By rights, the Call of Duty franchise should be operating by a law of diminishing returns, thanks - in part - to its annual instalments, which have become more predictable and by-the-numbers with every passing year.
And yet... somehow... Black Ops 3 is great. Like, rilly rilly great. I went into this expecting it to elicit a weary sigh. Instead, I found myself won over, cooing repeatedly, like an easily-flattered pigeon. It's hard to hate something that goes out of its way to make you like it.
CoDBLOPS 3 is a stark contrast to Halo 5's tired, lazy, that'll-do, overly pompous offering. It's stuffed to the schizophrenic guts with content, the action feels epic and satisfying, the graphics are properly next-gen (providing you don't accidentally buy one of the heavily watered-down last gen versions), and it does things that no other Call of Duty game has ever done.
And it does it while simultaneously playing a sort surreal tribute to the series' origins, and working hard to turn that familiarity in its favour.
How hell it do dis?
Behold: here's everything you'll be getting in BLOPS 3 - a veritable Lidl trolley-dash of a game.
Up front, there's the campaign, which now offers a four-player co-op mode, ramping up the difficulty to accommodate more players.
Story-wise, it''s set in 2065, and is the usual, neo-con recruitment nonsense, with bolted-on robots and cybernetic implants. Admittedly, it fumbles in its attempts to raise some meaningful questions about drone warfare, and an AI-controlled future - going all Terminator on us - without bothering to really answer them. It's nonsense of course, but it's glorious, epic, pyrokinetic nonsense.
Unlike, say, Halo 5, you can ignore the story and the wafer-thin characters, and revel in the visuals, the scale, the post-apocalyptic setting. Nothing here is trying to insist it's anything other than escapist entertainment.
Somewhat ironically, given that many would've been playing this on Remembrance Sunday, such sheer glorifying of war has rarely been so fun, but you have to leave your liberal sensibilities at the door to get the most out of it.
Admittedly, there's nothing as jaw-dropping and iconic as Modern Warfare's nuclear attack, but the set-pieces are frequently as grand in scale (unless you're playing on a last gen system...). Unlike Halo 5, the most exciting moments are when you're in control of your character (in a limp concession to equality, you can now choose between a male or female lead).
What's new here is the way the skills tree is handled between missions - you can spend points on different branches, which unlock some great new abilities; sending out a swarm of incendiary nano-drones, or rush-punching opponents.
The neatest new skill is the default wall-run - which doesn't come into play nearly enough. Unusually, the different approaches offered by the abilities, and the branching level designs, mean you'll actually want to play through the campaign more than once.
There are some brilliant maps on offer in the now-traditional multiplayer - some of the best the series has ever seen, in fact - but throws the idea of specialists into the mix, while giving every player a jet jump as default. Each specialist has a signature ability and weapon, which are further enhanced with the usual CoD perks. It hardly reinvents the wheel, but it does a good job towards perfecting it.
CoDBLOPS 3's compelling zombie mode - Shadows of Evil - is set in a 1940s noir New York, voiced by the likes of Jeff Goldblum, and is insanely difficult. It goes full Lovecraft, transforming the four players - at points - into tentacled monsters. If you manage to complete that, it'll unlock a zombie remix of the main campaign mode, called Nightmares. None of it is essential, but all of it is welcome.
Lastly, there's a handful of parkour-style levels in which you get to play with your new running and climbing abilities. They're sufficiently successful that a few more of these wouldn't have gone amiss.
If you've absorbed the above into your lymph nodes, it''s pretty apparent that there's a lot of content in Black Ops 3.
All of it looks good, plays solidly, and offers just enough in the way of new ideas, that it's hard to criticise.
Admittedly, coming on the back of the disappointing Halo 5, there's no doubt that BLOPS 3 benefits by comparison. Even so, in its own right it's hard to criticise something that clearly goes out of its way to offer as much gameplay as possible.
Yes, it's another shooting gallery at its essence. Yes, it's dumb and shallow for the most part. Yes, the multiplayer can be utterly intimidating to anyone who doesn't have experience with the franchise. But... it's all wrapped up in an unpretentious bow. It exists to entertain, and doesn't have any ideas above its station.
SCORE: 7.221 out of 10.441