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November 23, 2015

Let’s “discuss” Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 (Part 2).


Jesus wept.

…I know I said that I’d find another long Bible verse for this intro, but there’s something that’s been on my mind.  I have a question that needs answering.

Is Call of Duty terrible?  I know that question’s as loaded as a Gatling gun the size of Montana, but let’s work through it, shall we?


It should be obvious by now that I don’t like Call of Duty.  I don’t like Blops3, and I didn’t like Blops2.  One would think that in the years and games since these two bloppy franchise entries, Infinity Ward and Treyarch and Sledgehammer and whoever’s working on whatever would’ve figured out how to evolve the franchise.  But I couldn’t tell you the differences between the last CoD I played (or was forced to play) and this one.  Then again, that’s because I’m a layman -- a biased fool tangled in the fringes of the franchise.

It’d be like expecting people to know the differences between Street Fighter III, IV, and V.  To the outsider looking in, all that matters is that they look different.  The nuances between parries, Focus Attacks, and the V-System are completely lost on those who don’t even know what DP stands for.  That’s fair.  On the other hand?  Those who venture in for even an hour -- even a minute -- could likely feel the difference between games, no matter how esoteric they may seem.  Changes are made to the franchise to help it evolve.  Some features are added, and some are dropped.  Minute changes under the hood make for a different experience; not everyone will agree with those changes, but it’s all in the name of progress, and giving the latest a shot at being the greatest.


Obviously, the nuances of Blops3 are lost on me.  I recognize that some changes have been made under the hood, especially with the added mobility.  Here’s the thing, though: like I said last time, those changes feel less like evolutions for the sake of progress -- of reaching that zenith -- and more like gimmicks.  A stopgap.  A cheap excuse for innovation.  And some of those changes don’t even feel that innovative; Blops3 has jetpacks and wall-running, but it’s joining the party late…least of all because the game that came before it also had added mobility

At its best, Blops3 has features -- but none of those features seem to build toward a cohesive whole.  Oh, so you can double-jump now?  Great!  Now you can get shot out of the air just like the stereotypical Halo noob!  You can run on walls!  Cool!  Now go find a wall that’s worth running on, especially if you get caught in a firefight.  You’ve got classes with special attacks!  What an exciting concept that hasn’t been done before and completely changes the game -- at least when you actually have the energy stocked to use it! 

Also, what is the point of customizing your appearance (or even having one) if you’re playing in first-person and at best will only see it if you’re among the top three scorers on the winning team?  For a game like Overwatch, it WILL matter because picking your gunner of choice is tantamount to picking between Zangief and Dhalsim.  Even with a breadth of options, picking my guy (or gal) in Blops3 feels like I’m choosing between ice cubes and crushed ice.





That would be fine if the gameplay was satisfying.  But it isn’t.  I’ve spent most of my time with the game wishing that I was playing Splatoon instead (or Overwatch, because boy does that game feel good).  I don’t feel satisfied when I score a kill, even when a bunch of points and medals fly across the screen.  It wasn’t a hard-fought battle with tactics and skill; I just got my shots in before my opponent could -- which is true whether I run into him in close quarters, or gun him down while he’s on the horizon. 

Even if I’m hampering enemy progress and helping my teammates score a win, it doesn’t feel like I’m accomplishing anything even remotely substantial.  I score, they die, they revive, they return, they fight back; that’s a complaint you could lob Splatoon’s way, sure, but the objective is so bold-faced and inherent that you can always work toward that while dealing with the side-objective of shooting down enemies. 


I said it last time, and I’ll say it here: there’s no intimacy in Blops3, no passion, no heat in even the most grisly of firefights.  I feel like an idiot whenever I run and gun, especially when it works.  I feel like an asshole whenever I hang back and camp, and deny others the chance to play the game.  Even when I’m being cautious and not running out into the open, I get shot in the back (or front) and die…and I don’t understand why.  But at times, I also don’t understand how I scored a kill -- how I came on top in a situation with terrible odds.  Sometimes it only takes me a bullet or two in any part of the body to down a foe.  Other times it’s like I need a whole clip.  Sometimes, the same rules apply to my foes. 

It’s bad enough that a skirmish can’t be controlled, but when there’s absolutely no way to predict when or how or why something will happen -- least of all because of the missing map -- matches become an exercise in more than luck or frustration.  It’s all futile.  Nothing matters whether you win or lose.  It’s all just a roll of the dice, capped off with the gain of some EXP that goes towards junk that’ll be worthless by this time next year.

People give CoD a lot of flak for not innovating year after year, and that’s a legitimate complaint.  But does it matter?  If the core gameplay is awful, then what’s the point of innovation?  Can the devs even innovate when their idea of new features are a bunch of gimmicks slapped onto their latest title like a bunch of glittery magnets on a broken fridge?  Does it really matter?

I ask this because I played Zombies.  It was unpleasant -- and the fact that we’ve reached a point where we have to consider “Zombies” its own mode makes my soul shrivel up.


I’d seen a couple of reviews that suggested Zombies (*agonized scream of internal essence*) this time around was the best yet -- with lots of production values, and/or a story, and/or Jeff Goldblum.  In the latter’s case, I’ll refer you to the fifth full paragraph of this post; as far as I can tell, who gets to play as what character comes down to random chance.  It led to situations where by luck of the draw, I played as the character voiced by Jeff Goldblum several times in a row, much to my brother’s dismay -- likely because I couldn’t have given an eighth of a shit.  Why does it matter if Jeff Goldblum is in the game if A) you’ll never see him from a first-person perspective, B) you’re going to be up to your ass in zombies so you can’t marvel at his dulcet tones, and C) there’s no discernible difference between playing as Jeff Goldblum or the blonde starlet next to him?

In the third point’s case, I acknowledge that there could be minor differences between the playable characters.  But that sure isn’t obvious from the outset, AKA what players will probably see the most.  Sure, teammates will get to see who you are, but it doesn’t really seem to matter.  There are voice clips that could help with characterization, but those get blanketed by pals shouting about incoming zombies (or the zombies themselves) and barking out orders at top speed.  Same goes for the story; I’m assuming that the proper context and progression is offered as you progress through the level -- of which there is a whopping one without resorting to DLC.  Because what better way is there to celebrate a new game and a beloved mode than with big fat paywalls?


It should go without saying, but zombies aren’t the most awe-inspiring threat.  Under normal circumstances, they’re stupid and slow, and will willingly march into your line of fire.  They’ll become fast zombies as the rounds progress, but their primary form of attack is still to rush you down (and run into your line of fire).  It’s the same old, same old with the standard enemy, albeit with some frustrating particulars.  For one, the zombies will appear at random spots throughout the map -- which isn’t exactly a game-breaker, to be fair (if annoying to deal with).  But the map isn’t always conducive to anything resembling a strategy or defense; with so many openings for zombies to appear from, I have my doubts that a squad of three, four, or even eight could handle the massive 2nd area for long.

More pressingly, though?  It seems like it takes a random number for zombies to go down, even if you score headshots.  Sometimes their heads will pop right off; other times they’ll march towards you unimpeded.  It wouldn’t be as much of a problem if you could focus on one or two at a time, but there are situations where you have to waste so much time and ammo on a single enemy when there are half a dozen rushing at you…or in some instances, a solid dozen running at top speed, because the RNG frowned upon you.  And that wouldn’t be so bad, except that the one thing you can count on is that the player characters can only take two or three hits from a single zombie before going down.  Can you see how that might be a problem?


It’s true that it is possible to hold a position for a little while before getting overrun, and there are more enemies than just zombies, however sparing their appearance -- flying parasite creatures, for one, and hulking demons as well.  But Zombies doesn’t feel fun.  Again, it feels like an exercise in repetition and futility -- doing the same thing over and over until you get it right.  The problem is that it’s hard to really get it right or learn from past mistakes, because “what went wrong” is a result of random chance.  Which points do you protect?  Which areas do you hole up in?  When do you rush to the next area?  All good questions, but there’s no solid answer.  That wouldn’t be a problem if the gameplay was satisfying, but it’s not.

I’ve been playing Smash Bros. for ages now, and I’d be lying through my teeth if I said there wasn’t a random element to it.  But having every match be different works to the games’ advantage, because it creates infinite longevity with mechanics and aesthetics that satisfy without fail.  And yes, you make even less progress with even fewer goals (besides win the match), but at least there’s progress on a journey that’s fun.  In Zombies, it feels like I’m just banging my head against a wall to find something that works.  When I lose, it’s right back to the start to do it all over again.  When I take a step forward, it’s for a mission that I could even begin to care about.  Chide me all you want for frowning upon Zombies, but for me?  There’s only one way to describe the experience.


The only thing that could possibly make me recommend Blops3 -- by which I mean “which mode you should play if forced to take part” -- is the local multiplayer.  It still has the same gameplay problems as always, and there’s another one that gets added: several of the maps are NOT conducive to playing with three or four people by virtue of their size.  With that said, at least when you’re playing with two or three people next to you, the combat is actually a little more focused. 

It’s possible to actually get something accomplished, even if there’s a stop-and-go tempo to the proceedings (i.e. minutes of nothing happening followed by ten seconds of actual gunplay…if that).  And of course, playing in a room with friends is probably preferable to being shouted at by someone hundreds of miles away with a mic, a bad attitude, and a salty disposition.


So I have to go back to the question I asked at the start.  Is Call of Duty terrible?  There’s no objective, surefire, indisputable answer to that.  Speaking personally and subjectively, I think that CoD -- in any iteration -- is terrible.  I won’t hate anyone for liking it, and I won’t tell them they’re wrong, but I absolutely cannot see the appeal in this franchise.  Is there even any?  For some people, sure.  But for others, the hate is entirely justified.

There are so many better options out there, even within the genre; anyone who wants to gun down foes isn’t spoiled for choice, I think (even if we’re still early in the console generation).  Okay, sure, not every game needs to be a treatise on the human condition or an attempt to revolutionize the art form -- but even so, do we have to glom onto this franchise?  Do we really?

I only ask because I gave the campaign a shot.  And -- surprise, surprise -- that was a mistake.


*sigh* I’m gonna need another Bible excerpt.

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