Unremittingly dark and dystopian, BLOPS III's campaign is largely theatrical bombast layered over a series of exciting and oftentimes challenging shooting galleries. The game is set in 2065, a time when the world's climate is running out of control, there's the continued pervasive threat of terrorism, bio-augmentation and robotics run rife in military and paramilitary organizations, and concerns of colliding corporate and governmental interests weigh heavily on the populace. It doesn't sound like a fun place to be – unless you're a super soldier, of course.
With technology having rendered air assaults useless, wars are now fought on the ground by small teams of operatives often working behind enemy lines, and that's where you come in. As recruit who's been given new cybernetic limbs and a brain implant called a Direct Neural Interface following a particularly harrowing and unpleasant encounter with an enemy robot during the game's first mission, you're drafted in to investigate a CIA site in Singapore that has ceased transmitting. Of course, getting to it involves fighting your way through streets packed with enemies, in the midst of a hurricane, no less, and this really sets the cadence of the action.
The story continues to unfold through a series of fairly predictable twists and turns, and while the writing and dialog is mostly just about good enough, it does sometimes veer into cliché territory that feels very video gamey. There's just something about the pacing and delivery of certain plot points that feels clunky and lacking finesse.
Still, what's most important is the action, and there's certainly plenty of it. Cutscenes and gameplay seamlessly transition from one to the other to make for some quite breathtaking sequences, and for the most part you're constantly under the gun, fighting against overwhelming forces. There are moments of quiet between the action sequences which help break things up – usually designed to deliver the latest piece of plot – but for the most part the gameplay is very well choreographed to create exciting set pieces that are challenging to fight through. Even on low difficulty settings, I had a tough time making progress – and on high I didn't stand a chance. If you like a good challenge, BLOPS III's campaign mode will certainly keep you on your toes.
The big banner feature of campaign this time out is the return of multiplayer. Playable either solo, or co-op with up to four other people, this aspect of the game is definitely more fun with other players. I did find that some of the more linear maps sometimes felt a little crowded when playing with other players – perhaps that's because I mostly played solo – but there are a few areas where you can properly work as a group and flank the enemy and provide covering fire for your teammates.
What I particularly liked about campaign is that you have access to a safe house between missions where you can fully customize your loadouts, just like you can in multiplayer. Unlocks come thick and fast while you play, and it's not long before you can set up your character exactly how you want – and this can really help with some of the tougher challenges. Another interesting aspect of the game is that your DNI implant grants you a variety of almost magic-like abilities that you can also customize – such as being able to disable and destroy robots from afar, and send swarms of nano-bots at enemy soldiers. These can be used while in combat, and under certain circumstances can be very powerful indeed.
Although your expectations might be different to mine, I found BLOPS III's campaign felt quite substantial – weighing in at roughly 11 hours, give or take. It covers 11 missions in all, and while its action largely boils down to being a shooting gallery, it's a pretty glorious one. Indeed, I normally wouldn't play this aspect of the game – usually I spend my time exclusively with the multiplayer mode – but because I'm reviewing the game, I've essentially been forced to play it, and to be honest, I'm glad I did. It's quite spectacular, and graphically very impressive. While the writing does let the side down sometimes, and in the end the story feels overblown – almost like it's trying too hard – the action is still enjoyable, and a lot of fun. Just don't try to think about it too much.
BLOPS III's zombies is a relentless single- or multiplayer mode that's entertaining in short bursts. The headline feature is Shadows of Evil. It's set in the 40's and features four individuals who are cast into a hellish Vaudeville where they have to hold their own against waves upon waves of shambling zombies.
Money is earned by killing zombies, which can be used to buy upgrades and new weapons to take on the next wave of undead. That's basically the way it's worked in the past, but what's new is that there's now persistent XP and a new perks system that lets you customize your character outside of the game. Another new feature is that you can temporarily "Become the Beast" by activating one of the shrines dotted around the map. Doing so transforms you into a powerful Cthulhu-like monster that can make short work of a zombie horde. However, this has to be used strategically, since you don't get any XP or cash when you activate it, and the effect only lasts for a short while.
Zombies mode is certainly not an afterthought. Starring Jeff Goldblum, Ron Perlman, Heather Graham, and Neal McDonough, and featuring an introductory plot and some pretty hilarious dialog between the characters, this multiplayer survive-a-thon feels on its way to becoming a game in its own right. While the action is essentially simple and straightforward, there are enough features to make it interesting, and there's a basic mystery to uncover: how can these people escape their plight? So far, I haven't been able to progress particularly deep into this side of the game, but I do see myself coming back occasionally to try my luck. It's a good way of honing your shooting skills, and also unwinding when you just want to turn your brain off and pop off endless headshots.
As a package, Call of Duty: Black Ops III is exceptionally solid. As I've already said, its content is fairly predictable, but it's of a very high caliber. You know what you're going to get, and if you've enjoyed what the series has offered in the past, it's unlikely that you'll be disappointed with this latest incarnation.
The real standout is the multiplayer mode: it's polished and finessed to a very high degree. Its controls are supremely responsive, and its maps are excellent. Both combine to deliver exactly what most CoD players want: an exceptionally competitive, eSports-level game where players can truly test their mettle against one another.
Campaign does feel over-wrought at times, but as long as you don't think about it too hard, what's at its core is an exciting and challenging set of shooting galleries that are graphically spectacular. Zombies mode brings up the rear. It's more developed than prior iterations, and packs a big challenge for those who are interested in playing it. I did find it somewhat relentless, but as what's essentially a bonus piece of content in the overall package, I really can't complain about it too much.
All three modes combine to make this a great entry in the Call of Duty series, and one that leaves me wondering where the series is going to go next. It feels like it's hit a peak this time out – and topping this with more of the same will be a very tall order. Perhaps it's time to revisit World War II?
Very logical and well designed to make getting around the game a breeze.
The campaign lasts about 11 hours, give or take, and zombies is a nice bonus. But it's the multiplayer where the true long-term appeal lies.
Terrific sound effects make the game sound like a war zone. The voice acting is also generally good.
From the campaign through zombies to the multiplayer, BLOPS III's visuals are spectacular.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III offers few surprises, but even so, it's a great package. The campaign sometimes feels like it's trying too hard, but is ultimately solid and enjoyable. Zombies mode is a nice bonus. But really, it's the multiplayer that steals the show. It doesn't stray far from the usual formula, but it's been honed and polished to perfection to deliver seriously brilliant multiplayer competition.