World War III, the long awaited sequel to World War II, takes center stage as the primary conflict in the similarly anticipated Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. The clash between Russia and the United States that began in Modern Warfare 2 is still in full swing. This latest iteration builds off the strong foundation set by its predecessors, especially in regards to multiplayer. However, the title’s aging engine and brief campaign really undermine the excitement around this long awaited conclusion.
The story continues literally right where Modern Warfare 2 left off with Captain Price trying to find medical help for Soap before he bleeds out. Players primarily take control of a new character named Yuri. Yuri is a former Spetsnaz that holds a huge grudge against Makarov, the megalomaniacal ultranationalist terrorist responsible for tearing the world asunder. As usual, missions have you jumping between multiple characters as they take part in this much larger conflict. The plot involves a scheme to kidnap the Russian president amidst a Russian declaration of full scale combat and chemical warfare against the United States and Europe. At times the narrative just seems like a tool to have you witness the destruction of major world cities such as New York, London, and Paris. While commendable, the story stumbles in its attempt to tie in the events of all three Modern Warfare titles together. Honestly, the story is at its best when it focuses in on the partnership between Soap and Price who have developed up quite the bromance over the course of their heroic escapades.
The campaign still has the same drawbacks that have been plaguing the series for years. Overly linear and stuffed with too many instances where it wants you to think you are doing something cool when all you are doing is responding to rudimentary button prompts. It tries too hard to elicit an emotional response, causing its attempts to fall flat. Any game that consistently tries to top itself and go bigger is eventually going to crash into the ceiling. There’s nothing as brazen as the infamous “No Russian” sequence but seeing the Manhattan skyline ablaze, the Eiffel Tower topple over, and possibly the worst vacation footage ever may not seem so impactful because of how blasé we as players have become from previous exposure to the same type of chaos.
The campaign plays out pretty much the same as past games with a different set of locales. As I played through it, I struggled to identify any notable gameplay additions. Everything you do seems to have been done in some previous Call of Duty campaign; the stealth missions, breaching through doors, and missions where you alternate between controlling ground troops and aircrafts providing support from above. You spend a noticeable amount of time manning machine guns or provide cover fire from the passenger seat of a speeding vehicle. On a positive note, the shooting feels responsive, the topography of the various battlefields is striking, and the enemies are formidable when playing on the higher difficulty settings. Of course, some of this is due to the persistent problem of enemies continuously coming out of nowhere to keep you pinned down before you realize you are supposed to push on through.
The visuals really show their age. What was once one of the most graphically impressive series around now looks flat and antiquated. That is not to say the game looks bad; some of the destruction is beautifully choreographed and a real experience to witness. The game runs at a consistent 60 frames per second, with infrequent drops that usually coincide with moments when the onscreen action is at its most explosive. Some of the level design also is uninteresting. The impoverished huts and hovels of India don’t look that much different from the Brazilian favelas from Modern Warfare 2. You start to notice a lot of the environments are things we’re used to fighting through, such as office buildings, shantytowns, and airplanes. The game does show off some unique new environments such as the catacombs in Paris, and what New York’s tunnels look like underwater. There are also a few glitches, my AI allies sometimes passed straight through cars.
One major glitch I experienced early on in my playthrough of the campaign is when the audio became drastically distorted before going out completely for a noticeable period of time. It came back suddenly and everything else was fine. Gunfire and explosions are accompanied by realistic and immersive sound design. The soundtrack’s overuse of guitar riffs is a point of contention but the orchestral score is strong as is the voiceover work.
So, the singleplayer doesn’t quite live up to its full potential. That’s okay because multiplayer has always been the series' main attraction and Modern Warfare 3 brings the goods. The 16 new maps serve as refined battlegrounds in which you can spend countless hours waging online warfare. The progression system is ridiculously deep. There are more unlocks and rewards than I am capable of keeping track of, although the game does a good job doing that for you. In total there are 19 modes of play meeting the needs of every possible playing style.
In addition to unlocking weapons through leveling up, weapons now level up as well. Constant use of a gun will add Weapon Proficiencies such as perks that reduce recoil or improve accuracy when firing from the hip. You can tailor you killstreak rewards to suit your style of play. Those (like me) that found it difficult to build up a killstreak high enough to unlock the most effective assault bonuses will be glad to have the option to have their kills carry over after death and count towards receiving support-based packages.
The best new mode is Kill Confirmed where the only way to earn points is to pick up the dog tags of fallen enemies from the opposing team. This mode completely changes the dynamic of team play. If you pick up the tag of one of your own teammates you prevent surrendering a point to the opposition. As a team you can use dog tags as a means to lure enemies into a trap. Picking up stray tags as you run around the map becomes a small delight, conversely dying before you can reap the rewards of hard earned kills will elicit a bloodthirsty desire for vengeance in a way few other game modes can replicate. Having to confirm your kills provides a real rush of adrenaline as you never know if your combat skills will be represented in your actual score.
Modern Warfare 3 heralds the premier of the new Call of Duty ELITE online service. There is an actual app you must download to access the many features ELITE has to offer in both free and premium editions. If you pony up the digital currency for a year’s subscription, you get monthly automatic downloads of DLC including all of the maps. The app tracks a ridiculous amount of stats from your multiplayer career and allows you to review recent matches and leaderboards. It also enhances your ability to connect with people you want to play with in Groups and Clans. For premium members there are year-round contests that across multiple skill levels to compete in. Call of Duty ELITE also provides inside info on weapons and levels to give players a strategic advantage. As an added bonus you can access two hours of double XP upon your initial download. All of this sounds promising but the launch has been less than stellar. I found it hard to access any content, likely due to the massive demand caused by the recent release. Assuming the service is able to overcome its current growing pains it represents a real step forward for the franchise’s already phenomenal multiplayer offerings. I look forward to monitoring my clan activity from my smartphone.
Spec Ops is now divided into Survival and Mission modes. Survival in theory sounds like Zombies mode without the zombies, but is in fact its own delightfully unique experience. In many ways it sticks to the tradition of the Survival modes found in other First Person Shooters in that you must defend yourself again wave after wave of increasingly more formidable enemies. The developers intelligently designed this mode where you start off with only a pistol and through killing your enemies, earn currency and XP that allow you to upgrade you arsenal by accessing reserves scattered throughout the map between waves. The enemies not only grow in number but in nerve, soon you will be facing off attack dogs, helicopters, and insurgents with C4 strapped to their chest. Thankfully the entire map is open to you giving you the freedom to take down foes as you want. All 16 multiplayer maps are utilized in this mode.
Many of the Spec Ops missions are derived from events in the campaign but sliced up and adapted into intense segments you can tackle either solo or with a partner. Mission objectives range from having to disarm nuclear weapons, to taking a VIP hostage aboard an airplane, to using stealth to slip by enemies unnoticed. Like in Modern Warfare 2, there are three difficulties to attempt and three different star ranks to try for. The leveling system in Spec Ops mirrors the one found in the multiplayer mode meaning you can sink just as many hours climbing the leader boards here.
It is easy to navigate between the three major game modes thanks to the clean and accessible menu system. From here you can see your completion percentage and playtime of each mode. While the Campaign only takes around five hours of your time, the amount of time you are likely to sink into Spec Ops and Multiplayer more than compensates for it. It feels strange to call the singleplayer mode an afterthought because it is evident that the aim was to deliver a highly detailed and sophisticated first-person experience, which it achieves in some respects, but ultimately it’s the weakest part of this package. Considering the majority of COD players are addicted to the still excellent multiplayer, the solo campaign’s faults are not as damaging to the overall appeal of the title.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a great game hurt by its unwillingness to stray from a tried and true formula. Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games have crafted a game that delivers thrills that will satisfy a mass audience but has not given its biggest critics any reason to relent. Depending on who you are as a gamer, you will either dive right in and enjoy the latest Call of Duty because of its refinements or lament that a game with “Modern” in the title can feel so stuck in the past.
*Note: gamrReview was provided with a Hardened Edition of Modern Warfare 3 for PlayStation 3 by Activision for the purposes of this review.