Monday July 20th, 2015

From Marshawn Lynch to Karl-Anthony Towns, some of the biggest names in sports are counting down the days as they wait for Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 to hit shelves. When athletes are not suiting up as their virtual counterparts, it seems that Call of Duty is the go-to game of choice for most of them. Treyarch was kind enough to invite to demo the game to see for ourselves why athletes like Lynch and Towns are so excited for the game, and we had a chance to speak at length with Jason Blundell, who serves as director for the campaign and zombies mode.

The game is made up of three distinct components: the campaign mode, competitive multiplayer and the always-popular Zombies mode. While you can fight your way through the story mode solo, campaign co-op is making a return to the Call of Duty franchise in Black Ops 3, allowing up to four players online and two players locally to sync up. This is the first time that the protagonist of the story is fully customizable: from changing different upgrades and abilities to your character’s appearance, you can also even pick your gender.

Blundell remained tight-lipped about the story, but he teased a lot of interesting twists. “We’re very deliberately only talking about the first two levels of the campaign to set the premise up, and then holding it all back because I want guys like yourself, that when they pick the game up, they’re going to be like, ‘What the f- is this?’," says Blundell. “It’s definitely the most disturbed and twisted story I’ve ever told, and I’m hoping for genuine surprise from people when they start going in there.”

SI was able to demo the “Ramses Station” and “Alley” levels from the campaign to test some of the new mechanics and toys. Unlike Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, where soldiers wore exo-skeleton suits to enhance their strength and movement, this is a world where soldiers are imbued with bio-augmentation and cybernetic enhancements. While some of the technology may seem far-fetched, experts that the Treyarch team consulted with believed that they initially weren’t going far enough, telling them that some of their ideas are actually being done today. This allowed the developers to push the boundaries of the technology and weapons that are now available in the game.

“We checked all of our stuff against it, and we think we have a fiction and a technological world that’s possible that far out,” Blundell says. “It’s a guess, of course—none of us can see the future. But there’s a real desire for authenticity. I think it’s essential for Call of Duty: that desire and attempt for everything to feel grounded and real no matter where we go in the timeline.”

A majority of the advances are tied into the creation of technology that allows for direct neural interfacing (DNI) between man and machine. And one of the most intriguing new additions to the game made possible by DNI are cyber cores, which essentially grant you super powers. You can take control of enemy drones, turn robotic soldiers against their allies, unleash a swarm of mechanical bees or even turn invisible. There are up to 40 upgrades available, and your play style will largely dictate how you customize your player.

All the cyber cores were available during my play through, but I only had time to test out a limited number. Using the remote hacking core ability to take control of an enemy drone to rain down fire on an unsuspecting squad of soldiers was more satisfying than I could have imagined.

While all of the technological advances have a major impact, the modifications and additions to movement may ultimately have the largest impact on gameplay. Sprinting is now unlimited for all players, which helps to quicken the already frenetic pace of a typical Call of Duty game. Instead of the quick boost from Advanced Warfare, the thruster in Black Ops 3 allows for far more control when you need to get vertical. You’re able to feather the thruster if you want a more controlled jump or landing, and it allows for a more precise and smoother experience.  Wall running is also a new mechanic, and it fundamentally changes the way you’re able to traverse around each stage.

Some of these changes may seem daunting at first, but the learning curve is low. Seasoned gamers will be able to chain a slide into a boost and into a wall run in no time, and even novices should have little trouble picking it up. Also, you now automatically vault over obstacles simply by moving toward them, allowing players to focus more on their surroundings and opponents.

A phrase that Blundell emphasized at one point during the demo was “guns up,” which seems to fit into one of the game’s philosophies of giving players more control of their characters. Whether you’re vaulting over a wall, sliding across the floor, running along a wall or jumping through the air, your weapon will always be out and ready to fire at whatever is in your path.

One of the awesome new weapons that SI was able to use was the spike launcher, which essentially shoots mines that you can launch and detonate remotely. We were only able to get a small taste of the arsenal available, but there’s little doubt that there will be a plethora of fun, new weapons at your disposal. “Our weapons guys spend so much time looking at it and constructing it that there are times that I worry our weapons are too realistic in terms of giving ideas,” Blundell joked.

With Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare proving to be such a huge success, there’s a lot of pressure on Treyarch to up the ante and deliver a game capable of satiating the ravenous Call of Duty fan base. And while SI may have only gotten an opportunity to get some hands-on time with the campaign mode, we’re confident that the team is going to deliver. Also, with Lynch making a cameo, how could you even fathom missing out on it?

With the game set for release on Nov. 6, make sure to check back for more previews and a full review of the game. You can preorder the game and get access to the multiplayer beta here:

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