And with the campaign of Black Ops III, I’m finally as caught up on Call of Duty as I care to be. A copy of the game actually came with my PS4, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. If I do keep it around the campaign will probably be the least of the reason. I’m not saying that to put the game down, but it seems like Treyarch’s style of COD has developed in a direction completely different form what made me enjoy the franchise back in the days of Call of Duty 2 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
My my last couple COD-catch-up posts I explained that I still liked Infinity Ward’s style of story campaign and preferred it to the Treyarch games I’d played like Call of Duty: Big Red One, World At War, and the original Black Ops. I got tired of linear war shooters a while ago, but IW seems to understand how to keep a linear shooter campaign fresh and well-paced, maintaining a sense of variety in the gunfights.
Black Ops III has a few parts with neat gimmicks here and there, but maybe half the game’s campaign involves simply shooting at enemies in semi-open arenas. That said, Treyarch kind of has a reason to rest on the laurels of its base game mechanics this time around. Skipping Black Ops II means I don’t know how much of Treyarch’s futuristic gameplay is new here, but your basic abilities in Black Ops III range a lot wider than in pretty much any previous COD game. Things like running on walls and taking control of robots offers a bit more opportunity to mix things up in ordinary gun fights. I guess whether or not you like that depends on how much you like the ordinary gunfights in this game.
Personally I got through the game just shooting at people from behind cover and occasionally doing some kind of shockwave punch. Still, I can see why some people might see all this as more forward-looking than what’s in the IW games. I just think IW does a better job of mixing up the ingredients it does use in its campaigns. Out of the three current-generation COD campaigns, I’m gonna have to say my favorite was Ghosts, but if I had to choose which ones I’d go back to and keep playing, I’d probably still pick the Modern Warfare games.
And man don’t get me started on that mind-trip storyline in Black Ops III. I really don’t wanna see mind-trip story segments in video games anymore. They’re not interesting anymore and most designers aren’t really good at them. They feel especially silly when the most popular console game in the world uses them to try to feel artsy. It really made me just want to boot up DOOM again. What’s funny is that during Black Ops III I was thinking that I really wanted to see the return of World War II with modern graphics, like a flashback mission or something… right around the time the game presented me with one. The point is, I think shooter storylines really need to simplify, or maybe just stop relying on crazy tropes and twists.
That brings me to something else that I find strange about how Treyarch handles campaigns: the method of delivering the story. IW has been somewhat adamant about maintaining the first person perspective as well as a degree of interactivity in its story delivery. I actually appreciate that for trying to stick within tools and limitations of the video game. Even Sledgehammer’s Advanced Warfare has clear distinctions between this and its pre-rendered scenes. Black Ops III on the other hand seems all over the place. Treyarch started drifting towards traditional cut scenes with the original Black Ops and seems to have fully embraced them with its latest game. Some are in first person and are presented to look like the interactive story scenes of older COD games but can be skipped now, some are traditional third person cut scenes, and there is also a lot of plot delivery while you’re in control of your character.
To me it seems like this is one method, along with the game modes and gameplay mechanics, in which Treyarch has just patterned its version of COD after other popular video games, offering players all the things they know they want. I feel like this strain of COD has less of an identity this way. For instance, I see the reasoning behind letting players customize their own campaign player character to a degree, and that would have actually made a lot of sense if the story here were conveyed like the older entries which treat the protagonist as if they are actually the player, but in Black Ops III you see the protagonist’s face and hear their voice and opinions. It’s like Treyarch wanted to make a Commander Shepard but didn’t go all the way.
Maybe I really should try Zombies. I never investigated it that much but it seems to have grown its own developed storylines that are allowed to have more fun. I’d like to think that’s part of why Zombies grew into the main reason a lot of people play COD these days. It seems like something unique that millions of people probably wouldn’t even give a second thought if it hadn’t come from under the COD name.
I gotta admit the environment design in Black Ops III is dope though. Not only do the graphics look consistently impressive but if you stop to look at the levels they are impossibly detailed and well-lit. COD has taken that money it uses for its incredibly varied art assets and successfully transitioned those production values into the modern generation of hardware.
Anyway, the reason I might keep my copy of Black Ops III around, and probably why so many people like Treyarch COD so much, is because the amount of content and features in this game is honestly staggering. It slapped me in the face how content-rich this game is as soon as I booted it up. I hadn’t realized previous COD games were doing it, but Black Ops III is the first once since COD4 that I realized had LAN. Pretty much every mode is also playable in two-player split screen, including four-player split screen multiplayer and zombies apparently. Oh and Treyarch has been keeping multiplayer bots in every Black Ops game. The prospect of having a decent shooter in which I can mess with bots or play split screen with company might be enough to keep Black Ops III installed on my PS4 (but probably not enough for me to pay $60 for a PC copy).