It’s become difficult to successfully iterate on the “Call of Duty” formula each year and make it feel like something new. Among the three-headed developer monster tasked with keeping the franchise feeling fresh, arguably no studio has taken the ball and run with it more than Treyarch. The “Black Ops” series has been considered among the best among the subset of “Call of Duty” games, which is why there have been some high expectations placed on “Call of Duty: Black Ops III.” Those expecting more of “Black Ops II” are going to find some noticeable changes here, for better or worse, but they mostly add up to a memorable package.


Some of the biggest changes are going to be found in the “Black Ops 3” campaign and they can be a mixed bag. The story follows an unnamed advanced soldier in the year 2025, improved by the implementation of a brain implant called the Direct Neural Interface. While players can go in with very little knowledge of the BO2 story and fare just fine, there is enough fallout from the previous game to help set the table for a tale of political intrigue, an unstable league of nations and rogue soldiers with their own agenda. Without spoiling events of the story, what that agenda ends up being is something incredibly far-fetched and whacked out, so much to the point that it’s almost fair to wonder if this is still a “Call of Duty” story.

Gone is the idea of a main central character, like the Masons, since Treyarch is implementing the Create-A-Soldier idea from traditional “CoD” multiplayer. This is right down to weapon loadouts, cosmetic appearances and even character gender, though it’ll become clear later in the campaign that the story was written with a male lead in mind. The narrative somewhat suffers from this idea, since your character comes off as something generic.

On the other end of the spectrum, where the story feels lacking, the gameplay feels the freshest of any “Call of Duty” campaign in recent memory. In addition to more spacious stages that reduce the corridor shooting that has helped some campaigns feel stagnant, “Black Ops 3” also adds new powers in the form of Cyber Cores. These grant players abilities in three distinct areas to change up the way they play certain levels, with one focusing on manipulating and controlling enemy machines, another focusing on enhancing the player’s own abilities, and a third that uses more sci-fi-style abilities like pyrokinesis or nanites that ignite foes.

Up to four players can play the campaign together, both online and locally, which goes well with the improved stage design. This is something of a double-edged sword, though. With the idea that players can drop in and out of campaign stages, it means that the branching paths and multiple endings that made the first two “Black Ops” campaigns feel like a breath of fresh air have gone by the wayside. Whether this is a positive or negative is a matter of perspective. I love the idea of being able to shoot robots and search for collectibles with friends, but there are certain instances where it would have been nice to have some choice. There are examples throughout the story, including a few where characters ask you to make a decision before surrounding events wind up making that call for you.

Treyarch has clearly packed a lot of effort into “Black Ops 3” and while not all of it necessarily hits, there’s enough to keep both solo players and social butterflies active. While the campaign story itself feels silly, co-op is a marvelous addition and a far better way to experience the narrative for those that don’t feel like killing zombies. Meanwhile, multiplayer feels like a huge difference from previous “CoD” games and much of it is for the better. With a faster pace, more fluid movement and cool Specialist abilities, it feels like a refreshing twist on the “CoD” multiplayer formula.


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