Tag Archive: call of duty


There was a lot of pressure on developer Infinity Ward leading up to this latest Call of Duty. Not only was the studio coming off of what was probably their worst-received game in Ghosts, but this was their first time on the new Call of Duty three-year development cycle—meaning many were expecting the team to pull out all the stops, even more so than usual. This wasn’t necessarily an easy task that could just be solved with more time, however, especially with the fact that Sledgehammer and Treyarch have continued to raise the bar for the series over the past couple of years. Even with taking all that into consideration, it can’t be denied that it seems like Infinity Ward has lost its touch, as Infinite Warfare marks another down year for Call of Duty.

Set off in a distant, yet unspecified time in the future, humanity has become split into two factions. The United Nations Space Alliance, made up of the nations on Earth, looks to peacefully explore and colonize the cosmos. The Settlement Defense Front, a group of radicals who make their home on Mars and look to consolidate the galaxy under an iron fist, was a militant faction within the UNSA that broke away in the early days of space exploration. Our solar system is now split between the two, with a flimsy peace treaty keeping everything in balance. At least, until the SDF declares war and attacks the UNSA in Geneva during Fleet Week. Now, a rag tag group of remaining soldiers must rally around Captain Nick Reyes, bring the fight to the SDF, and turn the tide of this new war back in Earth’s favor.

I understand that a large section of the Call of Duty community will likely jump right into the multiplayer and never leave it when Infinite Warfare drops. But for those who will look to play the campaign, at least once, it will be hard not to come away disappointed. Almost everything about the story itself, and some of the new gameplay revolving around space combat, left a sour taste in my mouth.

Admittedly, some of the space sequences are quite good. There are times where you’ll be floating through the void and have to use an asteroid field to sneak up to a capital ship and infiltrate it, or need to use your grappling hook to work your way to space debris as you’re pinned down with few options due to limited cover—all while enemy soldiers swarm your position in zero-g. There are other times, though, where you’ll be absolutely lost as to where you have to go or what your goal is. In those moments you feel completely helpless, dying for a piece of dialogue, cutscene, or new objective marker to guide you since you could theoretically just float off in any direction aimlessly otherwise.

Then there are the sequences where you pilot a Jackal, Call of Duty’s version of a space snubfighter. You’ll have flares, missiles, machine guns, and other armaments that you can customize your own personal Jackal with. You’ll soar into dogfights and fly around space arenas completely off rails, which can also be great fun at times.

Unfortunately, I grew up on games like Wing Commander, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, and the Rogue Squadron series, and while Infinite Warfare gets close to giving me the sort of space flight sim experience I’m always looking for, it never quite lives up to where I needed it to be. Part of that has to do with the fact that the Jackal can turn on a dime, or hover and strafe—almost like a VTOL aircraft—and then switch instantly back into dogfight mode. I understand this was to minimize the learning curve for people and make it feel like it does when you’re running around on foot, but that’s not the experience I want when getting into any sort of airborne vehicle in a game; I want it to feel like I’m flying a damn plane.

In regards to the length of the campaign, a frequent point of contention for Call of Duty titles, if you don’t do any of the optional side missions—which you select by looking at a Mass Effect-esque map and plotting your space course from the bridge of your ship—it’s probably the shortest offering from any Call of Duty yet. You could likely buzz through the experience in about three hours if you pushed it. But you’ll probably want to rush because Infinite Warfare has one of the worst-written narratives I’ve had to suffer through in quite some time.

Sure, it has its moments, but most of the dialogue is throwaway at best—and due to the short length of actual story-driven events, every character’s arc is rushed to an uncomfortable degree. For example, Staff Sergeant Omar is introduced as a hard-edged Marine who is a bit of a Luddite; he hates robots, and is particularly uncomfortable when Ethan, a fully autonomous robot soldier, joins the group. At least, for the first mission you all take together. By the time you’re ready for the next mission, suddenly Omar loves robots! Ethan is his best friend! The player never sees why this change of heart happens, but we’re just expected to swallow this pill that Omar and Ethan worked things out over lunch or something, as if someone whose beliefs are clearly deeply ingrained in them has had a change of heart over a sandwich and a soda.

The weakest aspect for Infinite Warfare’s story, however, is the villain: Rear Admiral Salen Kotch. I don’t know why Call of Duty can’t produce even passable villains anymore, nevermind good ones. Maybe part of it was Kit Harington’s lifeless acting. Or, maybe, the fact that he—like Omar and every other major character in the story that isn’t the player character, Nick Reyes—really doesn’t have any sort of progression or arc. What a coincidence that the co-lead writer for the game, Brian Bloom, was also the actor for the only character that had any depth in the game. The fact of the matter is, I didn’t like or dislike Kotch as a villain—he was just there. Like a painting hung up in a dentist’s office, he felt completely inconsequential to everything going on around me, and that’s the worst thing you could want from your primary antagonist.

If, somehow, you can look past all this, there are small positives to take away from the campaign. Even with the space setting and combat continuing the general trend of pushing Call of Duty more towards the science fiction realm and making it less relatable to its audience, the game still plays well when its just boots on the ground and you’re running around the beautiful surfaces of far-off worlds. The new futuristic weaponry walk a fine line between the guns of today and how technology might evolve them into the combat tools of tomorrow. You can also fully customize your loadout before each mission, and unlock new items by finding hidden armories around each world you explore. Several other additions—like the aforementioned side missions, and stealth sections—offer up some nice variety when you’re playing, and compliment the ever-present bombastic action sequences we expect from Call of Duty and still receive here in abundance. The side missions, as repetitive as some of them can become, do extend the experience to nearly eight hours if you do all of them. It’s never a good sign, though, when the meat of your single-player mode is found in optional objectives.

There is also replayability in that beating the game unlocks YOLO mode (where, like the acronym suggests, you only live once) and Specialist mode (where your equipment and body can take damage on missions, affecting things like your movement speed or aim stability if you’re not careful). There is also a theme to Infinite Warfare that I, for one, appreciated: a soldier’s duty and the difficulties that arise from it. Of course, like everything else, it loses some of the punch of its potentially powerfully impact because the short narrative ends up seeing you beaten over the head with it in the last hour or so of game time. Maybe that’s Infinite Warfare’s true theme: a lack of tact and storytelling finesse makes potentially good stories suffer.

While this campaign holds the franchise back in some ways, the multiplayer likewise lifts it up. Call of Duty has always been one of my favorite multiplayer experiences out there, and Infinite Warfare at least lives up to the series’ legacy here. Smaller maps lead to faster confrontations and less camping as a whole, really pushing you to take full advantage of the wall running and double jumping mobility afforded to you. Infinity Ward utilized Treyarch’s Pick-10 system this go around, and it lends itself to a much more balanced experience overall. They also built on Treyarch’s Specialists and created Rigs, Call of Duty’s first true class system. Unlike classes in other games, Infinite Warfare still allows players to completely customize the loadout via the aforementioned Pick-10 system. What Rigs do instead is offer three options for Payloads and Traits, abilities that can change the battlefield when they charge up, or passive ones that make you a more effective killing machine.

For example, the Merc Rig has a Payload called Bull Charge, which lets you pull out a Riot Shield and charge at your enemies, delivering instant kills to anyone caught in your path. Or, you could take Steel Dragon into battle, which gives you a powerful beam weapon that can incinerate enemies from afar. With Traits like Man-At-Arms that make this heavy class move faster, or Infusion that boosts your health regeneration speed, you can mix and match to best suit your play style and the mode you’re playing. That’s just one of the six Rigs available, and not even all of the Merc’s options—experimenting in different scenarios adds a whole new level of fun and customization to this year’s multiplayer.

Multiplayer also adds two new modes this year, but I only really enjoyed one of them. Defender is a spin-off of Uplink, but instead of trying to throw a data node through a hoop somewhere on the map, the player holding the node has to run around defenseless for a minute until the node resets, or they are gunned down and the ball can be picked up by someone else. The first team to collectively hold a node for five minutes wins the game. It’s a neat little take on a Guardian-style multiplayer mode, and especially on some of Infinite Warfare’s smaller maps, can be a hectic back-and-forth that pushes your traversal abilities to the max while requiring some epic teamwork to truly succeed.

The other mode, Frontline, is a take on Team Deathmatch, but with each team having a single locked spawn point. Players will have extra armor when they respawn on the map to help counter campers, but unfortunately it still promotes this hated multiplayer tactic far more than any other map or mode has in Call of Duty in a long time. I appreciate trying something new, but this mode left me more frustrated than anything, and feeling like I’d rather just play regular Team Deathmatch.

There are also a couple metagame additions to the multiplayer suite this go around, the first of which is Mission Teams. Players will be able to unlock and choose from one of four different factions that offer extra rewards in a multiplayer match for completing bonus objectives. For instance, the Wolverines are a no-nonsense sort of group that is all about picking enemies off, so lots of kills usually means lots of points with these guys. The Orion group, on the other hand, is more objective based, and rewards you for holding or capturing points. You can switch between the factions at your leisure as you unlock them, since obviously different groups are more effective in different modes—but Mission Teams help keep things interesting by giving you a game within the game.

The other addition is trying to collect salvage. Salvage is a new currency that allows players to unlock amped-up versions of some of their favorite weapons, with each having a different level of rarity. Players can earn salvage via unlock boxes from keys earned in multiplayer, leveling up, or trading in duplicate guns found via these other two methods. As per usual, players can also spend real world cash to buy boxes that might either have the next level of the gun they want or more salvage—and that’s where I take issue with this new system.

It’s one thing to spend real-world money on cosmetic items: calling cards, weapon camos, things like that. It’s another when buying boxes can lead directly to a currency or to a new gun altogether that is definitively better than the one you may be currently using. A perfect example is the first level unlock for the default assault rifle, which offers 20% more ammo; later unlocks include more damage and stability on top of more ammo. Yes, you can grind for salvage. Yes, you don’t have to sink a single penny into Infinite Warfare and still get all the weapons. But buying boxes does offer the chance to potentially speed up the process of acquiring weapons that are statistically better (the salvage shop even assigns a numerical value to the increases you’d get) than those available from the start or via straight leveling up, offering players with those guns clear advantages in gameplay. This is where microtransactions are a negative part of the experience, and for me this is unforgivable.

In terms of online stability, I played multiplayer in a limited review environment on a live server with the day one patch already in effect (but just before the official worldwide launch). The several hours I put in saw minimal issues in terms of matchmaking, although there were a couple of pockets of lag when we switched out of the regular playlists and into the 18-player Ground War playlist. While everything worked for the most part, the true test of online stability won’t come until the game hits the masses and is stressed far beyond what myself and a few dozen other reviewers could do.

Besides playing multiplayer online, I also played a fair amount of Zombies. I teamed up with three strangers, and was impressed with the fact that even with the wacky new setting of being trapped in an 80s B-movie, this take on Zombies felt just as strong and full of surprises as anything Treyarch had concocted over the years. New Fate and Fortune cards replace the Gobblegum from Black Ops III, and offer arguably better powers and abilities to help you survive the zombie horde. There’s also a new feature where the first time you die in the mode, you’re sent to an arcade where you can try to win your life back by playing classic Activision arcade games. Set the high score, and you’ll rejoin your team—assuming they all survive long enough but don’t beat the round to bring you back to begin with. Either way, it definitely makes dying a little less tiresome than in previous years. The four stereotypical movie characters—nerd, jock, rapper, valley girl—all add some humorous color to the mode. This was definitely a fun cast to play as, although I still think Black Ops III’s noir cast was second to none.

Normally, this is all there is to a Call of Duty game. However, an extra special bonus is included to those of you who jumped on the Legacy edition of the game. We’re not doing a full review of Modern Warfare Remastered, as currently you can only get this bonus through purchasing Infinite Warfare. As it is part of the package, however, I do want to give a few words on it.

It was a shock to my system to play the original Modern Warfare again after not having touched the game in nearly a decade. The new graphics has the game looking beautiful on new systems, and it plays much like how I remember it. It’s like digging up a time capsule—comparing and contrasting it to what we have today—and we can see both how far Call of Duty has come in some regards, and how far it has fallen in others. The campaign is one example of the latter. At the time, Modern Warfare was pushing the envelope for storytelling in FPS games, while in Infinite Warfare, we’re spoon-fed drivel. I do believe the multiplayer of today is better, though. Playing MWR’s competitive suite—which now also includes newer modes like Kill Confirmed, which I love—felt great. Then, unfortunately, campers, the old scorestreaks, and the map design reminded me that as beloved as it was back then, Call of Duty’s multiplayer has truly been pushed to tremendous heights over the past 10 years—and I wouldn’t change that for anything. Still, it was still nice to go back and replay Modern Warfare after so long, and it was definitely a worthwhile bonus.

That pretty much sums up how I feel about Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare in a nutshell. Call of Duty’s multiplayer continues to innovate and improve in ways that fans will absolutely love and adore with this game—minus the microtransaction pay-to-win garbage that’s trying to be snuck in. Meanwhile, this version of Zombies could stand against any other one we’ve seen over the years. The campaign, however, is a low point for the series. From almost the very beginning, it just never grabbed me the way a lot of other stories in the series did, with flat and poorly-written characters that I was left unsympathetic toward. I never felt like I had a stake in this galactic battle of supposedly humongous proportions. All we can hope is that by looking a little harder at its past with Modern Warfare Remastered, maybe Infinity Ward can still save its future as storytellers.

Publisher: Activision • Developer: Infinity Ward • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 11.04.16
7.0
Infinite Warfare is one step forward; two steps back for Call of Duty. The multiplayer is still fun, but suspect microtransactions have left me wary. The campaign also gets more wrong than right with shoddy storytelling overshadowing the usually tight FPS gameplay. At the very least, we got a Zombies experience comparable to what we’ve seen in the past—and Modern Warfare Remastered was a fun stroll down memory lane.
The Good Multiplayer and Zombies are as fun as ever.
The Bad Main narrative feels rushed, and side missions try too hard to expand what may be the shortest CoD campaign yet. Also, there looks like a pay-to-win scam is going on in multiplayer.
The Ugly SAG-AFTRA would be wise not to use this game as an example of how Hollywood talent makes video games better.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. A review copy was provided by Activision for the benefit of this review. EGM also took part in a review event that Activision provided room and board for to maximize our time with the game prior to release. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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At Call of Duty XP, I had a chance to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered. It felt weird after so many years (and so many different Call of Duty), but it also felt oddly comfortable. The nostalgia is strong with this one.

I had a chance to play some Team Deathmatch in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare at Call of Duty XP. This map is Throwback, a tribute to Americana in space. I played as the Warfighter, an assault-style class who is strong all around. Thanks for watching and feel free to subscribe!

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A bigger, blacker CoD

Call of Duty has come a long way over the years. Every subsequent release, though, has the ever-increasing challenge of upping the ante, especially as the fiction has crossed from the historical, to the modern, and, most recently, to the future. But just when you think there is nowhere left for it to go, Treyarch finds a way to push each mode to new heights and tie it all together in its most cohesive package yet with Black Ops III.

Set in 2065, Black Ops III’s world has actually taken a step backwards in some ways when it comes to how it wages war. Due to the setup of an air-defense grid after the attacks of Raul Menendez’s hacked drones 40 years earlier, warfare has once again gotten down and dirty, with foot soldiers serving as the difference makers in combat. But mixing with the blood, sweat, and tears out on the battlefield are the oil, rust, and frayed wires of robot soldiers and augmented humans looking for that extra edge in conflicts around the world.

It is here where Black Ops III begins, when your character is critically wounded on an op that goes sideways, and forced to replace several body parts in order to survive and continue operating for the United States government. As the story progresses through the eyes of your now-supersoldier, back in the field with robotic limbs and unfathomable abilities, you and your team uncover a secret that could turn the world on its head. Worse yet, you realize you weren’t the only ones to recently find out the truth.

Black Ops III’s campaign is easily the series’ most ambitious yet from a storytelling, gameplay, and design point of view. Each chapter is longer and larger than any we’ve seen in the past, with multiple paths to objectives available to players if they are willing to explore. These massive levels substantially lengthen the campaign, pushing my first playthrough to the 10-hour mark.

The wide maps and different routes are also ideal for the return of four-player campaign co-op. For the first time since World at War, you and some buddies can tackle the campaign together, with the difficulty ramping up dynamically depending on how many players have joined you. This also adds an element of potential planning and group tactics, as you can choose to be a team that moves as one, picking off enemies as you go, or branches off and tackles objectives from multiple angles. I personally found the multiple angles suited my team’s playstyle best, especially in the campaign’s handful of traditional boss fights—which were a surprising, but not necessarily unwelcome addition for a series known for its bombastic action filled set pieces.

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The most significant addition to gameplay, though, is likely the new Cyber Cores. These are the different cybernetic abilities you can take out into the field with you. Grouped into three sets of six, each individual power can be upgraded as your character progresses.

Yes, one of the ways that Black Ops III more seamlessly brings the Call of Duty experience together is that progressing your character isn’t just limited to multiplayer. You can level up in all three modes of play, giving you specific unlocks in each one. In campaign, you not only customize your character’s armor, face, and guns, but their Cyber Cores, too.

This is done in-between levels, where you can visit a safe house that allows you to mess with your character depending on what chapter you’re going to tackle, while providing a nice respite from bullets whizzing by your ears. If you would like to be an offensive powerhouse, for example, you might want the Chaos Cyber Core that lets you shoot sonics out of your hands, debilitating all human enemies within range, or release nanobots that will swarm enemies and ignite them in flames. In the safe house you can also play a special simulation that acts as a Horde mode—which also features four-player co-op—within the campaign to test your loadouts before heading back into the story.

One of the most interesting aspects of the future setting, though, is that some of the levels are set in the virtual realm. While you can still die and have to restart from a checkpoint, these virtual levels make it so that nearly anything and everything are possible, like the inclusion of zombies for the first time in a main campaign, and even a return to Treyarch’s roots a bit with a World War II simulation that will blow your mind, all while still finding a way to progress the story.

That story, however, might be the one aspect of the campaign where things stumble a bit. Although the gameplay is phenomenal, and does a great job of really allowing you to play it however you want, Treyarch ran into the issue of having to essentially establish a brand-new world due to the 40-year jump in their continuity. Part of this takes place in the aforementioned safe houses, where people who want to dig deep into a small computer terminal will find fun articles ranging from fictional reports on major world events to fun little Easter eggs, like a failed military experiment that tried to weaponize cows.

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The rest of the world-building begins in the middle of the narrative, derailing critical character development for the sake of establishing the backstory for your impending conflicts. One of the qualities that have made the Black Ops arc so great is that the conflict traditionally serves only as background noise for the characters that we get to know and love. David and Alex Mason, Woods, and Hudson were memorable characters that I adored. Black Ops III starts out similarly with this unfamiliar squad of undercover badasses, but then about a third of the way through, starts leading you down a rabbit hole around the conspiracy that you happen upon and forgets about making me want to care about any of the characters.

Although critical to the twist at the end of the campaign that will have players arguing on forums as much as Zombies enthusiasts do about that mode’s secrets, the campaign feels like it takes a break from the character development during that time to beat us over the head with themes like “Where do we draw the line with our dependence on technology” and “Americans messing with things they shouldn’t just creates more enemies.” This disrupted the narrative flow, and that became more evident just before the end when a romance subplot comes out of nowhere and the villain’s presence, predictably, is revealed to be with us since near the start of the story. I still enjoyed the campaign’s story as a whole, but I wish the conspiracy could’ve been better woven in with the characters so that the flow of everything didn’t feel so disjointed.

While on the subject of twists at the end of the campaign, the one that made me drop my controller was the reveal of a second campaign at the end of the first one. Dubbed “Nightmare,” this second campaign remixes the level order of the main campaign, but does so while providing a new protagonist, a new narrative, and new enemies.

The Nightmare campaign is a what-if version of the main campaign where all the enemies were zombies. You can’t personalize your loadout here, though. Instead, you have to rely on random magic boxes and drops from enemies in order to power up. The lack of control after having the keys to the customizable kingdom in the main campaign adds to an overall increase in difficulty considering how, even in the widest maps, the zombies will swarm you before you know what hit you. The Nightmare campaign provides a fun alternate narrative that might be stronger than the original and is also playable in four-player co-op.

But for all you Zombies fanatics out there, never fear. A more traditional Zombies experience called “Shadows of Evil”, themed on classic film noir, is also available. As that story goes, the four main characters, played by Ron Perlman, Jeff Goldblum, Heather Graham, and Neal McDonough, have each committed some horrible evil that is allowing zombies to enter their world. By working together, they’ll have to uncover the secret that supposedly somehow ties into previous Zombies entries and might save their damned souls.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t get as far as I’d normally like in Zombies, but I did get plenty of time to experiment with two major additions to the mode’s gameplay. The first is the new Gobblegum system. Each player can customize a set of five gumballs they want attributed to their person, with each gumball offering a different ability. When you find a Gobblegum machine, you can spend some of the cash you’d normally use on guns or other power-ups to get one of the five gumballs in your set at random. And just like in single-player, there is a progression here that will unlock better gumballs as you level up.

The second element is the purple flame, which can be found at different locations throughout Morg City. For a limited time, this turns players into a lightning quick plant monster with tentacles (think Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors) called “The Beast” that lets you open special doors, break boxes, and unlock the paths necessary to find all of Morg City’s secrets. There are few things more satisfying than finding new secrets and special narrative clues while killing the undead, so when combined with the hysterical dialogue that each character randomly spews, this year’s Zombies mode might be the best yet.

As great as Campaign and Zombies are, multiplayer is really Call of Duty’s bread-and-butter. Never to be outdone, the multiplayer has taken the futuristic ideas of the campaign and turned them into the slickest multiplayer suite yet.

Before you build your first loadout, though, you should check out Freerun. This short series of four time trials are a great way to teach you how best to use your wall-running abilities in multiplayer and get used to the idea of the maps’ new sense of verticality. Ramping up steadily, Freerun will show you moves you never thought possible, like running up columns or wall-jumping down narrow corridors, all while stoking your competitive fire by sticking a clock on you and daring you to get the best time.

Once your cybernetic legs are all warmed up, then you can jump into the largest selection of multiplayer modes yet. I was able to play on live servers pre-launch, and while there weren’t nearly as many people online as there will be on launch day, everything worked fine. You never know what might happen when the servers are flooded by millions of gamers, though. Multiplayer touts a bevy of returning favorites like Capture the Flag, Kill Confirmed, Team Deathmatch, Hardpoint, and many more, but Black Ops III also touts a new mode called Safeguard.

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Safeguard tasks you with defending a bomb strapped to a robot as it heads to a designated point on the map. The robot only moves when members of your team are near it, and the enemy team can slow the robot down by shooting it repeatedly. If time runs out before the robot reaches its destination, the defenders win, and if the robot makes it, the attackers win. I found the mode to be immensely difficult because standing next to the robot makes you a sitting duck, so it really requires one person to act as a direct escort, and the rest of your team to keep the enemies off your back. In that regard it has elements of CTF in it, and requires monumental amounts of teamwork whether you’re an attacker or defender.

The beauty of multiplayer now, though, centers on the chain-based fluid movement system. After a little practice, I was stringing together wall-running and double jumps so effortlessly I felt like I could single-handedly change any battle. With each map and mode having their own special nuances to cater to this movement style, surprising my opponent meant a lot more than flanking them. Knocking that sniper off the high ground wasn’t nearly as impossible anymore. And springing up out of water with assault rifle blazing added even more depth to what are some of the best-designed maps you’ll see in any Call of Duty.

The other major change we see in Black Ops III’s multiplayer is the Specialists. Sure, you can still customize and choose whatever guns or weapons you want to bring into battle, especially with the return of the beloved Pick 10 system offering another layer of balance that I feel the past two Call of Duty games have lacked. But the Specialist a player chooses gives them more of an identity online than in previous Call of Duty games, from who the player selects, to how they define their look, and finally which of their Specialist’s two special abilities they pick.

Knowing what each Specialist does and what situations their powers are best used in could turn the tide of a battle on their own, and offer yet another strategy for players to think for, and potentially plan against. For example, I played with Ruin a lot. His two abilities are Gravity Spikes, which allows him to kill everyone close to him with a shockwave when he slams the spikes into the ground, and a supercharged sprint called Overdrive. In TDM, racking up that kill count is critical so the spikes were great. But in something like CTF, grabbing the flag and then hitting Overdrive with that enhanced sprint means I can get a point for my team a lot more easily, covering half the map in a fraction of the time I used to. Considering there are nine Specialists to play around with (four to start, with others unlocked via progression), I can only imagine the strategies players will come up with.

It’s never easy to continually one-up yourself, but Treyarch seems just fine rising up to the challenge each time its turn comes up to put out a Call of Duty game. By adding progression and co-op to each mode, players have new reasons to go back and play each one more, while also providing a common thread through each part to help pull it all together. Multiplayer and Zombies are more robust than ever, and although Campaign’s story might not have been the strongest we’ve seen from series, it’s still a high-quality thrill a minute ride with a twist that will keep players talking until the series’ next installment. Simply put, Black Ops III is the deepest experience the franchise has seen thus far.

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Developer: Treyarch • Publisher: Activision • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 11.06.15
9.5
Black Ops III is the deepest Call of Duty experience to date. With not one, but two campaigns, new multiplayer modes and more robust customization, and a Zombies mode that will suck in even the most casual of players, Treyarch has once again found a way to raise the bar.
The Good More quality content than ever before crammed into a Call of Duty game.
The Bad Character development in campaign has a sharp drop off.
The Ugly Why hasn’t Activision announced a Call of Duty starring Jeff Goldblum yet?
Call of Duty: Black Ops III is available on PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Activision provided travel to and accommodation at a review event for the benefit of this review.

In an interview with Polygon, Treyarch studio head Mark Lamia speaks to the narrative aspects of Black Ops III, and reveals they went into such detail filling in the gaps between 2025 and 2065 that they created their own in-game wiki-like device for players to use.

As most Call of Duty fans will remember, the Raul Menendez initiated drone strikes of Black Ops II took place in 2025. Moving the narrative so far forward into the future with Black Ops III created some serious questions about how the world has changed since then.

Not surprisingly, that drone strike was a huge turning point in the world of Black Ops, forcing developed countries to perfect air defense systems that would make drones null and void. Thus, recreating the need for boots on the ground, which just so happen to be augmented through advanced cybernetics and reinforced by robot soldiers.

If players want to catch up on the events of the world since Black Ops II, though, Treyarch created a nifty little wiki-like device that players can easily access from their character’s safe house between missions and access it via a computer.

“We’re giving it to the player this time. This is stuff we usually do anyway, with our research,” Lamia says about giving players this kind of information. “How do we come up with these settings? We literally just did our research and project out. We’re fortunate to have experts we can talk to. We’ve become futurist experts ourselves, living in this subject matter for so long. That’s going to be there for the player. It’s important.”

Call of Duty: Black Ops III will be available for Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, and PC on November 6.

With today’s teaser announcement basically confirming Call of Duty: Black Ops III being Treyarch’s entry this year in Activision’s billion-dollar franchise (sorry World at War fans), I got to thinking about what exactly we want to see from this newest installment in the Black Ops series.  With a three-year development cycle this go around, I imagine Treyarch has had plenty of time to mess with some new ideas, or—more than likely—refine some older ones. So, here are the top five things I’d like to see from Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

Editor’s Note: There will be references made to the endings and plot twists of the previous Black Ops games in the following piece. Consider this your only warning. 

1. Returning Characters

So the teaser trailer features a number of echoes from the past Black Ops games. The ones that stood out the most to me is Black Ops II villain Raul Menendez saying “Your life will be consumed by absolute loss” and Sgt. Frank Woods mentioning “You’ll always need men like us.” Now, there were four different endings in Black Ops II, and we don’t know which one will be considered canon to pick up the storyline—but the hope is that it will be one where it allows both of these characters to return in some form or another. Menendez made a great villain, and Woods has been a fan-favorite since the first Black Ops. It’d make a lot of sense if we saw some returning faces for the series’ third installment, and that’s especially true for these two guys—and using those particular lines from them in the teaser makes me think it’s not that far-fetched.

2. Parallel Storylines

Something that kept Black Ops II’s narrative feeling so fresh was the constant shift in perspective from the 1980s to 2025. And, again, depending on what becomes canonical for the series going forward, the return of Alex Mason in certain endings leaves a lot more questions on the table than answers. Why tell players where he was during all those years he was missing from his son David’s life, when instead you can show them? If Black Ops III goes with the ending where Alex lived in the end, then you can very easily have the game go back and forth between explaining where he was in the 1990s and dealing with the inevitable ripples caused by Menendez in the late 2020s—and still have it all tie together in an over-arcing plot line.

3. Remove Strike Force; add campaign co-op

The RTS element introduced via the special Strike Force chapters of Black Ops II was an inventive and interesting idea that just didn’t pan out as well as it could have. Often your ally AI would leave you to “super soldier” through missions, and considering how much of the plot relied on the outcomes of said missions, it ended up being more trouble than it was worth. The idea of special “metagame” operations with larger teams affecting the outcome of the plot wasn’t the worst idea in the world, though. When you also consider how much of Black Ops II saw you weaving your way through each level with an AI buddy, the obvious addition that needs to be implemented instead in Black Ops III is campaign co-op. Whether it’s Mason and Woods at it again in a flashback, David and a nameless squad member in 2025, or a pair of guys protecting key interests around the world with a small army of drones instead of a group of incompetent AI to replace the Strike Force missions, I think co-op could easily be doable as an option here.

4. Return to form in multiplayer

We know multiplayer is a bigger draw than the single-player narrative when it comes to Call of Duty. To me, Black Ops II remains the best multiplayer experience of the last generation of the franchise, and I’ll always go back to it over Ghosts or Advanced Warfare any day of the week. After all, Treyarch is the one who came up with the Pick-10 system, and it was at its best in terms of balance and implementation when in this team’s capable hands. I’d love for them to go back to it, especially with three years to tweak things. Plus, the power of new-gen consoles has me really pumped up for the future of multiplayer with Call of Duty—even if they do nothing but fix the Pick-10 system after Infinity Ward bumbled what Treyarch did the first time around.

5. Deepest Zombies mode ever

It’s Treyarch’s turn to shine, and that means one thing when it comes to Call of Duty: Zombies mode. After Black Ops II’s Zombies actually started to piece together a few elements from previous games, and paid homage to many of the theories put forth by the mode’s ravenous fanbase, you have to think that Black Ops III will offer not only a bigger and more robust experience with the mode, but maybe even finally provide players with that definitive narrative within itself. Since the constant speculation amongst players has helped turn this into one of Call of Duty’s most popular features, it feels like it’s time to finally be rewarded.

A surprising theme for this year’s DICE Summit 2015 has been about how a company’s employees, and not IP and bottom lines, are the most important thing in the gaming industry right now.

To help support this argument, Treyarch studio head Mark Lamia took the stage to tell the story of how the developer’s now beloved Zombies co-op mode for Call of Duty almost hit the cutting room floor.

Lamia reminisced about how the studio, their release date for World at War fast approaching, was behind in development and extremely stressed following up Infinity Ward’s record-setting Modern Warfare with a game that returned to the World War II setting.

Without his knowledge, a rogue team within Treyarch began working on a side project that featured Nazi zombies. Word quickly spread throughout the studio of this fun prototype that was being passed around and worked on during off-hours, and finally it got back to Lamia.

Initially, right then and there, Lamia thought of pulling the plug on this project due to the extreme crunch Treyarch was in. But instead, he decided to actually play the prototype and wait to pass judgment until afterwards. Luckily for all us fans of zombies, Lamia was pleasantly surprised that it was actually more fun than the co-op mode they already had in the game.

The approval from Lamia gave the development team a much-needed second wind, as he allowed them to continue to polish the mode in their spare time and stretch their creative wings a bit, rewarding them for their dedication and extra effort.

After a bit of time, Lamia himself then championed the mode to the higher ups at Activision, with the consensus indeed being that the prototype was immensely fun. But PR and marketing chimed in saying it would have been confusing and too far off brand to just promote outright. This is why World at War originally featured Zombies mode as an Easter egg reward for hardcore fans who beat the main campaign (it later became so popular it was unlocked from the beginning via a patch).

Somewhat surprisingly, the fans then that took the next steps with the mode. Writing fan fiction through message boards and forums, a story began to form around Zombies and why you had to fend off this horde of Nazi undead in a bunker. This led to Black Ops’ Zombies mode forgoing any sort of PR campaign as well, as it allowed the fans to continue to build the lore themselves, with Treyarch employees adding more special Easter eggs and callbacks in subsequent games and DLC to continue fanning the flames. Even during Lamia’s presentation, Treyarch game design director David Vonderhaar continued to play with fans via social media about what could be next for the mode.

Zombies mode now serves as Treyarch’s signature whenever it’s their turn in the development rotation of Call of Duty. And since they’re up to bat for this year’s Call of Duty, we’d be more than a little shocked if Zombies didn’t find a way to rear its head once more.

The very first open tournament for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare will be held November 28-30 in Columbus, Ohio, Major League Gaming announced today.

Featuring 140 of the best Call of Duty eSports teams in the world, the tournament will be streamed live from MLG.tv and will officially kick off the first season of the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare MLG Pro League.

Call of Duty eSports has become a mainstream phenomenon–there’s nothing else like it,” said MLG CEO Sundance DiGiovanni in a press statement. “With the introduction of Advanced Warfare, we are positioned for continued growth showcasing the best players in the world on MLG’s premier platform for a global audience of passionate eSports fans. This is just the beginning.”

The winning team will be awarded $25,000, 25,000 MLG Pro Points, and the last four spots in Season One of the Pro League.

If you happen to be in the Columbus area, VIP and spectator passes for the tournament are available for purchase if streaming it just isn’t enough for you.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare will be available for public consumption on Windows PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360 November 4.

Ghostbusting

Even a billion-dollar franchise like Call of Duty feels pressure sometimes, and this year’s entry, Call of Duty: Ghosts, probably had even more than usual. Fans were concerned about Infinity Ward stepping away from the Modern Warfare series and introducing something new—not to mention rival Battlefield 4 raising the stakes on next-gen with 32-on-32 multiplayer.

Infinity Ward also felt competition from fellow Call of Duty developer Treyarch’s huge success with Black Ops II last year. Even with all this pressure, though, Infinity Ward looked to maintain a steady course and reach their customary peak at the top of the FPS food chain. But sometimes, more change is needed to reach familiar goals—and I couldn’t help but feel that Ghosts doesn’t do enough to keep the formula fresh.

Ghosts’ campaign starts when a South American alliance called the Federation hijacks an American space station armed with ODIN, a kinetic bombardment system. Turning their own weapon against them, the Federation thrusts America into a decade-long conflict that instantly flips the global balance of power.

Logan Walker—the son of a former member of a U.S. Special Ops unit designated as “Ghosts”—quickly rises up the ranks along with his brother, Hesh, in a resistance group led by their dad as they help protect the ever-shrinking American border. But the Federation isn’t the only threat Logan and his family needs to deal with; an ex-Ghost named Rorke has allied himself with the Federation for the express purpose of making the lives of his former squadmates a living nightmare.

While Ghosts may tread familiar ground, it’s certainly not a bad experience overall. In fact, its single-player campaign is on par, in many regards, with Black Ops II, and it has the added bonus of not including those broken RTS side missions. Most of the levels impart that big-budget, adrenaline-fueled, action-movie ride players are looking for. It’s just that there are enough blemishes here—and a lack of overall innovation—to make it a good game, not a great one.

The major issue comes with the disconnect between the action and the narrative. Ghosts takes players all over the world and throws them into some insane scenarios that further the parallel between this game and action movies. But, like many action flicks, when the protagonists are placed in cool places like the Antarctic, dense jungles, underwater, or deep space, the narrative starts to come undone. In at least four of the game’s 18 missions, you’ll probably find yourself having flashbacks to college philosophy classes when you ask, “Why am I here?” I don’t know, Plato—but you might as well blow it all to kingdom come while you’re at it!

While the narrative reasoning leaves something to be desired, there’s certainly plenty of gameplay variety this time around. Whether it’s high-speed chases or subterranean subterfuge, Ghosts makes sure there’s never a dull moment. I did take issue with one activity, however—and that was playing as Riley, the German Shepard.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s awesome having Riley as a part of your unit, and it’s a blast issuing him commands. If you’re not good enough in multiplayer to ever earn that new perk, at least you get the satisfaction in single-player of having your pooch bite off a bad guy’s face. It’s nothing short of stupid, though, to have sections where you’re actually playing as the dog himself. Sneaking through the grass and silently taking down enemies isn’t something you need the dog for. Looking through a camera on its back is completely unnecessary, too, and considering that Riley’s only in three of the 18 missions, he’s not all that important, giving his segments a tacked-on feeling. I will say, however, that Riley’s voice actor is probably the second-best in the game after Rorke’s.

Despite these issues, the five-hour campaign still managed to pull me in with some excellent action sequences and enough of a cohesive narrative to make me want to keep going. But even with all its cool moments—unless you miss some Achievements or want to go through on harder difficulty levels—you probably won’t be going back to the campaign again and again. No, it’s the multiplayer that makes Call of Duty stay in our systems for months on end until the next chapter hits store shelves. But while this portion is technically sound—much like the campaign—it does little to make the experience feel fresh again.

Unfortunately, all the “new” multiplayer options in Ghosts are simply mashups of previous game modes, direct ports, or minor rule changes. Most of them are still fun, but I expected more than just a bunch of rehashes. The worst part of the multiplayer, however, is the new UI. The new character customization is a huge bonus this year, but the screen’s a mess, and most players will have to look long and hard at their TVs just to find the simplest of options, such as making the character male or female.

The UI problems continue when setting up your perks. While the few limits of Black Ops II’s Pick Ten system have been thrown out the window, so has the ability to quickly and conveniently make changes to your loadouts between matches. Due to tiny icons and a cluttered menu screen, if you really want to change your guns and perks, you should leave your respective lobby, since it’s going to take some time to really figure everything out.

All that said, the maps are more intricate than ever. Many of the larger areas have a multitude of lanes you can use in order to reach your objectives, providing some interesting variety when you spawn on these new killing fields.

The biggest surprise with Ghosts comes in the co-op mode: Extinction. The idea here is that up to four players have been inserted into the remains of a town that was hit by one of ODIN’s orbital strikes. It seems this strike unearthed something that had been long been buried…something alien. Now, you and your teammates have to get to ground zero, plant a nuke, and get the heck out of Dodge, all while trying to fend off this alien horde.

More focused than Zombies and far more creative than anything Infinity Ward has done with a co-op mode before, Extinction may be my new favorite co-op mode for the franchise. My only concern comes from the lack of replayability. Once you beat this section with your buddies, there’s little to make you come back, but hopefully some more maps and other add-ons come down the line.

When compared to the Call of Duty games that have come before it, Ghosts has a few problems, primarily in regards to innovation and moving the franchise forward. There’s no denying this. There’s also no denying, however, that the game’s still really damn fun to play—and even with the issues I’ve outlined, Infinity Ward has proven they can still hold the line, no matter the pressure.

Developer: Infinity Ward/Raven Software/Neversoft • Publisher: Activision • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 11.5.13
7.5
Narrative issues and a lack of ingenuity in multiplayer plague what could’ve been an all-time great Call of Duty game. As is, Ghosts is still an enjoyable experience and shows that Infinity Ward can still hold the line—but the concept falls short of its true potential.
The Good Gorgeous set pieces with tons of action; the new bad guy is excellent; Extinction mode adds something new to multiplayer.
The Bad Some levels feel tacked on for the sole purpose of lengthening the campaign; multiplayer UI is awful.
The Ugly Riley’s whimpering actually had an effect on me.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is available on Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, and PC and is a launch title for Xbox One and PS4. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

At this point, everyone has seen the trailer or at least gotten the cliffnotes to everything announced at the Call of Duty: Ghosts multiplayer press conference. If you haven’t though, be sure to Chris’ write-up on all the new multiplayer details.

For the rest of you, though, you probably want to know how a lot of these announcements actually affect the gameplay. Well, we’ve got you covered. I was able to sit down with Ghosts’ multiplayer for about 90 minutes and put the new modes and maps through their paces.

Let’s start with the new modes. Two of seven new modes being added to the game were shown to us, and the first one I saw was Cranked. In this twist on Team Deathmatch, players who get a kill are given a speed boost as reward. The speed boost lasts for 30 seconds, but if you don’t kill anyone else in that time, your character literally explodes. Talk about messing with your K/D ratio.

After playing several matches, I realized a couple of things. The speed boost doesn’t stack, so there are only two speeds—normal and fast—and if you explode, there’s no splash damage that can hurt opponents. So anyone thinking that a suicide bomber strategy might help win the match or salvage that K/D, think again.

Also, 30 seconds is a lot more time than you might think. I saw a lot of people who started running around like a chicken with their heads cut off when their timer began and got mowed down by enemy fire before they even came close to running out of time. Panicking doesn’t help you or your team.

After Cranked, we got to try out Search & Rescue. This is a twist on Search & Destroy and Kill Confirmed–style matches. Kill an opponent, then collect their dog tags to remove them from the match altogether. If an ally grabs the dog tags first, the person will respawn. Since I love both of these modes, I had a lot more fun with Search & Rescue than Cranked. Just like classic Search & Destroy, you don’t have to eliminate the entire enemy team if you are on the offensive, since there are also two points where you can plant a bomb.

Honestly, the modes may be described as “new,” but neither reinvent the wheel. All we’re seeing is some unique little twists being added to classic modes, or modes being combined and passed off as something revolutionary. But, I can’t deny that these modes, especially Search & Rescue, we’re a lot of fun to play.

Aside from these new modes, we also played Domination a couple of times, which remains the same as ever.

We also got to play on three brand new maps: Strikezone, Whiteout, and Octane.

Octane is a medium-sized map based around an abandoned gas station and a western ghost town. As demonstrated in the trailer, this map featured destructible walls and structures. Players can blow apart the supports to the gas station roof, causing it to collapse into new cover, or crush players underneath. While I didn’t see anyone stupid enough to get squished, the few times we did level the station it definitely caused a huge shift in strategy. Terrain morphed and closed off some old paths, while new ones opened up. When we played Cranked on Octane, the disorientation proved deadly—a few players found themselves lined up in enemy crosshairs after not being able to find a way through the rubble.

The next map was Whiteout, and was easily my favorite of the event. It was a massive, open map that afforded players plenty of sniper perches in abandoned vacation cabins, as well as cover through twisting, ice-covered caves. While playing on this map though, I admit to having flashbacks to the White Pass map from Battlefield: Bad Company 2. While the attention to detail here was much higher (as I would hope with next-gen on the horizon), the feeling of sniping from a second floor window overwhelmed my nostalgia factor at times as we played Search & Rescue.

The final map was Strikezone. Easily my least favorite, this was probably the smallest map I can remember in recent history. It seemed comparable in size to Hijacked from Black Ops II, but with even less cover and a square layout overall instead of Hijacked’s elongated corridors.  There is nothing more frustrating than spawning in maps like these, since—with everyone running around in such a confined space—you’ll often pop up right next to an enemy and be dead again before getting your bearings. It also had very little going on in it. While the idea of a firefight breaking out in a stadium hot dog stand sounded fun, it turned out to be anything but.

After exhausting the modes, I attempted to go in-depth with the customization, but we were on an unforgiving rotation that prevented me from truly messing around with the new point-value perk system (where some perks are worth more than others) or really mess with my character.  I was able to cycle through some pre-assigned camo options like arctic, desert, urban, and the classic jungle, and gave my soldier a badass helmet before being whisked into another match. But it was nice to see so many of Ghosts‘ new female character models on the maps. Ultimately, these customization options are more about personal tastes than anything else, since they don’t change things like movement speed or health. It’s just another way of putting a personal stamp on your Call of Duty experience.

I also got to experience the new Field Orders feature, where a blue briefcase will randomly appear on the body of a felled enemy and provide you and your team a Care Package if you complete certain extra objectives, ranging from getting a kill while jumping to performing so many headshots. This was an interesting addition, but not one that most people I played with cared about. I’d often see the briefcase just sitting there, so lonely, waiting for a player to try their hand at its challenge. But no one ever bothered, because there’s so much else going on in a multiplayer match to worry about.

At the end of the day, the new modes and maps were nice, but it’s still the core Call of Duty experience that millions of people have come to love. There was little here to make me think that what we’ve grown accustomed to over the years, besides the next-gen prettiness of it all, will be getting a massive change. Some of the things announced at the press conference, like Clans, weren’t available to me when I wanted to check them out, but the idea of making clan tags more official and rewarding players as a group for doing well on top of individually has a lot of potential.

Overall, if you love Call of Duty, I don’t see anything here that will turn you off to Ghosts. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a true game-changer, what I saw suggests that you’ll probably have to keep looking.