Black Ops 3 Does Not Stand Out From Its Past

Treyarch tries to present what’s old as new at E3 2015.

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Variety is the spice of Call of Duty. As one of the most overexposed video game franchises of all time, differentiating the next title from the last is critical.

Credit where it’s due, thus far Activision and its cadre of Call of Duty developers have done a commendable job at giving each new entry in the series a sense of identity. Modern Warfare’s reliance on bleeding-edge fantasy tech and Black Ops’ focus on deep customisation have served as solid foundations for Infinity Ward and Treyarch to build distinct titles on.

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This year’s Call of Duty will be the third entry in Treyarch’s Black Ops sub-series and, based on our hands-on experience, it may be the point of convergence.

Black Ops 3 does not stand out from its past. It iterates on last year’s Advanced Warfare, whilst maintaining the customisation at the core of Treyarch’s previous titles, but does too little to suggest it has made progress from last year’s entry. The freedom of movement, introduced in Sledgehammer’s Advanced Warfare last year, has become a pillar of Black Ops 3’s gameplay, though there have been some subtle tweaks.

"Black Ops 3 does too little to suggest it has made progress from last year’s Call of Duty entry."

First of the changes is an infinite sprint. Unlike previous games, where players would naturally transition out of a sprint and into a normal run after a set period, sprints can now be maintained for as long as you want. Obviously, this makes for maddeningly hyper multiplayer matches. But it also begs the question, why would you ever feel compelled to slow down? Treyarch has an answer: because situational awareness is much harder to maintain when you’re tearing around multiplayer maps. But you’ll still sprint anyway, like a manic shark-jumping grunt, leaping across rooftops, clambering up buildings, vaulting cover, and sprinting over walls. Everything introduced has become commonplace already.

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That's probably a little unfair on what is an honest effort from Treyarch, whose developers have attempted to present Black Ops 3’s features as something fresh and new. Unfortunately, in practice, the game's central mechanics are what they’ve always been, except with some of the parameters changed. A Boost Jump is an Exo Jump, regardless of whether its designed to make you feel powerful or introduce verticality.

A Powerslide is an Exo Slide, even if you can aim while you’re doing it. The wall run is still a wall run, even if you can detach for a brief moment and reverse direction. Fair enough; these gameplay moves and mechanics work very well, there's no reason to abandon them. But there's also no reason to rename them either, repackage them as something new that you need to buy. That's the core of the problem here: What Treyarch has presented as different is, in fact, the same.

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Easily the most interesting part of Black Ops 3, the Specialists, has the unavoidable reality of being something already done-to-death by other genres and other first-person shooters. Let’s call the spade a spade: Specialists are classes (or Moba-esque Heroes), albeit with a Call of Duty edge.

This time around, instead of playing as generic soldiers, each multiplayer character has a back-story. For the most part, they’re in-line with the first-person shooter archetypes. Thankfully, each one also comes with a unique gameplay hook. Every specialist has either a powerful weapon or a special ability that can be taken into battle. Both the weapon and the ability operate on a cooldown which can be accelerated through killing.

This mechanic is an interesting way to offer something to those players that struggle to rack up enough kills to access the kill-streak rewards.

It’s good to see Treyarch attempting to create a little more personality for each of its multiplayer characters too, and differentiating each one with a unique gameplay hook is smart. But, again, there is not even a whimper of revolution here. If we’re honest, there probably doesn’t need to be. The game remixes what players already know, just enough, to force them to re-learn the tools.

The customisation is taken up a notch with Photoshop-esque tools that will enable creative players to put together impressive decals for guns. Of course there’s also the Pick-10 system, which lets players pick-n-mix guns, equipment, and perks to build unique, experimental builds.

Maybe that’s enough to make Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 worth playing, but at the moment it doesn’t feel very exciting.

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