Call of Duty: Black Ops III is here, cementing yet another year in the long-running franchise’s reign as the top first-person shooter. While some may be sick of Call of Duty, there’s no questioning it’s still a huge game, and many will be adopting Black Ops III (BO3) as their new shooter of choice.
Instead of a review, let’s take a look at how BO3 mixes it up. Since the franchise now runs on a three-year cycle (with Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer, and Treyarch switching off), this is Treyarch’s first entry in the series since 2012’s Black Ops II. Here’s what they’ve done.
While not many people buy Call of Duty just to play the campaign, Treyarch has added a good bit of meat to the experience this year.
For starters, it’s much longer. Past campaigns have only taken maybe 6-8 hours, but BO3‘s will probably take you 12-14 hours. That’s not exactly a 100-hour RPG experience like you get from Fallout, but it’s better than an extended tutorial that feels like it’s over before it begins.
You’ll also be an unnamed Player this time around. You can choose to be a male or female soldier, and your character actually talks. It’s nice to be able to play as someone who’s not generic.
To complement this, you can actually unlock all the missions at once and play them in any order you like. Why you’d want to do this I’m not sure, but if you don’t care much for Campaign and just want to play the coolest mission or two, it might appeal to you. Purists need not worry, however, as you need to explicitly tell the game that you want to unlock everything. Otherwise, you’ll progress as usual.
Speaking of progressing, BO3 introduces a new Safe House hub world in between missions. It allows you to view collectibles you’ve picked up in missions, read about the backstory and weapons in the game, edit your class loadouts, and even partake in some wave-based combat training. You wouldn’t spend hours there, but it gives a little more context to the game than just having a string of missions.
Black Ops II allowed you to customize your loadouts in Campaign a bit, but BO3 takes it to the max. Just like in Multiplayer, you can create several classes — each with their own primary weapon, attachments, grenades, and special abilities — and take them into battle. The futuristic setting also brings new power-ups that you can use to hack enemy robots or boost your own performance for a short time.
Because of this, BO3‘s campaign feels more like a “play your way” instead of a static linear experience. Don’t misunderstand — you won’t find an open-world like Far Cry or anything, but the missions in this game do give you more options. Multiple lanes and levels mean you can swing around behind enemies to get the drop on them, or try running on walls to bypass enemies entirely. The solo missions are still linear and story-driven, but you have more control than ever before over how you play.
Completionists will find a lot to love in Campaign. Each mission has a dozen or so accolades, which are like mini-challenges. A few are the same across all levels (such as clearing a mission without dying or reaching a certain score), but most are unique to the mission (such as killing a certain tough enemy with a pistol or killing several enemies in a short time). These are optional, but give you more XP to progress.
Progression is a theme running across BO3. Multiplayer has always featured an unlock system built around leveling up to gain new weapons and perks, but now Campaign features it, too. Everything you do gains XP, which in turn levels you up and unlocks new weapons for custom classes and tokens to use for upgrading your abilities. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys replaying solo modes in games as you become more powerful, you’ll find BO3 rewarding.
If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can try the new Realistic difficulty, which is harder than Veteran. You’ll die from a single bullet; not recommended unless you want to go hardcore.
As if all these updates weren’t enough, there’s a whole new campaign to play through once you’re done. Dubbed Nightmares, it pits you in the same missions as the first time but with Zombie enemies, a different story, and different mission order. That’s two whole campaigns to enjoy!
Overall, the game still isn’t worth buying at full price just for the Campaign, but this is probably the best solo experience the franchise has seen in years. Last year had Kevin Spacey, but there’s just so much more meat in BO3.
Being a Treyarch game, Zombies returns in Black Ops III in all its glory. Due to the nature of the mode, not as much is glaringly new as in Campaign, but there are some highlights.
The game includes a single Zombies map, Shadows of Evil. It takes place in the 1940s in the fictional Morg City with four new characters. The mechanics are mostly the same as previous games, so if you’ve played Zombies in Black Ops I or II you know the drill: survive the zombie apocalypse as long as you can.
Like the campaign, progression has been added into Zombies, so your playercard carries three separate ranks now. You’ll earn XP from playing just like you always have in Multiplayer, and new gun customizations unlock as you progress. Attachments will unlock for guns as you use them.
You can access a new power-up known as The Beast at various sites throughout the level. Becoming The Beast makes you much stronger for a short time, and also grants an electrical attack that you need to open certain parts of the map.
Another major new power-up is GobbleGum, which you can customize in between matches. Up to five pieces of gum can be loaded into a pack, and paying for a gumball at a machine in-game will grant you a random piece of gum out of your chosen five. These pieces of gum grant abilities such as being ignored by zombies for a few seconds or respawning with your weapons after a death. Being able to customize which ones you want is a neat feature, and makes you plan ahead in order to survive.
Though technically a part of the Campaign, Dead Ops Arcade II, the sequel to the Dead Ops Easter Egg minigame from the first Black Ops, is hidden in the Safe House. This mode is a twin-stick shooter which has you shooting loads of zombies; get hit once, and you’re dead. A new power-up lets you play an area in first-person for a while, which is interesting. You can’t access Dead Ops Arcade from the Zombies menu, but it’s worth playing if you enjoy the main mode.
If you ordered one of the special editions or the Season Pass, you’ll also be able to play The Giant, a remade version of Der Riese from World at War‘s Zombies mode.
The main draw of any CoD game is the multiplayer. Here’s everything new to check out in Black Ops III.
First, you’ll no longer be playing as a generic soldier. BO3 introduces Specialists, nine unique soldiers that each possess a special weapon and ability. You’ll have to choose between the weapon and ability to take into battle, and after a few minutes it will charge up and be ready to use à la Destiny. These are a cool change and make your player choice a tactical decision. Also, each character has unique dialog and taunts his/her opponents in a “winner’s circle” after the match.
Last year’s Advanced Warfare (AW) (our review) revolutionized the game’s movement with the Exo Suit. BO3 dials this back a bit, but still gives you plenty of movement options. Instead of a double-jump, you have thrusters that let you hover for a second, or power slide along the ground.
By jumping at a wall, you’ll stick to it and be able to traverse over large gaps. You won’t be able to boost dodge, boost forward in the air, or slam down like in AW, but this makes movement simpler.
Also included for the first time in Multiplayer is the ability to swim. Not every map features water, but swimming is pretty cool and getting a kill while underwater is exhilarating.
Fans of customization will find plenty to love in Multiplayer. Aside from gun camos, you can also enter the new Gunsmith editor to make a custom paint job for your favorite weapon. The emblem editor returns and allows for even more space and layers than before, and there are lots of reticule options for sights. You won’t see quite the level of character customization as before due to the Specialists, but there are still a few options for each piece of armor they wear.
The Pick-10 system for created classes returns from previous games, and allows you to play your way. For the first time in series history, you can have more than three attachments on your gun; there are three Primary Gunfighter wildcards, meaning that you could have a sight and five attachments on your gun at once. You wouldn’t have room for anything else, of course, but it’s still neat.
As a sort of random drop system, BO3 gives you Crypto Tokens when you level up. These can be spent at the Black Market for Supply Drops, which contain items ranging from special camos, to new taunts, to variants for attachments. They take a while to earn, but ensure you always have something cool to work toward.
Most of the classic modes are present — Kill Confirmed, Search & Destroy, Domination, and Gun Game are all present, along with the return of Domination. A new mode, Safeguard, requires you to escort a non-combat robot into the enemy’s territory.
A change that will likely take you some getting used to is the removal of one-hit melee kills. Now, your character will melee with the butt of their gun instead of a knife, so you can’t panic and stab someone to take them out.
There’s another little bonus mode in Multiplayer called Free Run. It feels like something out of Mirror’s Edge, and allows you to get used to the new suit’s movement while also going for a best time on the leaderboards. If you like time attacks, you’ll enjoy speeding through these courses.
A Note on Last-Gen Consoles
Black Ops III is also available on PS3 and Xbox 360 (since many games are still being produced for them), but it’s severely watered-down and wasn’t even developed by Treyarch. These aging consoles just can’t compete with the power of newer ones, and it shows with this game.
The legacy console versions of the game have no campaign, no Nightmares mode, and no custom paintjobs in the Gunsmith. You can’t buy the season pass or play the NUK3TOWN bonus map, gibbing (dismembering body parts) isn’t present, and you can’t use Theater Mode to watch replays.
Essentially, you’re getting a really basic package that lets you play online and play Zombies. The graphical difference is staggering; check out the comparison video below to how they compare.
If you’re a hardcore CoD fan and don’t have a current-gen console yet, this is a good time to upgrade. The experience is severely hampered on older systems.
There’s plenty to get excited about in Black Ops III. While nothing particularly revolutionary on their own, the meaty and varied Campaign, deeper-than-ever Zombies mode, and solid Multiplayer with lots of customization all come together to make a convincing package. You’ll be playing with the new content for a while to come.
Looking for more games to play? Check out our top 20 platformers of all time.
Have you tried Black Ops III yet? What new feature do you like best? Give us your thoughts below!