Has a year-long public battle with its competition rubbed off on CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 3? With Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games on development duties, has innovation finally hit the annual series? Or, quite simply, is this the same excellent package we get every year? Find out in our enormous review!
Eight years. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is the culmination of eight years of perpetual Call of Duty releases. And it’s the first in some time that genuinely has its work cut out.
That’s thanks to the renewed efforts of EA and the resurgent Battlefield 3. Its reliable flak jacket of quality’s been looking a little threadbare over the past few months, and gamers have been trying to poke holes in it all year, for once giving the franchise a bit of stress. The less said about the lame duck Medal of Honor trying to match up to Black Ops last year, the better.
Eight years is a very long time, though, and Call of Duty’s legacy isn’t easily toppled by a single strong contender. Even if development duties are split bi-annually now, and Infinity Ward is awash with new faces and a fragment of the same team who two years ago gave us the mind-bogglingly overhyped Modern Warfare 2, Modern Warfare 3 is yet another behemoth of a blockbuster. It’s showing its age, but it’s also, once again, showing the competition just how it’s done.
Answering the call
Getting on with the least important part of this three-piece package (singleplayer, co-op and multiplayer), the solo campaign picks up just moments from the ending of Modern Warfare 2, with Soap in bad shape after the whole knife-eye QTE debacle. Little time is wasted getting us back into the action, and things begin in earnest as a Third World War erupts around the actions of a single man: Makarov.
The Russian Federation’s misguided assault on the American Eastern Seaboard is a perfect example of how the Call of Duty series revels in its over-the-top, “Second Cold War” bombast. New York is a mess of battered skyscrapers and rubble-strewn streets, through which the beleaguered US forces fight to regain control and fight off the Russian fleet in the bay, blasting through Wall Street, battling inside the Stock Exchange and eventually infiltrating a sub and using its payload to sink its comrades.
Every single moment is pure, cinematic lunacy, especially when the action moves into Europe and beyond. You’ll be gunning down Russians and Makarov’s ultranationalists from India to Sierra Leone, and across mainland Europe in Prague, Hamburg, Berlin and Paris. But pride of place goes to London, and the running battle through the Tube that had the tabloids all in a tizzy. Infinity Ward continue their Modern Warfare tradition too: there’s yet another shock moment, but one that’s neither genuinely powerful like MW1′s nuke or blatantly offensive like No Russian. Instead, MW3′s shocker is almost laughably weak in comparison, and horribly signposted.
Breach and clear
But the ride Modern Warfare 3 sends you on is one of the most satisfying and unrelentingly entertaining FPS campaigns of the year. Usual running time for the performance is six to eight hours, depending on reloads and restarts, but many Call of Duty veterans will probably breeze through it on Normal – for me, I was able to finally get some closure on the MW storyline in four and a half hours, plus a little change.
Despite the brevity, Modern Warfare 3 doesn’t feel insubstantial. It moves with a ferocious sense of momentum, funnelling you through what is essentially one never-ending battleground of bullets, bombs and backseat firefights. If you stop to think about it too much the story does start to fall apart, but what modern military shooter doesn’t? You storm a beach on German soil, sneak your way into a castle then blast your way out, see iconic European landmarks crumble before you and even become a walking death machine: you never have time to think about the finer details.
Importantly, though, Modern Warfare 3 actually ends. Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer have done what many thought they wouldn’t and given the game a proper conclusion, the kind Gears of War 3 brought with it. There’s certainly scope for the name and characters like the iconic Captain Price to return one day, but by now most players aren’t exactly heavily invested in the singleplayer. For most, there’s only one menu option they ever bother selecting.
If the thrill ride of the singleplayer campaign is all a bit too familiar, multiplayer too remains the same high octane, twitch-based arcade blasts out there. It packs in the constantly rewarding levelling and progression system, tons of modes old and new, and harnesses the rock solid gunplay and 60fps action that keeps the series regularly the most played online shooter on every format. Like everything in MW3, you kinda know what you’re getting into the minute you’re in a lobby full of teenagers f-ing and blinding at each other. [Continues below...]
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Developer: Infinity Ward/Sledgehammer Games
UK Release Date: 08/11/2011
Formats: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
[Continued...] That’s exactly what millions of gamers want, though: another update with a subtle set of changes to rulesets and weapon dynamics, along with a new series of maps. The levelling and ultimately the Prestige system is what keeps us glued to pads all evening, convinces us to invest in a fancy headset so we can chew out teammates and easily trash noobs, and delivers that one-last-round feeling so you can hopefully just pass that next milestone.
The changes to Modern Warfare 3 are more than just skin deep, however, and they go a long way to fixing what a lot of players felt was wrong about Black Ops’ ‘cash for everything’ solution. This year’s major update comes in the breaking and retooling of the Killstreak system, rebranding the entire system as the Strike Package. It’s a move made to spice things up and relegate crushing dominance to the series’ history. And it rewards players in new ways other than just staying alive long enough to crush the enemy teams.
The Strike Packages are split into three flavours: Assault, Support and – once you hit level 20 -Specialist. Assault adopts the old killstreak approach, rewarding you with attack helicopters and other aggressive rewards, but when you die the streak resets. Support has a different approach, both in its team-oriented rewards like UAVs and tactical vests for your teammates and in how you amass them: instead of having to stay alive, it keeps track of your kills overall and allows you to ‘cash out’ at one of three reward levels.
Specialist dumps killstreaks entirely, instead having you set a list of perks beforehand and unlocking them the more kills you get without dying. Having six perks active at once is one of the most impressive things to happen to players, although the lack of support options is the major downside. Still, in the Support Strike Package, struggling players will be able to get a lot of use out of the various toys they’ll be able to play around with, and make the 16 multiplayer battlefields a less daunting experience.
Weapons are now levelled too, with every point earned with a gun contributing to its levels and attachment unlocks. The more you use one, the more features you’ll be able to play around with and skins you have. No more just buying the guns you want: time has to be spent with a weapon before you can become a master of it and get the most out of it, and the same goes for your standard perks.
Bars to fill
It’s a heavily tweaked and refined experience, but Modern Warfare 3′s multiplayer adjustments are smart and play to the strengths of the system. You’ve always got something different to work on, always a need to switch up your loadouts and try a new gun or perk out. The changes don’t reinvent the action, they just mould competitive multiplayer experience into an even more satisfying whole than ever before, driving you to even more milestones than ever before, and it feels great.
The big question…
MODERN WARFARE 3 VS BATTLEFIELD 3
EA and Activision have been locked in a PR war recently, vying for supremacy come the time 2011′s biggest shooters are unleashed. That time is now, so which is better? Click here for our verdict – it’s closer than you might expect…
Shipping with 16 maps, it’s clear that while Activision do love charging an arm and a leg for their inevitable glut of DLC packs, they certainly don’t skimp out on the base package like some. There are even some new play modes to sink your teeth into, the best of which has to be Kill Confirmed. A variant on team deathmatch, each kill requires you to nab your foe’s dogtags in order to claim the points, as well as collecting fellow allied tags too. It’s a clever addition that offers a change of pace from the standard mode.
Team Defender is also a neat twist on an established (in other games) mode: one-flag CTF. Rather than capturing, however, Defender double the scores for the team holding the flag, forcing teams to balance their attacking and defending in order to preserve their bonus and breeze through the points. Sadly, a few modes have been moved into Private Match territory, including Wager favourites Gun Game and One in the Chamber. This does open up customising the modes and allows sharing of rule tweaks, but removes matchmaking from the equation to a sadly devastating effect.
This is perhaps the biggest misstep the multiplayer makes, however. As with every new Call of Duty release, Modern Warfare 3 feels just that bit more comprehensive and complete than the last, that little bit more compelling thanks to its insatiable combat and new upgrade trees to fill in. Where Battlefield 3 offers realism, vehicular combat and stunning objective-based modes, Call of Duty excels at the slick, speedy arcade infantry action. They’re both equally amazing experiences in their own unique ways.
Last, but far from least, comes the co-op game, with Special Ops returning after Black Ops’ collection of Zombies maps. Spec Ops has been split in two this time, with half of the experience a series of timed challenge missions and the other the fantastic new Survival mode. Survival is really where the heart of the experience lies now, pitting a pair of players (or just yourself, if you don’t like people) against wave after wave of increasingly tough Russian and ultranationalist forces.
On paper, it does seem like a rather ho-hum addition. In practice, this two-player mode is surprisingly engaging considering its simple nature. Blame that on the constantly escalating insanity of the enemies, who go from bumbling shotgun-wielding wannabe-thugs through to heavily armoured veterans, able to take a knife or three to the gullet before curling up into the foetal position for their final moments on Earth.
Spec Ops has its own separate levelling and progression system too, offering you more options and weapons the more you play. With each kill you slowly fill up your coffers and can use the 30 seconds between rounds to rearm, buy a new airstrike or weapon attachment or stock up on flashbangs before the fight begins again. It’s not a long time to stock-up, though, so thankfully you can quickly delve into a terminal for a quick stock check mid-round as long as your partner can keep you covered.
Friends with perks
Eventually, after enough play, you’ll be able to slice your way through waves until you’re plating turrets and downing pairs of Juggernauts with ease. Suicide bombers will make way for the mind-blowing sight of suicide dogs, come to gnaw at your Adam’s Apple or leave you in ash at the bottom of a crater. Sadly, there’s no instantly hardening resin coating to spray onto the explosive hounds.
Survival is an absolute blast, one that gets better the more you play. The Mission mode challenges are decent, but ones that require two players to even start are the best of the bunch, with one player supporting the other from afar or up high. There simply aren’t enough of these truly co-op encounters, which is why Survival stands out so much: you have to work and communicate as a team to get by, and this is where Modern Warfare 3 excels.
It’s almost a shame that the co-op only supports two players, though, as a four-player team experience would give it that bit more oomph if done well. With so many bullets already flying around at forehead-level, perhaps such a feature wouldn’t work as well for Spec Ops as four-way does for Zombies.
Love is a Battlefield
And there you have it. 12 months of bickering and speculation, and wouldn’t you know it: Modern Warfare 3 is brilliant. It’s derivative, sure. Why would Activision make Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer break a formula that’s worked wonders for years? If previous Call of Duty games haven’t been your cup of tea, this one won’t change your mind.
With barely more than a few slight steps out of place, Modern Warfare 3 packs in a short, breathless campaign with some amazing set-pieces, an awesome co-op mode and arguably the finest competitive multiplayer package in gaming. It’s daft as all hell, but no one makes first-person shooters as effortlessly playable as those running Call of Duty – and there are a lot of them at it right now.
Yet another masterful display from Infinity Ward and friends, Modern Warfare 3 is the complete package. It really does feel like the end: not only does it wraps up its storyline, it also stretches its formula to breaking point. Still amazing unimaginative fun, though.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, from Infinity Ward/Sledgehammer Games and Activision, is out now for Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3 and PC.