Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
It’s November 2011; and like clockwork, it’s time for latest Call of Duty title to hit stores. Another big Call of Duty release, another year of record sales figures and another trip to the well before it runs dry. Activision’s annual juggernaut is back, and in the form of Modern Warfare 3 – the new household game with the household name. In what will be perhaps the most pivotal and telling year of the series’ existence, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 hopes to maintain the upward climb of commercial success despite forfeiting originality. Can you blame them? Activision would be crazy to ditch their winning formula, and surely urged Sledgehammer and what’s left of Infinity Ward not to get too bold with MW3’s direction, for fear of losing the guaranteed sales. Thus, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is exactly what you expected it to be; and it turns out that even the risk of ‘series fatigue’ and the mutiny within Infinity Ward didn’t stop Modern Warfare 3 game from remaining the same fun, frantic and competent shooter we remembered.
The story of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 picks up directly where Modern Warfare 2 left off; Soap MacTavish and Captain Price are hot on the trail of Vladimir Makarov, the relentless, ‘bomb your backyard’ terrorist leader of all leaders. The central plot of Modern Warfare 3 screams “you’ve seen this before.” As we all know, Call of Duty’s intentions aren’t to blow your mind with a deep and riveting storyline – it’s about the action, epic moments and eclectic locales you’ll visit along the way. Modern Warfare 3 spares no expense to deliver on those three promises, and will surely give you plenty of moments to drop your jaw about. Just don’t expect to leave the campaign with any lasting takeaway. Despite its unmistakable air of redundancy, Modern Warfare 3’s campaign is still a blast, and does just enough to be an adequate addition to the Call of Duty family. As you would expect, the trip through World War III is quite a thrill ride. Unfortunately, the single player doesn’t last too long, clocking in at a significantly shorter amount of time compared to past iterations. It comes off as an admittal that the Call of Duty audience views their single player modes as an afterthought. By making the game short and sweet, Sledgehammer and Infinity Ward are able to whisk people right into the other, more popular modes they’d prefer to play. Sadly, that logic alienates the dying breed of fans that want to invest themselves in a longer lasting experience. If you’re sitting on the other side of the fence, you’ll be glad to know that your playthrough of the campaign won’t detract you from the other modes in Modern Warfare 3’s arsenal.
Sledgehammer’s General Manager, Glen Schofield, got himself in the headlines when he came to defense of the Call of Duty engine by stating "I've worked on a lot of engines over my lifetime and spent a lot of time putting graphics into them and this thing is Porsche. And what I mean by that is that it's stream-lined, everything in it is perfectly freaking clean.” Modern Warfare 3 isn’t the prettiest game you’ve ever seen, but it bravely sacrifices cutting edge visuals for accessibility and performance. This generation has morphed into a “install this, update that” era that comes off as a heavy-handed barrier to entry that sometimes splinters the community. Thankfully, Call of Duty never makes you fret over a mandatory install, hi-res texture pack or multiple discs, which is a trait that has become all too commonplace in this day and age. No hoops to jump through – it’s just you and the game. As mentioned earlier, Modern Warfare 3 also prioritized performance over prettiness; showcasing an optimized version of the Call of Duty engine that features a silky smooth 60 frames per-second and a few new visual tricks to add to the flash and flair. The graphical fidelity does take a significant dip in multiplayer, which is unfortunate since that’s where the majority of your playtime will be spent. Yes, Modern Warfare 3 will look and feel a lot like how you remembered it, but in an age when most games strong-arm us into taking eye candy and choppy framerates hand-in-hand, I applaud Sledgehammer and Infinity Ward for sticking up for this engine. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Much to the chagrin of many Call of Duty skeptics and naysayers, the multiplayer in Modern Warfare 3 remains largely unchanged, apart from a little housekeeping. Sledgehammer and Infinity Ward restructured a few key elements in the multiplayer with the hopes of providing a better opportunity for players with different playstyles to thrive, while toning down the killstreaks and perks a smidge to put more of an emphasis into gun-on-gun action. Unfortunately, these changes come off as more of a shuffling of the deck instead of a rethinking of the style. The skies are still mobbed with UAV’s, choppers, airstrikes and the like, and the attempted focus on gunplay still pales in comparison to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’s perfect balance. The refinements are definitely there… but you just won’t notice it very much when you’re in the heat of battle. Although Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer is just the same as you left it, there’s no question that this component is still one of the most enjoyable experiences in the FPS genre, and definitely one of the most robust. Sledgehammer and Infinity Ward packed in sixteen maps into the out-of-the-box game, which is quite an anomaly by today’s standards. Along with that is extensive list of matchtypes, including Kill Confirmed, which is one of the absolute best additions to the playlist this year. Needless to say, you’ll have plenty of reasons to come back to Modern Warfare 3, and that isn’t even counting the nine months of downloadable content that’s in the cards.
Spec-Ops had a much stronger showing this time around, which is a godsend if you’re the type who wishes Modern Warfare games featured something as addictive and challenging as the Zombies modes from Treyarch’s Call of Duty iterations. Survival Mode is similar in theory, but it’s set in the standard Modern Warfare backdrop instead of whisking you off to the land of the undead. Regardless, the spirit of the Zombies Mode is embedded in Survival Mode, in that you’re fighting waves of enemies while desperately attempting to purchase upgrades and support drops before the next horde rolls out. The only real knock to Spec-Ops is that it’s restricted to two players; but with matchmaking included, you won’t have to worry about finding a buddy to watch your six. Out of the three modes that Modern Warfare 3 includes, Spec-Ops is by far the most improved; finally catching up in regards to quality and quantity.
Comparisons to Battlefield 3 are inevitable, and there’s no point in trying to ignore the elephant in the room. In all honesty, comparing these two games doesn’t really work, because it’s clear that both Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 are two very different games, despite the guise that EA wears about it. The gameplay differences are obvious and intentional – both franchises pride themselves on a different pace and style. If we’re looking solely at quality of content, Modern Warfare 3 is hands down the more cohesive experience; with every mode and feature supplementing the other in harmony. Battlefield 3, while sensational, is disjointed in comparison – its campaign feels like a misrepresentation of the actual experience; leaving the multiplayer with the onus of defining the game. Although Battlefield 3 succeeded in that regard, this is an issue that Modern Warfare 3 doesn’t have. It is this “across the board” consistency that sets MW3 a few notches higher on the totem pole. In the end, a good campaign, good co-op and good multiplayer beats a bad campaign, decent co-op and excellent multiplayer. The problem is that as long as Call of Duty wears the same colors year after year, it’s leaving open a window of opportunity for another game to catch up and even the odds.
This year’s competition was as close of a call as it gets. Even without specifically knowing what lies ahead for this series, it’s clear that Call of Duty is in dire need of a reinvention of some sort. Depending on who you ask, there’s a compelling argument that Battlefield 3 may have already trumped Call of Duty. That’s certainly debatable; but true or not, that can’t sit too well with Activision and those involved. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s campaign ends in a relatively definitive manner that could pave the way for a possible reinterpretation of the series. The issue is that we’re two years away from Sledgehammer/Infinity Ward’s next turn, so the onus falls on Treyarch to either venture into brave new territories or continue the pattern. The wrinkles are starting to show, and let’s hope that the Call of Duty series undergoes a midlife crisis. For the time being, you still can’t go wrong with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, but it’s increasingly apparent that the series has done all it can do in its current form. We’ve got a ways to go before we get a glimpse of what’s in the pipeline; but for the time being, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another first-person shooter with as much meat and potatoes as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.