It Might Be Cool To Hate On MW3, But That Hatred Is Misdirected
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 is a game mired in controversy, its reputation tainted by questionable business ethics and internet flame wars. Look past the lawsuits, corporate mud slinging, and accusations of stagnation from a restless fanbase, however, and you'll see that Modern Warfare 3 is possibly the strongest of the Call of Duty games and a great shooter in its own right. Is it as shockingly innovative as the original Modern Warfare was in 2007? Absolutely not, but with mechanics this refined and gameplay this well balanced, it hardly needs to be.
As with past entries, action in Modern Warfare 3 is split into three segments; there's a traditional campaign, the competitive multiplayer, and the cooperative Spec Ops mode. It's predictable stuff to be sure, but it's comfortingly familiar in the same way as a late night junk food run, and the sheer amount of content contained within these modes is hard to deny.
The campaign is the mode that's seen the least change. That's not to say that it's lacking in any way, however, as this is one of the most intense and memorable campaigns I've played all year. Whether you're shooting terrorists in zero-g or battling your way through a blinding sandstorm, you'll be surprised by just how much mileage Infinity Ward (and the numerous other studios involved with the project) wring out of the tried and true Call of Duty gameplay. Variety and spectacle are key here, and this big budget shooter delivers on both in ways that its competitors can only dream of.
If story closure is what you're looking for, this latest entry delivers on that front as well. I've never found the stories in Call of Duty games to be particularly meaningful or even coherent, but I recognize that there's a significant fanbase out there waiting with bated breath to see what happens to Soap and Price. Although pre-release footage didn't focus much on these series stalwarts, rest assured they're the focal point of this globe-spanning story. I still found certain plot points a little hard to contextualize, but the story as a whole felt much better thought out than that of Modern Warfare 2, which didn't so much have plot holes as it had gaping craters. When all was said and done, a nice sense of closure fell over the Modern Warfare series. I wouldn't be surprised if we continued to see games brandishing the Modern Warfare name, but these characters and stories have been told to their fullest extent here. In a year where seemingly every game is setting itself up for a sequel, it's nice to not feel blueballed by an ending for once.
Immediately upon finishing the campaign, you'll be thrust into the game's cooperative Spec Ops missions. Many of these are in the same vein as the missions from Modern Warfare 2, in which two players are given an objective and ranked on how efficiently they can complete it. They're fun, but lack the "just one more round" mentality of Treyarch's Zombies mode. Luckily, the new Survival mode is there to scratch that itch. This is a fairly basic Horde-styled mode in which several players must band together to survive as many enemy onslaughts as possible. While it lacks the depth found in Gears of War 3's tower defense mechanics, it's still satisfying to rack up cash with every kill. This cash can be used to purchase new weapons, grenades, perks, and even killstreaks which can be used against the enemies. Survival matches Zombies in terms of pure addictive power; it's the reason this review hasn't gone up earlier, in fact.
Then there's the competitive multiplayer. A ton of new maps and modes have been added and killstreaks have been tweaked a bit, but as far as significant changes go that's about it. As has been the norm for a few years now, new content is continuously opening up to you as you play in the form of new levels, perks, weapons, and attachments. The carrot on a stick approach is certainly the standard now, but it still works well enough. What doesn't work are the archaic spawn points, which are completely predictable and easily abused, and which often spawn you right where you last died to meet an instant death.
Multiplayer gameplay still feels more fair and balanced than in any of the recent Call of Duty games, though, thanks to the previously mentioned killstreak changes. Now there are multiple types of streaks, each with different functions. The Assault package plays exactly as you'd expect; you wrack up four kills, you call in the UAV, etc. The Support package places the emphasis on helping out your teammates and completing objectives, with capturing flags, planting and defusing bombs, and the like gaining you a killstreak. These points also carry over after death, making the Support package the way to go for those who are new to the game or those who can never seem to stay alive long enough to call in that chopper. Unfortunately, the rewards for the Support package are a little less rewarding, with ballistic vests for your whole team and a SAM turret being a few of the rare highlights. Finally, there's the Specialist package, which doesn't give out any killstreaks at all. Instead, it awards players a new perk for each kill after their fourth. It's a risky proposition to play as the Specialist, and as a result the game locks it away until you reach a decent enough level.
Although leveling up is still a big deal, it's no longer the only carrot being dangled on the end of that stick. Now guns level up separately from your core level, and doing so is the only way to get new sights, camo and the like for your gun. It doesn't make as huge a difference to the core experience as you might think, though, and I really didn't notice the gun leveling up until a few matches in. Like me, you'll probably be focused too much on the action to even notice all the different meters going up.
A few new modes round out the multiplayer nicely, with Kill Confirmed being my favorite. This mode plays similarly to Team Deathmatch with the goal being to score as many kills as possible for your team. The only difference is that this time players drop a dog tag after dying that must be collected for the kill to count towards your team. It's also possible to collect dog tags of downed teammates before an enemy can grab it, thus denying them the points and scoring yourself some in the process. This opens up some great strategies. If a teammate dies, you can leave his dog tag untouched in hopes of baiting out an unsuspecting enemy trying to play hero. Alternately, if you get in the seat of a chopper gunner, you might be able to mow down a lot of enemies but you won't be there to collect their dog tags when they go down.
It might be cool to hate on Modern Warfare 3 right now, but that hatred is misguided. Yes, Activision engages in some shady business practices. Yes, this game is a bit of a Frankenstein creation, a whole cobbled together by a myriad of studios. This in no way detracts from the consistently exceptional quality of every bit of content in the game. The single player campaign is one of the most thrilling I've played in a long time, and serves to remind that when it comes to rollercoaster-styled games, nobody can touch Activision's internal studios. The Spec Ops modes, especially the new Survival mode, are a blast to play with friends. Finally, the multiplayer, while dated, still has legs, and anyone who's enjoyed this style of game in the past should get at least a marginal level of satisfaction out of spending a few hours online. When coupled together, these elements make for a hell of a package. If hating on Call of Duty is cool, I don't want to be cool. I want one of the year's best shooters, and Activision's army of studios have delivered.