I have played nearly every Call of Duty campaign since Finest Hour in 2005. I've endured the trenches of World War II in gritty missions with Call of Duty 2 and World at War. I've stopped a traitor from deceiving the world in Modern Warfare 2, prevented a biochemical outbreak in Black Ops, taken down a private military corporation from controlling the nations in Advanced Warfare, and more. What can I say? These stories that Call of Duty's developers have crafted haven't always been the smartest or most original, but nearly each campaign I've played has always had something going for it. Even Ghosts had a lovely selection of stealth missions and a mildly compelling family dynamic with the main characters, and I had to see Modern Warfare 3 through with its entertaining heroes and epic conclusion.
But after 10 years, Black Ops III, arguably coming from the franchise's finest developer, marks the first campaign that has left me flabbergasted with disappointment. I would've never imagined that Treyarch could be capable of delivering a lazy, incoherent snoozefest with its solid track record – especially since it marks the first time that the studio's had three years to complete its game. Yet here we are: Black Ops III is the most underwhelming campaign in the series' history, which ultimately fizzles in five major ways.
The story is given no context and has pathetic relations to the past
I set out with the intention of playing the entire campaign with a group of three friends. While numerous crashes and glitches prevented us from doing so, this wasn't the worst part we experienced after completing the first mission. I was informed from the introductory cutscene that Hendricks was my new CO and I would be rescuing an Egyptian Minister kidnaped by the NRC due to the uprisings in Cairo. Well...who is Hendricks? Why is this Egyptian Minister important? What is the NRC, what happened in Cairo, and who am I even fighting for? Black Ops III starts right in the middle of things and continually throws meaningless exposition at the wall, shoving everything required for context in the 'Safehouse' hub areas. In these interstitial places you can peruse the history about every faction and event that's come about over the decades since Black Ops II on boring, Wikipedia-esque pages filled with walls of text about numerous treaties and politics.
Even after delving into them, it's astonishing how poor the connections are with past titles compared to every Call of Duty that has built upon previously established universes. Pathetic, fly-by references to Nova 6 from Black Ops and Raul Menendez from the sequel bear no consequential impacts on the third entry. While I concede that the story seems to have impressive, hidden meanings beneath the surface, I view it in a light akin to Destiny's story: subtle diamonds in the rough are no excuse for the surface narrative to be poorly written and delivered. You can maintain all the mystery for enthusiasts to uncover, but should also have a tale for your average player to appreciate. Intentionally burying treasure under a bunch of mud only discourages the majority of players from digging for it if they don't enjoy or care about anything that happens in the first place.
Banal characters and plot destroy any possible personal investment
The story is about you, "Player", and your buddy Hendricks hunting down a rogue Black Ops unit led by cyber soldier Taylor. Along the way, you'll team up with Winslow Accords agent Rachel Kane and Lieutenant Khalil to figure out what the group's up to, but these main characters along with everyone else are disinteresting with their cookie cutter personalities. Even Hendricks, someone you're alongside for nearly every mission, has confusing outbursts and simply feels like another face with a name. You're supposed to be concerned for him since he's your best friend, but like with the rest of the cast, weird dialogue, childish swearing, and mediocre voice acting fail to make him stand out like iconic companions Captain Price or Victor Reznov.
What's worse is that your character, especially while playing as the male, is literally jarring to listen to, with forced, dry lines that will make you wonder how Treyarch okayed such awful work compared to previous, stellar performances by the likes of Sam Worthington and Gary Oldman. And simply put, the plot is entirely by the numbers, following a similar structure to Ghosts with less thrills that made me lose interest in the heroes, villains, and things at stake long before the campaign became vaguely interesting midway through the experience.
Themes are missed opportunities and aren't explored well at all
Treyarch had me going for a while with its impressive reveal trailer. With Black Ops II, Treyarch asked, "What happens when we rely on technology too much? What if our enemies could turn it against us because we are weak and defenceless without it?" These questions were adequately addressed, and with the third game, the same topic seemed like it was going to be taken to deeper, moral issues. "How much should we let technology shape who we are when we fuse it with our very minds and bodies? Does that change how we define humanity? How far can we justify violating the natural order of things in the pursuit of 'improving' our race and survival? How does this alter our relationships with people and trust in others?"
The opportunity for deeply personal relationships and interactions between characters and tough subject matters are great with this subject in mind, but Treyarch opted out of this to vaguely poke at the dangers and philosophical implications of creating sentient AI and bleeding edge virtual reality instead. It could've built on what games like the Deus Ex series and SOMA have tackled, yet Black Ops III hardly touches on the ethical dilemmas and conflict that could result in a world divided by cybernetic alteration and the fears of embracing a virtual reality that's too real, so the game feels more like a half-hearted attempt in the end to seem intellectual when it's just a confusing mess trying too hard to be mind-blowing.
Lack of mission variety or meaningful customisation ruin pacing
Vehicle sections, stealth missions, big shootouts, I've come to expect these elements in a Call of Duty title. Black Ops III is just an endless barrage of open-area shootouts with only minor vehicle missions interspersed in the campaign that are far too short and limiting. For example, a mission where you pilot a futuristic jet is on-rails half of the time that you're in the cockpit, only giving you control to shoot enemies on an oil rig-like structure with little to no difficulty, whereas you completely commandeer helicopters, boats, tanks, and more in past titles.
There are no stealth missions either, and part of the reason for this must be loadout customisation. By granting players the ability to use whatever they want, every mission is designed to go loud. Over time, each one starts to feel the same as you move from area to area shooting more humans and robots, so taking the time to use different weaponry, grenades, and whatnot feels pointless. This is indicative of the biggest offender about Black Ops III...
The campaign's structure and design ironically discourage co-op
The narrative isn't written to account for four characters like in many co-op games such as FUSE, Diablo III, or Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, so each player is bizarrely cast as the same character that can be differentiated by gender and outfit. Therefore "unique abilities" are up to players to assign on their own by making up different battlefield roles with weapons, equipment, and Cyber Core abilities. However, since customisation drags down the pacing and feels unimportant, co-op ends up being more of a hassle to experience with friends – especially since the campaign places such importance on wanting the player to catch visual and dialogue cues that hint towards the story's secrets.
To remedy this, did Treyarch look for inspiration in the Modern Warfare series' Spec Ops mode, which assigned varied roles to players that truly inspired teamwork? Did it craft a narrative that makes room for four individual characters with unique personalities like Halo 5: Guardians, where you're able to play solo with the AI or roll with three other friends? Did it think about how cybernetic manipulation of the mind and moral debates among a team of soldiers could result in an emotional, provocative tale that tests the bounds of camaraderie and loyalty? The answer to these questions is a resounding "no", leaving us with a feeble attempt at co-op that amounts to little that's memorable. But on I went, trekking through Black Ops III's steel, cold shell of a campaign as a lone wolf, which left me to ponder and lament how Treyarch failed to Pack-a-Punch this time around with its campaign.
Do you agree that Call of Duty: Black Ops III's campaign is a pretentious bore with little redeeming qualities, or do you think Treyarch mastered co-op and delivered an explosive robot-killing romp? Fire your feelings in the comments section below.
Do you agree that Black Ops III's campaign is a pretentious bore? (73 votes)
Yes, I can't believe how the campaign is disappointing in so many ways
Eh, the campaign was fun but isn't anything special
No, the campaign is one of the best to grace Call of Duty in quite some time
Uh, I couldn't care less about Call of Duty
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