Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games (Additional help from Treyarch, Raven and NeverSoft)
PS3, Xbox 360, Wii
November 8, 2011 (worldwide)
By Scott Duwe
Another year, another Call of Duty. Ho hum, right? That might depend on who you are, specifically. If you’re like the teeming masses of internet forum geniuses who know everything there is to know about gaming, you might hate Call of Duty for being a yearly-released re-hash and cash cow for Activision. Or maybe you’re one of the countless ‘casual’ gamers who play just a few games, Call of Duty being one of them, and talk to your friends and co-workers about how ‘sick’ it is. Or perhaps you’re someone like me, a hardcore, everyday gamer who tries to play everything and keep an open mind. It doesn’t matter whether you’re all or none of the above, the simple fact is that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a fun game to play. It’s really as simple as that. If you can just turn off the hatred-blinders for a while, sit back and enjoy an explosive-yet-short-lived cinematic single-player campaign, a fun co-operative mode and one of the most addictive online components the world has ever seen, you could have a blast with Modern Warfare 3.
MW3 picks up right after the events of 2009‘s Modern Warfare 2, with ‘Soap’ MacTavish and Captain Price on the run after their Task Force 141 has been disavowed after the betrayal by United States Army General Shepard. Basically, you’re in the middle of World War III. The first mission takes place on the streets of Manhattan as the United States military battles it out with Russian armed forces, in the skies above and in the harbor around them. You’re soon put back in control of Soap and Price as they try to clear their names and kill the man responsible for the current state of the world, Russian ultranationalist Vladamir Makarov. The player will take control of several different characters throughout the game: US Army Delta Force, Russian secret service and more. Make no mistake, though, Soap, Price, Makarov and co. are the stars of the show.
Everything about the campaign is over-the-top. It’s what big budget Hollywood war movies should aspire to. It’s cheesy and it’s ridiculous but more important than anything else, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. If you can just shut your brain off for a few hours and enjoy being a part of a rollercoaster/bottle rocket of a campaign, then you shouldn’t be disappointed. However, someone who loves to question the realism and possibility of things that happen in games will have a field day picking apart the inconsistencies and silly things that take place.
Having said all that, I still have to say that this is probably the best Call of Duty campaign to date. It’s definitely my favorite. There are flashbacks and Easter eggs that harken back to the first two games in the series, bringing back memories of playing CoD4 over four years ago, which up to this point, I would’ve considered the best in the series. After sitting back and digesting everything that took place in MW3‘s campaign, though, I think the crown must be passed on.
Outside of the singleplayer/co-op/multiplayer components, Call of Duty ELITE is the big new addition to the series, which is basically a social networking site/statistics application a la Halo: Waypoint where players can meet up, join groups, create a clan, watch previous matches and even set their custom multiplayer classes from their smart phones. Activision sees that Call of Duty is becoming a social institution and is trying to keep it that way and make it grow with ELITE. It remains to be seen how the service will be received by fans, but on launch day, the servers were overloaded with requests of people trying to register.
ELITE is free to everybody, but a paid yearly subscription, which also comes included in the game’s Hardened Edition, gives you access to even more features. Fear not, though, because the list of free features dwarf the list of paid ones. The main perk of a paid subscription is what Activision is calling ‘monthly DLC.’ Instead of having to wait for a map pack every three or four months, Premium ELITE members will instead receive the maps, free with the service, in smaller increments.
Infinity Ward’s game engine is beginning to show its age as games like Battlefield 3, Uncharted 3 and others continue to push the boundaries of visuals in today’s video games. That’s not to say the game is ugly, because it’s not. Character models look great and the large environments of the game look respectable, but someone who has high standards for graphics will likely be disappointed and want to write the game off immediately.
I personally did not witness any screen-tearing and didn’t see any framerate slowdown until the very last mission of the campaign, but online multiplayer is silky smooth as always. This is one of CoD’s calling cards, and it still rings true in MW3.
For the first time in the Call of Duty series, the guns sound like guns and not little toys. Explosions leave your ears ringing and helicopters thup-thup-thup like you’d expect, but while the sound design in the game is representative, it simply doesn’t stand up to some other first-person shooters out there.
The voice acting in the game is also well-represented, with series mainstays Billy Murray(Price) and Kevin McKidd(Soap) returning in their roles, being joined by Hollywood actors William Fichtner as Sandman and Bruce Greenwood as Overlord. When the rare occasion of emotion being shown is called upon, they do their jobs well, but the dialogue is mostly cut-and-dry military jargon.
MW2‘s soundtrack was privileged to be composed by Hans Zimmer, who added a very movie-like sound to the game, lending it some legitimacy. Zimmer did not return for MW3, instead replaced by Brian Tyler who has composed such movies as Eagle Eye, The Expendables and Battle: Los Angeles. The music is good enough although sometimes awkwardly-placed rock/metal music will make you scratch your head. I wouldn’t say the soundtrack is exactly cheesy, but it’s nothing all that special.
Call of Duty’s gameplay is formulaic at this point, so anyone who’s played a previous CoD title will know exactly what to expect. The controls are tight and responsive(some might call them twitchy), and easy for anyone to master. The campaign’s gameplay is varied, taking you to different places all over the world and putting you in different situations, but most of the time you’ll be on-foot and shooting a variety of guns at a large number of enemies. The monotony of infantry gameplay is broken up with vehicle sections: chasing a train in the back of a pick-up truck, manning the machine gun on top of a tank, and once again firing at enemies from above at the controls of an AC130 gunship. The spacing and pace of the missions is varied enough that it never really gets too boring.
“What? Call of Duty has a singleplayer campaign?” Let’s get to the meat and potatoes of the series. MW3‘s multiplayer is, in a few words, just like MW2 except better. It’s impossible to judge the multiplayer component in the time allotted, as a multiplayer experience like Call of Duty takes months and months to fully understand and appreciate, but here are my impressions after about 10 hours of gaming online.
The overall package is more balanced, the weapons feel like they have weight to them, and they actually have recoil. New perks and refined ones give the player more choices and decisions than ever before, and at first glance, seem to be 10x more balanced than MW2‘s perks ever were. There’s no more Lightweight, Commando, Stopping Power, Danger Close or One Man Army. If you want the abilities that Ghost Pro gave you in Call of Duty: Black Ops, you’ll need to take up two perk slots to get it. Same thing if you want the abilities that Sleight of Hand Pro gave you. Some perks obviously stand out above the rest(Quickdraw and Stalker being personal favorites of mine thus far), but the sacrifices you need to make in order to pick and choose what you want as your loadout are bigger than ever.
The same game modes that people have come to love or love to hate are back including Domination, Search and Destroy and all the old favorites, plus two new modes: Kill Confirmed and Team Defender. The new gametypes are definitely refreshing and can only help to add to the endless hours that millions will spend playing this game.
Call of Duty is known for its Killstreak rewards, and they're not the same as before. Killstreaks have been refined into “Point Streaks” which now reward players who play the objectives and don’t just camp for kills. Finally. You can add to your Point Streak by capturing flags, planting and defusing bombs and more. This discourages camping(although you’ll always have those lovely folks who feel the need to crouch in a corner every chance they get), and instead rewards those who are trying to do more than just rack up a killcount.
Killstreaks now also have more variety, in the way of Strike Packages. The Assault Strike Package has killstreaks that you’re familiar with: UAV, Predator Missile, Attack Chopper, AC130, etc. The Support Strike Package is different in that the rewards you get are more support-oriented, such as an Advanced UAV, an EMP blast that knocks out enemy equipment, and a SAM turret that takes out enemy air support. With the Support Strike Package, your streak does not reset upon death, meaning you can die as many times as you want but still rack up rewards by playing objectives. The Specialist Package works like normal killstreaks, except you're rewarded with extra Perks. Get enough kills and you'll unlock every perk in the game until you die.
Also new to MW3 are Gun Proficiencies, where you can now level up a weapon the more you use it and the more challenges you complete, i.e. total kills and headshots. As you level up your gun, you unlock attachments and Proficiencies such as “Kick” which reduces recoil even further, or “Attachments” which adds the ability to equip the gun with two attachments, such as a red dot sight and a silencer. This idea of gun leveling is not new or innovative but it only goes to add to the replay value that the game’s multiplayer has.
As has been the case since CoD4, you can rank up to max level and then enter Prestige Mode where your rank resets and you start from scratch, awarded with a new medal that goes next to your name. In the past, you’d Prestige just for the sake of Prestiging and getting nothing but that icon next to your name, but now with the Prestige Shop in MW3, there’s more incentive than there ever has been. Each time you Prestige you earn a Prestige Token which can be used in the shop to buy one of a few things. You can unlock an extra custom class, buy exclusive titles and emblems, buy double XP for yourself or your gun, or even reset all your stats completely. The options are now there for you to choose, and having a choice is not a bad thing.
In between the campaign and multiplayer is Special Ops, which is a co-operative mode that has been refined since MW2. Still there are the narrative-based missions where two players can work together to achieve high scores, but new to the series is Spec Ops Survival Mode. Think Nazi Zombies/Gears of War Horde Mode, except with soldiers. Players rank up their equipment and earn cash to buy weapons, upgrades and air support on every single one of the 16 multiplayer maps. There’s a lot of fun to be had here with a friend of your choosing.
The bottom line is that Call of Duty has mastered the formula of quick, fast-paced infantry gameplay where anyone can be a star player. This formula is tried and true and still works, although with a new game releasing every fall, it’s beginning to become stale. One can’t help but wonder, how much longer can Call of Duty continue at this pace?
The campaign is painfully short, but deserves at least two playthroughs on different difficulties. But when it comes to multiplayer and keeping people coming back for more, Call of Duty seems to be the head of the class. I wonder to myself how long people would continue to play Call of Duty games, if only there wasn’t a new one to release every single year. Would they still play it after that year goes by, or would they move on to something else? Personally, my online friends list was flooded on launch day with people who moved on from Black Ops to MW3.
It boils down to this: people will be playing Call of Duty: MW3 for a long time -- at least until next November.
This common internet misconception that only little kids and football-playing frat boys play Call of Duty is absolutely off-base. Everybody plays Call of Duty. Casuals like the 35-year-old father of three down the block, and hardcore gamers like myself can end up in the same lobby, duking it out in a game of Domination. People hating on Call of Duty simply because it’s popular is really, really getting old, but then again the internet is a breeding ground for ignorance so I really shouldn’t be that surprised.
MW3 is another Call of Duty title. You know what you’re gonna get. With the new features listed above and one of the better FPS campaigns I’ve ever played, MW3 is worth the $60 pricetag. Contrary to what some of the high-horsed forum-dwellers would say around the internet, this game is not MW2.5. What do you expect, honestly? CoD sells like nothing else that’s ever come before it, and it sells like this every year and breaks its own sales record in the meantime. What would you have them change? Why abandon the formula that has made CoD what it is today? You wouldn’t, because that would be completely stupid. The game works and it works on a wide scale, and that’s all there is to it.