|System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii, DS|
|Dev: Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games|
|Release: November 8, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language|
by Robert VerBruggen
For PC owners, as far as Holiday Season 2011 is concerned, the bar for first-person shooters has been set: On October 25, DICE and EA pulled the trigger on Battlefield 3, which was widely praised for its built-for-PC graphics and fine-tuned multiplayer, but condemned for its tacked-on single-player mode and horrendous server problems at launch.
Now that Activision's Modern Warfare 3 is with us, does it clear that bar, sail high above it, or trip over it? It depends on what, exactly, you want out of an FPS.
Battlefield 3 nailed everything that it really tried to do—pushing modern computers to their limit, creating huge multiplayer battles with destructive environments, etc.—and if you want those things, Modern Warfare 3 is not your title. For example, we've known since the earliest trailers that Battlefield 3 would be the better-looking PC game, and that Modern Warfare 3 would still be creaking along on Infinity Ward's engine—which, despite constant adjustments over the last half-decade, hasn't kept at the front of the pack, especially on PCs. Even on a high-end computer, Modern Warfare just looks like a decent console title, albeit one with its moments of graphical brilliance. However, there are things that MW3 does that Battlefield doesn't even attempt, and in these areas, Activision's product wins out.
One thing I should say up front: If you want to know what Modern Warfare 3 is like, the first thing you should do is play Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops. The publisher and its developers have a cash cow on their hands, and until the franchise stops bringing in countless millions every November, they aren't going to change the formula too dramatically. Sorry, Metacritic customer reviewers—it just ain't gonna happen. So, if it would take more than a brief campaign, some special-ops missions, some new multiplayer modes, and some changes to the killstreak system to make the Call of Duty experience worth yet another $60 to you, hold off on MW3 until the price comes down.
But while they represent only a marginal improvement, those tweaks inch the Modern Warfare franchise a little closer to perfection, making this one of the best shooter experiences on the market.
One major advantage that Modern Warfare 3 boasts over the competition is its campaign. While the experience lasts a mere six hours and hews closely to the CoD formula, it feels more like a roller-coaster ride, and less like a trip to work on the subway, than Battlefield 3's single-player mode. All the familiar CoD flaws return—it's completely linear, the enemy A.I. isn't exactly groundbreaking, the storytelling won't win any awards, and constantly jumping from character to character keeps you from developing an attachment to any of them—but you're faced with a steadily changing set of tasks to accomplish.
You'll command Predator drone strikes, creep up on an enemy submarine underwater, fight through a crashing plane, ride through subway tunnels in the back of a pickup truck trying to gun down bad guys who've taken over a train, man turrets, steer vehicles through dangerous obstacle courses, and handle a good variety of weapons. You'll do all this around some of the world's most famous locations, including the New York Stock Exchange and the Eiffel Tower, to a cacophony of frightening gunshots and epic music. Amidst all the excitement, you might not even notice that the plot, featuring Modern Warfare mainstays Soap, Price, and Makarov, doesn't hold together particularly well and is intentionally ridiculous in places.
MW3 also offers great opportunities for co-op in its Spec Ops missions and survival mode. This will be a bigger deal to console players (who can play locally with friends in addition to playing online), but this is a bonus for those who like taking on missions with a human ally. The Special Ops missions are also playable solo, if that's your thing.
Which brings us to competitive multiplayer, the area in which Battlefield 3 is hardest to beat. Whereas BF3 pushed the envelope with huge environments, MW3 plays it safe, recreating the basic gameplay experience of the last few Call of Duty games in the sixteen new maps. The one significant advantage MW3 has over BF3 is that it runs more smoothly—the aiming feels a little more natural, and the developers put more emphasis on keeping a high and steady frame rate, which is helpful in twitchy contests. Otherwise, it's different rather than better: With a lower number of players in each match, MW3 focuses on quick battles between small teams, which forces players to adopt different tactics.