Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, you can completely customise your character for the single-player campaign

Messing with people’s minds has always been a hot topic for treyarch’s Black Ops series (“the numbers, mason! what do they mean?”), and Black Ops III‘s cryptic reveal suggested its new-gen debut wasn’t exactly ready to turn over a new leaf. in early april, players who logged into Black Ops II were surprised to discover that their dusty, two-year-old game had received an update. further probing found that treyarch had littered numerous multiplayer maps with mysterious codes. when scanned into snapchat, they took us to an account belonging to a ‘dr salim’ each code flashing up disorientating imagery overlaid with the same kind of numbers that bothered the insides of erstwhile series protagonist alex mason’s brain.

We say ‘erstwhile’, because mason’s been given the boot it seems, and replacing him is… you. for the first time in series history, you can completely customise your character for the single-player campaign, using one of nine loveable rogues as your base template. more on those guys later. but for now, know that the more things change, the more they stay the same. our single-player demo begins with our character blacking out as disturbing images flash before their eyes. The numbers.

We’re on ramses station, an imposing military outpost towering over the dunes of cairo. it’s 2025, shortly after the traumatic events of Black Ops II, and ramses is one of hundreds of bases erected by the allied nations to ensure their civilians’ safety in the event of another mass drone hack. we’re there to interrogate a prisoner a certain dr salim!

We’re about to enter his cell when, as sure as night follows day, we suffer another blackout, and when we come too, we find salim has escaped and cairo is under attack. bugger!

It’s in combat that we see how the world has learned to defend itself by reinvesting in the troops on the ground. true to Black Ops form, this involves messing with their minds. top-tier soldiers are infused with a direct neural interface (dni) a sub-dermal technology that plugs directly into the spinal column and gives the host complete control over every aspect of their physiology from healing to coordination to their levels of adrenaline.

HUD’s Up
And this translates to complete command over the battlefield. on top of the physical benefits, these bio-augmentations also allow the soldier to integrate seamlessly with tech on the field creating numerous possibilities. from a radial menu, for example, you can remotely hijack an enemy drone and turn it against its masters, while your hUd systems relay information about your surroundings directly to your eyeballs. at one point, it informs us that the ground underneath an enemy jeep is structurally weak we toss a few explosives in its direction and the earth swallows it whole. ha!

Battling through cairo, two key differences to previous CoD campaigns stick out like a sore trigger finger firstly, on top of terrorists, you have to deal with bipedal enemy robots. these enemies are not only more tenacious than their fleshy counterparts (blast their legs off and they’ll keep coming), but they’re also far less concerned with self-preservation, content to charge at you suicidally in the hope of overwhelming you. on the plus side, they collapse into a nice, satisfying heap of nuts and bolts when shot at.

It’s also readily apparent that the new battlefields are far wider and more expansive than the linear corridor environments the series is famed for. it’s gone big for a good reason: in another series first, up to four players can play through the campaign missions together, with the ai adapting to the increased number of players by anticipating being flanked. but while the environments may be vast, there’s no chance of solo players getting lost in them every aspect of player locomotion has been reworked to allow you to cover large distances in the shortest amount of time possible.

These changes are most pronounced in multiplayer, where even a second of wasted motion can prove deadly. one of the least sexy changes proves most valuable: instead of having to press a button to leap over a ledge, if you run towards it and jump you’ll auto-mantle over it, all the while being able to aim
and shoot. it feels natural, intuitive  and encourages you to quickly dart in and out of interiors in an attempt to outflank the enemy. it should always have been this way.

Up next, thrust jump. it’s more flexible than Advanced Warfare’s exo boost; each leap is governed by an analogue power meter, so you can do one big leap, or a series of tiny flutter-jumps. Jump at an angle into a sheer wall and you can wall-run across it a speedy way to transition from high ground to low without losing a step.

Elsewhere a powerslide replaces the popular but unwieldy ‘dolphin dive’ allowing you to shoot while diving, and even scrabble round right-angled corners. and for Black Ops III‘s final trick… would you believe, swimming? that’s right on certain maps, you  can take a shortcut by diving straight into the blue stuff but your high-tech bio-augmented suits don’t include oxygen packs, apparently, so best not to linger underwater.

In another example of how Black Ops III‘s single-player and multiplayer worlds converge, in multiplayer, you build your ‘Pick 10‘ class around one of the nine base characters from the campaign, each of which has two abilities to pick from. this ability constantly recharges, even if you do absolutely squat, but building up a scorestreak accelerates the process. the four operators announced thus far are rain (mardy russian who slams down onto the battlefield with his ‘gravity spikes’, making it rain scorestreaks), seraph (assassin with a robotic arm that enables her to fire an ultra-powerful revolver), outrider (Assassin’s Creed reject with explosive arrows) and reaper (killer robot who can ‘glitch’ back in time five seconds invaluable if you’ve been rumbled).

All these myriad skills and movements have been designed so that they can be chained together almost indefinitely, like a scene from fantastic but entirely fictitious game Tony Hawk Goes Postal. once mastered, you can see Black Ops III for what it is the most kinetic Call of Duty game yet, and one that, through boost slides, mid-air direction changes and abilities that let you warp back in time, subverts the series wonderfully by giving you the power to mess with someone else’s head for a change.

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