“Imagine yourself in a frozen forest…”
Now that you’re all relaxed, let’s talk about Treyarch’s latest entry to the Call of Duty franchise. I was concerned when Treyarch announced the campaign included four player co-operative play. I was hoping for a continuation of Black Ops II’s branching campaign and wondered how they were going to pull that off in a co-operative setup. I was also wondering how the BioShock inspired suit powers, the wall running and larger areas would play together. The answer? Not as well as I would have liked.
In my Halo 5 campaign review, I pointed out how a number of the encounters were designed with co-operative players in mind. This resulted in damage sponge bosses or situations where the friendly A.I would fail to draw the attention of bosses and enemies resulting with me being overwhelmed. Bungie tried to make it work for solo players by including A.I partners but they served as glorified fodder most of the time.
With all of that fresh in my mind, I tackled Black Ops III’s campaign co-operatively. I quickly discovered this campaign would have been very tedious by my lonesome. Things are popping off from all angles. Drones were flying everywhere, robots/soldiers were streaming in to do their decade old Call of Duty thing and giant quad legged robots were obsessed with mowing down everything in their path. Would they have toned down the chaos if I were playing solo? Perhaps but just seeing the spectacle of it all with a buddy who is capable of fending for themselves made it an enjoyable experience.
To my surprise, Treyarch designed the gameplay with co-operative play in mind but they didn’t acknowledge the presence of other players in their story. We were a single entity narratively but were split into individual entities during gameplay.
There were three different suit powers of Black Ops III and disappointingly, it wasn’t possible to equip all of them without unlocking a late game power-up. Fortunately, I was playing the game with a buddy which ensured we were able to cover two of the three branches; powers to neutralize humanoid and robotic enemies. The remaining suit movement based power-up wasn’t necessary in co-op but I can see it being very useful playing solo because of the cloaking ability.
We shot Singaporeans and robots through the usual gambit of Call of Duty scenarios. Big bombastic battles, turret sequences and guided aerial dog fights were present but I was surprised the more scripted stealth sequences fell out of favor. I always enjoyed those since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare; if they were going to guide me down a path, I wanted it to be the most bad ass guided experience. It was certainly better than stumbling out of the mission area and being warned I was going to die because I shouldn’t be there. It’s counterintuitive and it always irked me when these games punish me for trying to explore.
The Black Ops games were always trying to be clever with the story — the first Black Ops’ imaginary friend immediately comes to mind. Nothing is as it seems and if Black Ops III’s campaign seemed disjointed and erratic, there’s an explanation for it all. I was content that they kept it together enough for me to retain interest in their future cyberspace story to look for answers online.
There wasn’t very much globe trotting in Black Ops III but they still managed to go places. They grounded most of it through their futuristic direct neural interface technology and I was able to follow it all with ease.
The technology powering Black Ops III’s campaign was a disappointment. Advanced Warfare looked and performed better. Granted, the scale of the battles in Black Ops III’s campaign was larger but they shouldn’t have pushed the engine to the point of buckling. They employed dynamic resolution scaling in an effort to alleviate the performance issues but when noticeable ugly framerate drops continued to crop up, it’s clear they were trying to do too much with the technology they have.
In games, they say co-op makes everything better and that’s certainly the case with Call of Duty: Black Ops III’s campaign. It would have easily been a disappointing outing if I played the campaign by myself but with a co-op partner, the annoyances and weaknesses of the campaign were easier to stomach. Unfortunately, the co-op was a source of technical issues when the action was too intense and the framerate gave way. And while the narrative has its moments, it falls short of what I was expecting coming from the house who made us care about Call of Duty narratives.