For the 14th consecutive year, digital gun nuts flocked to a shiny new “Call of Duty” game. However, this year’s “Call of Duty: Black Ops III” asserts that “new” is actually a relative term.
Make no mistake: There’s very little new stuff here.
The player assumes the role of a talented but inexperienced rock-star soldier who is part of a crack team of special operatives. Your commander is a gruff, tough-as-nails veteran who impresses upon you that the brass up in Washington doesn’t care about you as a person – only the results your team gives them.
You and sarge, chief or whatever generic military name rolls off the tongue of your lead actor easiest, are sent to rescue a foreign diplomat from a terrorist organization. This guy is probably from Egypt or somewhere else that sounds scary to an average American, and his death would almost certainly be the international disaster that sparks the next world war.
Along the way, he will show you how to use the futuristic gadgets in your arsenal. You can see through walls, leap tall buildings in a single bound and blow people up using nothing more than a military issue toothpick. You blast through waves and waves of these terrorists – your only worry is whether or not you’ll run out of bullets.
Now, is that the first mission for “Black Ops III,” or last year’s “Advanced Warfare?” Trick question – it’s both.
I honestly couldn’t believe what I was seeing. An annual franchise – the most popular one on this or any other planet, blatantly copying itself.
It’s possible, I realized, given that “Call of Duty” works on a rotating development schedule. Treyarch spent the past few years cranking out “Black Ops III,” while Sledgehammer did the same for “Advanced Warfare.” Even Infinity Ward’s 2013 “Call of Duty: Ghosts” had us fighting terrorism in the not-so-distant future.
Perhaps they didn’t talk to one another, or maybe publisher Activision has mandated a formula that works. The old World War II games were never as commercially successful as the latest installments, which seem to break record after record each year. Maybe the parody will just continue until we are playing “Call of Duty: Black Ops VI,” in which we must pilot a giant robot that has to fight other terrorist robots.
Even the new features in “Black Ops III” are old news in terms of the shooter genre. The fluid and exciting parkour/free-running elements, which have us running across walls and climbing 50-foot cliffs, look and feel exactly like “Titanfall.”
The addition of playable character classes allows players to use unique skills a few times per match to gain an advantage. In theory, it’s a nice little wrinkle. But you only get to use it once if you are getting crushed by the opposing team or two, maybe three times during a winning effort. They also take some skill and luck to use properly; you can, and you will, press your special button only to be mercilessly gunned down by three people a second later, thus destroying the bonus.
Some journalists heaped sincere or backhanded praise on “Black Ops III” for allowing players to use a female avatar in the single-player campaign for the first time in the franchise’s history. That’s a positive step, for sure, but including women in things is hardly an achievement.
This creative step was muddied further by the fact that once you pick a gender, you must then pick a face – provided it is a white one. Of course a few variations are available to slightly augment your white guy or girl. Try “I just went to Key West” tan white dude or the “maybe I am from a Mediterranean country” olive tone.
Is the game pretty? Of course it is. It is beautiful – probably at the top of the heap graphically. But are we, the gaming community, simpletons who will buy a product for the promise of pretty colors and explosions with no substance? Do we shun the compatible girl next door and the brainy boy who’s good in chemistry class to mindlessly chase after the most popular person in school?
I guess we do. According to an Activision press release, “Black Ops III” made $550 million in its opening weekend. That’s more than any other game – or any other entertainment release, including “Jurassic World.”
Call of Duty: Black Ops III
Video Game Review
▪ Rated M for Mature for violence and gore
▪ Developer: Treyarch
▪ Publisher: Activision
▪ Out now for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC