It’s been a slack month for posts. Mostly, of course, that’s because the majority of what I put up here is me talking about games I’ve been playing lately, and most of the games I have been playing through have been fanservice-heavy visual novels.
I did play through “Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor”, which was an interesting twist on Qix, but that’s an old game and has been praised to death by people who are much better at words. I’m also frustratingly close to finishing the main story of FFXIV’s “Heavensward” expansion, but wasn’t able to find a group over the weekend to tackle the final dungeon so I really can’t talk too much about that just yet.
On the other hand, I did play through the latest Call of Duty, “Black Ops III”, this weekend. I always feel a little guilty admitting that, because it absolutely ruins my image as a niche gamer, but they are spectacularly-polished spectacle games and I have really been enjoying the crazy futuristic stuff that Activision has been packing into recent entries in the series.
…well, Ghosts was pretty bad, in retrospect. It had a cool dog, at least.
I’ll warn you in advance that some of the following will contain story spoilers. I don’t think they’re anything particularly bad; I’m not going to talk about the Big Twist Ending or anything. Still, I usually avoid going into specifics and I’m breaking from that pattern.
Because it’s set 50 years in the future, CODBLOPS3 gets to pretty much throw reality out the window. It doesn’t have the hover bikes of Advanced Warfare, or anything like that, but the plot centers around human augmentation, specifically direct interfaces between brain and computer, and there are a lot of pretty trippy scenes where virtual / augmented reality starts bleeding in to the real world. This is kind of a cornerstone of the Black Ops subseries, come to think of it.
Most CoD games have pretty unambiguous endings – the overall plot may be all kinds of twisty and full of double-crosses and things that are Not As They Seem, but eventually the story leads you to The One Bad Guy Who’s Responsible For All The Bad Stuff, and you kill him. Sometimes, you get to wear giant stompy robot suits, which is a plus in my book.
CODBLOPS3, by contrast, had a seriously ambiguous ending, and I’m not ashamed to admit that it had me reaching for Wikipedia for a plot summary immediately after finishing. I needed some help understanding what had just happened, and I’m still trying to process it. I’m pretty sure that it will wind up as one of my favorite CoD stories; I just need some time to think on it.
The missions are better at simulating some freedom of choice than previous CoD campaigns. They’ve been very successful, over the years, with a formula of “walk from point A to point Z, shooting everything as you go”, but BLOPS3 adds a lot of branching paths to each campaign level that really open things up. It’s no Deus Ex, and “stealth” is never a real option, but it does a good job of distracting you from realizing that you’re basically playing a carnival shooting gallery with pretty graphics.
You’re also given the option to choose which weapons, gadgets, and augmented abilities you take into missions, which is something that took me a few levels to realize and really get the hang of. Some of the abilities are FUN, particularly one that lets you hijack enemy robots. There was one particular firefight, against a swarm of enemy soldiers and their Don’t-Call-It-A-Tachikoma robot, that was a particular source of frustration until I realized that I could, if I avoided being shot for long enough, turn said Tachikoma to my side. I was rewarded with shouts about said robot being compromised, an achievement went Ping, and I got to let out all that pent-up frustration in a matter of seconds.
Apparently, there’s even a second “Nightmares” campaign that has you playing through much the same events, but with a largely different story, and that might give more insight into exactly what happened. I’m rather keen to give it a try.
That said, the game treats one of the female characters with a particular kind of brutality that I’m surprised anyone ever thought was OK, and I’m particularly perturbed by it BECAUSE it’s such a big release – Activision proudly announced that it had made $550 million in its first weekend, and that is a ton of copies sold.
The game’s first half has you facing off against an organized crime / private army group lead by a brother and sister pair. As they are villains in a Call of Duty game, you’re going to wind up killing both of them; this should not be a surprise.
The brother gets cut down by a hail of bullets in a chaotic scene; it happens so quickly that I didn’t actually realize that he’d been killed until the characters start talking about how his sister is going to be mad now.
The next time you meet his sister, you just happen to need to open a biometric lock that needs her handprint.
So, you knock her unconscious and cut off her hand. You even have a little gadget that seems to exist solely for the purpose of cutting off hands, it’s a sort of wrist cuff thing that clamps on and makes a happy little whirring sound.
Then you have another conversation about how she’s going to be SUPER mad.
The NEXT time you run into her, you wind up killing her by holding her head in the path of an open flame, while looking directly at her face. There’s no “tasteful” camera cut away or anything, you just get to watch yourself burn someone alive.
Both of these are done in cutscenes, removing the player’s “agency” and absolving them of any actual guilt – there is no BioWare-style paragon vs. renegade choice involved.
In the context of some weird niche game that won’t ever sell more than a few thousand copies, it’s distasteful but largely ignorable. In the context of a game that will probably sell probably ~20 million copies, it’s pretty terrible.
I’ll get off my soapbox now.
There’s also a multiplayer mode. I played two matches and served mostly to boost the kill count for the opposing team. I think I’ll stick to shooters like Titanfall and Splatoon, where you can help your team out even if you’re absolute bollocks at the shooting other players part.