Check out the previous article which discusses the official reveal of Call of Duty: Black Ops III here!
I’ve had to watch the gameplay reveal trailer, and read the first coverage of this game multiple times now to really get a firm grip on what my immediate reactions are. The one thing I hate about the video game industry, more so than anything else, is the rampant negativity shown towards all but a very select few things. The reveal of Star Wars: Battlefront a week or so ago, is a beautiful example of this. It is a game people have been clamoring for, for literally ten years, but the Internet has shown it nothing but negativity since it was unveiled for nothing more than what they think it should be, rather than what it is. Of course this criticism is not without reason. The game seems stripped back in some of the features it is providing, and may turn out to be less of a complete product than the last game in the series ten years ago, Star Wars: Battlefront II. However, the hate shown towards that game seems based more in the experiences of past disappointments than in what Battlefront will actually be when in comes out later this year. It is because the Internet is so intensely negative, that I feel like I have a duty to lighten things up a bit, and perhaps give a more positive outlook on things. That is why my immediate dislike of Call of Duty: Black Ops III is difficult for me to swallow.
Treyarch Studios is by far and away the premier Call of Duty developer in all the land. After the twin disappointments of Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Ghosts, and new-kid-on-the-block Sledgehammer Games’ Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, that separation in talent is clearer than ever. Treyarch’s three big mainline games, Call of Duty: World at War, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and Call of Duty: Black Ops II have all been on the spectrum of pretty good to fantastic. That ‘fantastic’ most recently falling on their last game, 2012’s Call of Duty: Black Ops II.
If anyone were to actually read this, my next statement might be a bit surprising for many fans of the Call of Duty series. Black Ops II is the best Call of Duty multiplayer experience to date. More so than CoD 4, and more so than Modern Warfare 2. To me, Black Ops II is, so far, the pinnacle of what CoD multiplayer can be. It features a multiplayer game that is not only easy to jump into, but one that is impeccably balanced, and features maps that not only make sense when navigating them, but offer players the ability to make nearly every play style they can think of work well in a competitive sense. While the game does have issues, the level of craftsmanship put into the most important part of a CoD game, the multiplayer, is extremely noticeable. Especially in comparison to the two games that have come after it.
Call of Duty: Ghosts featured maps that were unwieldy, and left the player open to assault from nearly every side, nearly all the time. The foregoing of the traditional three-lane map hurt the game,hurt its flow, and hurt its pacing online. Advanced Warfare was an even more diabolical culprit. The crux of its online multiplayer, the ‘revolutionary’ new movement mechanics, nearly broke the entire gameplay experience. Boosting around the map nearly turned every firefight into a desperate melee, with players jumping and boosting in the crazy directions hoping to land a lucky shot on the other. While Call of Duty has never been a game that one has needed skill at to win (outside of the professional competitive scene), as much as luck, Advanced Warfare was the worst offender of this. It made the game a test of patience, one where it was very difficult to do well in comparison with previous franchise titles. In additional to the broken movement, Advanced Warfare’s weapon balancing was atrocious. Whereas in Black Ops II, almost every single weapon, even the sidearms, was a potentially viable option when competing online, AW featured only a few choices that were competitive. This lowered the fun factor, and damaged the ability to create your soldier to your liking and still be a threat on the battlefield. This is why it is so disappointing to me, to see Treyarch seemingly building, not off their past triumphs like Black Ops II, but on the missteps of AW.
Perhaps the most key feature of Black Ops III‘s multiplayer aspect, that we’ve seen so far, is the retooled movement mechanics. Treyarch has very clearly taken at least some inspiration from Respawn Studio’s Titanfall. A game that really changed up what many thought an online shooter could be. New and interesting movement mechanics were a big part of that change. Wall running, and boosting around maps was an integral part of the game that seemed fresh and new. However, unlike Advanced Warfare‘s exo-suit boost jumping, Titanfall seemed perfectly designed to incorporate these new faster mechanics in a way that not only felt good, but played fair. Unfortunately, Call of Duty is a different beast entirely. Titanfall‘s faster pace works because it is more challenging to kill opponents. By giving extra health to the players, known as ‘pilots’, Respawn gave us the ability to challenge other players in combat. In AW if you are shot at first, you will die, at least 9 out of 10 times. In Titanfall, with the added health, the ability to challenge those who get the jump on you led to first shot deaths perhaps 6 or 7 out of every 10 times. It might not seem like a big change, but much in the way Halo plays online, it absolutely lessened the frustration of the movement mechanics and allowed for other weapons, rather than just the assault rifles and sub machine guns, to be a useful choice.
I fear that Treyarch can’t see the forest for the trees with Black Ops III. In an effort to continually iterate on what has come before, they are potentially creating a game that is worse than what they have made in the past. BO II was not a revolution in the multiplayer gaming space, and it was certainly not a revolution in the Call of Duty franchise, but it didn’t need to be, to be great. BO II works on so many levels because of how well made it was. It was the best version of traditional Call of Duty multiplayer, meaning it was potentially the best version of multiplayer in any game available at the time. But after the release of CoD Ghosts, there was a definitive call from the gaming community for Call of Duty to change things up. In that haste for change I think both the fans and the developers were looking at the wrong things as the culprits for the staleness people felt. In the case of Ghosts it wasn’t the normal on-foot gunplay that made the game feel worse than some of its predecessors, it was poor map design and less than stellar weapon balancing. I believe that Sledgehammer, Advanced Warfare’s developers, saw the way to change the series for the better, or to at least get it back on track was in changing how the core CoD multiplayer experience was played, not in refining what went wrong in the last release of the series. Because of that misjudgement we got stuck with a CoD that had big dreams but totally over exerted itself in terrible ways just because it was trying to be different. With Black Ops III I fear the same fate is possible. But what is potentially the most disappointing aspect of the new CoD is something that cannot be changed or adjusted in the coming months before the game releases in November; the setting.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III will be the fourth straight entry in the CoD franchise with a futuristic setting and storyline. The game will be set in the 2060’s when human augmentation has turned soldiers into weapons themselves, and robotics is taking over warfare piece by piece. That is well and good, but at this point in 2015, I am feeling intense ‘future fatigue’. 2012’s Black Ops II was set in the 2020’s and featured heavily the use of drones. 2013’s Ghosts was also set in the late 2020’s/early 2030’s and featured future weaponry and story. Last year’s Advanced Warfare was set in the 2050’s and featured the use of drones, robots, and exoskeleton suits as both weapons, and story plot lines. For me at least, it is all starting to run a bit together. The setting for Black Ops III is especially disappointing after all the rumors and speculation about it started back in December.
On December 7th of last year, Treyarch Studios tweeted out a ‘remember Pearl Harbor’ tweet, something they’ve never done before, and the entire Internet lit up in a wave of positivity I haven’t seen in a long time. Many people, myself included, were giddy at the idea that Call of Duty could be returning to its roots; World War II. An era of history that was once over used in the video game industry, but now is barely touched on at all. After 2008’s Call of Duty: World at War, many people were entirely sick of World War II games. Nowadays, the same thing can be said for futuristic warfare games. Not only has the Call of Duty series been riding the future warfare ship into the ground, but major games like Titanfall, Halo, and Destiny have all been set in the future as well, lending a greater general industry reliance on the future. In my opinion, the greatest change Treyarch could have made for its new game, the single change that would have done the most good, is to simply change change the setting. The future is becoming boring and overdone, and unless CoD is willing to jump hundreds of years in the future, not just decades, and give us CoD in outer space, it just isn’t going to make me go crazy with excitement anymore. A new CoD set in World War II utilizing the power of the next gen consoles could be amazing, and fresh in a way a new game set ten more years into the future could never be. I think that when people look back on Black Ops III, regardless of whether or not it is the best CoD ever, or the worst, they will see it as the tipping point, much like World at War was, that made people want to finally distance themselves from the extremely overused futuristic setting, at least for awhile.
I hate being negative about a game, I especially hate being negative about a game I haven’t played and know so little about. But what I have seen of Call of Duty: Black Ops III so far has not given me a ton of positive feelings. Who knows, maybe CoD 2K15 will prove to be the series best, but at the moment I am expecting to face the first disappointing game Treyarch has yet made for the series. However, I will withhold final judgement until I actually can get my hands on the game and play it.