Platform: Windows, Xbox One, PS4, PS3, Xbox 360
Rating: Mature / 18 / PEGI 18+
Since its PS2 debut, the Call of Duty series has evolved into one of the world’s biggest video-game properties: from its humble, WWII beginnings to the glory of Modern Warfare and, now, the third in the Black Ops line of spin-offs.
Black Ops II, released back in 2012, placed the action in both the 1980s and 2025, covering a Second Cold War between the United States and China. The game’s Zombies mode was also more advanced, allowing for bigger multiplayer matches, giving players the chance to blow away hordes of the undead with their friends around the world.
To say there’s been some hype building for Black Ops III would be a slight understatement – so does it meet expectations?
Step Out of the Now
Black Ops III builds on the futuristic setting of the previous game, jumping ahead to 2065. Technology is now an essential fixture on the world’s battlefields and in the soldiers waging war across them: body-augmentations allow players to use powerful abilities, such as launching swarms of nanodrones from your hands or controlling hacked robots remotely. All of this is possible thanks to the new Cyber Cores and Cyber Rigs, powered by the Direct Neural Interface (DNI) – technology wired into soldiers’ brains, allowing for mental communication with robots and computers.
In essence, characters are now basically super-powered, but the standard shooting gameplay of the series is still alive and well. These new skills don’t replace the traditional weapons-based warfare, but actually enhance the combat and tactical aspects: for example, using an invisibility ability, players can now sneak to cover and revive fallen allies without drawing fire, while ground-pounds and charges are ideal for defeating enemies in a fast, absolutely-badass way.
Still, abilities must be chosen carefully – you can’t carry all of them at the same time (this only becomes available once you reach level 20, which is no easy feat). To do this, you’ll need to play through the campaign mode again, which gives you a chance to experiment with different configurations. These powers come with cool-down time, though, so even if you want to tear through levels like an unofficial Iron Man in no time, you can’t.
Three skill trees form the basis of character-progression, each with their own abilities: as you complete missions (which can be taken on in any order, right from the start), you’ll earn Cyber Cores, which can be used to upgrade your Cyber Rig, boosting your unnatural powers. Transforming your character into a wall-running, double-jumping master of war is massively rewarding, giving real incentive to play the same missions through again and again.
Speaking of characters, this is the first Call of Duty game to offer total customization in the campaign mode, allowing players to build their avatar in detail: various ethnicities are represented, as are genders – you can finally chose to play as a male or female. While both sexes play the same, this bespoke-approach adds greater variety, helping players to feel more in-tune with the characters on screen. Up to four players can work through the campaign together, each with their own powers, bringing diverse skills to benefit the team: there’s a deeper strategy to choosing abilities, rather than simply picking the coolest.
Multiplayer mode has a generous helping of new additions too, including Specialists characters: now, rather than playing as a generic soldier, players can choose to be an archer, a lethal robot, or seven others. Loadouts are similar to previous incarnations, with 10 weapon-attachments, explosives, and perks available for each battle. There are plenty of extras to unlock, ensuring fans of the series competitive multiplayer mode have lots to see and do – for many players, this is where the bulk of their time will be spent.
As with singleplayer missions, tech-boosted abilities allow players to bring something useful to their multiplayer team: for example, those able to see through walls can give allies notice of approaching threats, helping to even the odds and make your presence invaluable.
The Not-Walking-for-Long Dead
The series’ Zombies mode returns in an explosion of awesomeness, boasting new co-op missions and movie stars, under the title Shadows of Evil.
Set in a 1940s-style world, four characters battle their way through hordes of the undead: each of these is played by a well-known Hollywood name (the mighty Jeff Goldblum, Ron Perlman, Heather Graham, and Neal McDonough). Shadows of Evil is drenched in a cool noir-esque atmosphere, as the four heroes – a magician, a boxer, a burlesque dancer, and a cop – plough through one wave after another.
Shadows of Evil also lasts as long as players can: this is a true survival experience. However, it’s also very difficult, so players need to build their characters as best they can to make a solid stand – money is earned by slaying zombies and building barricades, and can be cashed in for upgrades between waves. Weapons and abilities can be tweaked, ensuring the gameplay remains fresh – but let’s be honest: laying waste to hundreds upon hundreds of zombies never gets old, does it?
As well as Shadows of Evil, the undead rear their peeling heads again in Nightmares. This mode is unlocked upon completion of the campaign, and basically recycles the singleplayer missions – only with zombies. However, while the enemies have changed, the storyline itself is also tweaked, now centring on a zombie-infection; this helps to provide even more value, diversity, and incentive to play through the entire campaign rather than heading straight for the competitive multiplayer mode.
So, all in all, Black Ops III gives veterans of the series and newcomers alike plenty to sink their teeth into: an engaging campaign, fast-paced multiplayer battles, extensive customisation options, and, of course, zombies! The new abilities, sci-fi angle, and weaponry are all big steps for the series, sure to leave fans salivating for the next instalment.