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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Call of Duty: Black Ops 3.

Transcript Edit

Another year, another round of spunk to the gargle to the wee to the other wee. I can't help wondering if the Call of Duty people are losing their fiery, psychopathic, second-amendment drive now that they've been painting by the numbers for so long. I mean, Black Ops 3 is yet another string of barely-connected shootouts in various global locations, but it can't even summon the effort to be particularly racist.

Yeah, the heroes are all burly Americans who shout too much and there's a rather laughable character-customization menu wherein you pick from nine very, very slight variants on the same gormless white person, like you're trying to use Tinder in the middle of rural Kansas. But half the time you're fighting killer robots. That's not racist at all! Or give it about thirty years, and maybe it will be seen as insensitive towards AI-Americans who don't have the privilege of having been born rather than procedurally generated, but what bothers me is: why is it still called Black Ops? Deniability was always kind of a tall order when we were murdering roughly the entire cast of an early Charlton Heston film, but why do we need deniability to massacre killer robots? Who are you afraid of offending, the fucking smoothie maker?

Anyway, Black Ops 3 opens with our burly American heroes doing what they do best: widdling all over the sovereignty of an unstable foreign nation. Events unfold fairly predictably from there until the end of the prologue, when our hero gets torn up a treat and has to get cyber-augmented, which raises the usual slew of complex philosophical questions such as, "Isn't this blatantly the same plot as Advanced Warfare?" Except they couldn't get Kevin Spacey, so they got Robert Picardo instead, the next name on the smart-but-faintly-sinister-balding-corporate-types list. In fairness though, the plot gets bored of ripping off Advanced Warfare after a while and rips off Black Ops 1 instead, fucking about with brainwashing and altered perceptions, but with a kooky sci-fi twist. 

Also the world-building is for dog shit. Exposition's always bad in Call of Duty since they routinely cut any scene that couldn't have a gun battle in it, but it feels worse than usual since among other reasons, I never figured out what the fuck branch of the military we were supposed to be part of. We do stuff for the CIA, but I think we were just seconded to them. And come to think of it, the enemy's just this nebulous, loose organization of quote "bad guys". The dialogue keeps throwing mysterious names and acronyms at me like a tech nerd trying to intimidate someone at a dinner party: "The CIA are compromised by the NRC in the CDP and they got a PAWS, what are you gonna do about it?" Find a glossary, apparently. 

But fuck world-building as long as the characters are solid, and on that note, why are female soldiers always no-nonsense snipers? Says something about the writer I think, if they perceive women as mostly poking holes in things from a very long distance away. This game's no-nonsense sniper lady becomes a love interest eventually, the writer perhaps having heard that a romance is more satisfying if it occurs despite adversity, and I suppose a total lack of chemistry whatsoever could technically count as adversity. Besides everything else, I'm not sure I could ever fall in love with someone who responds to a grenade landing in her lap by staring at it until it explodes. I mean, I'm not sure I could leave her alone with the children. And a relationship should be give-and-take, so when she took no damage whatsoever, I wondered why she even needed me around.

Did you notice how I seamlessly transitioned there from criticizing the story to the AI? This is what earns me the big bucks. So I guess we're on the subject of technicals now, which is a shame, 'cause I'd have loved to mention that the main character's voice acting sounds like he's delivering it through a used teabag, but hey ho. Obviously your robot body has some special powers, wouldn't be much use otherwise, except for more efficiently setting off the elevator weight limit alarm.

For example, the tutorial shows you how to run along a wall. What it doesn't explain, of course, is that you can't do it outside the tutorial until you unlock the right bumper sticker to put across your chrome metallic buttocks, which led to some rather embarrassing moments when I hurled myself at a wall to follow my colleague and bounced gracefully off it into a skip.

There are also special combat powers, somewhat reminiscent of Syndicate, that's Syndicate Syndicate, not the Assassin's Creed Syndicate, and remake Syndicate Syndicate, as opposed to original Syndicate Syndicate. You point your magic gun-fingers and enemies get fucked up, but a lot of the available cyber-powers seem to be variations on a theme of 'make varying numbers of enemies stop shooting you for a bit', which all feels like a bit of a faff when you could just use the power that shoots killer cyber-bees out of your mouth, which makes several enemies stop shooting you for a bit and then obligingly die after a little song-and-dance routine. 

The cyber-powers feel a little bit half-arsed, because a lot of them are marginally less useful than just firing a bunch of bullets at the thing you're already pointing at. It's not like there's any shortage of bullets, now every single gun uses the same type of ammo and resupply boxes are installed by all the fire extinguishers. 

But if there's any half-arsedness about the main campaign, it's probably because going by the range of alternative game modes available, the Black Ops dev team have the attention span of a moth at a fireworks display. The weirdly elaborate zombie mode is now a given and has only gotten weirder and more elaborate, to the point that they actually hired Ron Perlman and Jeff Goldblum to be in it, which makes it all the more baffling that the protagonist of the main campaign had to make do with a random person they picked up from the bus shelter outside a brain-hemorrhage clinic. On top of that, there's a free-running race mode now as well, which is the most pointless feature of the lot because like most modern FPSes, your character runs like he's got his trousers around his ankles. "Fine," says the game, "Fuck me for trying, here's some more zombies, you sheep." 

There's a second zombie mode where you play alternate versions of the campaign missions with zombies in. Props for including it as standard rather than flogging it separately six months down the line Red Dead Redemption-style, but if people are unwilling to go ten fucking minutes without fighting a zombie and refuse to take a job as an orderly at an retirement hospice, then it's on them to expand their fucking comfort zone. It's not helping to stick zombie modes in everything from games to classic literature, as one would add a subtitle option for the hearing-impaired. 

One last point: you know I'm a placid, easy-going, kind-hearted, saintly sort of fellow, shut the fuck up, so I don't really care if a game's running in 30 or 60 FPS as long as I can see where the places to put the bullets are. It does, however, bother me when it keeps switching back and forth between 30 and 60 FPS as the in-engine cutscenes come and go; kinda breaks my immersion after we kick the door down and suddenly break pads are digging into my eyeballs. This was on the console version; I understand the framerate's a little bit more flexible on the PC port, so much so that they decide it with a random number generator, ha ha.

Addenda Edit

  • Sees a window and wants to paint it orange: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Of course robots seem like ideal workers until you realize that the moment they're networked together they're automatically unionised
  • All my operations are deniable but then I'm a very bad surgeon
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time

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