Chances are if you’re reading this, you’ve already made up your mind about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. If you’re a hardcore fan, you’ve probably already purchased the game and hit Prestige level already. If you’re an opponent of the series, you’re going to find more common ground in the trolled user reviews of Metacritic and Amazon. However, if you’re like me, you haven’t joined either camp and just want to know whether the game is any good or not. There is a lot to enjoy in this latest iteration with some interesting changes to the tightly structured multiplayer portion and a singleplayer spectacle that aims to take the series up another notch.
Where multiplayer games like Battlefield 3 are really strong is in dropping you into a setting and giving you the freedom to engage it on multiple levels with a wide range of vehicles. Modern Warfare 3 takes a much different approach, focusing the gameplay with laser precision on frantic gun-on-gun fighting. The maps are well designed with multiple routes to flank your opponents, but they are often not so open that you’re lulling between encounters due to the small player limits. During nearly every play session you’re going to unlock a new mode, weapon, perk or something else to customize your experience. This has always been the Modern Warfare series’ strengths, and it was great to see the developers embracing it even further and getting down to some solving some prior problem.
There are three new features that best demonstrate these changes : the Kill Confirmed game mode, Weapon Proficiencies and Strike Packages. Sniping and camping have long plagued games like Call of Duty with the fuzzy line being drawn between viable tactics and fun miasma that degrades everyone else’s enjoyment. Kill Confirmed helps to alleviate the latter by making those methods less useful; when you kill an opponent they drop their dog tags and in order to actually score a point you need to retrieve them. This forces snipers and campers to leave their hidey holes. It’s a great compromise of giving players the option of having a game mode that promote more run-and-gun play while not wholly removing sniping and “ambushing” for other modes and players that do prefer them.
Weapon Proficiencies are ultimately level tracking for your individual weapons. If, for example, you use the MP5 a lot, you’ll start to unlock bonuses, attachments and various camouflage patterns. Combined with your character leveling, this helps to keep every match feeling like you’re progressing and unlocking new things. It also allows you to customize your weapons to your needs with proficiencies like reduced kick or increased range. The drawback is it negatively reinforces switching to new weapons. It’s hard to be willing to switch off from “your” M4A1 assault rifle with reduced kick and holographic sight to a new vanilla one that you’ll need to grind back up.
Strike Packages are the biggest and most interesting set of changes. The old system of getting a streak of kills and unlocking an air strike or controllable helicopter is still there under the guise of the Assault, but now it is part of a trio including Support and Specialist. The support package doesn’t reset your built-up points and kills when you die, and most of the rewards are focused on helping your team instead of blowing the enemy into bits. You’ll get things like SAM Turrets to shoot down enemy air support or Recon Drones to spot for your team. The Specialist puts aside the technological advantage to simply unlock more perks for themselves, progressively turning the player into a one-man-army. This really starts to get to the core of allowing for more than just the min-maxed for best kill:death ratio approach. Though annoyingly the developers returned kills from these streak to work towards the next one, so once again it’s a little too easy for matches to snowball as one team’s players get ahead and their kill streaks feed into their next ones.
One area where Modern Warfare 3 is staying the same is in its visuals. The series is starting to show its age a bit in the textures, but the Modern Warfare series has always been making a trade off of fidelity for a smooth 60 fps. Even with buildings collapsing and squads of soldiers on screen there is not a hint of slowdown, and commendably the game runs it all in-engine, hardly ever takes away all your control for what would otherwise be cutscenes in other series. You could make the argument that aiming in slow motion and pulling the trigger a few times is not much more involved than a quick time event, but just that extra level of involvement or how you always have camera control during the “oh-shit” moments goes a long way to keeping you invested in the gameplay and not focused on the individual textures.
Not that Modern Warfare 3 really needed subtle ways to keep you attention; the game’s single player mode is still a blockbuster spectacle. The missions do feel a tad formulaic with Act 1: sneaking or transport to area, Act 2: rising action and small engagements, Act 3: the shit hits the fan and usually results in a thrilling chase or escape, but at the time it’s really easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of it all. From skittering across the deck of a sinking aircraft carrier while you fire at exploding mines on another ship to an urban street to street shootout during a sandstorm, the game all but barrels you over with new and exciting set pieces. The story even does an admirable job of propelling you from one to another and calling back to previous games, even if it can’t really break from the already set “go kill the super-villainous terrorist” formula. The biggest issue with the single player campaign continues to be its sparse length. While it’s a blast from start to finish, the five-hour campaign length leaves you wanting more in both the good and bad sense, especially if you’re the sort that’s not interested in multiplayer.
If you are looking for something to do after the single player and don’t want to fight it out competitively, Modern Warfare 3 continues to expand on the Spec Ops cooperative modes. These little bite-sized missions will rank you on your performance, and there is often a clever amount of effort to have them mirror or run tandem with the campaign, sometimes having you take control of the very enemy you previously fought against. These missions will also award experience for Spec Ops new mode, Survival, which, just like the multiplayer, will unlock new weapons and bonuses. Survival is your typical horde defender style gameplay, but with the Modern Warfare spin on it. It’s not quite as tightly crafted as some other shooter’s iterations, but the variety of calling in air strikes and buying upgrades still keeps it quite entertaining.
Bottom Line: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is much like its predecessors: a bombastic but brief single player campaign coupled with laser-focused multiplayer.
Recommendation: Unless you’ve started feeling fatigued by the last few iterations of this series, you should pick up Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. There’s enough variety and new features to keep the experience feeling fresh despite being grounded in what’s worked before.[rating=4.5]
Justin Clouse wishes to point out that comparing only the multiplayer Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 are roughly equal.
This review is based on the 360 version of the game.
Game: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Developer: Infinity Ward
Platform(s): PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)