Remember back in 2008 when Call of Duty: World at War hit the shelves? Did you take up the challenge of completing each campaign mission on veteran difficulty, a feat more challenging than running barefoot across a floor covered in Lego? If so, you may recall the frustration of inching your way through each mission, the numerous occasions where you nearly threw your controller at the wall and, ultimately, the joy you felt when the end credits rolled. The relief of finally being able to turn my back on the grenade spamming mechanic that caused me to curse more than Brian Blessed on a REALLY bad day is something I don’t know if I’ve ever felt since.
World at War is renowned by many as the toughest Call of Duty campaign to date but then along came Black Ops 3, and subsequently saw Infinite Warfare, to really show you the limits a FPS can push the difficulty level to follow suit. If you thought the road to Black Ops 3 or Infinite Warfare’s end credits was going to be an easy ride then boy were you wrong. The rest of the post will largely refer to Black Ops 3, as when I originally wrote this Infinite Warfare wasn’t even a twinkle in the PS4’s eye, but I’ve updated parts to include Infinite Warfare too.
Upon booting up to the first mission of Black Ops 3 and selecting realistic difficulty I was ready. The opening cinematic finished and I was off, following my AI buddies on screen as we prepared to take down some terrorist scum. Things up until this point felt like routine, I turned a corner and was presented with my first wave of enemies. Let’s rock.
Except I didn’t quite rock; instead I spent the next 90 minutes, yes 90 minutes, working my way through a single campaign mission. This is because realistic difficulty certainly lives up to the name. Games in the past have given themselves difficulty levels that claim to be the closest to real life you can imagine- in terms of the damage your character both dishes out and receives- but regardless of those claims, that sometimes fall flat, Black Ops 3 certainly backs this claim up. If one single bullet touches your character, two at an absolute stretch, that’s it, you’re dead. Boom. Game over. Pop your head out of cover in the middle of a firefight for 1/100th of a second and you may as well pause and hit restart checkpoint yourself.
Ok so it’s not quite game over, there are still mercifully some checkpoints scattered throughout each level, but I think you can already imagine, or maybe relate to, the sheer frustration of spending 20 minutes inching through a particular portion of a mission only to have a stray bullet find its target and set you back to the last checkpoint. On a lower difficulty level checkpoints may not seem as much of an obvious problem as you can breeze through the level and soak up bullets like a sponge (presumably a bullet that likes to soak up bullets but I’ve yet to find one of these). On realistic difficulty however, becoming Rambo is not an option.
Cyber core abilities offer a little help throughout the campaign of Black Ops 3; a range of abilities that you can utilise in certain situations to tip the tide somewhat in your favour, from turning enemy robots into allies or sending out a swarm of deadly nanobots to seek and destroy, each has a distinct trait that can aid in a wide variety of situations and can be upgraded too. These upgrades become available as you unlock special tokens throughout each level for completing certain feats. Unlocking them all certainly gives you a virtual helping hand, but be aware that these abilities won’t make you invincible. Never forget that.
Whilst realistic difficulty is seemingly impossible at times, it also felt innovative for the FPS genre, even if the idea isn’t completely original. You may have to rethink the way you play and focus on not popping a blood vessel, but upon finishing a single level you’ll feel like a tactical mastermind and I’ll be damned if I didn’t say it’s arguably the most fun I’ve had with a Call of Duty campaign since the days of the original Black Ops, which I still hold in fondest memory thanks to the cracking story line.
Inching my way through a level, making progress slower than a tortoise with one leg, constantly kept me engaged and on edge, rather than getting bored as you may assume. Each time I died and had to go back to the last checkpoint I learnt a new lesson about how to approach a situation and overcome the enemy AI. It’s actually rather rewarding and damn worth it.
The levelling up and xp gains towards individual weapons is also an incentive to keep at it, unlocking new attachments and camos for your guns can only be achieved through blood, sweat and tears (though note if these are coming from you rather than the screen then it may be time to take a break or see a doctor). It adds replayability to each level too, unlocking all you can for every gun possible is like a completionists dream.
With the rapid advancements in AI and game engines over recent years, it’d be great to see future Call of Duty games carry on this tradition. Infinite Warfare has done so, providing ‘specialist’ mode, which is a bit more lenient than realistic in Black Ops 3- you can survive a headshot but will need to replace your helmet and if you take a bullet to the leg your walking is initially impaired rather than seeing a black screen of death. There’s also the fact that if your arms take damage your aim becomes impaired, and should you need health then only nano shots will aid you. Whilst it may be a little more lenient, the realistic approach of individual limb damage, somewhat akin to the Fallout games, found within Infinite Warfare offers just as much of a challenge to players, plus you can always give ‘YOLO’ mode a go if you finish off with specialist, in which all the above applies, but you only get one life. ONE. Good luck.
Picture this difficulty like paintballing out in the woods; you can try and go guns blazing, but just see how successfully that works out for you. Since initially writing this piece after Black Ops 3’s release I did see the light at the end of the realistic difficulty tunnel, the satisfaction was similar to when I see Ben n Jerry’s on offer. I’ve yet to finish Infinite Warfare on specialist difficulty, I’ve not even contemplated YOLO mode, but with Call of Duty WW2 releasing in November, I think I’ll have no choice but to play the way I feel it should be, as hard as possible. I’m not some monster who enjoys ramping up the difficulty for every game, far from it, but with the context of the game I’m playing I do enjoy the challenge.
Here’s hoping Call of Duty WW2 offers a similar difficulty setting for me to try and work through. Just remember if it proves too much you can always knock the difficulty down a level or two, but if you want the challenge than it’s there for you to grin and bare. Nothing is mandatory and yet going forth I’d have no problem with every FPS having this sort of difficulty challenge. Bring it on developers. BRING. IT. ON.