Like death, taxes and corrupt politicians there is something we can always rely on and that is that Call of Duty will be released on an annual basis to much fanfare, fanboying and online arguments.

Whether you are a Call of Duty fan or not it is impossible to ignore the impact this game has on the videogame landscape every year and this year is definitely not going to be an exception with the largest every Call of Duty experience hitting shelves today.

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Unlike most games there are several extremely distinct parts to the Call of Duty experience. We have the usual in-your-face single player campaign (that isn’t that usual this time), and then the in-depth and extensive multiplayer. Plus since this is a Treyarch experience we have the Zombies mode and a wealth of hidden extras and bonus material.

Single player

First things first. Call of Duty was originally all about the single player experience and every year we have been treated to ever more exciting, if shorter, single player campaigns. A few years back the story lines and experiences branched into sub plots and this year it is the return of the Black Ops team.

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Personally the Black Ops story has never been my favourite sub-plot with its very psychological and introspective storytelling. And this year started the same way with you being thrown pretty quickly into a very twisting narrative – and unlike the popcorn-entertainment offerings from Infinity Ward or Sledgehammer you are going to need to concentrate to really understand, or try to understand, what is going on.

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But before we get into that the biggest change this year to the Call of Duty Single Player experience is that you don’t have to go it alone this year. You can if you like, obviously but if you are more socially orientated than I am then you are now able to take on the expansive single player with up to 3 other friends and, according to Treyarch, the game’s AI will change to suit it.

I tried it out for a bit and so far so good. Whether the most difficult sections ramp up in difficulty will have to be seen but with the twisting plot you may want to have some friends on hand so you don’t lose your mind while playing.

I’ve been in turmoil over the last week since returning from the review event (details on that later), about what the actual story was about and whether I enjoyed it.  You see I normally play the Call of Duty campaigns to feel like the complete bad-ass who is here to save the world from the stereotypical bad guy – and obviously I’ll win.

I enjoy that experience, it’s one of the reasons I play games and for Treyarch to rip that away from me definitely left me a bit resentful.

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You see in Black Ops 3 you quickly realise that while you think you are a really good guy and are saving the world that this may not actually be the case. This sort of plot has been done often and while there is nothing wrong with the idea it really isn’t anything new. You spend hours trying to figure out if you are good or bad or more likely a combination of the two and generally things play out as you would expect.

However what I found unique this year is the lack of the stereotypical antagonist. Advanced Warfare went the way of showing you the good guy and then making him bad at the end, which wasn’t hard to see – but it will be a small subset of you who actually pick up who the real bad guy is before the game is over in Black Ops 3.

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And then even more worryingly, or perhaps amazingly, is that you still may not be sure after that point.

Treyarch have also added some new mechanics into the single player experience where you can change your ability load out before leaving the safe house. The abilities you can load are all part of your new semi-robotic makeup and include upgradeable abilities such as taking over control of enemy robotics or unleashing a swarm of exploding flies towards the enemy.

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Each ability, of which there are about 21, can be upgraded so while you may only be able to control a turret in the beginning if you upgrade that ability enough you are going to be able to take control of massive spider tanks in the end which will absolutely change the way the game works.

As there are so many abilities the mission hub gives you an expected breakdown of what you are going to encounter in the next mission, be it a robot heavy mission or one where you are going to be going up against a ton of heavy weaponry. Granted your mission expectations aren’t always correct but it’s a good indicator especially in the early missions.

It’s hard to write about the storyline without giving much away as the experience is worth the entry fee – but I will say that if you are not a fan of the psychological nature of the Black Ops narrative then you may not enjoy this as much the more action-mined tales told in Modern Warfare and its ilk.

However if you enjoyed the incredibly good Spec Ops: The Line then you are likely going to love this experience. You are also going to want to play it twice to pick up on all the hints which are dropped through the process.

However it’s not all good. Sometimes the arguments between your player character and members of the team are scarcely believable and there is some strange, discordant attempt at a love story that is needlessly shoehorned into the experience. They both could have worked but they also both appeared to miss the mark.

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The biggest question of all, is how long is the Single Player Campaign is.

I started on regular and after around 5 hours I was getting worried that I wouldn’t get enough time with multiplayer if I continued on this level so I dropped it down to recruit and my play time just topped the 8 hours and 30 minute mark.

If you tried the game on Veteran I’d be amazed if you completed it in under 13 hours.

Multiplayer

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While the single player experience is a great appetiser the real meat of Call of Duty is obviously the multiplayer. Personally, I haven’t had as good an experience with Call of Duty multiplayer as I have with Black Ops 3 for many years.

Specialists

The stand-out change this year is obviously the addition of Specialists into Call of Duty. Your choice of main character is no longer just a vanity pick with the addition of 9 specialists at launch. We expect more as DLC.

Each specialist has 2 possible abilities so in essence there are 18 different characters that can be chosen as your base.

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You need to charge your abilities by killing opponents, taking control points, surviving and generally just running around and playing the game. Abilities range from mass execution abilities like the Flamethrower or War machine (which delightfully shoots bouncing grenades) to the stealthy where you can create decoys to confuse your opponents to the tactical options of being able to ping the map and see where all your opponents are.

While specialists are fun for the casually-minded among us, I’m far more excited to see how the top-end, competitive guys use them in conjunction with their teammates and killstreaks to dominate in tournaments.

Manoeuvrability

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Before even getting to grips with the specialists you are going to have to perfect the new movement systems that have appeared with Black Ops 3 – with jet packs, wall running and water now becoming absolutely essential parts of the experience.

I really struggled to get the shooting while wall-running skill down and for a while I didn’t even think it was going to be that worthwhile. That was until my opponents nailed the ability and just started dominating us entirely by magically appearing around corners I never even saw.

It’s one thing knowing that someone is going to be running along that wall in front of you but when they jump off the map, run along the outside wall and then re-enter the map it’s an entirely new thing all together.

Guns, Scorestreaks and Map Design

Apart from those two massive game changers Treyarch have also obviously improved the guns on offer, along with creating some incredible new score streaks and with the new movement engine the entire map design logic has been turned on its head.

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From underwater tunnels to ambush opportunities to the aforementioned wall running abilities, the designers really have had a lot to think about and to be honest this is where some of it falls down.

The fact that I can now go anywhere means I try go everywhere which results in a face full of invisible wall far too often. It’s understandable as the designers need to ensure balanced maps but at the same time it is very frustrating to have your way blocked when you think you have the perfect path in front of you.

And as for the score streaks, unfortunately I’m not good enough to get the advanced ones but being able to remotely control a drone tank while it lays waste to other journalists really made me smile.

Zombies

Zombies…. the mode that you either love or loathe.

Unfortunately for me I’m not a fan of the zombie mode that Treyarch offers up in their versions of Call of Duty – and as such I find it incredibly difficult to tell you honestly whether they are good or not.

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What I can tell you however is that the zombie mode this year is apparently much larger than ever before with the team being given more time than ever to craft the ultimate undead experience.

I jumped into zombie mode with some Polish journalists and made it to round 6 twice. That was it. We got our asses kicked. I then went to watch some of the other guys play and honestly didn’t see anyone really getting much further.

Compared to the previous versions I played this one has the same basic formula but felt more complicated. The map was tighter at the beginning than previously but the doors everywhere implied it was going to open up massively as you progressed and the number of zombie variants was quite impressive.

I honestly wish I could say more but with zombie mode being specifically designed to be incredibly difficult and me not being any good at it has limited my grasp of it.

And more

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Treyarch has made adding extras into their games standard protocol and this year is absolutely no different.

So you think 8.5 hours is quick for the single player? Well then why not entirely redo the campaign, in a different order, with zombies instead of normal enemies.

Yes when you do complete the campaign a new mode opens up called Nightmares which has you traversing the entire campaign again in a new order with an entirely new story. And this time the story is based around the undead.

Fans have been begging for years for a Zombie story mode and now it is here. Here’s hoping you are happy.

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Over and above that, Dead Ops has returned as a top down, up to 4 player, twin stick shooter which can be accessed from inside the safe house. But just be careful which direction you choose after completing a level as you may find yourself suddenly thrust into first person mode which is pretty intense.

But that’s not all. Buy now (or whenever) and you will also get the multiplayer mode Free Run for well, free.

In Free Run you are tasked with completing increasingly complex courses in the shortest amount of time. Such is the difficulty and addictive nature of this mode that we are giving away a Juggernog Fridge for the fastest time completed by a South African resident by midnight on Monday.

While that is more than enough, there is also a combat training module that you can enter from the safe house to test out new weapons and abilities in without worrying about dying. There’s also the cute ability to decorate your safe house with objects hidden around the campaign world. Yes, really.

[Disclaimer]

This review was performed at a 3 day event in London where flights, accommodation and standard meals were covered by Activision. The R137.50 beer I had at the hotel bar was not however… stupid English prices.

Last Updated: November 6, 2015

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
Summary
In the end it is still Call of Duty and if you aren’t a fan of the run and gun mechanic then you are probably not going to be a big fan. However if you’ve ever enjoyed any Call of Duty game since World at War you are going to love this. Easily the best multiplayer I’ve experienced in years along with a strikingly unique single player campaign plus a bucket load of extras and a massive community to enjoy it with. You can’t go wrong picking it up this year.
9.0
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 was reviewed on PlayStation 4

Gavin Mannion

I for one welcome our future robotic overlords

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