Treyarch has been involved in the development of the Call of Duty series for more than ten years now, their first entry was Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, which was released in 2005. Since then they've managed to carve out their own niche under the Call of Duty umbrella. They introduced zombies, which has now become an important part of the series. We have Treyarch to thank for many of the highlights of recent years, and now they're back, showing off what they'e managed to accomplish with an extra year of development time. We were invited to try the game, and have a little chat with Jason Blundell, the director responsible for both the campaign and the zombie mode.
Some of the biggest changes in Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 will be seen in the campaign. This part of the game has evolved with the introduction of four-player co-op. This means that the game will feature some of the biggest and most open levels in Call of Duty history. One massive change is that the campaign is no longer linear, all the missions are unlocked from the start, and the player must decide in which order they want to tackle them. The plot of the game will not be branching as it was in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, but the idea is that the order in which each player takes on missions, combined with guidance from your own moral compass, will lead to different interpretations of what really happens in the story.
"The first one, Black Ops, was about man corrupts man," says Blundell. "Victor Reznov corrupts Alex Mason with brainwashing to kill the people that had wronged him. You can look at the second one as being like man corrupts machine, so Raul Menendez corrupts the US drones to take them and do his thing. This one you can think as being machine corrupts machine."
The game is set in the year 2065, 40 years after Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 ended. The lack of resources and various conflicts have divided the world into two major alliances, the Common Defence Pact, CDP, and the Winslow Accord. Great progress has been made in several areas, mainly in biotechnology. The drone attacks in Black Ops 2 have led to the development of air defences to such a degree that the threat of air strikes is virtually neutralised. Once again soldiers on the ground are the most effective weapon in the military arsenal. To gain all sorts of benefits on the battlefield, soldiers opt to undergo voluntary amputations in order to be equipped with advanced prosthetics. Elite Forces are also equipped with the DNI, Direct Neural Interface, enabling them to instantly share all the information found on the battlefield.
"If you look through our Call of Duty history and heritage, I think there is a real sign of maturity that comes through and comfortableness, explains Blundell. "And as you get more comfortable you are willing to take more risks, and that's something I think the Black Ops series really shows, we went away from some of the kinda rah-rah military stuff and started to play more with themes of the mind or themes of social interaction or morality, which really excites us, and that's quite dangerous, because you only should go there if you feel a bit comfortable about doing the standard stuff. And then on top of that we played around with the standard stuff and mixed up the formula. You need to know what the rules are before you bend and break them. I think for the well read, they'll see some of my influences in Black Ops 3, both comics and books. I think the important thing as a director is to be well-rounded, so i think if all you watched was Hollywood movies you get a certain kinda feel to it. Especially with Black Ops we have gone for a certain level of off-kilter, disturbia type stuff, and i felt like other media actually have tapped into that better at times. Some of the most disturbing stuff is about stuff that you don't see, it's about stuff that you feel, and so it's not always the Hollywood movie that gives inspiration."
To finally be able to play with four players in the campaign is really nice, and Treyarch has really made an effort to actually make it feel like a co-operative mode, not just a single-player experience with more guns being fired. Among other things, the entire AI system was rebuilt. One of the ways that co-operation is emphasised is by the new Enhanced Vision system. Player share information about the battlefield with each other and one can quickly find out the location of enemies that your allies have already seen. You also get a stylish overlay on the ground where you can see how many enemies have you in their sights . It is therefore important to have the most suitable player keeping look out, while the other three hunt down the enemies. The height and verticality of the maps was highlighted multiple times during our session. Treyarch has really tried to make the maps more three-dimensional and not just the flat corridors you'd typically see.
"With three years you can really take stock of what you need to do," says Blundell. "So we decided to take on doing a four player co-op campaign. There is two ways of making a campaign, you can make a single-player game and put four people in it, or you can make a co-op game. We made a co-op game, which means that everything from the ground up was considered with co-op in mind. I think World at War was very much a demonstration of putting four players into a singleplayer game and Black Ops 3 has a truly ground up, foundation up, co-op mentality."
The player will be able to customise the game to their own tastes and this has been paramount during development, something immediately noticeable when setting up your character. You can customise the appearance and, for the first time, you may also choose to play as a woman in a Call of Duty campaign. The appearance of one's character will have a bigger role than in previous games in the series, because for the first time you're not stuck with a first-person camera during the cutscenes. The upgrades and skills you equip your character with are also important, and all levels are designed to allow for several different routes and tactics, depending on the equipment chosen.
"In Black Ops 2 we did multiple outcomes, branching storylines," says Blundell. "I got asked at one point, "Did you do that again?" No we didn't, but what we did do was we took that complexity and wrote it into one storyline. So, and this actually took us about three years, this took some time, there is a storyline and if you just switch off and just kinda play it, there is a very rewarding storyline that will take you from the beginning to the very end, and you'll come out and you'll say "This is what the story was about" but if you look closer than that, there is possibly another way of looking at it and there is evidence and facts to back up that view as well. You could also look even closer and there is possibly even a third one. And all those lines can interact and also be independent, but based on your perspective and what you bring to it. That is why I'm hoping it will be a quite provocative storyline, and there should be arguments about what actually transpired."
Much of the variation in style comes from the three different cyber cores you can choose from; Chaos, Martial and Control. No surprise as Chaos abilities creates confusion among your enemies. This specialisation provides a skill that lets you blow up the shells of the enemy, get soldiers out of play by making them vomit, conjure a swarm of insect-sized drones that attack enemies, and offers a melee attack that temporarily paralyses the enemy. The Martial tree is for those who want to quickly kill off their enemies. Players can become invisible with active camouflage, making all their weapons stronger during a short time, get stronger melee attacks for one hit kills. Perhaps the most interesting Cybercore is Control. If you choose it you will be able to reprogram enemy robots to attack their former allies, overload them so that they explode, take direct control of robots and drones and remotely control them, and last but not least you can run up to them, rip out the batteries from their metallic chests and throw them like a grenade. Clearly recycling is important in this time of scarce resources.
As in all previous entries in the Call of Duty series we get to travel around a lot, visiting locations like Cairo, Singapore and Zurich, but in between you'll stop at your safe house. Here you collect all your medals and collectibles from your various assignments. You can also read about the Black Ops storyline at the terminals, and we were also informed that you might find arcade games like those in Call of Duty: Black Ops if you look hard enough. All the preparation for missions takes place in the safe house, equipment selection, customisation of the character's look, and you can even build new weapons there.
We've previously mentioned that it was Treyarch who gave birth to Call of Duty's zombies. It has gone from being a small diversion to one of the pillars of the Call of Duty franchise. The original zombies mode in Call of Duty: World at War was developed mostly for fun during lunch breaks, and somehow wound up being made into a complete game mode. This time they have had a dedicated team working on a Zombies mode called Shadows of Evil, for two and a half years. Previously, the development time for this mode has been about four months. Shadows of Evil takes place in the distinctly noir-inspired Morg City as we follow four tortured souls as they try to survive the apocalypse - a failed magician Nero played by Jeff Goldblum, burlesque dancer Jessica played by Heather Graham, the corrupt cop Vincent portrayed by Neal McDonough and last but not least, the ageing boxer Campbell played by none other than Ron Perlman. According to the developer, Morg City will be bigger than two campaign maps.
Despite all of the aforementioned innovations, Black Ops 3 still retains the fundamental feel of a Call of Duty game. No matter how much talk there is about what it really means to be human, and how machines impact our lives, the game will ultimately still be about running around the world and shooting people, robots and zombies. So if you're not up for that (the shooting), you probably won't find much to your liking here, but fans of the series will no doubt want to blast their way through the campaign with three friends, or get chased down by noir zombies, or perhaps most likely shoot strangers in the head during multiplayer matches. For fans of the series, Black Ops 3 is an obvious choice this November.