When I sat down to watch Infinity Ward's Robert Bowling and Sledgehammer's Glen Schofield talk a bit about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, I wasn't really sure what to expect. At this point, it's hard not to feel like the series is losing a bit of steam, and with the game being spread across multiple developers, it's easy to start jumping to conclusions and suspect that this year's Call of Duty is going to be kind of a mess. The assembled media was then shown a couple of nice-looking levels that left me thinking that Modern Warfare 3 isn't going completely off the rails just because some portion of the Modern Warfare 2 team isn't with the company. Assuming that the Xbox 360 gameplay we were shown is representative of the final product, Modern Warfare 3 appears to be a Call of Duty game, with a rock-solid framerate and plenty of guys to gun down.
The demo was broken up into two levels. The first took place in Manhattan, with a level called Black Tuesday that showed members of Delta Force attempting to push back the Russian invasion. The wide streets of the city are, by the time you get there, littered with debris and burning vehicles. You're armed with a weapon that features the one truly new thing I saw in Modern Warfare 3: the ability to push the weapon's scope off to the side when you want a close-range red dot sight and slap it back up into place when you need to do some long-distance shooting.
The rest of this sequence looked fairly standard, though seeing buildings explode and shudder around you looked pretty decent. This eventually took the troops up Wall Street and right onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, where they fought to the roof, where a large antenna was blocking communications. "9-bangs" were thrown in a couple of cases, and these appear to work like flashbangs... but with more bangs, like a string of firecrackers going off. After gunning down the few guys that were standing around and protecting the tower, a charge was placed, the tower fell, and the radio immediately sprung to life.
From here, enemy soldiers started firing down from other nearby rooftops, which led to a fairly standard drone sequence, where the player fired missiles down onto the enemy positions. Then a helicopter pulled up and turned the level into an on-rails shooting mission as you fire out of the side door of the chopper.
The second level, called "Mind the Gap," is set in London, and players take on the role of Sgt. Marcus Burns of the SAS. The majority of this demo was also an on-rails shooting section as the SAS troops drive a pick-up truck up a subway tunnel in pursuit of an enemy-filled train. Eventually the train derails, which looked pretty cool. You can see some bits and pieces of this stuff in the trailer that Activision released.
The question I was left with after seeing the demo was a pretty stupid one. During the Manhattan level, your soldier is wearing a digital watch that, while powered, doesn't actually function in-game. It was locked with one graphic, showing that it was a little before 4:30 PM. The watch is on-screen the entire time, right at the bottom of the screen. Apparently I wasn't the only one to notice, as this led to a later conversation with Bowling and Schofield where a few of us asked about the watch and if it would work in the final game. I suspect the answer they wanted to give was something along the lines of "I can't believe you're bringing up something so fucking stupid, what the hell is wrong with you people," but they were certainly gracious hosts.
The demonstration looked nice, but ultimately lacked punch. The gameplay looked like something you've played before, and the characters didn't stand out enough to make it look like anything special. MW2 characters like Soap and Captain Price weren't mentioned, and the story so far appears to be "hey, the whole world is totally effed, so take control of a bunch of faceless guys and shoot people until everything is OK again." It certainly doesn't look like a bad game. It looks like a Call of Duty game. And they said that the Spec Ops mode from MW2 would return with some new features, which I'm all for. But it all also looked like a status quo sort of deal. Hopefully the developers are holding back some more meaningful campaign sequences for the final release this November.
And, of course, it will have a full multiplayer component. I suppose, if you take the millions of people out there playing Black Ops and other previous COD games into account, then that, really, is the most meaningful thing about the entire game. As long as the multiplayer is solid, would you even care if the campaign was more of the same?