Though I’ve never been one to take a particular amount of pride in my gaming platform of choice, it’s hard to ignore the advantages that come with being PC-focused. The games are considerably cheaper, for one, and Steam has cultivated a culture that makes it very easy to end up with bloated libraries of titles that you’ll never be able to touch, let alone finish. The trading community is great for this sort of thing, and it’s precisely how I ended up with a random copy of Black Ops III. Instead of giving the key away, as I initially intended, I saw this as an opportunity to educate myself on the current state of a series that I typically keep my distance from
That reluctance isn’t entirely unfounded. Though I burned through my fair share of jokes years back about how everything is a brown and grey shooter, the industry as a whole has come out of the other side and balanced itself out creatively. That said, the first few minutes of Black Ops III feel like a parody of those games, or at least, how we remember them; generic macho white dudes fling some lame banter back and forth between moments of mowing down mooks with machine guns. At some point Christoper Maloni shows up and has a dick-measuring contest with whatever soap opera star plays your sidekick, then you get back to shooting guys, most of whom you can’t see because they use the same four color palette as the rest of the environment. The shooting doesn’t feel particularly good. The level design was basic. Not only was I reminded why I didn’t like Call of Duty, but it gave me a new appreciation for the modern shooters that I have enjoyed, having a spark of life that this game seemed to lack.
Then suddenly I was in the plot of Robocop.
Well, I think. If we’re giving Treyarch the benefit of the doubt, then that opening sequence was basically a parody of what most make fun of Call of Duty for being, a nice set-up before turning everything on its head. My character gained augments that showed where those enemies were and I even learned how to light dudes on fire, making for a much more manageable experience, though it didn’t take long for the fatigue to settle in once again. Even if the story goes interesting places (and reading up, yeah, it certainly does), the part where you play it somehow feels like something I’ve done a million times before, even if this is my first time with a Call of Duty in over a decade.
It’s not hard to see why Call of Duty is popular, but playing BO3, it’s also easy to understand why there’s been a decline. There’s only so much you can iterate on the concept of a modern military shooter while still making it for ultimate mass appeal. The end result feels safe and sterile, even when playing as a wall-running cyborg psychic soldier.
Setting dudes on fire shouldn’t be this boring.