In "Call of Duty: Black Ops III" and "Bloodborne" expansion "The Old Hunters," we have a game I didn't get to in 2015 — and one I couldn't get to.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III
The reason I didn't get to "Call of Duty" with any speed in 2015 is because I did so the year before.
And the year before that.
Yes, I've been reviewing "Call of Duty" every year since 2008. That makes "Black Ops III" the eighth game in Activision's shooter monolith that I've blitzed through and war-diaried on deadline.
Somehow, though, "Black Ops III" was the one that made my cry "uncle Sam."
I don't know why. I just know that I had to wait weeks after its release until I could play it. I had to wait weeks until I felt like I could comfortably fall back into the routine of aiming through reflex sights until the crimson bubbles around my screen, then hiding and repeating. I had to wait weeks until I could do it all again without extreme prejudice.
When the time finally arrived for "Black Ops III," I felt drafted anyway. The multiplayer is still straightforward and slickly performing fun. The zombie mode, "Shadows of Evil," is still a take-it-or-leave-it romp. (I've always left it.)
But on the front that's defined each of my "Call of Duty" experiences, the single-player campaign, "Black Ops III" really staggers. The story is, of course, bombastic garbage. Built on the futuristic marriage of the neuron to the microprocessor, any hint of profundity or foresight gets shelled by gratuitous killing and cursing. The only novel thing is the fact you can play as a woman and, as a result, center a freaking "Call of Duty" game around a lesbian romance. Two women in love, saving the world, in the bro-iest of bro universes.
The campaign's levels aren't designed much better than its story beats. Built for four-player co-op, "Black Ops III" is a string of wide-open war zones, with fewer of the tightly conceived set pieces that elevated "Modern Warfare" or last year's excellent "Advanced Warfare." You don't win with adaptation or wit — just attrition.
I don't know what Activision has in store for next year. I also don't know if it matters. You only have so many tours in you.
Bloodborne: The Old Hunters
On the contrary to "Call of Duty," I went into "Bloodborne" with the warmest of regards.
FromSoftware's latest action RPG was my 2015 game of the year, after all. I wanted more.
However, "The Old Hunters" won't let me have it — not without a fight, anyway.
That's because two of the game's design choices conspire against you. First is the fact that its New Game Plus mode — in which the Lovecraftian menagerie of Yharnam bites and clubs your hunter even harder — automatically begins as soon as you slaughter its final boss.
Second is the fact that the expansion only becomes available after you've felled "Bloodborne's" third boss: Vicar Amelia.
This left me in a kind of limbo. I beat "Bloodborne" back in April, and even began a NG+ run shortly thereafter. But my progress was stopped dead by — you guessed it — Vicar Amelia.
So I had to suck it up and slay the giant deer mummy, maintain the patience and discipline to whittle down her dramatically greater HP. Eventually, I did. And the release of my clenched guts, the accomplishment of seeing "PREY SLAUGHTERED" once more — it wasn't just a rush. It was a relapse. I could almost feel the camera zooming in or craning away, as it does when such euphoric highs hit characters in movies and TV.
However, beating NG+ Amelia was just the beginning of the hardship.
At level 100, my hunter wasn't ready for "The Old Hunters." Hell, at 110 now, she's still not. As of this writing, I've only made it to the expansion's first boss, the rampaging knot face that is Ludwig the Accursed. I've gotten about halfway through him with the help of NPC summon Henriett, but that's it.
So I'm really only qualified to review the first stretch of "The Old Hunters" — which is exquisite, sure, but exquisitely hard, too. The first new enemy you encounter is an oversize hunter type with a sword that stretches into a whip like the band of a wristwatch. Translation: It's really hard to dodge. Also, you know how hunters don't respawn in "Bloodborne"? Well, these wild bastards do.
The rest of "The Old Hunters" — that I've been able to play — just keeps hammering on that first merciless note. I'll try the game again someday, maybe when I can swallow my pride and summon help from another player for the first time. But it's taking a while.