With a Call of Duty game, you can generally expect fast-paced boat chases, vehicle assaults, and an air-to-air combat segment packed into a Michael Bay-style cinematic experience. That's all still here, as Treyarch's campaign addition to the franchise this year starts off unnervingly similar to Sledgehammer's Advanced Warfare from last year in many ways. Thankfully, that rote ride into future-tech doesn't last long, and the plot diverts in the most wonderfully weird way. Black Ops III has the most mind-bending and bizarre Call of Duty plot yet, taking advantage of unique settings and scenarios that would feel absurdly out of place in the series' traditional space.
Without going into the legion of spoilers and twists that make up the second half of the main campaign, the basic premise sets the player up with squad leader John Taylor (Christopher Meloni) and showcases a device called the DNI (Direct Neural Interface). The DNI highlights enemies behind barriers, shows danger zones, predicts angles of grenade bounces, and allows the player to remotely interface with things like turrets and robot foes. Players also pick up a set of special cooldown core skills that add variety to the campaign, but I found it easy to ignore most of the abilities in favor of an incendiary nanobot swarm and an explosive ignite ability. You're able to switch out your weapon packages mid-level at mobile armories, so if your strategy needs some tweaking for an upcoming battle, popping in a new kit for the situation is easy.
While the campaign offers more open areas with the freedom to choose different paths, it does little to negate the feeling that much of the core experience is just big rooms full of targets to kill. You move from area to area doing much of the same routine, even if there are some decidedly interesting sections to be discovered once the narrative goes well off the beaten path. As always, the missions feature unique battles and setpiece sequences like using a bolt driver to keep heavy winds and water from blowing you off the map. These moments break things up over the course of the eight-hour jaunt, but they quickly lose their charm as you engage in the next generic open area full of 40 humans and a giant robot miniboss. I highly recommend taking advantage of the up-to four-player campaign co-op feature to move through the game, as taking a friend or two along makes the sometimes-slow adventure more palatable and entertaining. All that said, Treyarch's ambitious play to take the standard Call of Duty plot and go completely off the rails with it is admirable, and it works for creating some genuinely interesting moments and fantastically weird settings.
The multiplayer is excellent and addictive, offering players a more dialed-back and controlled experience in comparison to last year's frenzied foray into future-tech. The mobility options like wall-running and boosting are important, but they're used to traverse certain chunks of map quickly rather than integral pieces of every run-and-gun shootout. I found the slight dip in the speed of the action refreshing; I had more influence in what was going on from game to game.