Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 Review – Rubbish story, great multiplayer

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A million years ago back in 2008,  Treyarch was looked at as the Call Of Duty developer stuck playing second fiddle to Vince Zampella and Jason West’s Infinity Ward. This was before Zampella and West left the Modern Warfare developer under something of a cloud and Treyarch kicked out the first Call Of Duty: Black Ops, which to date, is still the biggest selling title in Activision’s FPS series.

Treyarch’s games have gone from strength to strength over the last two iterations, but Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 takes a few missteps;  the single-player campaign is awful but the game’s online mode makes up for it and, of course, the return of zombies is very welcome.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 – Single Player Campaign

Like its predecessor – and last year’s Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare, CODBLOPS3’s single player campaign is set in the future, only this time it’s the very distant future of 2070-odd. Thankfully, Treyarch has ditched the convoluted 1960s flashback nonsense of the last two Black Ops games.

In its place is a story about cyborg soldiers and the technology that links them and, of course, the dangers inherent in its research, development and deployment. It’s a bit preachy in places, but less so than previous games.

CODBLOPS3 - Cyborg Soldiers
Cyborg Soldiers

Your character – who can be either male or female this time around – gets a set of cybernetic limbs because theirs got ripped off in the game’s opening moments. But you also received something called a DNI, a powerful neural implant that not only controls your new limbs, but which can also interface with any computer system in existence thanks to a super-advanced adaptive AI.

This lets you “talk” to other similarly-augmented soldiers as you’re all connected, and lets you do things like hack security doors, download data and pull off some neat sci-fi battlefield tricks such as remote drone control, overloading robotic circuits from afar and sending swarms of incendiary nanobots after human enemies. It’s a handy sci-fi trope that gives you enough futuristic powers that you’re a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield, but not so much that you’re the same sort of god-like super-soldier (as was the case in Advanced Warfare).

Sadly, the single player storyline is a mess; for most of the plot players aren’t sure who they’re fighting or why, and when the big reveal happens, it’s horribly underwhelming. The lacklustre story is likely to turn any initial enjoyment into confusion toward the mid-point, and then finally into frustration and annoyance by the end.

Pictured: One of many WTF moments.
Pictured: One of many WTF moments.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 – Game mechanics

The game mechanics are less polished than previous years, despite a nice mix of futuristic weapons with which to shoot baddies. Shooting feels underwhelming; weapons still don’t sound like they pack any real punch, and the sound bullets make when they sail past – a sort of whisper – leaves one feeling like they aren’t really on under much threat most of the time.

Less pew pew, more bang bang, please.
Less pew pew, more bang bang, please.

Then there’s the lack of variety in the enemies the player will face; most of the time you’re fighting a mix of drones, human soldiers and robots, with the occasional bosses and mini-bosses making an appearance to mix things up. Mini-bosses – soldiers called Warlords who soak up bullets like they’re non-Newtonian fluids – were actually the best of these, but they appeared quite infrequently.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 Dull boss fights

It’s surprising that the boss fights against huge quad-pedal turret-like robots are actually quite dull, involving a repetitive rinse-and-repeat approach that isn’t really fun the first time, and definitely not any of the seven or eight times players are forced to do it again.

Toward the end of the campaign, more of these are thrown at you, which, along with a never-ending stream of robots and drones that shoot at you makes the whole process annoying as well as dull and repetitive. It feels like Treyarch started out with some truly good ideas, but then lost focus in the course of the three years they worked on the game. Or it might be the case that the developer rushed the single player to focus on the other modes.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 – Nightmare Mode

Once you’ve finished the story, a Nightmare mode opens up that introduces zombies, using some of the campaign levels and some new dialogue to create an all-new story involving a zombie virus outbreak that’s actually almost more fun to play than the campaign was. You’ll run around collecting collectibles while whacking and shooting hordes of zombies, which can overwhelm you quite easily if you’re not careful.

Nightmare Mode: Somewhat more fun than the primary campaign.
Nightmare Mode: Somewhat more fun than the primary campaign.

Both the single player and the Nightmare campaigns can be played co-operatively with up to four players over a LAN or the internet, and if you have the option to, that is how you should play the storyline as the game’s a lot more fun when you have three mates along, mixing and matching abilities.

Also, that way you and your buddies can reassure one another that you’re not actually stupid and that the plot really is convoluted, confusing and somewhat lame.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 – Multiplayer

Most players buy COD games for the the multiplayer mode and this year’s game delivers spectacularly. Of course there are new weapons, killstreaks and perks, but there are also nine new class-based soldiers to play as, each with their own unique abilities that charge up as you play that change the game just enough to keep it fresh, but not so much that they change anything too dramatically.

Prophet is my favourite; his special ability is called Glitch, which lets him flash back to a previous position on the map, followed closely by Battery, a female warrior who has “Kinectic Armor” (sic) that deflects bullets away from her body for five seconds.

Ruin Gravity Spike
Ruin’s Gravity Spike is pretty cool as well.

Abilities don’t charge up so quickly that they can be spammed; instead I found they would charge up twice a round, or maybe three if I was playing particularly well, so they’re fun to have and really effective, but not game-breaking.

Then there’s the wall-running ability from the single player game and thruster jumps that make getting around the well-designed maps a lot of fun. It’s not quite Advanced Warfare levels of fun, and running on walls made me a target more often than it provided an advantage, but they are still handy additions to the Treyarch brand of COD multiplayer.


Interestingly, BLOPS3’s multiplayer feels like a tweaked version of Advanced Warfare’s online mode; there are no Cyber Core abilities from the single-player game here, so you won’t be harassing players with nanobots or distracting them with auditory hallucinations.

Ultimately, though, when BLOPS3’s multiplayer abilities, maps and the player’s skill all come together, the multiplayer is a thing of beauty. If you love COD for multiplayer, this year’s game will definitely impress.


This year’s Zombie mode is just brilliant, thanks to the addition of a themed map that eschews everything you think you know about COD and its Zombie mode.

Sure, you’ll still fight zombies, upgrade weapons and hammer boards over windows to keep them out, but you’ll do it in a mode called Shadow of Evil, a map of a fictional 1940s city called Morg City.

You’ll play as one of four awful people – all noir-themed characters of ill repute – thrown together against their will in a supernatural fight against evil. Jeff Goldblum, Heather Graham, Neal McDonough and Ron Perlman provide their voices along with some great lines, adding a lot of personality and humour to the mode.

CODBLOPS3 Shadow of Evil
It starts off slow but ramps up the action quickly!

Here, players earn persistent XP, allowing them to unlock weapons and perks, so expect not to see everyone wielding the same load-out every time you play.

The usual challenges of keeping zombies from overrunning the group are made a little easier by perks handed out by a candy machine, as well as the option for characters to temporarily become “The Beast”, a creature that mows through the undead like a lawnmower cuts grass at your lazy uncle’s house.

This is by far the very best addition to Black Ops 3, and almost a mode that could be a separate game all of its own. If you loved zombies in previous Black Opses, you’ll definitely love it in this one.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 – Presentation

Before I wrap up, I must say this about Black Ops 3: It’s beautiful. All those gamers who moan that COD looks the same every year have nothing to complain about this year’s entry – the graphics are as polished and attractive as I’ve ever seen; they’re even prettier than Advanced Warfare’s.

And not only that, but the game runs at what feels like 60fps all the way through, no matter how busy the scenes get so it’s silky smooth and a real pleasure to play.

Call of Duty®: Black Ops III_20151109200955
Call of Duty®: Black Ops III_20151109200955

Say what you want about previous games, but this year’s COD is on the cutting edge of game graphics.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 – Conclusion

Since it’s actually three games in one, this year’s COD delivers a lot of value for fans. Its confusing single player campaign with its convoluted and ultimately silly story is definitely a letdown, but then that’s no big deal when the game’s  Zombies and multiplayer modes easily make up for it.

If you’ve been holding off on getting CODBLOPS3, you may not be the game’s core demographic and you may be better off picking up a copy of Fallout 4 rather. But if you are a fan, this year’s game won’t disappoint enough for us not to recommend it to you.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 was reviewed on PlayStation 4. RRP: R899 (PS4/Xbox One), R799 (PC)

Deon du Plessis

Deon du Plessis

Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.