Commercially the question is can Modern Warfare 3 propel the series to even more unfathomable heights or have we finally passed the peak of the bell curve? Critically the more interesting question is how much of the IW that created the seminal Call of Duty 4 remains, and just what will they do now?
Explaining the mechanics of Call of Duty feels like the equivalent of reminding people of the words to “Happy Birthday” before we bring out the cake. Still Modern Warfare is the latest version of Activision's wildly popular military based first person shooter. It picks up right where Modern Warfare 2 left off in every sense. The aging engine manages to hold out for another year; other titles have long since met and surpassed any graphical advantage the series had. It still looks perfectly adequate most of the time and certainly manages to keep up with the escalating action.
Captain Price and what’s left of Taskforce 141 get to work thwarting World War 3 instigator Makarov’s diabolical plan. Modern Warfare 2 took us globetrotting but generally kept the urban warfare stateside. This time it’s nice to travel to other locations, including the UK & France, giving both the accents and scenery behind the action some much needed variation.
The same can’t be said for the gameplay; it’s all here: butter smooth frame rate, turret/vehicle shooting sequences, AC 130 strikes, slow motion button pressing, everything that makes Call Of Duty what it is still exists largely in the same form and of the same quality. Technically it’s as good a game as it always was. The real variable in the equation is at the other end of the controller.
How much Call of Duty have you played? I only ask because the correlation between the amount of time you have spent with the franchise and how much you will enjoy this campaign is pretty direct. If you’re a Veteran it takes on an almost puzzle like quality; you will probably feel like Neo in the Matrix, deconstructing each scenario as it happens, waiting at doors you were meant to obediently follow the AI to before loading the next cliché. If you’re a new guy, welcome to Earth, we call that massive ball of fire in the sky the Sun and this is Call of Duty, an enjoyable action packed shooting gallery which will increasingly attempt to overload each of your senses simultaneously.
It is by no means a bad campaign, it’s simply far too familiar at this point. To the developers' credit there are some interesting tweaks and situations to pique your interest throughout but nothing that will make you load up the campaign again in a hurry. The story wraps up nicely but it’s hard not to feel numb by the end of the experience. Infinity Ward certainly proved they can still turn it up to 11 with all the sorts of cool action packed moments we have come to expect; however with fewer moments of down time to help build to those crescendos it almost turns into white noise in places.
As always it can be rattled through it relatively quick time, depending on your skill level it can take anywhere from 4-6 hours to complete the campaign and be thrust into the returning spec ops mode.
A favourite from MW2, spec ops, returns with a new set of co-op missions for you and a partner to work through. While an increase in the player count would have been nice, the missions are still just as fun. You and your buddy can work through several scenarios using teamwork to defeat increasingly difficult missions which range from running (or slowly walking) riot in a juggernaut suit whilst calling in air strikes, to covering your teammate by dealing death from above. An extra co-op bonus comes in the form of a survival mode much like the Zombies mode from the Treyarch entries in the series. It’s down to your team to fight off waves of enemies for cash whilst frantically spending said cash on weapons and upgrades. All of this is further compounded by the special “levelling up” sauce from multiplayer being replicated in its own separate system just for Spec Ops. This expanded co-operative mode is a lot of fun and is a great alternative to the mayhem of multiplayer; the added split-screen support is also a nice touch.
The theme of familiarity doesn’t stop there, like a pair of comfy old shoes multiplayer lets players hit the ground running. A new set of maps and yet another refresh of the nuts and bolts in multiplayer await in this year’s update.
Interestingly with everything that has changed within the studio the rivalry with Treyarch apparently still remains. Rather than build on the frankly ridiculous amount of content added in Black Ops, IW have removed wholesale aspects, for better and for worse. The largely inconsequential system of COD points is removed, as is matchmaking for the co-op modes and the excellent game types, like Gun Game, where players upgraded their weapons with kills. Infinity Ward counter with a new game mode, Kill Confirmed, where players confirm kills by picking up dog tags which dropped from their victims and redesigning the kill streaks.
Foregoing the anorak tour of each minor change, there are some significant elements which bear mentioning. Kill streaks have been completely revamped with 3 categories to choose from: Assault, Support and Specialist. Assault is largely the offensive kill streak tree you are used to with the usual Predator, helicopters and airstrikes. Support concentrates on team based bonuses and allows kill streaks to be built over deaths aiding less skilled players to gain rewards and affect the match. Specialist gives extra points per kill and replaces rewards with perks, with a 7 streak awarding all the Specialist perks.
The revamp of this system illustrates well the approach IW has taken to this entry in the series, although Call of Duty has a reputation for being mainstream, the gameplay didn’t really attempt to endear itself to new players. Whilst many happily weathered their “hazing” at the hands of veterans there was no doubt many who were turned off by the high skill level, which has been honed over several games. It’s by no means adding the strategy or variety of something like a Battlefield title but what it does do is give more tools to the new or less skilled player allowing them to compete in a different way other than shooting the most people in a row. SAM Turrets and Advanced UAVs are a good way to help even the playing field without fundamentally altering the mechanics.
It’s not all about the new guy though, the Prestige shop thanks veterans for their loyalty by giving them the ability to choose rewards based on their progress in previous games, and the (still partially functional!) Elite service will provide a mountain of stats, social networking and other Call of Duty related events for those who still can’t get enough.
Modern Warfare 3 is all about perspective. Objectively the game plays excellently, the twitch shooter gameplay has no rival and the campaign is a bombastic ride which should probably be played with sunglasses and earplugs on, while the co-op Spec Ops mode now matches single-player for importance and the third pillar of multiplayer is as strong as it always was. Subjectively though it’s like an album from a generation spanning musical band/artist. At first they are revolutionary and spawned a whole new sound but slowly it becomes more mainstream as people jump on the bandwagon. Decades pass and while fresh fans are still devouring the new material and the old guard are happy to get their more of the same, some old fans buy out of loyalty and indifference while others just can’t believe what they once loved has become.
It can't be denied that MW3 is a good game which is suffering from diminishing returns, while the gameplay is old it's still addictive and if you're not sick of it yet there are enough tweaks to the formula to validate playing it until the next edition surfaces.
Just another day...
- Smart changes to multiplayer
- Improved Spec Ops mode
We've lost this one
- Series gameplay stagnant
- Short Campaign
- Rolls back some successful changes
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Xbox 360 Review
The Activision machine bears no surprises as it delivers the yearly edition of its flagship franchise. While the cracks in armour continue to grow, Infinity Ward manage to make enough smart edits to the formula to keep the multi-player popular for many, but for some the annual refreshes continue to suffer from diminishing returns.
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