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Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 Review

  • First Released Nov 5, 2015
  • Reviewed Nov 6, 2015
  • PS4
  • XONE
Aaron Sampson on Google+

Another cog.

If the Call of Duty franchise is a well-oiled machine, Black Ops III is the replacement part that keeps the wheels moving into yet another year. It introduces minor changes to an established formula, and in some aspects, this is developer Treyarch near its peak. But in other areas, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 lacks inspiration.

Treyarch has set a high bar with its contributions to the Call of Duty series. The first Black Ops introduced a twisting, engaging campaign with vivid characters and historical conspiracies. Black Ops II revamped multiplayer customization, lending deeper player choice to a fine-tuned competitive experience. And now there's Call of Duty: Black Ops III, a shooter reaching in several different directions with vastly different results.

The newest iteration of multiplayer begins on a promising note as Black Ops III's specialists cover the screen. These are the soldiers of humanity's future, clad in titanium alloy armor, brandishing multi-million dollar weapons. They're also Black Ops III's new layer of customization. You still have the traditional loadout system with 10 slots to spend on weapons, items, and equipment--but specialists add a little more nuance.

Each character carries a power weapon or special ability that charge several times over the course of a match. You're forced to choose between the two, though, as only one can be equipped at a time. The Outrider, for instance, can enter fights with the Sparrow compound bow, launching exploding arrows into the enemy team's ranks. On the other hand, she can equip the Vision Pulse ability. As a more cautious player, I preferred this option. It reveals enemy silhouettes through the walls, giving me and my team the drop on nearby attackers and a better sense of the overall situation. This is even more crucial in hardcore matches when motion sensors are absent.

The new movement options can help get the jump on opponents.
The new movement options can help get the jump on opponents.

The Outrider is a microcosm of how the specialist system excels. That dichotomy between power weapons and abilities--and the possibilities they reveal--leads to dynamic scenarios from one match to the next. Certain powers work better in specific game types, and shift momentum when used well. And for the first several hours in Black Ops III's multiplayer, I explored as many possibilities as I could.

But that sense of discovery fades with time. Black Ops III grants you access to four specialists out of the gate, and subsequent options unlock at a trickle. By the time I earned Seraph and her one-shot Annihilator handgun at level 22, her two abilities didn't offer enough variety to keep me excited for the next unlock. And when I'm not learning the intricacies of a new character, Black Ops III defaults to a more generic Call of Duty experience.

The proverbial carrot still dangles on a string in front of us--it's just smaller than usual.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Black Ops III's multiplayer offers some of the best map designs in the franchise. Each arena is a confluence of differing sightlines, hectic clash points, and diverse elevations. The new movement system also creates an action/reaction dynamic: you can wall run into capture points, ground slide out of firefights, and clamber over ledges otherwise out of reach. In short, Black Ops III is fluid. It just feels good.

But its lack of variety after about 10 hours erases much of the excitement present at the beginning. The normal experience-based progression is still here, and the variety of unlockable weapons and equipment may be enough to keep many players pushing forward. But it wasn't for me. The proverbial carrot still dangles front of us--it's just smaller than usual.

New guns, old city.
New guns, old city.

Any sense of continuation in the multiplayer, of maintaining a familiar franchise balance, evaporates completely in Black Ops III's new Zombies map, Shadows of Evil. Imagine a fictional city in the 1940s populated by Cthulhu monsters and slipspace portals. The four characters--played by Jeff Goldblum, Ron Perlman, Heather Graham, and Neal McDonough--round out a hardboiled cast straight from the noir novels of Raymond Chandler. Picture them firing augmented weapons into a crowd of shambling corpses to the sound of a languid alto saxophone. Make no mistake: this new take on Zombies is bizarre. It's also fantastic.

Experimentation pushes things forward as four friends claw their way through hordes of undead. There's a looming sense of mystery as you decide which doors to unlock next, which weapons prove most effective, and what that glowing green plant does. The difficulty is high here: I seldom made it past round 4 in my first 10 attempts.

But Zombies, now more than ever, is a learning experience. And seeing the tangible results of your experience in the alleyways of this strange world is a reward in itself. By the time I began reaching wave 20 and higher, I felt like a veteran. There's a sense of mastery that has always come with Zombies, and it's stronger here than ever before.

The Great Depression hit the country hard.
The Great Depression hit the country hard.

The undead horde has also wandered its way into another game mode. It's called Nightmares, and it unlocks once you've beaten the campaign. In essence, Treyarch has recycled Black Ops III campaign missions--level design, objectives, character animations, and all--but now with zombies, and a grim voiceover from an unnamed character. Believe it or not, this works. There's a slower pace to the missions here. Treyarch takes its time to let things develop. And in reimagining the story to center around a zombie infection, Treyarch has created something magnitudes better than its vanilla campaign.

Everyone smokes cigars in Black Ops III.
Everyone smokes cigars in Black Ops III.

The traditional campaign mode, however, is a chore. It's a boring crawl through routine shooter fare. After an early torture scene--which has become something of a staple in the Black Ops universe--you're soon mowing through waves of enemies as you're funneled through linear pathways on the way to your next objective. There are some deviations from this pattern: on-rail aerial dogfights, extensive turret sequences, and underwater escapes, to name a few. But I was on auto-pilot by the fifth mission, settled into a continual routine of "aim, shoot, reload, repeat."

There are fleeting moments when Black Ops III's cybernetic modifications change the way you play. These abilities let you control enemy drones, stun human opponents, or set fire to robots' internal systems. The powers would be more impactful, though, if there wasn't such a lack of enemy variety. Aside from flying drones and the occasional mech mini-boss, enemy variants just require differing numbers of bullets to take down. And when you're using them on such a repetitive group of targets, who react the same way every time, the abilities lose their novelty.

By the fifth mission, I had settled into that continual routine of "aim, shoot, reload, repeat."

Although Black Ops III offers the option to play the campaign cooperatively, its problems only multiply as a result. Instead of creating deeper scenarios involving teamwork and communication between up to four players, Black Ops III decides to just throw more hardened enemies at you. One Warlord--an enemy that requires several magazines to bring down--is bothersome enough. Four of them together is downright frustrating. They feel more like brick walls than sentient soldiers.

Black Ops III's narrative doesn't support the campaign in any meaningful way, either. It tells an incomprehensible story about AI ascendancy and the moral grays of a hyper-connected future, raising intriguing questions but never bothering to answer them. At the end of it all, after hours of soulless shooting and unremarkable storytelling, Black Ops III delivered its nebulous twist, and I didn't dwell on it.

In its undead modes, and the first 10 hours of multiplayer, it excels. But in its campaign, it merely crawls forward. Black Ops III doesn't offer anything remarkable to the series, but does just enough to maintain the Call of Duty status quo. The franchise, however slowly, continues its inexorable march.

Mike Mahardy on Google+
Back To Top
The Good
Multiplayer specialists offer initial novelty
Zombies is a weird, rewarding cooperative experience
Varied, well designed multiplayer maps
The Bad
Boring, incomprehensible campaign
Co-op is more of a slog than single-player
Little multiplayer variety after 10 hours
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Call of Duty: Black Ops 3

About the Author

Mike Mahardy still remembers how good the first Black Ops was. He hopes someone can bottle that lightning again.
1159 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for bzrkshock

I really must insist that this cod has one of the best storylines I have ever seen (and I have played bio shock and seen how good it is)I won't spoil it but It just requires some time to research and think about what was going on

Avatar image for partytortoise

I'm not going to make a long review about this game for I never really play the game that much. But I did buy the game for the zombies and I was disappointed to find one boring map that was suppose to be a alien squid map. The zombies are basically from BO2 so I bought the game and sold it quick.

Avatar image for pikanoob

I could care less about the campaign. you play COD for multiplayer and BO3 has great multiplayer. They removed a bunch of cheap shit- no noob tubes, melee requires 2 hit kills by default. They added tons of movement options so you have to account for attacks coming from the air or from the water now too. There is also a TON of customization. Sure, its not a complete revamping of the COD formula but it certainly makes it better and more fun

Avatar image for p1p3dream

I'm wondering if people, including this reviewer, didn't devote enough time to thinking about was going on this story. First Person Shooters are my least favorite games. I prefer strong narrative and story driven games. I am not very good at FPS either, but I've consistently bought COD because I do enjoy the cinematic experiences in the campaigns. I don't really play the multiplayer. The stories are usually overly bombastic patriotic American bullshit, but the Black Ops series has always tried to have a bit more going on. I have to say, this was the most enjoyable COD experience I've ever had. I mean I had no idea that I was going to get such an incredible science fiction experience within a COD game. It's really unfortunate that this game is being reviewed so harshly when it's actually one of the most interesting games with the COD branding. Yes it could be better, but to dismiss the story so harshly as this reviewer does is a crime.

Avatar image for saganage

First COD I have enjoyed thoroughly since Modern Warfare

Avatar image for dnsfw_jamus

i just finished the campaign and while it was at best enjoyable, it was FAR from incomprehensible. I just wanna know what confused them about the plot... i mean it was essentially mad science run amok, dealing with the same perceptiony stuff that black ops has always dealt with

Avatar image for Silver17

Typical Gamespot comment section about COD:

"It sucks, COD needs an overhaul."

^ Hmmmmm OK, so what do you want?

"Duh IDK bruh, it just needs a major overhaul".

^ Annnnd that's why nobody takes the Gamespot COD comment section seriously, because it's filled with hipsters, who (themselves) don't even know WTF they want, except to be "Gamespot Hipsters"... lol *SMH*

Avatar image for McGuirex3

Say it, say it again & again it is just another Cod game! How long are they going to milk this! For the love of gaming try something anything else PLEASE!

Avatar image for slypher9

@McGuirex3: until they stop making a profit.. Why would any dev stop make a game thats making them money, they aren't losing money...which alot of dev houses are doing that why the big guys are buying them up... Video games business is too costly to just throw away a profitable franchise...

The problem with CoD isn't so much the franchise but its the genre that its limited to.. There's just so much ways you can kill a person in the shooter genre

Avatar image for McGuirex3


Thanks for the response have a great week friend!

Avatar image for dead_eagal

Fucking hell activision actual make a "good game" for once besides rehashing the same shit every year. literally everything after mw2 is bad in the cod franchise. Star a new IP its not that hard. The only good thing is zombies but how hard is it really to do zombies. Its because the same people buy cod every year because they think it's amazing but people who only play cod arn't really gamers. lets be honest

Avatar image for Silver17


This is beyond comical since MW2 was hated on for being a broken POS game until OG BO came out. *pfffft* Check the early Gamefaqs comments if you want.

Then OG BO comes out, and MW2 is "magically" an awesome game.

Same S*** happened with BO2. Everybody hated it until Ghosts comes out, and then it's magically awesome!

It's called the "COD Cycle" and oh yeah spoiler alert, BO3 a year from now will be looked upon as AWESOME TOO!.

It's OK, some of you guys will finally figure out how this all works...

Avatar image for advocacy

Same score as Star Wars Battlefront. Looks like online shooters don't win the hearts of critics, eh? (Unless it's Halo, of course.)

Avatar image for Moun7ainMan

@advocacy: He openly admits he is a Halo fanboy but his reviews have been pretty honest so far. Obviously it is strictly his opinion but it is possible that it is the better of the three titles.

Avatar image for baszzer

Anyone else notice the decline of the FPS genre lately? The last good FPS I can remember was Bioshock Infinite. And that came out early 2013.

Avatar image for biggamerdude

@baszzer: DOOM is coming out soon.

Avatar image for xenomorphalien

@baszzer: Play Wolfenstein TNO.

Avatar image for baszzer

@xenomorphalien: I thought it pretty much relied on the old allure of classic FPS's - and did not established something new to look forward to. It was a good game alright, just in a tributary kind of way.

Avatar image for baszzer

Could Mike Mahardy be the savior of GameSpot's journalistic downfall?

Avatar image for Moun7ainMan

@baszzer: I'm kinda liking the guy. New Post-KVO favorite. I'm glad he's done the last few AAA shooters. Gives you more balanced reviews when comparing them.

Avatar image for clarkydm

I am so frustrated by this game it's to the point where I really miss playing Ghosts!!! The campaign makes no sense , Zombies = whatever and multi player has become a run and gun bounce around like flying bunny's fest. I hate it. This trend that started with titan fall where your solder has a jump pack has ruined online shooting for me I'm sorry even a 7 is too high!!! :-(

Avatar image for shreddyz

How dare you give a CoD title less than 8 or 9. This is a travesty.

Avatar image for stozzington

Thank You for the "Boring, incomprehensible campaign" feedback. A big disappointment compared to BlackOps 1 & 2.

IGN ranked this a 9.2, but receiving a 7 is generous enough.

Avatar image for gotrekfabian

Congratulations Treyarch, I never thought you would surpass our expectation of mundanity but you did it!

This is a game that can neither run smoothly on its hardware or achieve a pleasurable experience for its user. You have proved that COD needs a major overhaul or a break in order to be better received again. I can't remember being so bored during a FPS shooter, even MOH Airborne achieved a better feeling through its play through and that was a fairly tedious game.

Avatar image for cwally

@gotrekfabian: FYI still sucks ass

Avatar image for thecman25

@cwally: sounds like you suck ass

Avatar image for cwally

@thecman25: homophobe

Avatar image for cwally

@gotrekfabian: yep sucks Ass

Avatar image for Silver17


We get it, you suck at COD, and need to wrtie "sucks Ass" after almost every comment... lol

Avatar image for cwally

@gotrekfabian: yep sucks ass

Avatar image for DN

COD Black Ops 3 is Great! It deserves a better review!

Avatar image for cwally

@DN: nope smells like an Asian boys booty hole

Avatar image for Silver17


How would you know WTF a Asians boy's booty hole smells like?...

Avatar image for iabstract
"Boring, incomprehensible campaign"
"Little multiplayer variety after 10 hours"
Couldn't both of those points to apply to just about every COD game?
Avatar image for cwally

@iabstract: I concur. sucks ass

Avatar image for FkzAz

So i just finished the campaign.

Spoiler alert:

I now uderstand why he said "confusig campaign", but i do wonder if he understood that your character is dead ;)

The game is just the final dream of the player before he dies.

Genius, Loved it.

PS: Ence the fact that when you finish the main story you unlock a new campaign with zombies in the same settig called --> Nightmares :)

Avatar image for iabstract

@FkzAz: So you're saying they ripped off Jacob's Ladder?

Avatar image for cwally

@iabstract: ya because they suck ass

Avatar image for firedrakes

ghost multiplayer suck. the only cod game i did not have fun with at all... i played all of them.
graphic wise certain area in the game look really really good. but then that vanish. i like aw gameplay online but it felt wonke trying to run ,jump etc. compared to this.

Avatar image for whirlwind12

Admits campaign is terrible but still gives it a 7/10 just for the multiplayer? A little too generous there Mike.

Avatar image for cwally

@whirlwind12: Mike a dumb ass

Avatar image for valgua1977

@whirlwind12: The campaign is far from terrible. Titanfall did not even have campaign and got a higher score.

Avatar image for cwally

@valgua1977: Titan fall didn't suck as much ass

Avatar image for Candyman_GR

@valgua1977: The campaing is so awful, it hurts!

Avatar image for cwally

@Candyman_GR: ya it hurts my ass

Avatar image for iabstract

@valgua1977: Not sure what Titanfall not having a campaign has to do with anything. The reviewer should review the game they have; if it is MP-only or if it has a campaign, the score should reflect the quality of the content included.

Avatar image for valgua1977

@iabstract: The score should also reflect the amount of choices the game gives you. You are not forced to play the campaign if you don't like it.

Avatar image for imisstroika

Everything after Modern Warfare 2 has been pretty average. Fun for a few hours and then a waste of time. I do find it odd how games are slowly creeping back to UT style in weapons and gameplay. Which is fine by me since I do have a love for those type of shooters. Yet, sad considering what COD 1 and 2 used to stand for.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 More Info

  • First Released Nov 5, 2015
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • + 4 more
    • PlayStation 3
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox 360
    • Xbox One
    Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is a dark, gritty future where a new breed of Black Ops Soldier emerges and the lines are blurred between our own humanity and the cutting-edge military robotics that define the future of combat.
    Average Rating555 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
    Developed by:
    Treyarch, Beenox
    Published by:
    Activision, SCEI, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Microsoft Game Studios
    Action, First-Person, Shooter, 3D
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language