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Game Review

There was a time, seemingly not all that long ago, when a Call of Duty game was all about storming a World War II beach, maneuvering around barbed wire barricades and keeping your M1 carbine fed while fighting for the good ol' Red, White and Blue.

But time and mega-franchise shooter expectations march on.

It's now 2065 and those foxhole-crawling grunts have been transformed into super-duper G.I. Jedis. Exoskeleton suits and multipurpose future-tech weapons? Even those items are so "last game." These new CoD soldiers trade body parts for cybernetic limbs and have mega-computers packed into all that useless open space in their heads. And national loyalties? Well, it's so hard to tell the good guys from the bad these days. So just kill everyone in sight for the sheer joy of using your gizmos!

Welcome to Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

It's a game that begins with an enemy robot crushing your legs and ripping your arms off. Now, that might make most people reconsider their choice of profession. But in this man's army game it's merely an opportunity to be rebuilt into something really high-powered and cool. Toss in the abovementioned microchip brain upgrade—called a Direct Neural Interface, or DNI—and you can now instantly tap into any computer terminal with a wave of your Tom Cruise hand.

DNI cybercores allow you to mentally control mechanical drones and send out swarms of destructive flying nanobots. And running along walls while you pinpoint all the enemies on the field and highlight areas where you're most likely to be hit is simply normal operating procedure.

With Friends (and a Story) Like These …

What about a plot? Well, there is one … sorta. This digital future world of some 50 years hence is an amalgamation of every dystopian prediction ever leveled by fearful handwringers. Global cooling-warming-changing superstorms are wreaking weather patterns, populations have grown to unsustainable masses that pack crumbling megacities, and acronym-adorned power-hungry conglomerates are running roughshod over everything and anything resembling human rights, law and order or basic decency. That means, mission by mission, there's always a new group of foes, "friends" or random folks who are just in the way that must be gunned down.

Truth be told, though, this game's hard-to-follow sci-fi war story is essentially nothing more than a way to wow you with a splash of gritty, techy trigger-pulling coolness while training you up in all your new abilities and weaponry. The CoD crew knows that the real draw here is the usual assortment of online deathmatch and capture-the-flag competitions that take place on a dozen different maps after you've learned how to mind all your lethal p's and q's.

One new addition in that category is the introduction of nine elite warrior types called "specialists" that you can choose from in the multiplayer team battles. Each of these characters packs a particular weapon skill and a unique DNI ability—such as decoy spawning, pumped-up enemy detection, arena-melting fire powers, etc. And for those who want their multiplayer action just a bit zanier, the gamemakers have also tossed in another grave-stumbling Zombie mode—a 1940s film noir onslaught of endless hordes of the undead.

Run, Leap, Splatter

Looked at from nothing more than the perspective of a bit of fast gaming action, Call of Duty: Black Ops III steps up to give players what it's expected to. This is a mechanically fluid, adrenaline-pumping, shooting arena-like game of run-and-gun chaos. Of course, it's also a very nasty game of run-and-gun messiness. No matter what mode you're playing in, gore splatters and gushes as foes are riddled, zapped or battered.

In the campaign story mode we see heads and limbs ripped and sliced off; witness men who have been tortured by having their facial features torn away and eyes gouged out; and watch as people are burned, beaten and waterboarded. Some are even crucified or hung up by wires, and corpses quite literally litter the battlefields. In Zombie mode, a tentacled beast slashes the undead into blood-spouting chunks.

The language throughout is foul, rife with f-words, s-words and nearly any other crudity you don't really want to come up with right now. And the warmongering gets put on hold at one point for a sexual encounter that features a (clothed) woman writhing sensually on a man's lap.

The thing you don't really get anymore with the Call of Duty games is any sense of, well, duty. Or honor. Or the idea that the men and women who make their horrible sacrifices in war do so out of loyalty to their country or love for their families. Those old-school sensibilities are so last-gen.

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Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC




November 6, 2015

On Video

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Bob Hoose

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