Regardless of your particular stance on the whole Call of Duty debate, and whether or not you’re a fan of the series, there’s no denying the epic following the licence has. As the most played game on Xbox Live, with yearly iterations easily lasting until the next, annual outing, it’s the title to watch in the industry, and when CoD sales start to fall off, Activision needs to start worrying, as does the game industry as a whole.
Still, that doesn’t look like happening anytime soon, and even with competition from the other heavyweight military shooter, Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3 is sure to outsell EA’s effort by several to one. You’d be a fool to bet against it. Of course, the fact that the console version of Battlefield 3 is, by all reports, a fully stuffed turkey, there’s even more reason for Activision to celebrate Christmas early.
There’s more to a game than a name though, and the CoD lineage will surely be tested thanks to ravenous hype surrounding the third MW release, and the many controversial issues that hit Activision, and the now altered Infinity Ward. Can what’s left of the team still knock out the premier CoD experience, or will the mantle now pass to Treyarch?
The more things change…
Picking up right where Modern Warfare 2 left off, the third outing takes no time in thrusting you into a typically OTT and scripted opening act, which would probably cause Michael Bay to have a touser-related accident.
Following the destabilising events of the last game, global issues are a little more heated than the currency and employment issues we face in the real world. In Modern Warfare 3‘s reality the world is on the brink of World War 3, and New York is under attack by Russian forces (does that city ever catch a break?).
As a US Army Delta Force operative, you’re immediately in the thick of it, and before you can blink, choppers are crashing, building are being blown up, submarines are jumping out of the water and missiles are flung around with gay abandon. All of this is in the first 30 minutes or so, leaving you with little doubt that MW3 is going for the jugular when it comes to spectacle. Despite this, though, I struggled to muster any form of emotion. Even with the immense level of action and impressive scripted moments, I simply sat there, going through the motions.
You see, my immediate thought here is that Call of Duty is back, and as polished, and silky smooth as ever. The controls are tighter than a whale’s proverbial, the visuals are great, the audio direction is good and the general feel is one of pure quality. There’s no faulting the game in this respect.
The problem is that it’s CoD and it’s all very predictable and trite. The devs have done exactly what people expected and little more. Sure, the story and the situations you’re put in are all great, and this is essentially popcorn gaming at its finest, even if there’s far too much on rails action than I care for, but it’s just been done too many times before in my opinion, and the obvious desperation to better last year’s outing and to try and crowbar some audience reaction into the mix (you’ll know which section I’m hinting at when you see it) simply has the opposite effect. This is a far cry from the genuinely emotion stirring events of CoD4.
Deaths are better with friends
Now, don’t go flaming me just yet. As any hardcore CoD fan will tell you, this isn’t about the campaign anyway, the real essence of CoD lies in the multiplayer and online functions. Thankfully, although oddly reserved, the multiplayer has once again delivered, and this is the real reason for fork out the readies.
There are two modes here, the usual competitive section, and the co-op mode, which make a welcome return, albeit in an enhanced state.
Competitive multiplayer is still the meat of this particular meal, and what we have this year is a more refined and balanced setup that attempts to cater for all comers without resorting to cheap tactics and match ruining support items. Some of Modern Warfare 2‘s more controversial perks have been removed in order to better balance things out and the levelling system has been revamped.
Weapons now level up as you use them, alongside your own rank, and when you gain weapon levels you’ll acquire extra upgrades, such as scopes and silencers, along with perk-like bonuses, such as less recoil or deeper penetration into cover.
Of particular note, though, is the new ‘pointstreak’ system. Reworking the usual killstreak, this doesn’t simply rely on multiple kills per life, and to build it up you can also achieve objectives such as planting a bomb or capturing a flag. This is a great step, and one that should have a positive effect on the proceedings. If you’re not as good at gaining multiple kills for example, there’s no more ways to earn those all-important streak rewards, making the game more accessible for more people while still nurturing skilful play.
Speaking of rewards, these are also changed, and are now found in three ‘strike packages’. These include Assault, Support and Specialist. Assault and Support are similar to previous outings when it comes to items, simply splitting familiar rewards into role-esque camps. Assault will yield air strikes, choppers and so on, whilst Support will grant access to UAVs and defensive hardware. There are new items within these groups however, such as a mini remote control recon chopper that can blind foes, and there are plenty of familiar favourites.
The most interesting strike package, however, is Specialist. This is used to grant players extra perks after every second consecutive kill, and so means that players can have multiple perks above and beyond the standard allotment of three. Although not as immediately deadly as an air strike, this can be a truly powerful strike to go for as you can become a very formidable opponent once you’re sporting a whole collection of perks.
Dogs of war
The game modes on offer include the usual assortment of favourites, such as deathmatches, domination, seek and destroy, hardcore and so on, but there are a couple of new modes thrown in. Team Defender is a capture the flag variant that tasks you with keeping hold of a flag to earn points, and Kill Confirmed is similar to Halo Reach‘s Headhunter mode, in that you have to pick up your enemy’s dog tags after killing them to earn a kill. You don’t have to deposit these anywhere, as in Headhunter, but you can deny kills if you grab a team mate’s dog tags before the opposition (or your own if you’re quick enough).
There are a few other games modes for private matches too, including One in the chamber, where more kills earn more ammo, Team Juggernaut, in which you play along side an AI juggernaut, and Infection, where you kill enemies to turn them onto your side. You can also tailor your own matches thanks to a custom rules option, which is sure to add even more longevity to a game that, let’s be honest, needs little help in that department anyway.
It’s quite simply a masterful competitive multiplayer package, and although it doesn’t exactly evolve the experience a great deal, and is still prone to gung-ho, lone wolf play, the refinements work towards enhancing the online component. It doesn’t end there, though.
Hoarding it in
The much lauded Spec Ops mode is back in the co-op component, and once again this tasks players with challenging situation to overcome. This will require careful teamwork and is a mode that’s no doubt going to be just as popular as previous offerings.
Alongside this is the Horde/Zombie-style Survival mode. Played either solo or co-op, this sees you trying to survive wave after wave of increasingly difficult opposition. As you earn kills you’re given money that can be used to buy better weapons and support. It may sound like a simple duplication of modes seen previously in the series, and in almost every other FPS of late, and to be truthful, it is, but it plays well and is just one more reason to keep the disc on your Xbox.
World at war
As I said at the top of the review, MW3 is going to sell, and sell a lot. It really doesn’t matter what I say, or what other reviews have to report, it’s a guaranteed hit. Luckily, this is no bad thing as the game is a very impressive outing that has more than enough content to ensure you get your money’s worth.
The whole Call of Duty Elite system is something that’ll no doubt causes arguments in forums throughout the Internet, but even without the extra map packs, you’re not going to get bored anytime soon.
Now, you’ve probably already seen the score at the bottom of the page and are wondering why I’ve not given it five out of five, especially as the game sounds so good. Well, simply put, and as I also stated before, it’s just all so familiar. Yes there’s a couple of refinements and a couple of new modes, but the core combat is just a little too similar for a game that’s in it’s third iteration, and that’s not including the various other non-Infinity CoD releases.
With the likes of Battlefield offering more tactical, wide-open combat, and others offering far larger online skirmishes, CoD is risking stagnation. It’s managed to hold up for another year, but I strongly feel that Infinity Ward really needs to come up with a major evolution to keep the series going, lest it eventually suffer that same fate as Guitar Hero.
Still, loyal CoD fans are probably already into several prestige levels and are loving every minute of it, and for now, Call of Duty remains the king of the online FPS world. Sorry EA, but Activision has won this one for me.
You can rent or buy Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 at Blockbuster.co.uk.