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Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 single-player preview: 'Black' to the future

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3's single-player story picks up where Black Ops 2 led off, but with one major difference. Black Ops 3's player character is now fully customizable and will be able to bring three friends along for the ride, with the campaign getting four-player online co-op for the first time in CoD history.


While Infinity Ward helped define Call of Duty as we know it through the Modern Warfare series, Treyarch crafted its own story within the series. Call of Duty: Black Ops debuted five years ago, with Black Ops II hitting two years later. Treyarch's story followed the tale of Alex Mason (and later, his son, David) and fellow covert operative Black Ops soldiers working to stop a Nicaraguan drug lord named Raul Menendez, who quickly rose to become a powerful arms dealer and charismatic figure. Though Menendez's cyberattack was stopped, the villain's legacy is cemented in Call of Duty: Black Ops 3.

"The seeds of Black Ops 3 were sown with the drone strikes of Black Ops II, set in 2025," explained campaign director and senior executive producer Jason Blundell. "The world was helpless to defend itself when Raul Menendez hijacked the U.S. drones to pursue his own ends. After this pivotal moment in world history, as is the way of things, the politicians and military technologists of the day pushed for a solution to not allow this situation to ever reoccur. This led to the creation of an umbrella air defense system that would nullify any air assaults in the future. And with this action that's disabled first-world countries' air superiority, a renewed interest and focus has changed back to 'boots on the ground' might. As we've seen today in the headlines, military technology is advancing at an ever-increasing rate, an almost disturbing rate. This continues in our Black Ops universe exponentially."

In addition to advancing military technology, the world is in the midst of climate change and finding resources increasingly scarce, leading to new alliances. The campaign will center around two factions: the Winslow Accord and the Common Defense Pact (CDP). Both sides are upgrading their soldiers with robotic advancements and bio-augmentation, particularly through Direct Neural Interface (DNI) that connects advanced tech into a soldier's brain and spinal column. In particular, these augmentations will allow the Black Ops soldier to better work in the shadows and sets the stage for the game's story.

To this point, Black Ops 3 will not put players in the role of one of the Masons. Rather, players will take control of a prototype cybernetically-enhanced Black Ops soldier investigating the disappearance of half of their group. They must go behind enemy lines to find them, as the largest leak in military history completely dismantles all covert operations around the globe. The lack of a specific protagonist allows this campaign to be the first to allow for fully customizable male or female characters, with full progression systems, perks, loadouts, and outfits. This will also open the door to allow Black Ops III's campaign to be the first in the series to feature four-player online co-op, as well as two-player couch co-op.

The four-player mode was demonstrated (on an Xbox One, though a PC demonstration was also available) with a reveal of one of the campaign's levels, Ramses Station. Following cutscenes and dialogue, the player was joined by three friends. To allow for four-players, Treyarch is severely de-emphasizing the traditional "on-rails" portions of the campaign by focusing more on larger environments and open areas. Teams will be able to exercise additional tactics to take on enemy soldiers and robots. DNI enhancements will offer up a greater analysis of the battlefield, with players able to use T-Mode (Tactical Mode) to survey threat levels for themselves and any co-op partners. Cyber Core abilities will allow for a variety of custom skills, such as Remote Hijack that has players take control of nearby drones. Cyber Rigs let players equip passive abilities, like ones that add advanced movement or bolstered defense. Over 40 different upgradable abilities are available, with players able to update their characters at safe houses placed in-between levels. However, the players won't be the only ones getting new tools.

Black Ops 3 is also set to receive a whole new graphics engine and animation system, which is allowing Treyarch to introduce an overhauled AI system. This will add 20 different enemy archetypes with their own weapon variations. They will move in formation and coordinate with one another. Robot enemies will also take advantage of their non-humanity and will exercise greater risk, virtually sacrificing themselves for the sake of the player's destruction.

Blundell also sees the emergent AI and larger environments as an opportunity to add additional replayability, with multiple playthroughs potentially allowing them to find things they hadn't seen previously. He also noted that Cyber Cores and Cyber Rigs are level-agnostic, meaning they can be taken back to previous campaign stages and used to play them out in different ways.

Introducing co-op may mean a few sacrifices on the narrative end. The branching storylines of Black Ops 2 are going by the wayside, since Treyarch is placing a greater emphasis on playing cooperatively with friends and replaying past levels with new abilities and (most likely) a new perspective. Blundell is promising a "multi-layered story," though, one that will further build on the world that the Black Ops series has created.

While Treyarch studio head Mark Lamia wouldn't confirm that this story would close the book on the Black Ops series, Black Ops 3 is shaping up to be another intriguing installment of one of Call of Duty's most interesting worlds. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is set to release on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on Friday, November 6.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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