Four-player co-op makes a much welcome return to Call of Duty this year, letting players create and tell their own stories.
“Now the campaign doesn’t have to be about a story written by the developer. It’s about that split-second headshot that saved the day or the idiot who fucked up the entire mission when you thought it was in the bag.”
I know I’m in the minority, but I play the annual Call of Duty campaign through first before I touch the multiplayer. It’s a tradition I’ve held on to since the early days of online console gaming. I don’t do it for any other series, but I still get involved in the Call of Duty “event” day. I’ve stopped taking time off work to play it on release, but I sit down, whack the difficulty up to Veteran and plough headlong into whatever war we’re facing this year.
It’s no great criticism to call Call of Duty campaigns tired. It’s partly due to the fatigue of a yearly release, the rise, improvement and domination of multiplayer, and the side-show of zombies or aliens. I don’t necessarily mean the action is weak, either. Treyarch, Sledgehammer and Infinity Ward still know how to pack in the bang for bucks. But there’s only so many times we can man that minigun, rappel down a building, take out the chopper and press X for the killing blow.
I’m also happy to get into the yearly story, too. I liked Advanced Warfare’s take on corporations as warmongers. It felt real and it’s always honourable to strive for better storytelling in any game. But it seems misguided to make that a priority in a series built on the thrill of explosions and automatic gunfire, looped for 30 seconds and delivered over 10 hours.
This year Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 brings co-op back and I genuinely think this is going to make the campaign interesting again. Playing in co-op with friends (or randoms) is a lot more appealing to me than competitive multiplayer, and it’s an area that has attracted millions of players to games like Destiny and GTA Online daily.
I’ve only played a portion of Black Ops 3’s campaign co-op once, but I can see potential to play it through differently again. Basic gameplay had us not only supporting each other with covering fire while pressing an attack, but also hacking AI soldiers to get them on our side, taking direct control of drones to turn on the enemy, and using a specialist weapon to collapse the ground around the map in pre-determined places.
Co-op goes beyond the set objectives of the game as you try different approaches, with players carving out their own speciality on the team, sharing tactics and working together to nail the end goal. Playing with friends means you know their strengths and weaknesses, and with randoms it’s a chance to learn new skills, or help others become better players, sharing the spoils of war.
It feels good to have this gameplay, these options and choices, back in Call of Duty, because now the campaign doesn’t have to be about a story written by the developer. In co-op the players make their own stories as they stomp through the experience, and that changes with different players.
Why do people go back to the same Heists in GTA or Raids in Destiny? For loot, sure, but also for fun with friends. No playthrough is the same, no encounter predictable. The story isn’t a generic military conflict, it’s about that split-second headshot that saved the day or the idiot who fucked up the entire mission when you thought it was in the bag.
“In the war that changed the world, no one fought alone” was the original tagline for Call of Duty way back in 2003. That got lost from the campaign as the focus shifted to multiplayer, but with Black Ops 3 the emphasis on cooperation is back, and that should reinvigorate the neglected campaign player.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is out November 6 on PC, Xbox One, PS4, PS3 and Xbox 360.