Not as good as Black Ops, but still a fine game.
The Call of Duty series has, for some time, been accused of resting on its laurels. Since the breakout success of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the series has built a legion of fans - and detractors - for its insane roller coaster of a single player campaign and for its frantic, arena-based multi-player suite. While Modern Warfare 3 won't change anyone's mind, this newest entry commits a sin worse than stagnation: it is a regression from the previous entry.
The single player campaign shifts back from the character-driven, suspense-filled story of Black Ops to the normal map screens and commanders barking orders that seems to be the extent of Infinity Ward's effort to craft a decent narrative, with only occasional breaks to show off fan favorite John Price being awesome. The levels themselves are mostly the typical Call of Duty fare, with lots of enemies and crazy set-pieces to navigate, but this game in particular seems obsessed with on-rails sequences, frequently pulling players out of the FPS action for a ride on the gunner seat of a jeep or in an AC-130 high above the action. With a de-emphesis on narrative and characters and an increased number of shooting gallery sequences, the game can at times feel like a tour bus ride instead of the roller coaster that people have come to expect. Mechanically, the game performs and looks as good as it always has, though the loss of the dive from Black Ops can make those last-minute rushes to cover more difficult than they should be. The game uses the engine that the series has been on since Call of Duty 4, so people who think games don't look good unless there's an obscene amount of detail on textures that won't be looked at for more than 1/10th of a second will be disappointed, but most people will still find the game pleasing to the eye.
The multi-player also seems a step back, removing money from the formula and replacing it with an incredibly arduous weapon grinding system whereby a player has to increase a weapon's individual rank in order to unlock attachments, which can be quite tedious, especially to those who aren't already at the top of the multi-player food chain. In addition, quick-scoping returns from MW2, as does the ability to use killstreak rewards to get to higher-level killstreaks more quickly. This isn't to say nothing new is introduced in this game. In addition to attachments, increasing a weapon's level will unlock weapon perks, one of which can be placed on a weapon at a time. This allows players to tweak weapon performance without sacrificing one of their class perks. Also, two new strike packages allow for players of different styles to more efficiently . Instead of the assault package (traditional killstreak rewards), players can opt for the specialist package, which bestows additional perks as rewards, or the support package, which doesn't reset upon death, counts reaching game objectives in addition to kills, and offers items that can help the rest of the team play better. While nice additions on their own, these two make little sense to an experienced player, and the ease at which attack choppers and AC-130s can build up more killstreak rewards will ensure that the game remains firmly inaccessible to new players, something Treyarch tried to remedy with Black Ops. Also added, both assault and support packages have their own flavors of the juggernaut armor, which people may remember from the enemies in Modern Warfare 2's Spec Ops mode. These massive upgrades take a whopping 18-point killstreak to reach, but make the players that earn them all but invincible to small arms fire, making it a breeze to single-handedly hold a headquarters or keep the opposition from setting or defusing a bomb, creating yet another gap between the veterans and newer players. Not only that, but equipment once again takes the grenades' spot, leaving players unable to take any trap-laying options into the fight if they plan to use grenades.
Two new game modes are introduced, but both of them are simple variants of Team Deathmatch. In Kill Confirmed, kills by themselves will not add to the team's score; players must grab the tags that fall from their victims to confirm the kill, leaving themselves open to enemy attack. Players can also pick up teammates' tags to deny the opposition points. In Team Defender, the two teams fight over one flag, with the team holding the flag scoring double points per kill. Of the two, Kill Confirmed is far more appealing, as it discourages camping and doesn't favor the more extravagant killstreaks (after all, those tags can't be picked up by the players in their choppers or AC-130s), instead requiring teamwork to snatch up tags and keep the enemy from doing the same. By contrast, it's entirely possible in Team Defender for teams to form a camping position around a flag-bearer, easily mowing down the opposition for quick, cheap victories.
Spec Ops returns mostly unchanged, but adds a pretty cool option in addition to the missions - survival. Played on the multiplayer maps, one or two players are tasked with holding down the map against ever-intensifying waves of enemy forces, all the while using money accumulated from the kills to buy weapons, upgrades and air support to help them along. It's a fun little mode, but being capped at two players, it doesn't leave much room for group play the way Halo 3:ODST does with Firefight, or Black Ops does with Zombies. The Spec Ops mode has its own level progression, with player level determining the maps and missions they can play in survival and mission modes, as well as what items can be purchased in survival mode. The cooperative suite is the only part of this package that hasn't stubbornly refused to advance, but it's still hampered by that two-player limit.
In all, the game isn't as good as last year's Black Ops, and while that may sound like a damning rebuke, Modern Warfare 3 is still plenty of fun, with another frantic campaign and even more multi-player for those who are into that sort of thing. However, Infinity Ward's latest is showing signs of serious age, and it may be time for them to stop ignoring the things Treyarch brings to the series, or perhaps come up with their own ideas to match.