Activision's three-year cycle of development for the Call of Duty series continues with Treyarch's latest entry, Black Ops III. The former Tony Hawk Pro Skater studio known for Call of Duty: World at War are taking things to the future with their third Black Ops title. Continuing in the footsteps of Sledgehammer Games' release of Advanced Warfare last year, Black Ops III fully moves things even later into the future. Some of the more acrobatic moves and skills we saw in both Titanfall and Advanced Warfare are making a return here, which might underwhelm some fans hoping for a different experience.

Luckily, Call of Duty remains a refined, polished and smooth shooter at its core. Black Ops III is chock-full of new features, abilities, multiplayer options and one of the most innovative Zombies Modes yet. Black Ops III might not reinvent the wheel or even be the best Call of Duty game to date, but it is certainly one of the grandest. Even better, this one is meant to be played with your friends.

Treyarch

Those hoping for some plot connectivity tying back to Black Ops I and II are going to be a little letdown here, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. There are a few sequences that'll invoke nostalgia from longtime Call of Duty fans, but don't expect any of the time-shifting we saw previously. Black Ops III tries to stand on its own robotic legs, applying the science fiction approach to the first-person shooter experience even more so than previous titles have done in the past. Fortunately, this helps welcome those unfamiliar with the franchise. There are all kinds of futuristic espionage action going on, involving a plot centered around robots, AI, mind control, glitchy data chips and how these things affect a soldier's psyche.

Most of Black Ops III's fun is intended to be shared with your friends as a small group, especially when it comes to the Story and Zombies Modes. You have access to a talent tree-like progression system that lets your character focus on one of three different play styles, focusing on robotic enemies, human enemies or enhancing your physical prowess in terms of some beefy physical attacks or some Predator-style stealth camo. This urges you to cooperatively play with other players online, especially since the Story Mode levels have a ton of open areas where freedom is encouraged compared to the previous games' narrower and hallway-filled stages.

Treyarch

The Campaign Mode can get relatively boring during the first half due to the staggering number of enemy soldiers and robots you'll have to clear, especially by yourself. The first three or so hours of the story was littered with grind-fests that constantly echo the notion that things would be much more enjoyable and to the point if you had friends playing with you to help divide and conquer these enemy forces, especially when you could have one person skilled in taking on robots, another focused on humans, one in the trenches with melee attacks and another floating around and acting stealthy. The story itself does encourage a retread after completing it, which again warrants more co-op gameplay. Fortunately, the final third of the game is remarkable and makes up for the slower parts before it. Even better, finishing the campaign unlocks a new version of it called Nightmare, which is filled with zombies and stacks another potential replay of what would otherwise be a short Story Mode.

Just as combat evolved with the lore's futuristic technology, Black Ops III does so with its graphics and is easily one of the best-looking first-person shooters to date. Every gun looks, feels and sounds different, each having a distinct amount of "oomph" to each shot. As expected, Black Ops III has some excellent presentation values and has set new standards for the FPS genre. During the last chapters of the game, you'll start embarking in some trippy sequences where you start diving into your own cybernetic mind, which is being compromised by an invasive AI. Things started to feel a bit Tron and Animus-like to me during the final act of the game, resulting in some gorgeous visuals and was a much-needed change of pace.

Treyarch

As expected, Black Ops III's multiplayer is its bread and butter, as online gameplay is often the main deciding factor in helping a person determine if they should pick up a new Call of Duty game or not. Black Ops III's multiplayer is refined and takes some chances with new modes, which work well with the new abilities and combat options. Despite all the new gameplay features, camping was still a common, regular occurrence throughout most of my multiplayer experiences. I really hope that future DLC maps will put a larger focus on wall-running and swimming which felt underutilized for the most part. Most maps had the wall-running and watery areas surrounding the central zone where you'd find enemies camping the most.

You have to pick a specific specialist for multiplayer, which has his or her own special weapon and/or techno-powers. For example, snipers would want to pick the specialist with a temporary stealth camo. Those who like attacking groups of enemies at once might want to check out Prophet and his chain lightning gun. Once you factor in all the kinds of customizations from your Loadouts, Core trees, Specialist skills/guns and the returning Pick 10 system, you'll see that Black Ops III caters to whatever preference and style of shooting you want to achieve. The new painting/design system for your gear is also a great addition. You're able to make your own designs or scroll through and download other people's paint jobs. Additionally, Supply Drops don't really drop any special weapons, but contain cosmetic bonuses or attachments to further your customization options.

Just like the Campaign Mode, the new Zombies Mode focuses on co-op. Its plot felt a bit more captivating in terms of interesting characters (featuring Jeff-freaking-Goldblum, Ron Perlman, Nolan North and plenty of other great voice acting performances). The 1940s locale and introduction of Lovecraftian themes and monsters is a big change-up that works surprisingly well. Zombies Mode kind of works similar to dungeon crawler, where you'll start off in a small confined area, and you can spend resources (gained from killing zombies) in order to buildup defenses  at zombie spawn points and to unlock gates or portals to further your exploration in order to recover ancient artifacts and progress through the stage. Sometimes, you might find some epic enemies behind these doors, portals or gates that feel like a boss encounter. Treyarch has certainly revolutionized Zombies Mode with this Lovecraft/Diablo-like approach to things. This mode focuses on teamwork and communication, as you might want to save using your special demonic powers for when things are at their worst or if a friend needs help.

Treyarch

The third Black Ops puts a large focus on camaraderie and just making things more fun than before in all directions. Even though some of it feels more of the same when compared to Advanced Warfare, Black Ops III's unconventional experiments sits atop refined shooting mechanics and smooth controls, resulting in some excellent gameplay. Toss in a ton of replayability to be gained from both the short campaign, Zombies Mode and multiplayer, and this is one of the strongest entries of the franchise to date. I'm not sure what Infinity Ward has planned for the next annual entry of the series, whether it be Modern Warfare 4, a return to the past or something entirely different, but Call of Duty: Black Ops III has raised the bar in terms of content and overall fun to be had with your friends.

This review was completed with a retail copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops III provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.