Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Review
Let me see…how best to introduce the biggest video game since sliced bread? I’m going strictly by the numbers here, so don’t jump down my throat, veteran hardcore gamers. Um…I really can’t come up with a fantastic introduction; all of you know the franchise’s back story, and everybody knows how Call of Duty plays. It’s a first-person shooter. It has a story to play through and multiplayer. That’s the simplified version, of course; now, onto the elaboration, which I know is essential.
While it’s certainly true that CoD desperately needs a new engine, it’s amazing how much mileage the Activision studios have gotten out of it. Despite some of the same old set pieces, what feel suspiciously like reused environments, and some less-than-impressive textures, Modern Warfare 3 still manages to immerse you in a fast-paced warzone that assaults the senses at every turn. Loaded with hectic action from top to bottom, the graphical presentation keeps up with the relentless style, as 60 frames per second is a definite bonus and every explosion makes your head pound.
Which brings us to the audio; the Modern Warfare series has always had fantastic sound, which is why the original title earned our Best Sound award back in 2007. The gunshots, cries on the battlefield, and ambient effects are the highlight of this experience, especially in regards to the campaign. The soundtrack hits you right between the eyes as well, and the entire chaotic virtual world that you inhabit continues to reverberate. I don’t think the voice performances are anything special but man, those effects…
Okay, the campaign— yes, it’s only about 5-6 hours long, but that shouldn’t come as any surprise, especially after MW2 came in at about 4-5. It’s true that last year’s Black Ops fell into the 7-hour range and World at War was even longer, but those were Treyarch productions. When it comes to Infinity Ward, the goals are clear: fast, furious, and in-your face for five or six tumultuous hours of entertainment. Then, because that’s merely a warm-up, it’s on to the most important element: multiplayer.
As some of you already know, the campaign in MW3 is a direct sequel to its predecessor. Soap and Price are back again, but they’re a little banged up and Makarov hasn’t been stopped. You’ll once again attempt to track him down in this epic military hunt that crosses multiple countries, which means you’ll be enjoying quite a few distinct vistas and locales. You’ll be brawling everywhere from New York to Paris and although some may rain on CoD’s parade, the gameplay diversity really keeps things satisfying and refreshing.
It’s not just about running and gunning. The pace never seems to slacken (at least, not for very long), as you’ll be calling in air support, bouncing along in vehicles as explosions rip the landscape to shreds all around you, and engaging in pitched battles in cramped spots that will put your pulse through the damn roof. The story still seems a little…off, I guess, and there’s a whole lot more flash than substance, but the widespread appeal of that well-implemented flash is undeniable.
The biggest problem with the campaign remains its bizarre gameplay glitches that include infinitely spawning foes, and erratic AI that can be appropriately intelligent one second and completely brain-dead the next. Still, I don’t think the AI is any worse than in Battlefield 3; if anything, it’s more dynamic and in some ways, even more challenging. I still think more can be done to add emotional weight to the storyline but hey, I know they require mainstream appeal for ultimate success.
The good news is that if you’re left wanting more after the campaign and you’re not quite ready for multiplayer, you can tackle most of the Spec Ops missions solo. Spec Ops debuted in MW2 and was a great success; it has returned for MW3 and adds flavor and variety to a pretty straightforward albeit rewarding campaign. Not every Spec Ops mission is as frenetic as the single-player action, and we get different types of teamwork options, which is another plus.
Then there’s the multiplayer. If you’re one of the uninitiated, playing for about an hour will initiate you; the pace is ridiculous and with 16 new maps, there’s lots to see and learn. The leveling system works well, there’s a boatload of rewards and in general, the adrenaline rush never stops and you’re always striving to reach the next goal. As you might expect, leveling up unlocks new weapons and perks (for both you and your weapons), so you can customize your play style. You really aren’t forced into any mold.
Perhaps the two biggest upgrades involve the Strike Packages and a couple new modes. The more kills you get, the more skills you unlock in Strike Packages, but IW goes beyond that; here’s where even more customization comes into play: Let’s say you’re not as focused on your KDR (Kill-to-Death ratio, n00b). Maybe you aren’t an offensive dynamo. Well, use the Support Strike, where your kills will remain even if you die. Some may call it cheap, but how else can the new players gain a foothold? It makes them feel better about themselves.
But beyond the sappy crap, you still have to deal with the rampant immaturity that almost seems exclusive to CoD these days. I know you find it everywhere, but with MW3, it’s like every 9-year-old and wife-beating racist on earth has the game. You just have to take solace in the scope and breadth of the multiplayer, which outstrips any other shooter available. Yes, I’d say that even includes Battlefield 3, although I maintain that I love the vehicle element in DICE’s production.
Kill Confirmed quickly turned into one of my favorite modes, just because it really does require a more strategic, team-oriented approach. Honestly, I get a little tired of the all-for-one approach in CoD’s multiplayer, but with Kill Confirmed, you had best work together for the best results. When someone dies, they drop a dog tag but in order to get points, a member of the opposing team has to snag that tag. If an ally picks up his buddy’s tag before the enemy gets to it, that’s like a big ol’ block. De-nied. …not sure why I find that so amusing.
The bottom line is that despite my aversion to multiplayer, it isn’t difficult to see why such a game is so massively popular. Sure, it has a lot to do with marketing and the masses flocking to anything that’s familiar, but people keep playing these games throughout the year for a reason. Infinity Ward obviously put a ton of effort into the multiplayer, as the depth, addictiveness, full-on customization, and a little nod towards teamwork makes MW3 a beast in the world of online gaming.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is familiar but hardly boring. The control remains top-notch, the audio is excellent, the developers should be commended for squeezing every last drop out of that engine, and the entertainment level remains high throughout. The campaign is too short (no surprise there), the AI is too erratic (and weird things can still happen when playing), and the story is a little uninspired. But when it comes to over-the-top thrills and plenty of “oh good goddamn” moments, the campaign brings the heat.
Spec Ops adds some variety, too, and in the end, it all comes back to the multiplayer, which is stellar. No two ways about it. So love it, hate it, feel indifferent, whatever…MW3 does what’s expected of it and always tries to jack our heart rates. Take it for what it is.
The Good: Great sound. Relentless, satisfying campaign. Control is usually spot-on. Various, well-designed environments. Spec Ops is a definite boon. Multiplayer is highly customizable, more accessible, and slightly more varied…it’s also awesome.
The Bad: Campign is too short. Engine needs an upgrade. Too much of a “been there, done that” feeling overall.
The Ugly: “These guys aren’t gonna stop coming, are they? …nope. Great.”
11/8/2011 Ben Dutka