Call of Duty: Black Ops III Story Trailer Breakdown

Did you spot all the story hints we did?

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So, a story trailer for Call of Duty: Black Ops III dropped yesterday, and in a lot of ways it’s about what you’d expect from Call of Duty, especially a Black Ops game: Fast cuts, lots of action, and a total mindf*** of an ending that included soldiers flying around like rag dolls in a World War II setting.

And if you slow down those fast cuts, there’s even more going on. This trailer is jam-packed with details, and it does a brilliant job of spreading out related things so that it’s hard to piece together what actually matters.

Luckily you’ve got us. Rather than sequentially going through every single point in the trailer worth talking about, we’ve organized the big moments into a series of groups to help you make sense of everything. We don’t claim to have the whole trailer figured out, but there some things about the story, its characters, and its themes that are definitely emerging already.

So without any further ado, here’s what’s going on in the Call of Duty: Black Ops III story trailer.

Technology In Your Body, Technology In Your Mind

It’s been clear for some time that Black Ops III is going to center around the use of technology and technological augmentations to the human body. As a previous trailer said, “Mankind’s greatest mistake will be its inability to control the technology it has created.” It’s territory explored by other games, most notably Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but certainly there’s plenty more exploring to do.

If you can ignore all the bodies strung up in the background, you can see that both of these guys have robotic arms and legs. That's true of a lot of soldiers in the trailer.

If you can ignore all the bodies strung up in the background, you can see that both of these guys have robotic arms and legs. That’s true of a lot of soldiers in the trailer.

One question players had about the move from the Sledgehammer Games-developed Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare to the Treyarch-developed Black Ops III was a bout mobility. Advanced Warfare injected new energy into the series, and some were worried Black Ops III would be a step backwards from Advanced Warfare‘s exoskeleton-enabled mobility boosts. Looks like that won’t be a problem, because nearly every character you’re likely to control in Black Ops III has fully prosthetic arms and legs, probably along with some other augments we don’t even know about yet.

While voluntary body part replacement figures to be thematically relevant, the bigger plot detail seems to be the “direct neural interface,” a bit of experimental hardware that players get as “one of the perks of being black ops.”

Watch carefully and you'll see that those spark plug-looking things are actually attached to needles going into the spine a-la-Doc Ock

Watch carefully and you’ll see that those spark plug-looking things are actually attached to needles going into the spine a-la-Doc Ock

That sounds pretty great…until it inevitably isn’t. Black Ops as a Call of Duty sub-franchise has been known for messing with players’ heads as the lead characters are sucked into a labyrinth of mind games and double crosses. Heck, it’s been confirmed by the Treyarch studio head Mark Lamia:

We’re going to mess with you. That’s Black Ops…One of the themes we had from the original Black Ops was, “Everything you know is wrong.”

The neural interface shows up a lot in this trailer. Near the end there’s this shot of a patient Jay Xiong having some sort of test or procedure regarding the direct neural interface:

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Which maybe didn’t go so well, because there are also soldiers investigating this same lab, now defunct, and the patients are…well, they’re thinner.

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Who’s the Villain?

There are two characters that appear to be lined up in some sort of villainous role. The first is this guy:

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It’s pretty much impossible to tell for sure, but because this guy has some serious augments it’s possible he’s the patient from the neural interface experiment. We see him three other times in the trailer.

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Try to ignore the Molotov cocktail flying at your face and focus on our man in question. Two things to point out. One, he doesn’t have the robot legs many of the other soldiers in the trailer do. Robot arms, sure. But on his legs he’s wearing an Advanced Warfare-style exoskeleton. Two, he’s got a couple machetes on his back.

The next time he shows up, he’s not alone.

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It’s hard to know exactly who – or what – that is in front of him, but a few frames later it deposits a shotgun blast into the civilian’s chest. The blocky head could mean it’s a robot (it looks an awful lot like a robot due to show up in multiplayer) but at first glance it looks a little fleshier than that.

But here’s the real money shot – and the shot that proves if this is the villain, he’s not the only one:

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That knife in midair was thrown by the guy on the left and is about to embed itself in the guy on the right. You can’t see his face, but look on his back. Two machetes.

That brings us to villain #2, the guy who says as ominously as possible, “You don’t understand. I’m taking us home.” Always a good point in a relationship when someone else is convinced they know what’s best for you.

Yeah, by all internet accounts – and a GameInformer story – this guy is the game’s main villain.

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The character doesn’t have a name yet, but he’s voice acted and modeled after actor Christopher Meloni, who you may know from Law & Order: SVU and Wet Hot American Summer. He shows up throughout the trailer, and it definitely seems like he’s going to double-cross you at some point. One bit of evidence, he’s seen here with a female soldier in his team…

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…but here you seem to be rescuing the same woman from some kind of crash.

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So it definitely seems like you and Meloni’s character will be on the same side for part of the campaign, but won’t finish that way.

The Birds and the Trees!

The weirdest bits of this trailer, though, have to do with dream sequences which focus on black birds and trees. These are ALL OVER the trailer and we don’t have time to go through every single one, so here are a few of the most important.

Let’s start with the most obvious. Shortly after a German Tiger tank bursts through a church wall, we see this guy go flying across the landscape like a puppet on a string:
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Without a doubt, that’s a German soldier in a WWII time period to go along with the tank. But look in the background. Unless you’re watching Inception, the ground doesn’t run at 90 degree angles. This is almost certainly a hallucination caused by interference – or intentional tampering – with your neural interface. Still a playable part of the game, probably, but a hallucination in the story. The really interesting thing will be if the game has the main character unwittingly acting in the present even as he’s seeing the past. Not unlike this video…

The other bit from WWII worth mentioning is this tree that pops up from literally nowhere:

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That’s a weird looking tree. In fact, it kind of looks less like a tree and more like a tree-representation of a brain’s neural connections, a theory supported by this image-within-an-image:

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The mind tree shows up once more, but this time it’s not in any recognizable time or place.

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The real question here though: Who’s being suspended by the smaller trees, and who’s glowing red beside him?

There’s also a recurring image of crows throughout the trailer without much indication as to what they represent. Without a doubt, though, they’re as much a mental talisman as the trees.

This, for example, is an inkblot that eventually coagulates into a crow that flies directly at the screen.

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Yeah, so more than ever, Black Ops III figures to be a game that messes with your head. All taken together, this looks and feels almost like the sort of existential quest you’d find in a game like Half-Life, trying to decode what’s real and what isn’t as you walk through overlapping dimensional realities. That’s a pretty cool thing to find in a Call of Duty game.

An Interrogation

Although there are a LOT more details that may or may not prove significant in the trailer, there’s one more that we definitely need to talk about.

At around the 1:56 mark, we see an interrogation that quickly goes from friendly to antagonistic. It happens so quickly we can’t even screenshot the confrontation without it being a little blurry.

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This comes right after the soldier in the center of the frame throws a table out of the way, and right before he slams the old guy he’s interrogating up against the wall. Not only that, though, look at the left-most picture on the back wall. That looks an awful lot like the female soldier we saw earlier. Has she been captured? Gone missing?

It’s also worth pointing out that the guy you’re interrogating – whose face is seriously scarred up – can also be see with Christopher Meloni’s character…but the exchange doesn’t seem that friendly.

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It also looks like the guy doing the interrogating is one of two characters you’ll spend most of the time controlling in Black Ops III, the other being this guy.

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Lingering Questions

Who are these robotic police/soldiers firing on?

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Why is one of the main characters (match his “H-54” tag to other shots) throwing someone off a balcony?

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Is this the same guy as the other main character before he got his augmented limbs?

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Why are these people clinging to the tail of a helicopter?

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And finally, what the HELL is going on here?!?

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