As expected, Treyarch's first Call of Duty of this generation delivers three games in one: campaign, multiplayer, and zombies. And while the triptych packs no real surprises in terms of its content, what perhaps is a surprise – and a nice one at that – is just how good much of it is.
Yes indeed. Despite being almost as predictable as its yearly release date, I think this latest iteration of the CoD franchise is one of the best we’ve seen in some years. And that's said coming off the back of what was one of my personal favorite entries in the series – Advanced Warfare.
Since the game is essentially broken into a trio of aspects, I'll cover each one separately, kicking off with…
Although it packs few surprises, and indeed will be highly familiar to anyone who's played CoD multiplayer before, BLOPS III is nevertheless as slick and buttoned-down as any other entry in the series - if not more so.
At its core, it continues to build on Advanced Warfare's movement system. In last year's game you had thrust jumps, auto-mantling and chained-moves that delivered a quite comprehensively fluid movement system. This time out, Treyarch has dialed that up so that moves are now even smoother and more easily connected together, and the result is fantastic. From running along walls, through power sliding and thrust jumping to mantling onto pieces of scenery, you can chain together moves in a way that feels silky smooth. And all the while, your gun is almost always useable.
As you get used to exactly how you can connect different moves, you begin to parkour your way across the landscape in a series of free-flowing movements that are really quite impressive - and extremely fun to execute. It's very intuitive and easy to learn, and ultimately lowers the barrier between your intentions and the results to deliver a brilliant control scheme that just feels completely natural. This is further enhanced by the fact that the game's cadence is generally rapid: sprinting is quick, the speed of the gun coming up is lightning fast, and overall the controls feel exceptionally responsive. It's very rare that you feel like they let you down – which is exactly what you want from a highly competitive multiplayer shooter.
Another aspect of the game that I really like are the new specialists. Instead of choosing a generic soldier to fight with, this time out, players start by picking one of nine new characters (although only four are available at level one – the rest have to be unlocked by progressing through the game). Each specialist has his or her own unique weapon or ability, and you can choose to equip either one before a match. As you play, a meter slowly fills up, and when it's full, you can use the ability or weapon of your choosing. Needless to say, they're very powerful, and give you a distinct advantage while they're active. Some are more effective than others in certain situations - Outrider's bow is effectively an excellent sniper weapon, while Battery's grenades and Ruin's gravity spikes are great for delivering an AoE-type damage effect - but they're all fun to use.
Specialists' looks can be customized, which is a great idea. With a relatively small pool of characters to choose from, it's inevitable that you'll run into copies of yourself – but fortunately as you level up your kills, additional clothing and heads become available so that you can change your character's appearance. Additional items can also be found in the Supply Drops available from the Black Market. As you play, you earn Crypto Keys, which are used to purchase Supply Drops – 10 buy you a common Supply Drop, while 30 get you a rare one. As well as featuring specialist outfits, Supply Drops also contain weapon camos, decals and calling cards. Camos and decals can be used on your weapons, which in BLOPS III are fully customizable. You can layer different decals and paint on your weapon to create pretty much whatever kind of design you want, if you have the time and patience – and creative talent.
The most meaningful customization comes, of course, from adding attachments to your gun – or not, as might be your style – and BLOPS III offers a smorgasbord of interesting ways to augment your playstyle with gear. There are few real surprises as you peruse the selection of largely familiar unlockables, from quick draw and recoil-reducing grips to fast-movement stocks, but what's for sure is that you can really finesse your loadouts for all manner of tactical situations. Whether that's creating a one-shot, run-and-gun shotgun build, or making a sniper weapon your own with a particular reticle, there's a lot of potential for endless tinkering with your weapons and loadouts – something that I really enjoy. Add to that the perks and wildcards, and you have plenty of scope for comprehensive customization.
BLOPS III's multiplayer mode packs 12 maps in all – not including the Nuk3town map that came as a preorder bonus – and I must say they're generally very well designed. All follow the same three-route system where there's a central choke point flanked by two alternative paths connecting each "end" of the map, but while they're fundamentally very similar in terms of layout, none of them feel formulaic or rote. Each uses a combination of closed spaces, cover and open areas to create interesting-feeling environments where there's little respite from battle. Camping areas are few and far between, and for the most part, BLOPS III's maps promote really dynamic battles where there's very little battle downtime, and always a clear and present danger from the opposition.
What's been a pleasant surprise is just how bright and colorful the environments are. Only a few years ago, a lot of FPS games felt quite drab and dreary, mostly consisting of browns, grays and greens – but BLOPS III is almost completely the opposite. Maps vary in style, but they are all beautifully rendered. From the astonishingly realistic Northern California Redwood arena through the busy and bright Aquarium and Exodus zones to the Egyptian Combine map that was featured in Beta, the level of detailing and use of color is simply brilliant.
The maps and the dynamic movement system come together to create a game that's remarkably crisp and polished – and is a real joy to play. I've already spent many hours playing the game, and know that those hours are doing to turn into days, and probably weeks over the long-term. The game just feels exceptionally well presented, and has a surprising amount of depth in terms of its customizability.
Where BLOPS III's multiplayer is weak is in terms of its new features – even the roster of multiplayer game types are all familiar. But to me, that doesn't really matter. I'm one of those players who likes the formula, and this ticks all the right boxes for me. It's like having your favorite meal served to you at your favorite restaurant. You know what you want, and when it arrives you devour it, even though you might have had it several times before. BLOPS III's multiplayer is basically the same deal: it delivers exactly what I want, with a sprinkling of a new seasoning to make it as tasty a dish as ever.