If a review score just came down to the amount of content on offer in a game, the latest Call of Duty outing would be an 11 out of 10. The new multiplayer, bombastic campaign and the returning Zombies Mode are all packed with hours of pop-gun action. But does a sheer volume of stuff, mean that quality has been overlooked?
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, was a phenomenon that changed console gaming forever. A stellar single player campaign and a multiplayer experience that set the new gold standard for online gaming. Suffice to say I loved it. But since then, my love for the Call of Duty games has slowly been eroded with each yearly iteration. Considering the resources and money thrown at Black Ops 3, I had high hopes. And, some of my hopes have come to fruition, especially in relation to the Multiplayer and Zombies Mode. Unfortunately, the all-important single player experience is complete nonsense.
I say all-important single player, but perhaps I am showing my age, thinking the campaign is still a core part of a Call of Duty game. Really, I am under no illusions that Call of Duty multiplayer is the real star of the series now. Hell, when I downloaded the digital version of CoD:BLOPS3 and hit start, only the multiplayer was available to play. Before I could play the Campaign, I had to opt in to download it….. all 45gigs of it! After waiting for my hard drive to suck up the huge file, I loaded up the game and was very impressed to see that players now have the option to play through as a female lead character. Credit where credit is due. Female leads in First Person Shooters are unusual and hats off to Treyarch Studios for having a fully animated and voiced female OR male lead. Unfortunately, the good design choices start to fall over once the game begins proper. Even with some seriously good actors being bought in to do the motion capture and voice work. The underlying story and narrative delivery is painful. The full-time ‘buddy’ character for this 2065 Sci-Fi thrill ride, Sgt Hendricks, is totally unlikeable and feels like the only request from the Treyarch voice work director was ….“Be intense!!”. I cannot even count the number of times I cringed listening to him. The rest of the star power cast are weighed down with silly dialogue and an endless supply of acronyms.
The futuristic narrative could be taken from any ‘B’ grade clichéd sci-fi, – Man vs Machine – movie from the last 20 years. It becomes so involved in its own silliness towards the end, that the story was hard bare. By the tenth or so hour, I just wanted it to be over. Think ‘Michael Bay’ story telling with everything turned up to ‘11’….. the whole time. Luckily, the moment to moment gameplay is still the tight CoD corridor shooting we all know and love. The mission levels have great variety, each can be traversed at speed with the new traversal skills like wall running and booster packs. Even though we have new consoles with processing grunt up the wazoo, no computing resources seem to have been dedicated to enemy A.I. Targets will either be stationary humans sitting behind cover, popping out now and then to shoot you…or they will be bullet-sponge robots that rush straight into the path of your shotgun. There is the odd Mech to bring down, but the battles are dull, lacking any feeling of scale. As an augmented future soldier, a huge amount of information is overlaid onto the new CoD HUD, to highlight enemies, danger zones and incoming threats. The effect is a blur of chaotic colours and indicators which certainly feel futuristic but how helpful they are is negligible.
Between each mission, you return to a Safe-House which is essentially an interactive menu where level up ‘Tokens’ can be spent, to unlock sci-fi abilities or unlock preferred weapons and attachments. Before deploying to the next mission, players can choose their own load-out, gadgets and abilities. These abilities have three trees which are unlocked and levelled up. There are abilities to manipulate or control robots systems, control battlefield situations by using stealth and smokes screens, or thirdly, to just reek chaos on enemies with micro drones or inducing involuntary vomiting. Nice.
These powers have a cool-down meter and are certainly fun, often buying you valuable time to get to cover and recover some health. From the safe-house co-op players can join in the campaign or various training missions. A full 4 co-op campaign is a huge deal from a Call of Duty and the game is clearly designed around being played with up to 4 mates. This I think, would certainly up the fun factor. Split-screen is there too! So pleased to see someone still values a bit of couch co-op, because Halo doesn’t anymore! Upon the completion of the core campaign, Nightmare Mode unlocks. So MORE content yet! This is a reuse and reimagining of the primary campaigns levels, but with Zombies as the enemies and a new story arch and voice over to give context. I found this more fun than the traditional single-player as it brings in a lot of the cool features of the Zombie Mode. Limited ammo, single use powers, less health and a far more tactical ‘horde management’ type gameplay, screams for co-op gaming.
So the very pretty, but clichéd core campaign aside. The rock solid CoD Multiplayer returns and has been improved, making the jump to a more sci-fi online shooter with ease. The idea is the same, i.e. death-match, capture the flag, get kills to access drones, gunships etc.. Choose a class with a special ability or weapon, which can be used once enough points have been accumulated. Thankfully for someone like me, who tends to have an average life span of about 25 seconds per spawn, these points don’t vanish upon death. This small concession means even average gamers will at some point get their hands on a power weapon. The map design is still sublime with well placed choke points and hot zones for that CoD style chaos to unfold. The way players can traverse maps is super fluid, a la – Titanfall. Wall running and booster jumps makes maps feel very three dimensional. Many a time, I was killed by an enemy player running along the second story exterior of a building. Its sucked, but looked very cool! The goal is to still level up, unlock weapons and more classes for cooler powers. Call of Duty is truly a top quality multiplayer game and Treyarch have some of the slickest game design and net code around. I think the longest I waited to find and join a lobby was 15 seconds. The game didn’t crash once or even kick me back to the menu, which when compared to most online shooters is an achievement.
The final piece of this massive puzzle is the updated four player co-op Zombie mode. The idea is the same as the previous Treyarch outings – defend an area, kill the zombies, earn cash to get better gear and unlock special ‘Gumball’ perks. Set in a 1940s city, the four characters/players have to work together to survive. Each character is fully voiced by big Hollywood actors – Jeff Goldblum, Heather Graham, Neal McDonough, and Ron Perlman! (Go Hellboy!) The city is beautifully detailed and the sound design is chilling, but also crucial to understanding where the next horde is coming from. Treyarch nailed this game mode again, even brining elements of it across to the Nightmare mode, mentioned above. It’s a must play and not just for the moment to moment fun, but to reveal a full story based around these four ‘troubled’ characters.
This has been a big review with A LOT of content to experience and the amount of gaming goodness on offer here is truly awesome. Co-op gamers have been shown some love, no doubt. The multiplayer is still an industry leading must play. The Zombie mode is so fleshed-out and completely different in both style and gameplay, that it could have been released a complete stand-alone title. It’s just brilliant! I will admit, I have hit the campaign pretty hard, and sure there is fun to be had, especially in co-op modes. But in 2015 I cannot for the life of me, understand why a campaign with so much talent and cash invested in it, still turns out to be a big, dumb ‘whack-a-mole’ shooter.