The Future, as Told by 'Call of Duty: Black Ops 3'

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 Preview
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3

If you've played just one first-person shooter game it was probably in the Call of Duty series. The soon-to-be-released 12th iteration, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, stands out from its cousins by taking gamers far into the future of war—to the year 2065. There, conveniently enough, war itself has become much like a video game: Ultra-capable prostheses act as power-ups, a "Direct Neural Interface" allows soldiers to communicate brain-to-brain and drones and artificial intelligence roam the battlefield.

To create Call of Duty's fictional world, Treyarch, the game's publisher, brought in scientists and futurists to come up with realistic war technology for the middle of the 21st century. And it's pretty terrifying. But also kinda cool.

As Treyarch's director of campaign & zombies (actual title), Jason Blundell oversees CoD: Black Ops 3's main story (and, just as important, its "Zombie Mode"). With the help of social scientists attempting to predict life in the future, Blundell's job is to guess what combat will look like in five decades and to make it feel real.

The team has worked with futurists before, starting with the wildly successful CoD: Black Ops 2, which takes place in 2025. That game had drones and winged battle suits and is set just 10 years from now. Take those changes and try then to imagine what things might look like 50 years down the line and you start to realize what a daunting job it is to peer into a crystal ball.

Blundell sees technology advancing in giant leaps when multiple technologies come together. "That," Blundell says, pointing at his smartphone, "is only possible due to battery improvements, better touch screen technology...the iPhone couldn't have existed at a certain point in time. Once these things line up, suddenly it can happen."

"When we look at these different [warfare] technologies, we think about slight changes to current tech. We start drawing nests of two or more things that we believe can viably happen and that's how we build up our fiction," he says.

Treyarch, in essence, looks at its options and poses the question: If this is true, then what else is true?

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Call of Duty: Black Ops 3

The Case for Bio-Augmentation

One trend that the Call of Duty team bet on is improvement of artificial limbs and synthetic body parts. Instead of relying on synthetic limbs as a last resort, soldiers in the future might opt to replace their organic body parts with more capable, artificial equivalents.

"A gentleman last year passed the [Army] obstacle course for the first time with a cybernetic limb. We're saying [in the year 2065] that not only will soldiers be able to pass the test, they may bring superior performance," Blundell says.

In the world of Black Ops 3, soldiers move faster, jump farther and have better protection with the help of elective mechanical limbs.

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Call of Duty: Black Ops 3


Drones are big in combat in 2015, so it's no surprise that they are an important piece of war technology in Call of Duty. And not the Amazon delivery kind. In 2065 almost every firefight between humans involves flying robots of one kind or another.

With drone combat, Treyarch turned to its "if this is true, what else is true" futurist philosophy again, this time predicting the rise of drone hacking to hijack enemy robots. "Drones are controlled via communication and communication protocols are quite simple," a former member of the military told Treyarch. "I don't think it's unfeasible to see [enemies] hacking into the U.S.'s drones."

The future war doesn't just stop at drones. Self-acting military robots aren't as far off as we may think. Blundell says the real-life military has already developed a Jeep that packs a turret and can locate the origin of a bullet strictly by triangulating sound, returning fire with pinpoint accuracy. Currently, he said, the Jeep requires a human to confirm the target, thus effectively pulling the trigger, for accountability. The makers of Call of Duty and their team of futurists see a future where, in very risky situations, the human is removed from combat altogether.

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Call of Duty: Black Ops 3

Hacking Your Brain

Call of Duty's brain hacking implant gives players granular control over their bodies. Players can tell their Direct Neural Interface, a computer that controls basic brain functions, to "reduce my adrenaline" or "increase white blood cell count" during battle.

Here the game's development team extrapolated from current devices—mainly ones that control insulin levels.

What This Means for Call of Duty: Black Ops 3...

Playing the game was as cool as you'd expect a futuristic Call of Duty game to feel like. And the game's multiplayer and famed "Zombie Mode" have returned to the CoD formula as well. If you're the type of gamer who wasn't sold on Call of Duty's games before, Black Ops 3 may not be the one to change your mind. If you are a fan of the series, however, you likely won't be disappointed.

Some of what the game presents may seem outlandish or impossible, but Blundell cautiously reminds us that this is the Hollywood, big-budget game version of 2065. The only words the Treyarch campaign mode director uses to describe the story are "twisted and fucked up."

Above all else, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 offers, in the guise of a shooter game, an honest attempt to glimpse the far-off—but plausible—future.