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Game review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

16 Nov 2011
FYI, this story is more than a year old

One of the biggest franchises in gaming rolls inexorably onwards. First week sales indicate that the title is eclipsing its rivals in sell-through numbers, but is there any substance in quantity being indicative of quality?

After last year’s Black Ops, which was my most recent Call of Duty experience, I was interested to see how the newly revised Infinity Ward would present. Happily the narrative is Infinity Ward classic and nowhere near the hot potch that Treyarch delivered. That said, the narrative lurches from one exotic global location to another with the grace of a Bond movie and although there are story arcs in play, they do get suppressed amidst the chaos of war. 

When the first Modern Warfare dropped it was a game changer for first person shooters. The scripting was top notch, and although there was evidence of some clichéd level design, it offered new levels of immersion and interactivity. On top of the polished and exciting campaign, the multiplayer aspect was a revelation, bringing hordes of players into the online arena with its fast and frantic gameplay.

With the latest campaign the developers have raised the bar in terms of showmanship; this is large-scale, over-the-top entertainment. If Modern Warfare 3 was a movie it would be the product of a drunken bet between Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer. The set pieces are so busy that the game deserves a replay to appreciate the sheer amount of traffic and events that are going on in the background. The game is a consistent and refined rush from start to finish – the premise may not make a lot of sense, but individual moments are often jaw-dropping, as building collapse, submarines burst from the sea in front of you and airplanes break up around you mid-flight. Infinity Ward have certainly found their place and know their tricks very well, and they have dragged every single one from the bag to string along this collection of linear yet well-driven levels. The mix of adversaries amongst the landscapes is well conceived and not once did feel there was any overuse or cut and paste going on, unlike the river escape at the end of Modern Warfare 2, which was particularly old school.  The game never feels like it is taking any cheap shots or shortcuts, the experience is played out from start to bloody finish, even though the ride has a few predictable speed bumps.

Alongside the campaign, the game offers both co-op and competitive modes of online play. The good news for co-op players is the return of Spec Ops, a selection of situational levels that are better played out with a partner. They do offer a nice mix of variety and there are options to tweak the game for the anti-social solo player to enjoy them alone. A new addition to this area is a standard for games these days with a Horde/Treyarch Zombie Mode variant, known in the Modern Warfare world as ‘Survival’. Starting with basic weapons, the player and optional partner have to fight off waves of enemies that are constantly scaling up. The mix is interesting, and I was caught out a couple of times by waves that suddenly turned up with Helicopters as opposed to foot soldiers. Kills reward the player with currency and the levels have shops available for players to spend their dollars on weapons and Killstreak rewards such as airstrikes, which do come in handy.

The main multiplayer component offers an interesting can of worms. Essentially the gameplay is not far removed from Modern Warfare 2; there have been tweaks and enhancements, but there have also been a few backward steps taken. The maps are most definitely the stars – well realised, they do feel much bigger than previous Modern Warfare maps, there is plenty of variety and they are well populated with chokepoints, corners and sniping opportunities. It may well be months before players are well versed with these maze-like arenas. Graphically they are stunning, as is the game on the whole,  but you won’t get a lot of time to appreciate the delicate construction of the cobblestones, unless you are bleeding out on them.

Character progression is still there and doesn’t seem particularly different, but the big improvement is that there are some more obvious benefits to using the infamous Prestige Mode, something I have never bothered to do because I would rather hold onto my toys instead of resetting for the sake of a badge. Now you collect tokens for using Prestige and can exchange them for game changing benefits. It is the incentive I needed, instead of sitting at maximum level forever. Kill streaks are now split into one of three categories, with their own influences and idiosyncrasies, and I like this as it adds depth and strategy to allow the player to trim their character into a personal play style. 

The gameplay is as twitchy as ever, and it is all about quickest to see, shoot and reload. Thinking or more strategic players do not often have the chance to play their way because some sprinting, dual-wielding maniac will have jumped across your path before you have a look at the map. There is an answer: just go with the flow. This game is not that other big first person shooter that is out there; Modern Warfare plays as it always has and it suits the demographic of its fan base. If you want some more structured and patient gameplay I suggest swapping franchises. Personally I see a place for both, sometimes I need to fit in a quick and frantic coupe of matches and Modern Warfare fits the bill; I would say however that the time I have spent with Modern Warfare 3 online has only made me miss Treyarch’s Black Ops, which was less cluttered and in my memory more fun.

A quick mention goes to the Call of Duty Elite system – there is a free app to support this community-style interface that offers extended stats and competitions. The Elite system can be enhanced with an annual subscription that offers DLC and bonuses, but I know my annual dose of COD lasts about three months so I do not think I’ll be buying. Besides which the app has failed to respond in the last week, either by not functioning or being oversubscribed.Overall, another year, another Warfare. It is always a pleasure to be buddied up with the indestructible Captain Price and the online play can deliver some great quick fix action. There is no doubt that the game will break its own records and the resale value will not be dropping any time soon. It is unlikely that in a genre that divides fans by such polarised opinions, I doubt there are any gamers sitting on the fence.  

It’s Modern Warfare, it does what is says on the tin, and remember to check out the water effects while you are diving for cover.

Graphics: 9.5Sound: 9.0Gameplay: 9.0Lasting Appeal: 8.0Overall: 9.0

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