Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Genre: First-person Shooter
Developer: Infinity Ward/Sledgehammer Games/Raven Software
Release Date: 11/08/11
Another year, another Call of Duty title, so goes the legacy of the franchise. After Infinity Ward’s epic Modern Warfare 2 and the amazing response that followed, Treyarch followed last year with Black Ops, a game that was largely considered pretty good but has been judged by the majority as equal to or worse than Modern Warfare 2. To say, then, that Modern Warfare 3 was a hotly anticipated title for a good number of people would be an understatement for a number of reasons. Not that there haven’t been some hiccups leading up to this point, of course; the legal issues surrounding Activision dismissing key members of Infinity Ward, the subsequent departure of half of the Infinity Ward team, the announcement of and confusion surrounding Call of Duty: Elite, and the launch of competing product Battlefield 3 by Electronic Arts weeks before the launch of Modern Warfare 3 all obviously hurt to different degrees. It also didn’t help that Activision ended up having to basically reconstruct Infinity Ward after the departure of so many employees, or that Activision had to pull Sledgehammer and Raven into the mix to help with development. Still, Modern Warfare 3 is obviously a game that’s going to sell millions of copies on day one and break all kinds of sales records, but it becomes a question whether or not all of these developments have affected the game or its perception in any way. In other words: this is a game that is going to be a huge seller, but does it deserve to be? Let’s find out.
The plot picks up neatly from the events of Modern Warfare 2 with Soap, Price and Nikolai bailing out from having killed Shepherd in Afghanistan in an attempt to save Soap’s rapidly dwindling life. From here, the plot bounces around between several different points of view, as several new cast members are added to the game world. Most of your time will be spent playing as either Yuri, a new addition to Team 141 who has his own grudge against Makarov, and Frost, a member of Delta Force reports directly to team leader Sandman, as the two groups attempt to put a stop to Makarov’s plans once and for all. Makarov, it turns out, has basically been waiting for this sort of an opportunity for some time, and his goal is no less than Russian domination of Europe, even if he has to glass the entire area to accomplish this task, and it falls to Team 141 and Delta Squad to do everything in their power to keep that from happening. On one hand, Makarov as a villain comes across as forced, acting more like a patriotic zealot than he was portrayed as up to this point, which seems awkward when you realize that his entire plan seems to be based around the possibility that he might have to turn Europe into, well, Chernobyl, and if anyone would understand how bad of an idea that was, it would certainly be a Russian ultranationalist. On the other hand, Makarov is wholly believable as a villain otherwise, constructing multi-tiered plots that end up forcing the opposition into pyrrhic victories even assuming they do win to begin with, the plot setpieces are still excellently laid out, and the game makes a lot of choices that were surprising and engaging, so for the most part, the plot honestly works, and works well.
Aside from the story campaign, there are also the expected online and offline multiplayer modes based around a system that allows you to level up as you play, though some mechanics have been changed around somewhat, so it doesn’t feel entirely like you’re playing Modern Warfare 2 again. Aside from the odd mechanical changes, the Spec Ops mode makes a return once again, allowing you and a friend to run through different missions on different difficulties with the intention of either accomplishing tasks, surviving, or beating the best time for the mission, depending on the situation. There’s also a Survival Mode in Spec Ops, however, which can basically be considered either a more developed version of Zombies from Black Ops or Horde Mode for the Call of Duty set, depending on your tastes. You’re given a fairly extensive amount of maps and lots of dudes to survive through in waves, with friends either locally or online, in different difficulty tiers depending on how much you want your opposition to punish you. In the end, the game doesn’t completely reinvent the wheel when it comes to game modes, but there’s plenty to do with the game and anyone who appreciates the series or the genre will find a lot to do, on or offline, to make the game worth the investment.
Modern Warfare 3, while not the most visually impressive game on the market at this point, still looks pretty fantastic and technically sound, and the developers clearly know how to make the engine work in their favor. The campaign features plenty of excellent visual setpieces that look absolutely fantastic, both aesthetically and mechanically, and come off very well in the end, and the characters and environments are well rendered and designed all around. The special effects are applied liberally to the game, from the standard gunfire effects to the more impressive earth-shaking explosions, and by and large, the game still has the same visual presence and intensity of its predecessors, which it makes great use of. Aurally, the music is the same standard technologically enhanced orchestral score one will have come to expect from the series, and the music is certainly fitting to the experience, in that the game and the music take themselves very seriously at pretty much all times, so in this respect, the music works. The voice acting is generally fantastic, as expected, and the different voice actors that pop up throughout the campaign deliver their lines believably and with good presence that helps to keep the plot going. The various different sound effects that come up throughout the game are always the most impressive parts of the show, pound for pound, and this is unchanged here, as even the most basic of guns is powerful and impressive when unleashed upon the enemy forces and explosions maintain their frightening surprise when they’re practically on top of you, which is often, and is almost always impressive.
Modern Warfare 3 basically plays similarly to its predecessors, for the most part, so if you’ve played those games, or really, any game that apes the concepts from these games, you’ll be off to work in minutes. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid these games, first off, congratulations on your successful revival from suspended animation Mister Disney, I hope your rest was a solid one, and second off, here’s the gist. The left stick and right stick work as expected, controlling moving and looking around respectively, and the left trigger aims your weapon while the right trigger fires it. The bumpers toss out whatever two types of grenades you’re equipped with at that moment, the A button jumps and allows you to vault onto stuff, and the X button reloads. None of the above should be too confusing for FPS fans, but the rest of the controls might take a mission or two to adjust to. You press in the left stick to make your character run faster and the right stick to melee attack enemies, for instance, neither of which is the “default”Â location for such actions in many games, hence the assessment of taking time to learn the ropes a bit. The B button controls whether you stand, crouch or lay prone, while the Y button switches between the two weapons you’re allowed at one time. Finally, the D-Pad is laid out with whatever odd accessories you might have on your gun or person that don’t fall into the above categories. So, for example, if you have Claymores, they’ll be mapped to the D-Pad. If you have a Masterkey (an underbarrel shotgun attachment for a rifle) or underslung grenade launcher, it’ll be mapped to the D-Pad. You can arm whatever item you need by pressing the appropriate direction, allowing you to switch to what you need on the fly. This will all come as second nature after a couple missions with it, honestly, but it might feel a little odd to newcomers at first.
Now, as with Black Ops, the story mode of Modern Warfare 3 doesn’t add much to the above; a few Active Time Events show up at different points that are beyond the norm, and there are some turret, driving, UAV shooting and (in one case) underwater maneuvering sections added into the experience to break things up, but for the most part the gameplay is generally pretty much as you’d expect. As such, much like in the other games in the series, it’s a good gameplay tutorial, and it’ll learn you the ropes, but aside from a few interesting setpieces, it’s basically another FPS with a modern day terrorist plot that aims to avert an escalating World War III. The main appeal of something like Modern Warfare 3 comes from its competitive multiplayer, and as one would expect, it’s as robust as ever. The basic concept is that you’ll play online in various different matches against other people, and as you kill your enemies and assist your allies, you’ll earn experience points which level up your online ranking. As you level up, you unlock new options, such as match types you can play, weapons you can use, enhancements you can add to your weapons, clan tags, pieces of equipment, Perks that improve your overall performance in various ways, and other fun and useful things. You’ll max out your levels eventually, of course, though the ability to “Prestige”Â, that is reset your level to 1, allows you to basically continue leveling as you wish. Of course, resetting yourself to the start wouldn’t be very productive on its own, so you’re also given added benefits for doing this that we’ll address shortly. You also keep all of the gameplay modes you unlocked the first time around, though you’ll have to earn weapons and Perks again.
Of course, all of this was in Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops, so it’d be somewhat silly for the game to just give you the same modes and options without adding anything to it. Modern Warfare 3 does make a pretty good amount of changes to the formula, removing aspects of both prior games in some cases while adding in new elements to make things interesting. For one thing, maxing out your character to the point of being able to Prestige now requires you to get to Level 80, which is a decent jump from prior games. Further, you’re now able to earn weapon experience, which allows you to unlock mods for the guns instead of having to complete challenges. There are still challenges to complete with the various guns, of course, but now, instead of needing to complete the challenges to earn gun attachments, you can simply use the weapon like crazy and level it that way, allowing you to earn proficiencies (added effect bonuses), attachments, new targeting reticules and camouflage patterns, so you can jack out the guns you like the most just by using them a lot. The game also has a “Prestige Shop”Â which you can use with Prestige Tokens, which allow you to unlock an extra custom loadout slot, double experience points for a couple hours for you or your weapons, and the ability to carry items through future levels, unlock titles specifically for Prestige players, or even clear your stats if you really want to prove how disgusting you are. In other words: if you’re the sort of person who never understood why you’d Prestige to begin with, you might have a reason, and if you did it in the prior games, you’ve got more benefits to look forward to. There are also other changes, such as new Perks added and older (and potentially annoying) Perks removed or moved around to unlock earlier or later, the ability to choose your Killstreak style between Assault, Support, and Specialist types (which each offer different lasting benefits and focus points), and the ability to restart point streaks for Killstreaks, so if you’re a bad enough dude to hit your third Killstreak you can start from the beginning again and keep ruining people’s days.
Further, there are a lot of gameplay modes to play around with online, including the expected regular gameplay modes like Team Deathmatch, Free For All (regular Deathmatch), Domination (sort of a team King of the Hill), Search and Destroy (set or diffuse a bomb), and other fun options. You’re also given two new modes to work with: Kill Confirmed, where you have to collect dog tags from the dead to score, and TReam Defender, where the team to claim the flag gets bonus points for kills and everyone wants to hold the flag, obviously. You’ve also got Hardcore modes, where bullets deal more damage, respawns take longer, Friendly Fire is on, Killcams are disabled, and other changes have been made that increase the challenge for everyone. The game also brings back Special Ops, but breaks it down into two categories: Missions and Survival. Missions is exactly what it was in Modern Warfare 2: you and a friend (or you alone) take on special missions and attempt to complete them without getting wasted or in the best time possible, depending on the situation. Survival, however, is essentially Horde Mode: you start off with a pistol and fight off waves of increasingly more powerful enemies, acquiring better gear as you go to bolster your efforts. You can collect weapons off of the dead or buy weapons and gear from terminals around the zone, as well as certain Perks and Killstreaks, to keep you going as long as possible, which you’ll need, as the enemies get pretty tough and you could find yourself facing helicopters, riot shield toting Juggernauts, suicide-bombing dogs and worse as you play. Special Ops also has a separate leveling system that mostly improves the gear you can purchase with your points in rounds of Survival, so the more you play, again, the better stuff you get.
The single player campaign can be completed in about six hours, give or take, though you’ve got multiple difficulty modes to play with if you want to plow through the game on a higher level. The online, between the level up system, the many different play modes, and the Prestige option, is where most of your replay of the game will come from, as it’s addictive and in-depth, and offers a lot to do from start to finish. There is a good amount of unlockable content to find in online play and collectibles scattered around the story mode for the completionists out there. You can unlock achievements, play online and offline with friends through the regular multiplayer modes and the Survival mode, play through the single player campaign, and more, depending on what you’re in the mood for at the moment, so there’s lots of options depending on what you’re looking for. From a pure depth perspective, Modern Warfare 3 brings a lot to the table and adds in a good amount of content and gameplay elements to the experience, and more than justifies its asking price simply based on content, as it’s a massive game with plenty of gameplay options from the start, much like its predecessors, and with the assumed DLC that will be coming, it’s only likely to get larger from here. COD Elite also adds a pretty good bit to that content, though at the moment it’s spotty and isn’t likely to impress anyone until Activision gets it up and running. While you can sign up for the paid service that will allow for several free downloads of DLC content during the next several months, it bears noting that you can use the basic service for free, which will allow you to track your stats, change loadouts through the website, look up tips online and more, and the beta gave a very good impression of the service with Black Ops. However, it’s probably going to take a week or three for Activision to sort out all of the delays with the service, as it’s basically buckling under the traffic attempting to make use of it, leaving the website and the 360 app to make you wait five to ten minutes or more just to access the service to begin with. Once that gets sorted out it’ll likely be a useful tool for players to grade their performances and improve, for free no less, but as it is right now it’s still got some work ahead of it.
That said, like its predecessors, Modern Warfare 3 is not without flaw. The single biggest complaint about the game is likely the complaint that will follow the franchise until the end of time: it makes no significant changes to the formula its predecessors brought to the table, mechanically or conceptually, and feels very familiar overall. Now, again, that’s fine in the sense that Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops were fine games, but from an originality standpoint, forget it. Further, while the online play is basically better overall than that of Black Ops and the additions and changes made are mostly pretty solid and balanced, the Survival Mode in this game had the potential to be better than Zombies Mode in Black Ops and on par with Horde Mode from Gears of War 3, and it’s certainly obvious it takes inspiration from those modes, but it’s hamstrung by the fact that it’s only a two player mode, which is actively depressing. Given what the mode could have been, the end result is a “good, but…”Â affair instead of the awesome thing it could have been. Oh, and the fact that, given that COD Elite was hyped as much as it was, it’s basically broken and has hard locked my console twice (seriously) when attempting to load it from the 360 dashboard isn’t a particularly good thing, and while it will eventually be online, that it isn’t at launch is disappointing all in all.
All told, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a big step up from Black Ops overall, and it’s a fantastic game in its own right thanks to the large volume of content, balancing changes, and general overall presentation of the experience, but it feels too similar to Modern Warfare 2 and makes some critical missteps that keep it from being the impressive piece of work its predecessor was. The story mode is very solid both in plot and execution, the game generally looks and sounds excellent, and the gameplay is simple enough to pick up and functional enough to keep the game interesting. There is a whole lot to the game as well, between the campaign, the online competitive multiplayer, and the Special Ops co-operative play, especially with the addition of a very enjoyable Survival mode. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t reinvent the wheel and, while there are some noticeable additions and changes, the game feels a bit too similar to Modern Warfare 2 to be really impressive on the same level. Further, the Survival Mode feels like it could have been better than it is, remaining only great instead of awesome, and the fact that COD Elite isn’t working well, if at all, right now is a shame given all of the lead-up to the service. If you’re looking for more Modern Warfare goodness, you’re new to the series or you’re a genre fan in general, Modern Warfare 3 is an excellent investment that does a lot of things right, but for those who have tired of Call of Duty, this doesn’t do enough to rekindle the love affair, unfortunately, and what new is here isn’t going to convince those who have tired of the experience.
The Scores: Story/Game Modes: CLASSIC
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME.
Short Attention Span Summary: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is an excellent attempt to build on the positives and successes of Modern Warfare 2 and in the end is a generally fine game for those who’ve not yet tired of the formula, but despite its positives, it refines rather than innovates and missteps in a few key areas. The plot is surprisingly engaging and there are a good amount of modes to play in, the visual and aural presentation is high quality, and the game is easy enough to get into on a mechanical level, though it can take some mild relearning if you’re coming from other shooters. The single player and multiplayer options, both competitive and cooperative, are well structured, the balancing and changes to the competitive multiplayer are well done, the addition of Survival Mode is a good one, and there’s a good amount to see and do throughout the game. However, the game never really adds anything to the formula and doesn’t feel as special as Modern Warfare 2 in comparison because it’s more content to stick with what works, the Survival Mode feels like it wants to be more than it actually is, and the fact that COD Elite is basically borked at this point is disappointing given the hype surrounding it. If you’re still even a little bit of a fan of the Call of Duty franchise, Modern Warfare 3 has some definite positives that will make it an easy sell, and it’ll justify the asking price because it’s just solid, but it’s not going to convert the haters or bring back those who have tired of the game, because it’s simply too set in its ways in a lot of respects.
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Mark B. is the Senior Editor at Diehard GameFAN, mostly because he’s been on staff for a decade. He has previously written for 411Games, InsidePulse Games, Not a True Ending, Retrograding and Beyond the Threshold, and he maintains multiple infrequent columns, as well as a Hitbox stream on Saturdays. You can check out his archives and non-game related work over at markbwriting.com, and follow him on Twitter at MarkBWriting or Facebook at MarkBWriting. (Special thanks to J. Rose for the artwork.)