Monday, October 12, 2015
War is shit. The world is doomed and we're all fucked. It's no wonder that Call of Duty: Black Ops 3's story will be hugely “disturbing” according to Director Jason Blundell, who wondered what it would be like to keep Black Ops II's story going for the sequel. It's 2065, and unsurprisingly, everything has gone to hell.
Air superiority has been nullified causing military focus to shift back to boots-on-the-ground deployment, giving rise to a new kind of bio-augmented soldier and a Cold War between two warring factions: the Winslow Accord and the Common Defense Pact.
Bipedal robots and drones become increasingly commonplace on the battlefield, and as such you'll find that your extraordinary augmented abilities will become indispensable, although hints of Cronenbergian body horror and bizarre implanted hallucinations beamed into your character's Direct Neural Interface seem like they could be among the themes in Black Ops 3's chilling glimpse of the future.
As far as gameplay is concerned, the game's campaign (sadly absent from the old-gen version) will not only furnish you with cutting-edge weaponry and abilities but also high-tech Cybercores that present a variety of tactical options in the field. These can be upgraded and customised, while Cybercores enable you to unleash all kinds of hell against the enemy.
Chaos cores can be used to incapacitate foes by causing uncontrollable vomiting, setting off their carried explosives, or having them attacked and set alight by a swarm of firefly nanomachines among other things, while Control cores can be used to hack into and seize drones or enemy robots. Then there are Martial cores that put even more tactical options at your disposal.
Going hands-on, accessing your Cybercores is merely a case of pushing down on the d-pad to call up a radial menu and picking the right one for the job. If all of this seems like it could get too confusing, fear not; it's more straightforward than it sounds. “Modern gamers are a lot better than when I first started in terms of multitasking,” Blundell quips when asked about the wealth of new options presented by Cybercores, Tac-Rigs and such.
“You take in one core at a time, but when you hit level 20 on your XP system, you actually get multicore, where you can swap between them. We've seen players swap between multiple cores, abilities and weapons, which they asked me for when we were user testing. They wanted access to all the cores, and I was like 'wow, that's incredible'. I have to remind myself that players are far more advanced than I think.”
And it's also part of Treyarch's desire to provide greater player agency during Black Ops 3's storyline, so rather than spoon-feeding you the usual set-piece tropes, your various abilities will essentially enable you to experience the campaign in any way you see fit. “It's all about options and choice,” says Blundell.
“It's like the narrative. I think we do players a disservice when we think about telling stories to them. Something like Game of Thrones with multi-character, multi-thread storylines, nowadays people just eat it up. And I think in gaming we sometimes dumb it down, assuming a certain level of ability to follow narratives and stories. People are far beyond that in an average consumption kind of way. The same goes for game design as well, in terms of the complexity of mixing and matching stuff. You can still play it the old way if you want. Again it's all about choice,” he adds.
“At Treyarch one of our key pillars is trying lots of stuff. We really like to try to experiment with a lot of different ideas,” Blundell explains. “I think going for a holistic, level agnostic series of abilities and skills as our mentality is an all-encompassing approach that rather than making the dedicated bit in Call of Duty games where you normally have the section where you fly the blah blah blah or 'here's the bit where you do this'... as you saw with the Cybercores, you can take over any craft at any point and start shooting things up if you have that ability.
“So making something that is all about choice and customisation took priority over 'here's this custom set thing that we're going to make in this part of the level,” Blundell continues. “You can take over flying things, quad tanks, bipedal robots, and that really for us really opened the campaign up to a new approach and mentality that allows you to play it and have fun in different ways. And if you don't particularly like something you can choose not to do it. It's all about how you want to play it and how you want to engage.”
The same goes for the co-op experience. Treyarch hasn't merely dropped up to four players into a single-player experience. The whole thing has been built from the ground up. “This is the most systemic campaign we've ever created,” says Blundell. “We've made a co-op game, so every aspect has been considered with multiple people playing it.” Campaign, Zombies and multiplayer will also be tied together in Black Ops 3, so your team of four will be able to “seamlessly connect as a group and move between all three modes.”
Beyond weapons and Cybercores, Tac-Rigs will also offer a variety of traversal abilities that you'll be familiar with from the game's multiplayer. You can bypass these altogether if you wish, but given that Black Ops 3's campaign will have the “biggest maps we've ever created,” according to Blundell that “you can traverse in any way you wish in a non-linear way” it might be prudent to sink some XP into boosting your movement.
Then there's the new Realistic difficulty level to take into account too. “[In Realistic] you have one point of life, so if you're shot once, you're dead. It completely changes the way you play the game,” says Blundell. “You all have to survive as a group. You end up respecting the level in a completely different way, and once gunfire opens up, everyone just drops to the ground, because if any one bullet hits you or a grenade goes off near you, you're dead.” The AI too has been entirely rewritten to “make independent decisions,” he adds. “We have more types of AI than we've ever had before.”
If Call of Duty: Black Ops 3's campaign sounds ambitious, then so too does Zombies. Dubbed Shadows of Evil, the Zombies portion of the game features another all-star cast fighting legions of the undead, this time amid the perpetual darkness of the rain-slicked, neon-drenched Art Deco and Art Nouveau streets of Morg City.
Starring Jeff Goldblum as “rubbish” magician Nero, Heather Graham as burlesque dancer Jessica, Ron Perlman as grizzled boxer Campbell and Neal McDonough as crooked detective Vincent, Shadows of Evil sees the foursome paying the price for all of their terrible misdeeds, all while Robert Picardo as antagonist Shadow Man pulls the strings, while remaining every bit as mysterious as his name suggests.
In development for the past two and a half years, Morg City is the “densest and most expansive” Zombies map yet. Shown a detailed fly-through of the area, we get to see every grimy corner of the noir-inspired location, which has its own suspended railway system, theatre district, jazz clubs, peep shows and deserted alleyways. It's a remarkable environment to behold and a fantastic period setting that ensures Zombies is a completely different experience to Black Ops 3's nightmarish future narrative, with its very own bubblegum machine progression system to sink time into.
“History repeats itself” is one of the ways in which Blundell sets up the inspiration for Black Ops 3's story. And at one time the same could have been said for the Call of Duty series itself. However, for Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 it's more than evident that not only is Treyarch striving to tell an engaging and provocative story, but is also determined to put freedom of choice directly into players' hands. That's something that's potentially very exciting indeed.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III is out on 6th November.
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