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Call of Duty : Black Ops 3 Review (PS4)

Call of Duty is a series that has split and reformed a few times now. With two developers working on the franchise entries, albeit each with their own distinct branch, it can be hard to keep up with which entry we are getting each year. With the Black Ops thread though, there’s a clear through line. So how does Black Ops 3 match up to 1 and 2?

Creativity, energy, vibrancy and a twisted, manic sense of humour. And genuine ambition. Not compliments normally thrown at a Call of Duty game, but all of these superlatives apply to Call of Duty : Black Ops 3. A massively successful series, you’d think that by now the developer would be struggling to stay relevant. Treyarch succeeds by branching the game out in a million different directions at once. Instead of adding a few new ideas and refining them, BLOPS 3 is absolutely stuffed full of ideas, secrets and gameplay tweaks. Not all of them work, but the sheer generosity of content and breadth of ideas make this a game that easily justifies its existence. I think I could pretty unreservedly recommend it to anyone who likes FPS games.

I think the best way to illustrate the variety of BLOPS 3 is to show you some screenshots. Look at these three shots, all from the same game:

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I know. While the customary zombie mode includes a Darkness style monster mode (complete with laser tentacles), there’s also a top down Smash TV style minigame. While the twin stick shooter game could be a great indie game in it’s own right, the zombie mode in BLOPS 3 feels insanely substantial. With it’s own cut scenes, character progression and storyline, it’s utterly different to the main campaign and still brilliant. It’s a 30’s noire horror with zombies and Ron Perlman and Jeff Goldblum. And it’s one of the best playing FPS games I’ve tried this year. And it’s a mere “mode” in BLOPS 3.

And, you know, just in case there wasn’t enough variety, they threw in a top down, Super Off Road style racing game. Ok then.

The main BLOPS 3 campaign is more standard future military warfare manly man shooty shooting. It’s nice that you can choose gender and appearance for your avatar though, as the characters in COD games are typically blank slates anyway. You might as well have some say in their depiction in game.

It might be a standard story of military intel retrieving, door breaching and hostage rescuing, but it plays well. Wall running and boosting evokes Titanfall, albeit in a slightly weightier form. There’s some heft to your character and that actually feels good, and the weapons feel weighty and satisfying too. Despite the gameplay being pretty solid though, the story is a bit of a mess. In some ways a twisted remix of the main story beats of Robocop (the old one), it’s revelations never really hit home. By the end it comes off like a cut price Metal Gear Solid. It’s forgettable, but never offensive. And for a series that has previously offended with tone deaf jinogisitic nonsense, that’s an achievement I suppose.

The multiplayer is keen to mix in drones, turrets and hacking too, but it doesn’t really change the game as much as it mixes things up. It’s still Call of Duty with some futuristic set dressing and a sprinkle of Mirrors Edge free running. It’s fast, full of options and modes and easy to lose hours to. I’m not a hardcore COD multiplayer guy, but I enjoyed what I played, and buzz from the community seems to suggest they like it too.

Treyarch have always pushed at the boundaries of what you can achieve within the confines of an entry in the Call of Duty franchise. It’s a series that has been accused of lethargy in the past as the unprecedented success has led the developers at times unsure how to innovate without derailing the whole thing, or at least upsetting the hardcore fanbase. With BLOPS 3 though, I can’t help but feel that Treyarch have achieved something remarkable. Excising the ghosts (wink wink) of earlier risible Call of Duty games, they’ve created something that even jaded journos like me can enjoy. It’s been a long time since I’ve called myself a Call of Duty fan. Despite my reservations, I am pleased to say that I’d far rather enjoy all the innovation in BLOPS 3 than endure another apathetic, lifeless Halo game.

I really didn’t see that coming!

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