Call of Duty: Black Ops III Review – A co-op coup

Call of Duty: Black Ops III is so packed with content it tough to pick a place to start. While many COD players like to skip the campaign each year and dive straight into the multiplayer, Black Ops III’s story mode marks the long-awaited return of co-op, making it one of the best campaigns the series has seen in a while.

However, I ran through the campaign playing solo first. This third entry in the convoluted Black Ops storyline jumps even further into the future. The world has gone to shit, but I can’t remember why. Soldiers have body modifications that allow them to jump higher and wall-run in a similar, but certainly toned down, version of the hyper movement skills seen in last year’s ambitious Advanced Warfare. You can now shoot while mantling over low walls and even reload while sprinting for a much more fluid feeling Call of Duty and these features gel nicely with the competitive multiplayer too.

You also have new skills to charge up during stages and as they recharge pretty fast, you can use them loads. You can send a swarm of bee-like nanomachines to set enemies on fire, highjack turrets, control drones and other sci-fi inspired moves. There’s an x-ray view you can use as much as you want to see enemies through walls and there’s a good chance you’ll never turn it off (like Detective Mode in the Arkham games), although it feels a bit cheaty, especially with the attachments that allow better wall penetration shots.

The story itself is utter tosh. It makes very little sense and I was completely lost by the half way stage. Then I was in a dream-level in WWII with an Inception-esque landscape shift going on to one side. It doesn’t matter though, as when played in co-op, Black Ops III’s campaign is suddenly fantastic.

Four players can team up and the enemy numbers ramp up accordingly. Tackling the tougher difficulty settings (and nabbing their Trophies) is much easier with buddies as you can revive each other. Be quick though, if any player bleeds out, you’ll all be sent to the last checkpoint. You can now edit campaign loadouts and even upgrade weapons, something the campaign has been in desperate need of for years.

This allows a team of soldiers to be able to handle any situation with a mix of snipers, heavies and assaults (shotguns are useless unless navigating tight corridors). There are regular boss fights such as the over-armoured War Lords or the missile-spewing mechs. Replaying stages with new abilities can open up new paths too, especially if you make sure wall-running and double jumps are unlocked. There’s a lot of scope for your team to spread out in the larger gunfights, although you’ll not want to go too far in-case you need to be revived.

Stages can be accessed in any order, so you’re free to dive in randomly for the quickest options. Annoyingly, while you can choose a specific stage, you can’t browse a selection in order to pick one at a difficulty of your choosing, making it very frustrating if you’re chasing the Trophies for completing stages on Hardened or higher. Most of you will want to avoid the Realistic setting too as it’s essentially impossible without an incredibly co-ordinated team as it’s one-hit kills and most stages start with you being shot at from the off.

Sadly, connectivity issues were a frequent problem. I’d often join a game, be forced to watch the stage’s opening cutscene, and then be told there was a problem and booted back to the main menu. Host migration is poor, often causing the game to crash. With most stages being at least 30 minutes long, the XP loss is infuriating.

These connectivity issues extend to the Zombies mode, where over the course of a few hours, I was barely able to get more than two games. Zombies has its own side-campaign and unlockables, but seeing as the damn thing was so busted, that’s about all I can say. There’s also a Nightmare mode that replaces the main campaign’s enemies with zombies, which I didn’t have as many connectivity issues with. Dive into the competitive multiplayer options and you’ll find much smoother connections, I don’t think I’ve lost one yet and have been able to join matches with ease.

I started playing the game about a week after it came out, which naturally meant I will never be able to catch up. There’s no matchmaking to help lower level players fight amongst themselves, so expect a sound pasting for your first few hours surrounded by level 40+ beefcakes with ludicrous weapons and perks unlocked. But that’s COD right? You know what you’re walking into. The only big change is the introduction of some very Destiny-like super moves, which take a very long time to charge.

Disappointingly, the weapons you’ve lovingly upgraded over the course of the campaign don’t carry over to MP. It was a long shot, but I think Treyarch have missed a genuine opportunity to blur the lines between the campaign and multiplayer, much in the way that we enjoyed in Destiny.

Unlike Destiny though, you can rely on Call of Duty games to be packed with modes and features before the season packs are mentioned. This year’s entry frankly puts other shooters to shame. The 12 maps are supported by a huge number of modes, with even AW’s Uplink mode making a return. It’s all about Kill Confirmed though for me. The new Arena mode, where leagues will form, is a mess though, as you now pick and choose which equipment to ban or protect, essentially meaning games take longer to setup than play. All in all though, there’s months of online fun here and huge value for money. Fingers crossed the co-op and zombies’ connections get fixed soon though.

Pros

  • Co-op campaign was worth the wait
  • So many modes
  • Multiplayer runs smoothly

Cons

  • Connectivity issues in co-op and zombies
  • Campaign story is utter nonsense
  • Unlocks don’t carry across campaign and MP

The Short Version: The addition of online co-op gives the campaign mode a great boost. There are some irritating connectivity issues in co-op and zombies though. The competitive multiplayer is much smoother and reliably packed with maps, modes and a dizzying array of unlocks. You’ll struggle to find a shooter with more value than this year’s Call of Duty.

8/10

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Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) |Xbox One | PC
Developer: Treyarch
Publisher: Activision

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