At some point in Call of Duty: Black Ops III, you'll ask yourself the question: "What's it all for?" Maybe it's while you're machine-gunning your way through a horde of nameless minions. Or as you explode the inner cores of killer robots with the power of your mind. A feeling washes over you. All the ripping flesh to ribbons, the maiming without mercy; it starts to feel a bit like busy work.
That's not to say it's boring. Black Ops III is set in 2065, 40 years after Black Ops II, and it's predictably pessimistic about humanity's fate. The plot is a cacophony of future fear, covering everything from the rise of AI and human augmentation to the use of chemical weapons and ever-increasing Government surveillance.
The feeling of being in a Blade Runner-esque dystopia only intensifies in the bouts of violence breaking up your lessons on the evils of computers. Cyber Core abilities fitted to your character's mind become crucial. Overrun by a battalion of troops? Send robot Fireflies their way to set them alight. Turrets pinning you down? Use Remote Hijacking to override their controls.
Everything about the game is huge. Besides the main campaign, there's a horde mode, and various other add-ons. Bonafide movie stars Jeff Goldblum, Heather Graham and Ron Perlman lend their voices to the game's zombie mode, which takes place in a undead-ridden city mercifully free of robots. Some of the set-piece battles feel almost open-world in their scale.
Scenery is obliterated and reconstructed. Battlegrounds twist and transform. A level is flooded with you still inside it. At other times, the scale is exchanged for claustrophobic battles in darkened tunnels.
The multiplayer mode, which is being hailed as the best in years, is the most impressive part of the game. Its 12 initial maps include enough opportunities for tense standoffs, long-range sniping and close-up violence to get you spending hours being shot in the head by Call of Duty veterans.
But it's hard to shake that hollow feeling. Black Ops III's many parts don't quite add up to a coherent whole. It has a million themes and no real message. There are incredible moments of bombast, and yet they feel boring. The gameplay is augmented and improved, but still adheres to the same old first person shooter dynamics that have served the franchise for the past 10 years. For a game about the cutting edge of the future, Black Ops III can feel a bit like a relic of the past.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III
Playstation 3 & 4, XBox 360 & Xbox One, PC
Back to the future for one of world's biggest franchises