PS4
Highly Recommended
4.5 stars
Amazon
$37.95
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»
Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
4.5 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
4.5 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
5 Stars
Replay Factor
4 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Street Date:
November 6th, 2015
Reviewed by:
Review Date:1
November 5th, 2015
Game Release Year:
2015
Platform:
PS4
Publisher:
Activision
Developer:
Treyarch
ESRB Rating:
M (Mature)

Editor's Notes

PS4 disc version reviewed primarily offline, but with some pre-launch time spent online and in co-op. Review contains some very light spoilers. Review copy included the Nuk3town MP map.

Introduction

Don't call it a comeback, but the black sheep of the massive 'Call of Duty' franchise is back. Treyarch's 'Black Ops' series has the single most devoted 'Call of Duty' fan base in the history, and Treyarch has helped to keep the community active in part by relentlessly teasing a new installment. Once 'Black Ops III' was officially announced, the excitement boiled over as interest in the sci-fi and traversal aspects raised a lot of questions, many of which were answered with a successful public beta on the PS4, Xbox One and PC.

While the new game screams not too distant future in many ways, there is also a partial return to the WWII era in the form of the very noire (1940's style) Shadows of Evil co-op zombie mode, which is fully included in the game.

But zombies is hardly the only co-op aspect. 'Black Ops III' has the series' first ever four player co-op campaign. If that's not enough firsts, 'Black Ops III' is also the first 'Call of Duty' to emphasize the PlayStation platform (specifically the PS4). Though this mainly translates to a PS4 first DLC schedule, it's nevertheless a big part of the biggest 'Call of Duty' release in the new generation of consoles.

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

It's been years since I played 'Call of Duty' on a PlayStation platform. The last time was 'Modern Warfare 3,' and ever since then it's been Xbox One and PC. Last year was the first year I didn't play the PC version of 'Call of Duty,' (I normally play both PC and a console version), and I stuck with 'Advanced Warfare' on the Xbox One. Long preamble aside, it's been great to dive into 'Black Ops III' on the PS4. First in early builds, then the beta, and now in the final release. I may end up jumping in on the Xbox One also, but thus far (pre-launch), 'Black Ops III' is triumph on the PS4.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III PS4 Review Transformation Shadows of Evil

I want to talk about the campaign and the wonderful zombies mode (they should sell a standalone version as well!), but within the absolutely packed feature set of 'Black Ops III,' is an amazing bonus that so many people (and game developers) are likely to miss. That would be the Free Run mode.

Please don't roll your eyes. Free Run mode isn't the reason that 'Call of Duty' has been and will continue to be so successful, nor is it the reason the 'Black Ops III' is (nearly) a must-play game. What I mean is that Free Run mode is another example in a long (for the industry) history of Treyarch taking 'Call of Duty' somewhere unexpected, and the result is fun and surprising.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III PS4 Review Shadows of Evil Free Run

'Black Ops' has traditionally been as hardcore as any modern shooter, with new players hitting a hard learning curve quickly. For sure, in 'Black Ops III' the trippy campaign (which I'll get to) is instructive, presenting and building on gameplay concepts and difficulty in a way that should teach the player how to play and how to advance.

The campaign, however, is the full monty of presentation. When a game is fun to play at its core, the presentation can be peeled back, and the underlying mechanics should still be fun. Likewise, while the cybernetic abilities of the game make the player feel like a versatile bad ass (it's almost like force powers), a good understanding of the traversal systems, the wall-running, vaulting, climbing, sliding, swimming, shooting in motion, wall hopping, etc. is key to playing well and having fun. The Free Run mode teaches these important basics in a clear, fun, accessible, and building manner. Yes, there is a timer and scoring, but the cacophony in the game's campaign and versus combat is dialed down. For those of us that need it (like me), the Free Run mode isn't just a do it once tutorial, it's there anytime I need to sharpen up or refresh. It's like the training mode of recent fighting games. It has a certain discipline, and it's a welcome way to get better.

So now I've established two things. One, the running around parkour style in 'Black Ops III' is awesome once learned. It's something that many games have tried with different degrees of success, but Treyarch has nailed their version. Second, the fundamentally important core way to move can be learned and experienced in a special fun mode should the desire grab you.

And there's the Combat Immersion mode. I could easily just play this. Box world is a blast (not unlike like 'VR Missions'), and all weapons and bad guys are here.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III PS4 Review Combat Immersion

Ok, with that out of the way, let's talk campaign. We've had years of 'Call of Duty' as a blockbuster spectacle as each installment has tried to top that feel of 'Modern Warfare.' 'Black Ops' has been different, but we've known that this new game would require an augmented, tech-heavy world. Playing the campaign for the first time, and it seems clear that it's going to re-hash the 'Advanced Warfare' cyber-soldier tropes. Well, not so much. Not only is the story wild ('Black Ops' wild, not 'Ghosts' wild), but it goes right after one of the most fertile areas of sci-fi. In effect, take the robots of 'Chappie' and throw them into combat like that prefect post judgment day 'Terminator' film we've never gotten, and that's where the 'Black Ops III' campaign takes the player.

The tactical overlay modes call out the enemies while the cybernetic abilities add an important tool to mix in with shooting, meleeing, and grenading.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III PS4 Review DNI

Of course, one of the big reasons that I was able to appreciate how my squad and me could fight off these robot/terrorist teams is the larger level design. It takes more room than the typical 'CoD' campaign to enable proper co-op campaigning. It's multiple viable routes rather than one safe path. Here again, there's more than one factor. The vehicle segments (playable level events) have been tuned towards a wicked touch (like taking on Skynet). This again feeds that sense of being a badass.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III PS4 Review Drones

It was pretty obvious in the versus multiplayer with the specialists that the sub class abilities in 'Destiny' were being put in play in 'Black Ops III.' With the cybernetic abilities, it's ever more evident that it was decided that powerful cooldown abilities could be used in 'Call of Duty.' They are so fun to use in the campaign that I now want them in every shooter.

Speaking of special abilities, transforming in Shadows of Evil is horrific in a good way. I'm glad that Treyarch's specific implementation of zombies has returned complete with building barriers. I also love the dastardly foursome, and the (it's hard not to think of 'BioShock') classic noire style. With the transformations, the mode has that one thing needed to pepper the tempo. (Barriers, weapons, ammo, power, traps- transforming into the Cthulhu darkness fits right in.)

Call of Duty: Black Ops III PS4 Review Transformation Zombie

In versus MP, the map design fits with the new traversal system, and for the most part balances say bottomless pits with the familiar three lane design. (More so than the campaign.) Water is welcome, but the specialists and the variety of modes should encourage the mixing of elite and non-elite players. As much as ever, quick-scoping pros will take the lead in matches, which in turn can lead to an onslaught of killstreak deployments. Still, the specialist abilities, as well as the overall perk customization gives even the most hopeless player a chance to have a good match or two. That said, the guns up mobility means that new players are going to be moving (and getting shot) at a slower speed, which certainly gives everyone something to work to work. 

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'Black Ops III' is a perfect example of certain games that are spoiling us visually. While there is still plenty of in-level uncanny valley stuff, the level of detail executed here puts some other games to shame. The move to the new platforms and development schedule has paid big dividends. I can still look at various areas and start picking out models and BSP, but the techie military look of 'Black Ops III' on the PS4 blows away PC engine demos of just a few years ago. (Heck even some recent engine demos seen barren by comparison.)

The mocap and character modeling is even better than last year. Christopher Meloni has never looked so good, though in-level cutscenes can still be spotty. 'Black Ops III' allows for some welcome character customization for use in several modes, including the campaign. Not only can the player choose to be a female character (or switch back and forth between levels), but the battlefield has its fair share of ally and enemy female soldiers. (Not just a single character model recycled everywhere.)

Call of Duty: Black Ops III PS4 Review Team

Character shadows are a mixed bag (self-shadowing can get very errant), and some of the textures used in the particle effects look to either have been dialed way down or have been carried over from 'World at War.'

As opposed to the typical PS4 experience, the campaign wasn't ready to go right away and seemed to install while I played the zombie mode. The in-level performance was butter smooth, and easily crushed some other recent games I've enjoyed.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Treyarch has a thing about using real guns or guns styled to feel mechanical, which I really appreciate. The expectation is for the game sound to follow suit and be well-executed, which it is. Voice acting is pretty good; it's more sedate than the series has seen for some time. There are still plenty of stilted lines, but I think they might help with the surreal feeling the story seems to be going for.

Prepare to be surprised by the soundtrack. The sci-fi influence on the music has helped the game have an amazing sound to it. Jack Wall in particular is strong, and I think the overall result outshines previous installments. (The in-game music player helps as well.)

Replay Factor

Not only has 'Black Ops III' embraced online multiplayer in multiple co-op and versus variants, there's also split-screen options in every avenue of the game.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III PS4 Review Split-screen

Amazingly, unranked LAN support is also included. I do have an expectations that Treyarch will be adding to versus MP in more ways than over the next year (and likely even longer) through modes, and playlists, events and other variations.

The Gunsmith options alone are dizzying, but there's lots of customization to unlock, equip, and show off. Having a full zombie mode in the game (and not paid DLC) is a big win for me, and good co-op with lots of people available online is always welcome.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III PS4 Review After Action Report

The little campaign level challenges are just one example of things the game does so well to keep player coming back. The wave-based Combat Immersion is another way to sink my teeth into the mechanics. 

After spending more time with the post-campaign Nightmares mode, I've found myself wishing that 'The Giant' was included in all copies.

Final Thoughts

Messing with the core 'Call of Duty' gameplay is tricky work, but Treyarch has delivered a AAA beast with 'Call of Duty: Black Ops III.' On the one hand, there is an accessible speed and mobility that keeps everything moving in a guns up way. On the other hand, new abilities will make even the least adept player feel like a powerful part of a team. No doubt, the performance on the PS4 will spoil players. With robust options ranging from a slick co-op campaign to a moody underworld trip into zombie purgatory, playing 'Call of Duty' "just for the multiplayer" has new meaning.

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p

Audio Formats

  • LPCM 7.1

Multiplayer Mode(s)

  • Online Co-op
  • Online Versus
  • Offline Co-op
  • Split-screen
  • System Link

Motion Controls

  • No

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.

Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.

Amazon
$37.95
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»