Lots of customization options

Call of Duty: Black Ops III's multiplayer beta isn't locked only to people who spend money.

Above: Call of Duty: Black Ops III’s soldiers come heavily armored.

Image Credit: Activision

Treyarch has built a new progression system into the game, allowing you to unlock tokens that allow you to acquire different weapons and equipment throughout the campaign. You can upgrade your weapons, abilities, and outfits in the Safe House, a hub where you go in-between missions.

The multiplayer game uses a familiar Pick 10 point system. You can customize your kit with 10 different items, building the most deadly character that suits your style. The new Gunsmith feature allows you to create and add up to five weapon attachments and an optical sight. The combination of Gunsmith and Pick 10 gives you nearly an infinite number of user-generated content options.

A Paintshop feature lets you put custom prints on your gun. On the PC, Black Ops III will have modding and map-making tools. Fans can create new game modes, arenas, and other things, starting out sometime in 2016.

Awesome multiplayer

Multiplayer has nine new characters dubbed Specialists who each have unique special abilities. Seraph is a stealthy character who has a giant pistol; Ruin is a brute who can kill a bunch of players by smashing “gravity spikes” into the ground; Reaper is a robot with a deadly minigun; and Outrider carries a bow with explosive-tipped arrows.

With the specialists, you play for a while with your own custom weapons. Once a yellow meter fills up on the lower right hand side, you can switch to the specialist’s main weapon. Playing with these characters made multiplayer feel even more like it was designed for competitive esports.

Players can now “thrust jump” to the tops of buildings. You can run on walls simply by jumping toward them at an angle. A timer shows up, telling you how long you can run on the wall. But you can also chain movements together, like jumping on a wall and then leaping to another before the clock runs out. You can also do a power slide, where you can run and move into a slide, all the while shooting.

The gameplay is fast, but in some respects it’s also slower compared to the Modern Warfare series. It still favors “scorestreaks” for actions that benefit a whole team rather than just “killstreaks” that benefit a single player.

It took me a while to get into multiplayer on day one, but when I did, it was satisfying. In my first round of multiplayer, I did terrible, with three kills and 16 deaths. I used the War Machine specialist character to get access to a grenade launcher. By the second round, I came in third place in the match, with 10 kills, 13 deaths, 4 captures and 5 defends in a round of Domination, where you have to capture and hold three points on a map.

The acting and cinematics are just right

Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Above: In Zombies mode, you can play as a beast in Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Image Credit: Activision

The story, gameplay, and cinematics (film-like sequences) come together in a way that just immerses you in the world of future combat where something has gone terribly wrong. Some games overdo the gameplay and have no purpose, and others drown you in cinematics. This one has a very good balance. The acting is superb. Christopher Meloni is the voice actor for commander John Taylor, Katee Sackhoff is Sarah Hall, Sean Douglas is Jacob Hendriks, Rachel Kimsey plays Rache Kane, and Tony Amendola is Yousef Salim.

At the same time, the game doesn’t over-use these actors in cut scenes. You won’t see a cut scene last for 15 minutes, or remove the opportunity for gameplay at a crucial moment. (Ahem, like some Metal Gear Solid games that we know).

Zombies are quite fun

Once again, the Zombies cooperative mode is both challenging and fun. Treyarch started adding Zombies as an Easter egg in Call of Duty: World at War in 2008. There are two storylines for the Zombies co-op play. One story, Shadows of Evil, is set in a 1940s film noir place dubbed Morg City. Each of four shady characters is guided by a mysterious person named the Shadow Man, and those characters have to shoot for their lives. Zombies has a second story, dubbed The Giant, with alternate versions of the same characters.

I found it very hard to stay alive for long in Zombies. And that’s exactly what you want in a mode where the aim is surviving as long as you can.

What you won’t like

A character named Hendricks in Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

Above: A character named Hendricks in Call of Duty: Black Ops III. Faces look great in the game, but the animations during close-ups are spotty.

Image Credit: Activision

Bad facial animation

The facial animation doesn’t look as good as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare from last year. Who could forget the perfect animated face of Kevin Spacey? It’s odd to see this technology go in a backward direction. The problem is that many of the faces are used in cutscenes and in close-ups. The lip-syncing also isn’t that great in some parts. That takes away from the illusion that you’re immersed in the middle of a combat drama.

Server problems

I had trouble connecting to multiplayer games on day one. That was very disappointing, as I had already completed the single-player campaign and wanted to move to multiplayer. Instead, I got server errors on Friday evening, the day of the launch. This is inexcusable, since we’ve had a huge multiplayer beta on the PS4. And it’s disappointing because the multiplayer version of the game has been ready much sooner than in past games. Sadly, server problems on day one are not uncommon, and they really deflate the initial experience. By Saturday morning, all the servers were listed as having “good” access, and I was able to get into games on the PS4.

Missions for single-player campaign and Zombies load slowly

It takes a while to load Zombies, and then it plays a fairly long cutscene before you can skip to the gameplay, and this happens every time you start a new round. When you die in Zombies, it takes a long time to get back to the main screen where you can start again. For some reason, they couldn’t make this as fast loading as other screens. Even the main story missions load fairly slowly. Fortunately, during the missions, the gameplay is seamless and uninterrupted, for the most part.

Some abilities arrive too slowly

I loved running on walls. But it took quite a while before I could earn enough points to add the ability. You can routinely use this capability in multiplayer, but it’s just not realistic that such a fundamentally powerful capability is used so late in the game, or comes at a price. This is, after all, the future. I should be able to do this on the very first mission.

Conclusion

Ramses Station Quad Tank in Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Above: Ramses Station Quad Tank in Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Image Credit: Activision

I’ve spent a lot of time playing Call of Duty games in my life, and have played through the single-player campaigns of just about all of them.

This game has its flaws, but none of them (except the server problems) brought my gameplay to a halt. Most of the time, you don’t notice what’s wrong. You just keep on playing, and you won’t want to stop the single-player campaign until you reach the end. The game has a huge amount of content, and it is highly replayable. A “realistic” difficulty mode means that one bullet is enough to kill you.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III is a big step forward on multiplayer play, the quality of the single-player story, the imaginative story paths, and the outstanding quality of the wide-open landscapes, and the wide variety of enemies. I suspect that Activision has a very good chance of restoring the series to record levels in comparison to the last couple of years.

Last year, I scored Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare at 89 out of 100, in terms of a review score. Before that, I was disappointed with Call of Duty: Ghosts, and I gave it an 80. I ranked Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 at 90, and I ranked Call of Duty Black Ops II at 89. I’ve rated this version of Call of Duty higher than any of those titles.

Score: 92/100

Call of Duty: Black Ops III is available now for PC, Xbox One, and Playstation 4. The publisher provided GamesBeat with a copy of PS4 edition of the game for this review.

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