There are certain things I've come to expect from a single player Call of Duty experience — bombastic set pieces, an in-your-face message, some sort of betrayal and a slow motion enemy take down. Black Ops III delivers three out of four, plus a whole lot more.
The latest instalment of Activision's biggest franchise that doesn't involve interactive toys or Bungie stumbling over itself is here, and what a difference an extra year has made. With Infinity Ward handling 2013's Ghosts and Sledgehammer on 2014's Advanced Warfare, Treyarch has had a luxurious three year cycle to develop Black Ops III. It really shows, especially in the single player portion of the game.
Yes, there are people who play Call of Duty games primarily for the single player (or co-op) experience. I happen to be one of them, and Activision PR assures me I am far from alone.
So when I received my copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops III earlier this week and the multiplayer servers weren't up yet (they finally came up Thursday morning), I was fine with that. I had a strange story to explore, some zombies to kill and local bot-based multiplayer to dabble in before going online to have my arse handed to me (how do these people keep getting my arse?) Good thing I wasn't playing on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.
So while I'm reserving final judgement on the game until we've had some quality time online with the general populace, here's some of my favourite and not-so-favourite aspects of flying solo in Black Ops III.
Women And Men, Fighting Together
Among a cast that includes Law & Order: SVU's Christopher Meloni, Battlestar Galactica's Katie Sackhoff and Tony "Gepetto" Amendola as some sort of evil scientist, the player character is portrayed by either Ben Browder of Farscape fame...
...or Abby Brammell from a bunch of different bit parts here and there.
Because everyone is equal when large portions of their body have been replaced with advanced robotics.
It's refreshing to see this sort of option in a Call of Duty single player experience, just as it's nice to hear both female and male voices dying when I set them on fire with nanobots. Everybody is on the battlefield in this game, regardless of race, gender or close relation to appliances.
Combat Robots From The Future
Remember Advanced Warfare? It's not quite so advance now. Black Ops III is set in the dystopian future of 2065, an age where sophisticated air defence systems have brought warfare back to the ground. This gives science a chance to muck about with advanced cybernetics, robotics and artificial intelligence to the point where the general populace basically begs them to stop. Science, as per usual, does not stop, and the consequences are quite dire.
That's the strong message I took away from Black Ops III's campaign: just because science can create electronic brain interfaces that link cybernetic soldiers together doesn't mean they should, even if it grants them special powers like being able to short out electronics or cause mass hallucinations.
Free To Be Super-Powered Me
What's so great about Black Ops III's much-hyped cybernetic powers is that outside of the initial tutorial, the player is free to use or not use them as they see fit.
The Cyber Core abilities, as they are officially called, are treated like another aspect of the player character's loadout. Before each of the game's missions, the player chooses one of three types — manipulative Control, in-your-face Martial or mayhem-generating Chaos — and they're free to make use of them during battle as they see fit.
I leaned heavily on two main powers during my run through. Adaptive Immolation causes robots to explode. Firefly Swarm causes humans to catch on fire (once upgraded). That's my style — I hide behind corners, pop out, blow something up and pop back.
A more bold player might invest their upgrade packs more heavily in Martial, dashing through enemies with destructive force and such. Or someone might run through the game without using any powers at all. There is no right way to play.
Mine's pretty close though.
The Ready Room
All of these pre-mission choices are made via a fully navigable mission hub. As Black Ops II was the first Call of Duty game to allow players to modify their weapons loadout between missions, Black Ops III is the first to give players a little ready room to romp about in.
Here the player can unlock and equip new weapons, upgrade their Cyber Core powers, flip through collectibles, change their outfits (or gender), listen to music, watch cutscene movies or just watch the janitor clean things up. He's pretty good at it. There's even a simulator with 15 waves of increasingly difficult enemies, if you're into that sort of thing.
This hub is also where players can select missions, either in order (as I did it) or by unlocking them all at once and running through them as they please. The mission information screen contains helpful information like estimated enemy types and distance, which a smart player can use to make informed weapon choices.
Things Get Really Weird
If you're going to unlock all of the missions from the start, play out of order and ignore the natural progression of things, I highly recommend starting off with "Demon Within." It will seriously blow your mind.
What the hell is going on here?
Why is Katie Sackhoff floating?
I give up.
I'd seriously recommend going through the entire story in order for any of that to make a lick of sense, but feel free to drop your friends in the middle of it and watch them be incredibly confused.
On The Mirror's Edge
Let's Call of Duty parkour, everybody!
As promised, several levels of oddly-disjointed but ultimately satisfying first-person running. This is Call of Duty's version of Mortal Kombat kart-racing.
Zombies Mode Is Ridiculously Charming So Far
I've not had much time to play Black Ops III's version of zombies, because I am too much of a frightened child to play it alone for long. What I've seen so far however, is wondrous.
That's Ron Perlman, one of four of the mode's stars, not giving a f*** as the best music ever to accompany dying undead is played.
Expect much more to come on this mode.
Oh, And There's The Second Campaign
As if 11 missions running 30 minutes to an hour each weren't enough, once you complete the campaign a new option appears on the main menu called "Nightmares." What Treyarch has done is taken each of the 11 missions, mixed up their order, replaced human enemies with zombies and robots with rusted robots. Then they recorded new dialogue to create a zombie-based narrative.
Here's the intro to the Hypocenter level is the main game. It's chapter four or so.
And here's the intro to the first chapter of Nightmares.
Same cutscene, different voices. Same levels, different enemies. Treyarch had so much time on its hands, it made an extra game.
No One Dies In Slow Motion
You never truly appreciate what you have in slow motion until it's gone.
While there are aspects of the Black Ops III single player experience that I don't love — Christopher Meloni without Mariska Hargitay, an over-reliance on giant walker robots, the one time my screen turned white in the middle of a mission and I had to restart — there is a ton of quality content for the solo player to enjoy. And if you're not flying solo, all of this single-player goodness is also online and four-player split-screen co-op goodness as well.
We'll have more on all of Call of Duty: Black Ops III's modes in the coming days.