powered mobility doesn’t get enough of a look-in.
We do get a glimpse of BOIII’s potential with a new system of cybernetic enhancements for your soldier. An unlockable skills tree enables a focus on, for instance, remote hacking of enemy robots or athleticism and speed.
Thankfully, the revamped zombies mode quickly completely restores the faith, a 1940s noir nightmare requiring co-op and persistence. It’s bizarre but gorgeous and compelling.
You start in an alleyway with no knowledge of what to do or where to go. A small pulpit enables you to transform briefly into a murderously tentacled monster like the one in The Darkness. Why? Who knows? Then the zombies appear and it’s a fight for your life.
You’ll soon die but repeated playthroughs uncover new strategies and routes through the city.
As always, though, Black Op III’s legacy will be its fantastic multiplayer, a frenzied yet strategic chessboard of weapons, special abilities and dead-eyed shooting. Fluid exosuit movement combines with power-ups to make the new set of maps a thrilling ride.
Alongside the usual variety of loadouts and perks lies a new specialist class available to all at the start of each match. It grants you a choice of powerful weapon or super-power. You might choose the Sparrow bow that sets opponents on fire or the Vision Pulse ability that reveals the location of enemies on your mini-map. Or any one of a dozen others.
The kicker is that the use of each is a rechargeable ability available only a few times per match.
Despite the campaign missteps, Black Ops III is a better package than we have any right to expect from a monster franchise. Between zombies mode and that marvellous multiplayer (not to mention the weird New Game+ and hidden top-down mini-game), there’s enough entertainment here to last for months.