First things first, let’s get the logistics out of the way: FTC Endorsement Guides require that I inform you that Activision flew me out to Palm Springs so that I could play through Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s single-player campaign and also get plenty of hands-on time with the full multiplayer mode. Now that the legal pleasantries are done, let’s get down to brass tacks: is Modern Warfare 3 a game you should buy?
Here’s a litmus test for you: did you enjoy the first Modern Warfare and its oh-so-imaginatively named sequel, Modern Warfare 2? Still playing that multiplayer or, if not, have you moved on to the more recent Black Ops? If you answered yes, than good news: Modern Warfare 3 is right up your alley. You probably picked it up at midnight or will be buying it later today. On the other hand, if you’re the type who never understood the appeal of the post-WWII Call of Duty games, is Modern Warfare 3 the entry that will change your mind?
No. No it is not.
It’s not that Modern Warfare 3 is identical to its predecessors; though it certainly plays things on the safer side, it shakes up enough of the basics that players will have to find new class builds that fit their play-styles. but the core action is practically indistinguishable from that of Modern Warfare or Modern Warfare 2, retaining the fast-paced, instant-gratification multiplayer of its progenitors. Let’s step back for a moment, though, and jump to the single-player campaign, the part of every Call of Duty that many players probably don’t know exists.
Oh, but it’s there. I’m very aware of it, having barricaded myself in my room at the Activision review event for the just-shy-of-eight hours it took me to play through the campaign. I did so on Hardened (the difficulty right above normal), and came away with the following: Holy set pieces, Batman! While there isn’t really anything on the scale of Modern Warfare’s Ground Zero nuclear experience, or its sequel’s space station-destroying antics, Modern Warfare 3 follows the traditional formula of moving you along from enemy shooting gallery to set piece back to shooting gallery. So on and so forth straight up through the end of the game, when it suddenly springs quick time events on you for what I’m fairly certain was the first and only part of the game. It was jarring to see a button icon pop up in the center of the screen during what I was sure was a cinematic (I was so told by the fact that my character was moving and I was not pushing on the left stick). There’s nothing wrong with QTEs, but they either need to be apparent enough in the game design that players can reasonably expect them or entirely absent. The set pieces are impressive affairs, and even the enemy alleys have an increased sense of scale, perhaps due to the improved engine chugging away under the game’s hood. In particular, fighting in New York, down Wall Street, while sky-scrapers crumble with smoke both right above you and in the distance is a stunning experience. The stealth sections are somewhat more disappointing, as they’re heavily directed by your squadmates, which kills almost all of the tension they could have had. Stealth isn’t fun when you’re just being told when to move, where to go, and who to kill.
As has been a calling card of Call of Duty stretching back to the original PC game, players take the roles of multiple protagonists upon their journey, which takes them to all of the war-torn continents you’d expect. You’ll fight off a Russian invasion of the United States, visit Paris and Berlin, drop in on warlords in Sierra Leone, and struggle out into eastern Siberia. In doing so, you’ll wear many masks, but though you’ll be a member of the British SAS, a Russian FSO agent, and even a parent on vacation in London, the bulk of your time will be spent alternating between Delta Force operative Derek “Frost” Westbrook and Task Force 141 (disavowed) newcomer “Yuri.” Neither character is particularly developed, and the banter of the Delta Force squad does little to help it compete with the star power of the defunct-but-functioning Task Force 141, which has Soap, Price, and Nikolai to keep players entertained. Besides the personality present in Task Force 141 missions, there’s a deep-seated appeal to playing as an unsanctioned military force, men so driven to complete a task that they’ll do so with or without the approval of their government(s). That said, it also ties into the aspiration of latter day Call of Duty games to shock and unsettle players.
From the first Modern Warfare on, the series has always had at least one moment designed to create a powerful emotional impact in its campaign. In Modern Warfare, this was completely unexpected and played to great effect. Perhaps it was so effective, in part, because Modern Warfare wasn’t yet invested in its own characters’ narratives. While it laid the foundation for the later characterizations of Price and Soap as hardened, sarcastic commandos, it was in Modern Warfare 2 that they became almost legendary figures. This was perhaps best illustrated in an image of Soap standing atop a pile of rubble, firing a flare out of a hole in the roof of a prison as light streams down upon him and Price helps you, the player, to your feet. In the first game, Price and Soap were soldiers simply doing their jobs as effectively as they could. In Modern Warfare 2, their personal dogma seemed to override that. It might be at that point that the series became “over-the-top.” While Modern Warfare 3 doesn’t take its spectacle that far, it is a game that involves the destruction of landmarks, casual brutality toward captured and defenseless villains, and one heavily telegraphed moment clearly designed to evoke the sort of controversial response that “No Russian” did upon Modern Warfare 2’s release. Whether or not it succeeds is something we’ll know in time.
There’s a moment in the story at which it tries to tie everything together, drawing on the most memorable moments of both of its predecessors and linking them to Makarov, as though to better justify the characters’ intense, personal vendetta against him. It also plays as a way of saying, “Hey, remember those awesome controversial moments in our last two games? Here they are again!” I don’t know that it works that well, and it does a little to explain newcomer Yuri’s motivations. (He’s a Russian who wants Makarov dead, so he teams up with the disavowed TF141. There’s a bit more to it, but I won’t spoil that for you). The moment itself comes on the heels of a well-done, emotional sequence. The game has a few of those, times at which you’ll feel sorrow, sympathy, despair, or elation.
Anyway, enough about the campaign. It’s short and the story is a little overly “might makes right,” but it’s a war game. What do you expect? Everyone probably wants to get this game and hop into the improved multiplayer anyway. So, what’s new? Well, the maps, for one. There are sixteen of them, mostly inspired by locations in the campaign. They flow well and are quick to learn, but feel a little more compact than those in Modern Warfare 2. It’s good in that it forces players into direct conflict with one another very quickly, but ends capture-the-flag type matches far too soon.
The maps work very well, though, for the new Kill Confirmed mode, which is one of my favorite additions to the multiplayer. Kill Confirmed strongly encourages a buddy system. If you kill an enemy, a set of dog tags appears over the corpse. These must be collected for the kill to count toward your team’s score. If the enemy is smart enough to buddy up, however, they can collect their fallen teammate’s tags before you do, denying your team the kill. It’s an exciting and interesting game type, depending on more than just twitch reflexes.
The other main additions to multiplayer expand its versatility immensely. The addition of a Support package point-streak makes people like me, who can’t get more than a couple of kills before going down in a hail of gunfire, capable of assisting my team with some powerful abilities, such as an Osprey-guarded care package drop. The Specialist package, on the other hand, will likely be a favorite among the more skilled, since it provides perks in return for kills, increasing one’s potency over the course of the match. It’s balanced by the fact that dying wipes it all away, making it a high-risk, high-reward endeavor.
Further, progression is no longer a function of player level and completed challenges alone. Guns level individually through use, by which they unlock new patterns and, on the functional side, various attachments and proficiencies. These must be unlocked individually for each gun, which does create an issue wherein a player may feel compelled to continue using a weapon that he’s had for a while, since unlocking his favorite accoutrements for a new one would simply take too long. Also, since the secondaries level separately from the primary weapons, they, too, must be used frequently in combat. Your pistol will, undoubtedly, level slower than your assault rifle.
All of this is tracked on Call of Duty Elite, which is integrated directly into Modern Warfare 3 by way of a simple menu option. There are also mobile and web-based versions of the service, which allows you to study maps (even how those maps are affected by various game modes) and make changes to your custom classes that can be “pushed” to the console. It also institutes a full-on clan system. Worth noting: while one could easily hop from MW3 into Elite, the inverse was not yet possible. One had to exit to the dashboard and reload the game. Elite offers a lot in the way of information, and tons of player choice on how to view and interpret that information, but it will best serve those who are serious about their multiplayer experience, for whom a term like “K/D Ratio” means life or death.
If gaining experience and ranking up isn’t your main concern, Modern Warfare 3 also offers an expanded version of private match, with new gametypes to build on such as Infection, which begins with a team of soldiers taking on a “zombie” juggernaut (generally just armed with a riot shield) and usually culminates in a single survivor desperately fleeing from a horde of them. Between this and Gun Game, private match was some of the most fun I had with Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer. The absolute best experience I had with another player, however, was Spec Ops mode.
I’m a sucker for cooperative play, and Spec Ops offers sixteen two-player missions that vaguely connect to the main campaign. They’re largely timed affairs, and at least one of them is imaginative enough to put you in the bad guys’ shoes for a few minutes. The best missions, though, either provide an asymmetrical experience, such as one player disarming IEDs in a Juggernaut suit while another snipes enemies and mans a Predator drone, or engage the players in free-form stealth. Spec Ops’ take on stealth is very fast-paced and engaging. It feels badass—it being incredibly satisfying to quickly pop an enemy in the head with a silenced pistol shot and impale his friend before he hits the ground. Completing missions garners experience, and one levels up separately in Spec Ops mode from the main multiplayer experience. While this has no functional effect on the missions themselves, it’s absolutely key to the Spec Ops Survival mode, wherein level-based unlocks are available for purchase using money one gains by defending themselves from wave after wave of enemies. The survival maps are appropriately compact, and seemed to be based on the multiplayer levels, soon filling with enemies. It was a fun diversion, but I found myself wishing that they’d used the time spent balancing out the survival maps to create more Spec Ops missions. Or maybe an entire Spec Ops campaign, full of asymmetrical moments organically chained together.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 largely feels like an iterative title. Its campaign has strayed from its roots as a believable war story to a personal tale of vendetta with a Michael Bay-esque cinematic flair. The core shooting action is very much the same, and feels satisfying in multiplayer, but oftentimes a bit anemic in campaign, when enemies seem to come in endless waves, serving as mere chum between you and your objective. The changes to Killstreaks feel like a tremendous positive, better balancing the game for team play, but the weapon leveling system seems a little gratuitous, with a lot of potential to completely lock out those who simply want to pop in and have some fun into the starting weapons. Spec Ops is brilliant, but leaves a gamer wanting more, and survival isn’t something I would play more than a handful of times. This isn’t to say that Modern Warfare 3 is at all a bad game—it’s an attractive and polished effort with tight controls, addictive multiplayer, and the sense that one is truly on a battlefield, rather than carrying on a miniature war behind the scenes. It is, in fact, an extremely high-quality, well polished, and all-around good game.
It’s just very much expected.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.6 Graphics
While the new engine doesn’t result in a complete visual overhaul, the locales are strikingly represented and give an incredible sense of place. 4.8 Control
Has there ever been anything to complain about with Modern Warfare’s controls? Natural and smooth. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
It sounds like a battlefield. I never really noticed the music, however, and might have preferred meatier (if less realistic) sound effects for the kills. 3.8 Play Value
This will depend entirely on how much the multiplayer means to you. The campaign is worth playing once, if you care, and the Spec Ops missions are a blast, but very short. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best