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Call of Duty: Black Ops III preview: More Call of Duty, less Black Ops

Hayden Dingman | June 24, 2015
I'm going to start this Black Ops III preview by saying something maybe a tad unconventional: I'm the guy who cares about Call of Duty's singleplayer campaigns. It's me. I'm the one. Activision builds out these six-hour blockbuster action circuses for me and me alone. And probably like, a few thousand other people.

Activision is still maintaining some sort of "separation" in these current products by calling this Black Ops III, but if you watched the demo last week and thought "This could've been called Advanced Warfare II," well, I don't blame you. It looks like an ultra-generic future shooter. There is nothing to suggest, from what we've seen, that this is a Black Ops game, or that it has anything to do with the previous Black Ops games. There's none of the Cold War paranoia. There's none of the weird us-versus-them conspiracy theory menace.

And there's none of the charm of exploring conflicts previously unexplored. We've only been in this "near-future shooter" kick for the last few years, but it already feels done to death in my mind. Probably because nobody's managed to do anything interesting with it. It's just a lens for our modern-day xenophobia.

Days of future past

So as I watched my thirty-minute preview of Black Ops III last week, I found myself yawning. There were guns cracking, explosions, massive robots stomping around--but there was none of what I come to Black Ops for. There was none of the human element, none of the intrigue and manipulation, none of the cowboy diplomacy, none of the shady allure of Mason and his number stations.

It looked like another near-future shooter in what is now becoming an indistinguishable glut of near-future shooters. You could've told me it was Advanced Warfare II. You could've told me it was Titanfall 2. You could've told me it was a near-future sequel to Spec Ops: The Line (yes, please). You could've told me...well, anything. Okay, maybe not that it was a sequel to Viva Pinata. But short of that, pretty much anything. That's the problem.

Again, let me reiterate: There's still plenty for Treyarch to show off. Maybe this was just a bad demo. Maybe they wanted to push their take on future-tech so much they simply forgot to put some sort of soul into that demo, some kind of hook for players of the prior games. Maybe there is something about Black Ops III that will make it clear This Is A Black Ops Game.

It doesn't seem that way though, and what little I've seen has me worried Black Ops squandered what used to make it unique. That it's now a "name" or a "brand" more than a true series. I had high hopes for Black Ops III, which is interesting because most years I have zero hopes for Call of Duty.

But the further we get away from Alex Mason--tied to a chair, a chilling silhouette barking commands at him, numbers playing over and over in his head, memories of Vietnam flashing through his twisted and broken brain--the less I seem to care.

 

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