Is there anyone on the face of the Earth who thinks the Call of Duty: Black Ops franchise is “just okay?” If there is, we haven’t met them. It seems that these particular games are either for you, or they’re not, a dynamic that has remained unchanged since the first title’s release five years ago next month. Admittedly, part of the reason CODBLOPS has remained a staple of the military FPS genre is that it’s a reliable workhorse of a franchise, offering up a formula that’s both accessible for new players and comfortable for veterans. Throw in the obligatory updated weapons, maps and missions, and there’s a perennial spring of gaming that’s been watering Treyarch Studios and Activision for half a decade. That being said, news of a “Black Ops 3” co-op expansion titled “Shadows of Evil” surprised approximately zero people, us included, until we actually took a look at it.
Yes, it is, and that’s confusing; it is clearly planted in the unfamiliar realm of noir. Although this is not the first iteration of the “zombies” mode, it’s certainly the most unique. Sure, there’s still a copious amount of blood and guns, but now instead of burly army vets in camouflage, the perpetrators are a sexy blonde and the kind of men who look like they’d habitually refer to her as “dollface.” And the killing (or some of it) is actually central to the backstories and motivations of the four main characters, if this three-and-a-half-minute clip is to be believed. Wait, did we say “backstories and motivations?” Are we describing … a story?
The shift toward a cogent narrative marks a huge change in the well-established CODBLOPS modus operandi, which has heretofore been focused heavily on the incredible success of its online multiplayer mode. In fact, one of the heaviest criticisms leveled at the franchise has been around its lack of a coherent or compelling story. Is it possible that these complaints have finally found an audience? If so, does that mean the face of the most famous FPS in the world is about to change at last?
If we’re being honest, we don’t think so. This trailer is for something that’s been branded as a “survival co-op experience,” which sounds like a fancy way to say “experiment.” In format, it’s pretty standard, all things considered: three guys of various physical and personality types, plus one woman for variety’s sake. The game (sorry, the experience) gets points for a star-studded cast, including the likes of Jeff Goldblum and Ron Perlman, but we’ll take some away for the lackluster title and played-out zombie concept. Is anyone else having flashbacks to seven thousand other games revolving around a pesky plague of the undead? Still, the implication is that this is the first map of several for CODBLOPS 3 in the recurring, highly-popular “zombies” mode; and it’s nice to see gameplay moving down a different path, even if it is one that’s been walked many times before. “Shadows of Evil” may not be the most groundbreaking installment in a long-static franchise, but we’re holding out hope that it’s a step in the right direction.