Back to the Future
One thing that has certainly become more noticeable as I get older is my lessening tolerance for any kind of abuse or general bad manners in gaming. My mind just instinctively convulses with an even mix of disappointment and rage whenever someone sees fit to find delight in another’s frustration or simply enjoys getting a rise out of others. Even relatively innocuous trash talk, just no, nope, I cannot stand any of it and its casual ubiquity stains what ought to be something that’s enjoyable for everyone.
It’s entirely possible that it’s always been this way; I only came to online multiplayer very late and so have no point of reference as to whether things in the past were more civilized, when Quake and Unreal Tournament ruled supreme. I’d like to think so as otherwise I fear there is little hope of a shift towards something more considerate and welcoming. Having friends to play with is ideal but one should never have to recruit others to act as a bulwark against the poisonous sociopaths that seem set on ruining things for the rest of us.
Within my first 2 hours of Black Ops 3 my sight was awash with swastikas, homophobic insults and myriad other offensive remarks adorning guns and emblems. You can turn user content off but again it’s just a way to ignore/avoid the problem rather than help put a stop to it. That developers and publishers appear to do so little to deal with it is even worse, but bah, enough of this, gives me conniptions.
Let’s instead talk about how it’s possible for the campaign to have a relatively sober, adult tone, and yet have the multiplayer reek of adolescent idiocy. For as much as I love Battery, one of the many specialists you can pick to play as, every time I hear her say pwnd my brain tries to leap out of my skull and impale itself on the nearest sharp object, if only to lessen the agony of knowing that someone over the age of 12 thought the line was worth uttering, let alone putting into a game that’s rated 18 here in the UK.
Perhaps it’s speaking to the game’s audience but I feel the gameplay deserves better than to be presided over by the kinds of detritus that values skill at the game above any sense to be a decent human being. In any case I tried to do what any right thinking homosapien would do; mute everyone and play the console version to dodge the text chat. Et voila, some sort of bliss is now achieved.
What is most astonishing however is that I actually enjoyed the multiplayer. It helps that I’m not as awful here as I was with WWII but the mix of skills and traversal systems reminded me of the ne plus ultra of shooters Titanfall 2, minus the titans and my beloved auto-pistol (yes, I was that sort of player). The sorts of acrobatics one can pull off often left my leaden footed arse in the dirt but it was always impressive to witness, especially when I would actually manage to anticipate it and blast them out of the sky like an oversized clay pigeon.
Watching videos of Black Ops 4, the main motivation for me to try 3, made me aware that certain weapons seemed to be prevalent over others and that’s something I really didn’t notice with Black Ops 3. Patches and updates no doubt took care of this but it was noticeable how little reliance there was on any one weapon or strategy. This made playing all the more engaging as I didn’t feel compelled to play a specific way to be effective, nor frustrated from having to depart my natural instincts in doing so. Developers love to talk about playing your way but invariably one way emerges as the default, actually having the flexibility to pick my own approach was much appreciated.
Alas much of the positive get undone by the inherent imbalance between players. One of the things that were true of ages past was that everyone used to have the same health, weapons etc. and aside from knowledge of the maps no one had an advantage over anyone else. The idea of unlocking new gear certainly incentivises levelling but the knock on effect is that higher levels means wider options and better access to perks and gear. It doesn’t completely tip things to one side but the effect in game is noticeable and frustrating. Unlocking cosmetics however was pretty fun and with the ability to get loot boxes without using real money or through endless grinding it felt like a breath of fresh air, well, freshly recycled air.
The campaign meanwhile is just a mess, a hotchpotch of ideas that fail by dint of how half arsed they are implemented. The context for the story is quite interesting with its world of cybernetic implants and robots but the emotional investment generated in its characters doesn’t so much take off as plough off the runway into a giant ditch of slightly confused boredom. After a quite brutal climax to the opening mission the space is left open for something quite harrowing and personal, but all the potential wrapped up in that scene is obliterated within seconds and instead we get a relatively dull story of betrayal and global destabilisation, which is quite a feat in retrospect.
It attempts to flirt with some light RPG elements through the ability to level up and upgrade your cybernetic abilities but so long as you know how to shoot straight it amounts to little more than fringe gameplay and far from necessary to get through the handful of globe trotting missions. The level design is fine if unremarkable and despite looking nice and having some spectacular set-pieces there is something disjointed about the experience. The accusation could be made that this is Call of Duty in a nutshell, where the gameplay simply isn’t fun in a single player context but Infinite Warfare proved, at least to me, that this is not the case at all, but rather it is a question of how much effort and imagination the developers are willing to place in a mode that many skip entirely.
Funnily enough it is the Zombies mode that I skip. Not being a professional reviewer I am relieved at not being bound by the obligation to try the damned thing but I shall nevertheless admit that a great deal of effort was put into it. Whether it is any good or not? No idea. However what I did play of Black Ops 3 reminded me of why I’ve never been entirely on board with Call of Duty and yet can never seem to fully ignore it. I was never a big fan of the Modern Warfare games and CoD multiplayer has always felt like a hostile alien world to this RPG nerd, yet I liked my time with Black Ops 3 and my lingering memories are happy ones of tweaking loadouts, unlocking outfits and exchanging very brief shotgun tips in tight corridors.