It’s the game that everyone’s talking about – Modern Warfare 3. And this time, the talk on launch day isn’t about shafted PC players, or scenes of unnecessary violence, or even Call of Duty’s domination as the biggest entertainment launch ever. All of those things still happened, in their now usual way, but they just aren’t the biggest issues any more.
Instead, the game itself is taking centre stage. Many critics are conceding that though Modern Warfare 3 does little different than its predecessors, it is still one of the best games of the year, and utterly deserving of the success it gets.Is it a game worth trading in the first and second in this series for the new one at musicMagpie or should you stick with them and leave MW3?
The accepted cycle of a stellar Infinity Ward Modern Warfare title followed by a slightly more lacklustre Treyarch stop-gap seems to have continued more or less unabated, although as Infinity Ward has seen a dramatic exodus from the biggest names in its studio it’s become a closer race. If you look at the metascores of each game, you’ll see that pattern quite clearly: Modern Warfare 1 through 3 have received 94, 94 and 89, respectively. World of War and Black Ops received 84 and 87, respectively. One other interesting data selection is the metacritic user scores: these have declined without fail on each subsequent Call of Duty title, as hardcore gamers become more and more frustrated with the repetition.
Putting aside that tangent now, what is the game itself actually like? To answer this question, we’ll have a look at each of the three sections of the game: the single player campaign, two player spec-ops survival, and multiplayer.
Modern Warfare 3’s single player campaign begins where its predecessor left off two years ago, with the world engulfed in a war incited by Russian troublemakers and a corrupt American general. Again like the other titles in the series, you’ll be taking control of different characters in various armies and special forces units, as you hunt to bring the antagonist Makarov to justice.
The gameplay is the same as it always was. It comes closer to the glorious mark of Call of Duty 4 than Modern Warfare 2, but ultimately relies on the same formula to succeed: a grandiose set piece, frequent explosions and excellent pacing. There are some memorable missions, but none as novel as Call of Duty 4’s Chernobyl level. Of course, there’s another ‘No Russian’ style level that will no doubt provoke boring outrage, despite the game prompting you to skip it and reassuring you that it won’t have any effect on completing the campaign.
As usual, difficulty and tension is clumsily controlled by the amount of continually re-spawning enemies in the level. On the harder difficulty levels this becomes a farce, with much of the infantry combat revolving around popping out from behind cover, gunning down a few enemies, going prone again, then running to new cover when a grenade invariably lands next to you.
It’s definitely Call of Duty through and through, and though it’s the same damn game you’ve played before, it still manages to provide the best linear FPS experience of the year, besting Battlefield’s flatteringly similarly constructed campaign.
After you’ve finished the campaign (which takes about six hours on normal difficulty), you will be ready for the more meaty fares: Spec Ops and multiplayer.
Spec Ops is perhaps the best and most richly evolved part of Modern Warfare 3, something I was surprised to find. While the original-style two player missions to defuse bombs and the like are incredibly fun, it’s the survival mode that provides the most entertainment, pitting you against waves of AI enemies in a variety of urban locales.
The combination of the Modern Warfare setting and Treyarch’s survival mode is expertly done, with the human AIs being much more interesting to fight against than the zombies found in other Call of Duty titles. The mode has evolved from semi-spooky to deeply strategic, with an emphasis on teamwork that I wish was found in multiplayer.
In multiplayer then, things are mostly the same. It’s still primarily a shooter that rewards good individual play rather than team play, but there have been a number of small changes that do help to partially redress that issue. Weapons, unlocks and kill streaks have been re-jigged, and I’d say all for the better.
Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice is that the weapons feel and sound punchier. The balance of weapons has shifted as well, with none of the old OP favourites (e.g. AK-74U, ACR) having an obvious advantage. Each weapon’s bonuses are unlocked through using the weapon, with additional camo, attachments and weapon perks being made available as you go up in weapon level.
This streamlined unlock system also makes an appearance for perks, with the Pro variants being awarded upon one rather easy to achieve condition, rather than the three conditions of Black Ops. The seemingly most powerful perk choices are instantly available (faster aim down sight, faster reload, faster walking when aimed down sight), so if you’d prefer to get straight to the killing you don’t have to mess around too much.
Kill streaks are the final upgraded aspect of the multiplayer, and are perhaps the best innovation. Instead of receiving call-in rewards like UAV scans, care packages and helicopters based on the number of kills you get before death, you have the option to instead receive call-ins based on your total number of kills (i.e. dying doesn’t reset the streak) or receive additional perks based on your kill streaks.
This allows much greater flexibility in your play style; you can now do well by both killing a lot and dying a lot, instead of merely camping in a corner. Support actions like capturing points and destroying enemy equipment also count towards your streak, so again there’s room to succeed even if you’re not the most brilliant shooter.
The multiplayer levels seem less memorable than their equivalents in earlier titles (I can still remember the levels of Call of Duty 4 in outstanding clarity), although this may be because I’ve yet to really find their intricacies. There are sixteen altogether, and they allow for enough choice and creativity to not become instantly boring, as was the case with the stupidly linear levels of Medal of Honor.
The multiplayer is overall an honest evolution over Black Ops and MW2, and will do well to distract me from Battlefield 3, even if it can’t steal me away entirely. The rest of the game is much the same, providing a solid experience with few obvious flaws.
I’ve got to commend Infinity Ward for not dropping the ball after so much of the studio left overnight. Perhaps the true test, however, will be the next Infinity Ward title, which will surely be coming in two years’ time; by this time they’ll truly be going on their own. Perhaps at this point, they’ll finally be able to shake off the shackles of nostalgia and create a truly revolutionary Modern Warfare title. I surely hope so.