A few days ago I finished up Call of Duty: Black Ops III’s campaign mode. At the time I was a wee bit confused and, in all honesty, a bit disappointed. However, days have since passed me by and I’ve had the chance to discuss it with mates who’ve played the game, too. Not with me, mind, I can’t be doing with that four-player stuff. But we talked about it over a few beers, whiskeys, and whatever else we could get our hands on and spent a good evening sat around exploring what Black Ops III’s ending really means. It’s fascinating stuff, truly.
From here on out, expect major, and I mean MAJOR spoilers in relation to the game’s story mode. Also, as much as we at The Games Cabin love our content being shared, please don’t share this with a buddy if they haven’t finished the story yet. Don’t be a dickhead, basically.
Okay, so the story starts with you, Player, being a normal dude with the abilities of… a normal dude. You shoot, you throw grenades – you get the picture. By the end of the first mission you’re no longer able to do either due to some big-arse robot ripping your arms off and casting them aside like banana peels. You can still spit at the machine and hope a decent greeny lands on its battery, but it’s not looking good at this point.
In steps Taylor and his mates. They save the day and get you back to safety, most likely high-fiving each other on the way. You don’t get a high five, you bloody stump.
Once you’re in the safe confines of a warm hospital bed, you wake up… In a simulation. Weird, yeah? Here, Taylor explains that your limbs are dog food but you’ve now been given wicked mechanical limbs. You’re like Darth Vader, except you’re a good guy. Okay, I’ll buy that. Taylor also explains that you’ve now got yourself a snazzy new DNI implant that allows you and your mates to interact with one another; to see what the others see; to speak to each other using brainwaves. It also allows you to hop into these crazy, realistic simulations to get your trained up in the art of kicking arse with style. It lets you do all sorts of crazy stuff, too, but that’s not important right now. Play the game to figure that stuff out.
A few missions later and it turns out that Taylor and his team have been compromised by some A.I thingy (still not entirely sure on that) and that they’ve essentially gone rogue. It’s now up to you and your mate Hendricks to track them down and bring them to justice. How very droll… I’ll skip explaining the entire story for the sake of not writing a 30,000-word essay.
The game ends with the A.I manifesting into a humanoid being after you supposedly shoot yourself in the mouth the stop the “infection.” You’re then chucked into a simulation world where you have to destroy the “hearts” of Corvus (the A.I) in order to bring peace to the galax- erm, world. Whatever. I didn’t really find myself caring that much at this point and I was just wanting it to be over. My character was starting to go mental and had begun reciting some crap about a ‘Frozen Forest’ and his insane monologue sounded very familiar, almost as if it was taken from Inception.
Once you’ve defeated the baddy and the world is safe, your character is revealed to be alive. I think. The simulation ends and you’re in some server room and Corvus is there – angry as shit, mind – and he’s about to lunge at you but Taylor, the friggin’ hero (who was shot in the head several missions ago, by the way) jumps in front and stops Corvus from stopping you from stopping the simulation by interfacing with the computer that you just hold your hand over. Following? A second later, the hacking is done and – oh, where’s Taylor? There’s some dead dude lying on the ground, but he ain’t Taylor. Ok. The DNI thingy-majig starts to be purged and it shows over your interface. “PURGING 20%.” This carries on as you make your way through the Zürich building and towards the exit. Once you reach the exit and the bad stuff has been purged to 100%, you open the door and are greeted by some nice soldiers, one of whom asks your name.
What? Que? Was? So, I’m Taylor, then? Or has Taylor’s mind somehow taken over mine? Or was I Taylor all along and everything else was Reznov-esque fantasy? Actually, the latter isn’t too far from the truth.
Once again, just in case you’ve managed to read 700 words of spoiler content without wanting the story spoilt, don’t go any further if you don’t want to know anything else.
It turns out the entire game was a dream. Yes, a bloody dream. Remember when Player gets their limbs blown off and ends up in the hospital? Remember when you get put in a simulation with Taylor? Well, from there on out, everything else is just your mind having a bit of a giggle at your dribbling face’s expense. See, shortly after Player goes into surgery to get those terminator arms and legs, complications arise and Player shakes free from his/her mortal coil.
Each mission starts with some really fast scrolling text from which a few words are picked out to identify what mission we’re playing. The text goes by so quickly that we can’t even read it. However, recording the game and pausing the playback at the right moments will let you browse freely. It’s here that we learn that Player died without ever getting to polish his mechanical wrist. Oo er. Also, the text isn’t what you think it is. It’s actually all written by… Dun, dun, duuuuun: Taylor. What’s more, it’s all in the past-tense. It already happened, but not quite as Player experiences it. See, for Player to get into a simulation with Taylor, Taylor had to “interface” with Player. It’s during this moment that Player receives the subconscious details about Taylor’s past exploits before Player’s own subconscious shuffles them around and makes them their own. Taylor’s story is pretty much identical to Player’s; a team went rogue and it was up to Taylor and his mates to track them down. Player’s story is identical, albeit with the more fantastical elements of the self-aware A.I taking over and infecting people. This was just Player’s brain inventing cool stuff because it thought Player would totally love to share this dream upon waking. Oh brain, you weren’t to know that this was a dream never to be shared. (Unless you go to the shops and buy Black Ops III.)
In hindsight, it does make a lot of sense and there are moments in the game that allude to such a possibility. I thoroughly detest myself for being so quick to discredit Black Ops III’s story. When I reviewed the game I said that the campaign was alright for what it was, but that’s just not true now. To be fair, though, I didn’t know about the whole meta-thing going on, so it’s sort of still true. But not.
I’m a big fan of stories in games and Treyarch’s past efforts have always left me wanting more. Black Ops I was a pure thriller, while Black Ops II was a bit more about exploring modern-politics via the medium of games. Black Ops III, despite being set in a weird futuristic world where bi-pedal robots fight alongside man and woman, still mirrors real life. It touches on the dangers of robotics, the ethics of experimentation and human augmentation. It’s all very deep once one looks past the flying body parts and pretty graphics.
The story is still a little whack and, at times, it’s hard to follow, but I reckon with another playthrough things’ll look a litter clearer. I highly recommend giving the campaign a second play if you haven’t already done so. In fact, if you’ve still not played the campaign at all (you obviously didn’t care for the spoiler warnings…) then I recommend seeing it through to the end. It’s a shame that so much effort is put into these stories, yet most players who pick up a Call of Duty game don’t even bother with the story, instead choosing to go into multiplayer to satiate their blood lust for “pwning noobs” or some shit like that.
Which brings me to my final thought: How the heck does Treyarch go forward now? It’s going to be another few years yet until we get another game from the studio, but I’ll still be wondering what’s next. It’s possible that it could carry on the Black Ops timeline and go for a fourth game that’s not set in a dreamworld. It’d be unusual though, considering Modern Warfare died off after three games and became Ghosts. Actually, saying that, Black Ops III is actually the fourth game in the timeline if you consider World at War a connected story, though it’s only real connection is the character Reznov who shows up in Black Ops. Ah, well. Perhaps we’ll get our answers on November 9th, 2018. Or not. Sod you Treyarch, you’ve screwed with my mind long enough. WHAT DO THE NUMBERS MEAN?!?!
Chris is currently watching Disney movies to cure his insanity. What about you? Did you guess something was up with the story, or were you suckered in, too? Where do you think the Black Ops series could go, or do you think it’ll be laid to rest with Modern Warfare? Put your maddest theories down in the comments section below.