Call of Duty (CoD) is THE franchise of this generation. It has joined series like Mario, Grand Theft Auto and Halo at the top of the heap. These are the top echelon of video games that have as much exposure in the mainstream media as you can find on gaming and specialist sites. Your Grandfather is just as likely to have heard of Call of Duty as your eight year old niece. Just like Easter, Christmas and your birthday, gamers have been able to predict, with some certainty, that the first two weeks of November will see the arrival of a new Call of Duty. This year, being no different, sees the release of the seventh iteration, Modern Warfare 3. Has the ante been raised or have the much publicised rifts between the publisher (Activision) and the developers (Infinity Ward) affected the quality fans have come to expect? I played through the Xbox360 version in order to answer that very question.
Modern Warfare 3 (MW3) concludes the story line running through the previous Modern Warfare titles. MW2 left us with America having been invaded by the Russians and the US army a fractured force. MW3 picks up not long after with the USA under siege and the major cities in ruin. An invasion of Europe is underway and Makarov, the mastermind behind everything, has resurfaced and is pushing one side to the final strike through typically underhanded methods. World War 3 is very much on the horizon. Of course, Captain Price cannot accept this and, along with a surprise return character, he sets about bringing the warmonger to justice and restoring peace between the East and West.
This is My Rifle - The sound in MW3 has been turned up to 11, from the crackling gunfire and loud meaty explosions to the adrenaline-stirring soundtrack. The audio in MW3 will leave you feeling like you’ve been rabbit punched about your ears after a few hours of play. The chatter between your squadmates and the shouts and screams of the enemy trying to repel you all go a long way to immerse you in the game. Every gun has a distinct sound, giving them a personality, which means it won’t be long before you get attached to a particular weapon.
The Smoothest Rollercoaster in Town - MW3 looks as good as any of the previous titles. The detail in NPC, background and weapons really has to be seen to be believed. What is most impressive, though, is watching the absolute carnage of enemy fire, explosions and debris flying everywhere while the engine whirs away never even threatening to break frame. I’ve played recent competitors that chugged with 4 or 5 enemies firing back at you. Modern Warfare 3 really feels like it could handle a few hundred and still have the capacity to drop a flaming helicopter on your head.
A Brave Conclusion - Modern Warfare 3 wraps up the trilogy in such a fashion that it would take a twist akin to the devil dog reincarnating Freddy Kruger for there to be a modern warfare 4. This is a brave move from Activision, a publisher who has built a reputation for milking something to its death. Call of Duty will, inevitably, return but the Modern Warfare storyline has been closed, locked and the key thrown away.
Less is Sometimes More - Since the original Modern warfare, more and more Killstreak and Perk options have been offered to the player which has given less scrupulous players the chance to gain advantages that probably weren’t meant to be part of the experience. Modern Warfare 3 has made the wise decision to strip back some of the perks and even omit some altogether, making for a much purer experience. The franchise had become quite predictable in play style. The secret to success was to pick off a few targets to obtain a killstreak and then let the computer controlled air support do the hard work. To combat this (and to offer some respite to the less experienced player) Infinity Ward have split the streak rewards into three distinct categories. The ‘Assault Class’ is CoD as we’ve come to expect and rewards players for killing a set amount of players without getting killed themselves. Support and Specialist classes are new to the series and offers rewards to players at opposite ends of the Spectrum. ‘Support Class’ works in the same principle as the ‘Assault Class’ however the player is rewarded for capturing objectives as well as kills. Death will not reset the counter for the support class but rewards are more support based, like advanced UAV or a flak jacket drop for teammates to acquire. The specialist package offers the player the choice to gain additional perks, as opposed to air drops, with every consecutive kill. The accomplished player can, in theory, end a round with every available perk in the game but dying will reset the perks to zero.
Fun Confirmed - Kill Confirmed is the major new game mode that has been added to the multiplayer playlist. It plays similarly to Team Deathmatch with one important twist. Upon killing the enemy he will drop his dog tags and these must be collected in order to move toward victory. The enemy team, however, also have the opportunity to pick up the tags and deny you the points. It’s a very small change but one that distills the over the top arcade action into a brilliantly mad frenzy of bullet, grenade and rocket launcher as each team envelope the area to defend or capture the discarded tags.
Really Quite "Special" Ops - The Special Ops mode contains two sub-sets of game type, survivor and missions. The missions return from MW2 and involve you and a friend fulfilling an objective like shutting down a reactor on a nuclear submarine, collecting biohazard samples as a juggernaut or a time attack through the traditional Modern Warfare shooting range. Survival is Infinity Wards take on modes like ‘Horde’ and ‘zombies’ where 2 players are tasked with surviving as many waves of increasingly formidable enemies as they possibly can. Players can upgrade weapons, call in airstrike and place sentry guns in order to aid them but this will cost money that can only be obtained by killing and then killing some more. I had a blast with both these modes and the missions, especially, go some way to making up for the somewhat short single player.
NEEDS SOME SOAP
Bipolar Multiplayer - The online gunplay remains as fast and furious as ever leaving the player swinging wildly between the elation of a god-like killstreak to the fist biting frustration of multiple consecutive deaths. It really is a Jekyll and Hyde experience which you will switch off one night counting down the hours to your next session or switch off minutes after starting, swearing never to return. If things are going well and you feel that everything is balanced MW3 provides the same jet fueled experience it always has, being faced with a corridor of 3 enemies and coming out the victor is as rewarding an experience as any FPS has delivered. Alternatively you could spend the time feeling like everything you are seeing is a split second behind what is happening, this really is a big deal in a game that is so fast paced and where death can come in an instant. If you are new to the multiplayer experience then be warned this is a formula that has been brewing for some 5 years now and finding a comfortable jumping in point could be a real challenge.
More Bums than Seats –. Spec Ops is easily my favorite mode but the fact that the co-op is limited to 2 players is a real disappointment. The precedent has been set, by so called lesser titles, that co-op modes (especially survival) should be a, minimum, 4 player experience and in a game that so strongly promotes friends playing together you will find yourself splintering away to work through the spec-ops.
Wait. What Just Happened? – The plot, just like in previous CoD games, is used as a tool to pull you from one gunfight to the next. In essence the formula is to introduce a flimsy reason for being wherever you end up killing enemies then distracting you with a massive set-piece Although an improvement over the mishmashed MW2, it is incredibly hard to follow and falls apart at the first question raised. There are armies from all around the world, fighting the Russians, who are, in turn, puppets of sinister figures in the shadows. The Russians have invaded Europe as well as America and...ooh look, a plane's on fire.
Same Trick, Different Pony - The original Modern Warfare provoked a genuine emotional response by killing off the player controlled character midway through the game. Since that success, Infinity Ward have gone about killing off many of the central characters (and reincarnating them) with diminishing returns. Of course, they try the same old thing in MW3, but I just don’t care anymore. The developer seems to have missed the point that the original demise was met with such emotion because it was fresh and something that hadn’t really been done before. Now? It just feels contrived.
Ctrl C, Ctrl V – I enjoyed playing through the campaign but, aside from a shootout in a crashing plane, my biggest criticism of MW3 is the lack of any real imagination. AC-130 Mission? Check. Sniping Mission? Check. Contrived reason for not being able to call air support? Check, check and check. One early objective involving Predator missiles and high rise buildings feels like it has been literally, cut and pasted from a previous title. Also included is a scene which, much like the infamous "No Russian" level, has been included to stir up some controversy. I don’t generally have a problem with issues like this being dealt with in a video game but, when it is done with such obvious cynicism, it really leaves a nasty aftertaste.
I find it very hard to apply a score to Modern Warfare 3. Is it a good game? Yes. Is it a good Call of Duty? Again, yes, but it has the feel of a "greatest hits" album. Everything is as you have come to expect, but there seems to have been very little motivation to push the series forward. Taken as a standalone package it’s still a heavyweight of the FPS genre. However, if you’ve become bored with the series there is very little here to re-ignite your passion.
The campaign is enjoyable but has made no real effort to move away from the tried and tested core mechanics that have gone before. The multiplayer is the same magnificent playground it has always been but really is not for the faint-hearted. The new co-op survival mode is a blast and will keep you and a friend entertained long after you’ve finished the single player. I cannot fathom why the decision was made to limit the co-op experience to two players, though. Everything in Modern Warfare 3 is very well executed and delivered, but the good things always come served with a drizzle of vinegar.