We now know the shape of Activision's 2015 "Kill 'em all, let God sort out the rest" simulator. This year's Call of Duty will be Black Ops III, developed by the folks over at Treyarch. The news came over the weekend, with the first full trailer and the embargo on preview information raised. (No, we did not preview the game.)
Black Ops III continues the series' slide towards the future. The game takes place in 2060, a short time after Advanced Warfare, but everyone's somehow gone all Deus Ex with cybernetic limbs and other augmentations. It looks to be a slight evolution of Advanced Warfare's general mechanics with double-jumps, wall-running, mantling, and power-slides pushing your gun-toting cyborg around the battlefield. Treyarch has added a booster for finer movement control while you're careening through open air.
Treyarch's also switching things up when it comes to the campaign and multiplayer. First up, the campaign is a bit more replayable. In addition to "open-area arena-style" maps allowing different progression strategies, the campaign has been designed for four-player co-op. Treyarch is hoping that you'll blow through the game a few timesa alone and maybe head back in with your friends. Black Ops III is also a bit more RPG, with progression systems and a fully-customized armory including various weapons, armor, and abilities. Those abilities include lighting fools on fire and hacking into enemy technology, according to a hands-on preview over at IGN.
Multiplayer? *spits on the ground* Yeah, I guess they changed that up to, too. There's now Specialist characters, instead of allowing players to work through their anger in generic soldiers. Like a fighting game or MOBA, you pick a character with a unique weapon and ability and level those abilities up during play. The IGN preview above mentions four of the Specialists - Ruin, Seraph, Outrider, and Reaper - and there are five more on the way. These specialists push the players in different directions, but you can use the generic weapon loadouts as well.
Treyarch has made the decision to only focus on current-generation consoles with Black Ops III. That means we're getting PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One versions on November 6, 2015. We've begun to cross the development rubicon, where publishers begin to ignore the older platforms. It's possible, like Assassin's Creed Unity/Rogue, that we'll see a second, different Call of Duty title for older systems.
For me, this is the pendulum finally swinging back in line with my preferences. Modern Warfare and its last-gen successors all focused around this semi-real world core. They kept your feet on the ground and tried to emulate the weapons and equipment of real soldiers. Sure, they grasped the same "realism" as a big-budget action film, but the intent was there. Even before that, a number of first-person shooters mired themselves in earlier conflicts like World War I and II. (Why not Call of Duty: Sengoku or Battlefield: Rome?)
None of that entices me. I live on the ground already, so I want my FPS games to take me someplace a little more fantastic. I grew up on Unreal Tournament, Quake III Arena, Doom, and Heretic. I'm not particularly interested in using the exact same rifle that special operators use in conflict today or soldiers used back in World War I; I want you to surprise me and get inventive!
Titanfall was the beginning of a shift. It was one of the first AAA FPS games in a long while that I actually wanted to play. Activision followed Respawn Entertainment's first shot with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (which I have an unopened copy of sitting around here), which attempted to straddle Call of Duty's future and past. I'm cognizant of the idea that this shift is mechanics-driven; that designers were looking where to take FPS games and they decided that " vastly improved movement" was high on the list. Once you've decided that, it's just a matter of tweaking your narrative to justify the new mechanics. I think it's a change for the better.
Co-op play in the campaign? Sounds awesome. We're already vaulting over Titanfall by actually having a real campaign. Specialists in multiplayers? I love fighting games and I'm just getting into MOBAs, so that sounds good to me. Progression and customization? I'm an RPG guy; the customizability in Battlefield 4 was a high point for me. And we're far enough in the future that we're shooting robots and drones now, not generic foreign people or the latest PMC gone rogue. Huzzah for progress!
Call of Duty: Black Ops III looks to be the game that may bring me into the Call of Duty fold. I played and enjoyed Modern Warfare, but it wasn't the type of game I wanted to keep playing. I've had that feeling about each subsequent title, so I've simply stayed away, except for occasionally playing them at a friend's place. They may be good games, but they've never been my cup of tea and there's other stuff I could be playing. In fact, up until I saw the trailer above, I wasn't excited about this year's Call of Duty. It's starting to look like Activision loves me just a little bit. Unfortunately, I haven't played the game yet, so E3 may push my opinion of the game in either direction. I'll keep you posted.