Reviews

Modern Warfare 3 Review. Warfare has never felt so familiar.

Yeah, it’s that time of the year again. The gaming behemoth that is the Call of Duty series has reared it’s head and spat out another iteration for the gaming world to pour over and spend their every waking moment on. With such fierce competition surrounding it and the expectations of millions to live up to, can Infinity Ward deliver a game that pleases the masses yet sustain an identity for itself? The answer is yes and no.

Who would have thought that the Call of Duty franchise, which was always popular but not quite in the record-breaking way it is now, would become the phenomenon that it is? It all changed when Call of Duty 4 was released back in 2007; a game that changed the entire setting, formula and universe of the series and in turn, kick-started the thundering path that it is on now. Since then, yearly releases have been delivered, from multiple developers, but it always seems that the Modern Warfare games are the ones that bring the most amount of attention. Modern Warfare 3 does not deviate from this pattern, and after having recently become the best-selling entertainment launch of all time (beating it’s predecessor, Black Ops), it’s easy to see why Activision are always so eager to churn out another title. It just so happens that their latest entry brings a sort of resolution to the Modern Warfare chain of games.

The story kicks off directly after the events that brought Modern Warfare 2 to a close. Russia is at war with the entire western civilisation due to the troublemaking caused by Vladamir Makarov, the game’s main villain throughout the campaign. The increased scale of the war, which is being billed as World War 3 (though you probably already guessed that from the trailers), means that you get to encounter skirmishes at different locations across the globe. From buildings being toppled and submarines being blown up in New York, to chemical gas attacks and train chases in London and witnessing the fall of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. London, in particular, is realised quite well and is easily discernible from the rest of the environments. Hopping from one location to the next gives you the necessary feeling that would be required from a war of this magnitude, and it is all realised in glorious, action packed levels.

As you would expect from a Call of Duty game, the campaign is full of action-packed, cinematic levels that leave you gasping for breath at the end of them. A particular highlight comes from a level that takes place on a plane carrying the Russian president, which is then highjacked by enemy forces. You are tossed, thrown and flung across the interior whilst still shooting your foes, before crash landing and having to fight your way through waves of enemies, all whilst dazed and disorientated. It really is quite remarkable how Infinity Ward manages to pull off situations like this and still manage to surprise you when the next sequence comes up. On the downside, the sheer number of moments like the one described now can sometimes make you feel hungry for a moment to breathe, when you’re not defying the laws of physics and cheating death by a mere millimetre. If you never liked them in previous games, your preferences aren’t going to change with this one.

Just as the cinematic sequences are similar to previous Modern Warfare games, there are many other aspects of this campaign that feel all too familiar from years gone by. The two most recognisable faces, Soap and Price, are back to rid the world of another terrorist scumbag and they do so on the same linear set pieces that you’ve experienced before. It would be nice, every once in a while, to be able to actually veer off the given path and perhaps explore a little bit of the surroundings, or to try and reach the objective in another way. You can’t do any of that in this game, just as you couldn’t in previous CoD games, and it is extremely frustrating. It literally feels like you’re placed on a long corridor and told to walk down it with no questions asked. Add to that the awful amount of hand-holding that takes place and you’d be forgiven for thinking the developers take you for an imbecile who can’t manage anything without some help. It’s pretty obvious that you have to follow Captain Fancy-name in front of you, yet the game sees otherwise and gives you hints to tell you so. It’s not surprising that it’s this way again, just as it wasn’t the last time, but it doesn’t make it any less of an annoyance that the developers don’t even attempt to treat their players like they have a shred of intelligence.

Bringing things back to a more pleasant point; the story, this time around, feels much more involving and well written compared to before, if a little predictable in places. Black Ops tried a different, more ‘personal’ approach but it never reached the dizzy heights that Modern Warfare 3 achieves. The ending, which is quite fabulous by the way, brings a conclusion to the Modern Warfare series, but it is unclear whether they will continue in the same universe with a different set of characters, or a new setting entirely. From a personal viewpoint, it would be nice for Infinity Ward (and Sledgehammer games, if they are brought back on board) to come back with a new setting to explore and develop rather than recycling what they have now. There are times during Modern Warfare 3 that the characters and the action sequences, that could almost be ripped straight out of a Hollywood movie, feel old and tired and deserving of a break. It’s not entirely surprising given that this is the third entry in this particular vein of the franchise and a certain amount of praise has to be given to Infinity Ward for managing to make this game still interesting in its third outing, but the time has come for a change and there is no better time than now. 

There is very little doubt that most people buy Call of Duty games not for the single-player, but for the multiplayer. Well, that and Spec-Ops, the returning set of co-op missions that were introduced with Modern Warfare 2. For their grand return, they have come back with matchmaking, another set of addictive and challenging levels and a new friend that goes by the name of Survival. Spec-Ops was received rather well in MW2 and there is no doubt that it will be again. In some ways, Spec-Ops is the best part of this package for multiple reasons. Yes, the co-op missions, that are ripped from parts of the single-player campaign, are just as fantastic as before and even more so now that you can play them with anybody, regardless of whether you’re friends with them or if they’re complete strangers, but the biggest attraction this time around, however, is undoubtedly the Survival mode.

Survival is what you might have guessed; you and a friend have to stay alive through consecutive waves of gun-toting enemies and even dogs strapped with C4. The waves start off easy but get progressively harder as you go along making it a very fun, challenging part of the package. This all takes place on the existing multiplayer maps so if you’re already familiar with the layout of them, you won’t have any problems in that department. By now, you’re probably already drawing parallels with the zombie mode from Treyarch’s offerings and it’s no surprise that you are. This is most certainly Infinity Ward’s version of the insanely popular mode and although they sound the same, they play completely differently. For a start, in survival, your foes actually shoot back and are fully capable of blowing you to smithereens for your troubles rather than eating your face off, or deploying Juggernaut-suited monsters to infiltrate your camp spot and obliterate you. Not to mention the fact that Survival has it’s own ranking system separate from the multiplayer, so if you want those higher-tiered assault rifles, you’ll have to keep playing and ranking up.

The inclusion of the regular Spec-Ops missions, alone, would’ve been enough to appease the fans of that particular partition of the game, but the added bonus of Survival really adds to the offering. It doesn’t quite reach the benchmark that zombies has continuously set in World at War and Black Ops, but it is certainly unique enough and enjoyable enough to reach those levels over time. Having it take place on the existing multiplayer maps means that Survival lacks any kind of depth to it, unlike the zombie mode where each map had its own little secrets and story teasers to be discovered. Regardless, it most definitely adds many more hours of gameplay on to what you would normally get from the game and it’s a very welcome new feature to Modern Warfare 3, and is sure to return for future Infinity Ward iterations. 

Just as Modern Warfare 3 looks similar to its younger brother, it also plays just as well. The control layout is identical to each previous game and there really would be no need to change it. Despite it’s numerous other flaws, Call of Duty has always been a franchise that prides itself on its easy-to-learn controls and accessibility of them. It is no different here, and the common saying of ‘Don’t fix what isn’t broken’ comes into play. One of the things that sets Call of Duty apart from its competitors is it’s quick, snappy character movements and how sharp and precise your every action is. It has, and always will be, one of the best things about the series and Modern Warfare 3 demonstrates this yet again. It may be that having such a fluid system is what consistently brings in the players year after year, and in the process, decimates the competition. It’s biggest competitor, Battlefield 3, opts for a slower approach and although it does it well, some people just prefer to be able to run around the map rapidly and quickly pop lead into anything that isn’t standing still before sprinting off again.

Of course, having such a system isn’t going to be good for everybody and if you suffer from particularly bad reflexes, or you are poor at aiming, you will be wiped off the map in the multiplayer. It is not so bad in the single-player as the enemies you are facing are not remotely as threatening, so you have more of a chance, but once you come face to face with other players who are running marathons and capping you the moment they see you, you’re going to be getting nowhere.

Speaking of the multiplayer; it is undoubtedly the biggest pulling force when it comes to a Call of Duty game, and Modern Warfare 3 is no exception to that rule. The frantic, twitch-shooting is back. The guns are back. The perks and killstreaks are back. The multiplayer experience that you are used to is back in its entirety, with several improvements and changes along the way. For a series that has a new entry released every year, having a multiplayer that can sustain itself for a year and possibly beyond is crucial, and Infinity Ward have succeeded yet again, regardless of how flawed and tired it is. 

One of the first things you will notice when you play the multiplayer is the fact that there seems to be a bigger sense of balance compared to Infinity Ward’s last attempt. It isn’t a particularly big achievement to have improved on awful, but it is still that nonetheless. There is more recoil on some of the weapons than what was present before and although there are still a few that you could construe as over-powered (type 95, anyone?), the gun selection for this year is robust and varied. You have your usual selection of assault rifles, submachine guns and light machine guns, and shotguns now return to be primary weapons as they always should be. The shotguns are bordering on useless, however, but on the whole, there should be a gun here for everybody’s needs and preferred style of play. If you want to add attachments to your weapons, you have to use it continuously to rank up the weapon itself – a feature entirely new to the series. The system works very well and fits in perfectly with everything else and it almost makes you wonder just how something like this didn’t appear earlier than now.

Also new to the series are weapon proficiencies – a series of unlockable ‘perks’ that reduce the recoil on your gun, or make the bullets impact through walls harder etc. Again, it’s a great new addition to the series and just like the weapon ranking, it is a wonder how it took this long to make an appearance. Infinity Ward have stated numerous times that they wanted Modern Warfare 3 to be more focused on gun on gun gameplay, and with new additions like this to promote pure gun based play, it’s clear that that was their intended goal. Unfortunately, MW3 still suffers from some of the same problems as its predecessor. 

One of the biggest causes of imbalance in Modern Warfare 2 were the incessant, over-powered and downright annoying killstreaks. I’m sure any avid player of the game will remember being utterly obliterated by a missile from the sky, or a seemingly impervious helicopter raining hell upon you as you spawn. Whilst MW3 is nowhere near as bad as back then, it does feel like the killstreaks can easily turn the tide of a battle. They have been divided into two ‘strike packages’ this time around: an assault package and a support package, and also a specialist package but that contains perks in place of streaks. The assault package consists of your typical predator missiles and helicopters whilst the support package contains more team based streaks, such as an EMP and ballistic vests to supply your team. Support streaks do not reset upon death, making them a preferred choice to a player who gets killed at every given opportunity. Sadly, the killstreaks do have the potential to dominate a match every now and then, particularly the Osprey gunner, which is basically another name for the infamous chopper gunner from MW2. I think we’re well beyond the days of only having a 3-5-7 set of killstreaks but the reason why they worked in the CoD games of old was because they were simply rewards for playing good, and were easily circumvented, instead of being weapons of mass destruction.

Once again, Modern Warfare 3 delivers a vast number of game-modes for you to play on for months on end. The usual favourites return, such as team deathmatch, domination and headquarters, plus a fantastic new addition called Kill Confirmed. In this mode, you have to pick up a dog-tag that is dropped by an enemy once you kill them, and you also drop one when you are killed. In a way, it discourages camping as you will not lead your team to victory unless you collect their tags, which you’re only going to do if you move about the map. This mode is quite possibly one of the best that there is in the game, and it would be a shame if it did not return for future iterations. All of these frantic game modes take place on a brand new set of 16 multiplayer maps, and whilst some of them are fantastic creations, others are bordering on abysmal. 

Of the 16 new maps in this game, around 60% of them are worthwhile creations, whilst the others remain severely flawed. There are some great maps (Underground, Resistance, Outpost), some ok-ish maps (Village, Hardhat, Fallen) and some awful maps (Interchange). Although the map selection doesn’t seem too brilliant at first glance, it is quite unfair to judge them this early on as a map that seems great at first can easily become horrible as time goes by and vice versa. It is unlikely that a map like Interchange, however, is going to suddenly become a fan favourite. It is close to being one of the worst maps in Call of Duty history and seems to come up in rotation quite often, too. A problem, for me at least, that seems to be prevalent in Modern Warfare 3 is that you barely get time to breathe on these maps. You’re never more than a few seconds away from the action and whilst that may sound like Christmas has come early to some people, it means that you hardly get time to recuperate and plan a strategy before Speedy Gonzalez comes zipping around the corner and puts you all down on the ground. It could be the spawn system or it could just be the way the maps are designed, but ‘something’ seems different to previous CoD games.

For this iteration in the series, a big new feature has arrived going by the name of Call of Duty: Elite – a social network/stat tracking system that lets you compete in leaderboards, form clans, check your stats and take your multiplayer experience out of the game. It’s a free service and does not affect the multiplayer in any way, although there is a paid subscription that you can buy but apart from offering you access to future map packs and an Elite TV service, you’re going to get the bulk of what’s on offer without spending a penny. Regardless of what you think of the service, few people have had a chance to form an opinion on it given that since launch day, it has either not worked at all or run at such a sub-optimal performance that it may as well not have worked. The idea behind Elite is quite good and considering you get most of its features for free, it’s a decent part of the package but unless you really want the TV content that it will offer and early-ish access to the map packs, it is much more worth it to simply stick with the free version. It isn’t going to be going anywhere soon so you can certainly expect to see it in the future, and hopefully with some degree of integration with the actual game instead of having to exit out and enter the ‘app’. 

One of the biggest problems that plagues the MW3 multiplayer, and it may not necessarily be an issue for everybody, is that it really does look and feel so much like Modern Warfare 2. MW2 looked and played perfectly fine so in that regard, it’s not an issue, but it makes it so that the game struggles to find an identity for itself. All Call of Duty games since CoD4 have managed to have their own identity in one way or the other, but Modern Warfare 3 is so similar to it’s sibling that, at times, it feels more like a very large add-on rather than a new game entirely. A very good add-on in all respects, and if it were a piece of DLC it would have to be one of the finest on offer, but the simple things such as the UI make it difficult to separate them from each other. With each game outselling the one before it and raking in the profits for Activision, you can understand why they wouldn’t want to mess about with a formula that has given them one of the most popular and most-played franchises in the industry, but at this point in time, the series is certainly beginning to show its age.

As mentioned just now, Modern Warfare 3 looks almost identical to MW2 in the graphical department, and regardless of this, it looks fantastic. Explosions from grenades and various vehicles colliding with the Earth in the campaign (of which there are many) all come alive. There are some instances in the game where the lighting looks just a little better than MW2, but on the whole, there isn’t really a lot to talk about as you’ve seen it all before. If, by some minor miracle, you have avoided the Call of Duty series until now, you can be assured that where Modern Warfare 3 falls short in other departments, graphically, it is top of the range. You shouldn’t expect it to have the best graphics in the business, but you won’t be getting anything below average, either. 

Another area where Modern Warfare 3 shines is in the sound department. Gone are the pea-shooter sounds of Black Ops and filling their place are weighty, bombastic gun sounds that make the guns sound just like you would expect. Just like in MW2, the voice acting in this game is both recognisable and fantastic. The voice actors that play the parts of Soap and Price, Kevin McKidd and Billy Murray respectively, return to give their characters another ride and are joined by another solid ensemble cast. There really are no problems in this department that I have noticed and there likely won’t be in future. The Modern Warfare games always seem to be populated by characters that are more recognisable and liked than the Treyarch set of games. Quite why this is, is unclear, but I do believe one of the reasons is the actors they get to play the roles. Billy Murray’s voice is synonymous with that of his character, for example. 

So, after all this and that, the question still remains: is Modern Warfare 3 worth buying? The answer depends on you, alone. If you’ve enjoyed all Call of Duty releases in recent years, then you’re going to love this one. If you have never liked the series, you’ll hate it. Modern Warfare 3 has a certain style of gameplay that you can’t really find elsewhere. Others have tried to replicate it; none can. There isn’t a definitive answer for you, in my opinion.

Modern Warfare 3 is a good game, in many respects, but this entry only serves to show how tired and repetitive the franchise has slowly become. The quick, fast-paced action was innovative and enthralling when we saw it for the first time, but four years later, it struggles to retain that feeling and simply feels like another gear in the Call of Duty machine. Ignoring this, MW3 is a solid purchase with many hours of content waiting to be played through, and has a multiplayer that is undoubtedly going to last for many years. Put simply: Modern Warfare 3 is an above average game that you’ll either love, or hate. 

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