theuselessgod's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Xbox 360) review

Third verse, same as the first.

The Short

Pros

- Strong single-player campaign is totally bananas

- Game runs at 60 FPS and looks incredible for it

- Spec Ops mode is more fleshed out and has a "horde" style gamemode now, too

- Minor changes to multiplayer are welcome ones, especially the ability to earn killstreaks through death

- Voice acting is excellent, as usual, as is the rest of the sound design

- No stupid zombies

Cons

- Single player campaign is insanely short. On easy I'd give it 3-4 hours.

- Graphics look ok but it's clear this is still the Call of Duty 4 engine

- The breakneck pace of the campaign is fine but it does drain you of any emotional resonance during the "heartwrenching" scenes

- The core fundamentals of this game are virtually unchanged from Call of Duty 4, a game with three Call of Duty games from it to this one

- Multiplayer maps are easily the worst in the series

- Bar of entry to multiplayer is insanely high. Expect to die. A lot.

- This series is finally starting to stale for me.

Time to kill more dudes while aiming down the red dot sight

The Long

I've never been big on multiplayer competitive shooters, mostly because I'm not very good at them. I'll be honest: I suck at the Halo games (though I'm ok at Reach), I was never any good at Counterstrike, and my Battlefield skills are pretty much nonexistant. The only multiplayer shooter I was good at was Alien vs Predator 2, and that's just because I could sneak on the walls as Aliens and instakill marines.

So when Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 clicked with me for some reason, I rode that train for all it was worth. These games (I'm sure everybody already knows) are arcadey, fast-based modern shooters where respawn time is nonexistent (in most modes), deaths are frequent, and getting more than three kills in a row without dying is a "bonus." The gameplay is insanely quick and matches fly by fast, making it a good game to play for an hour or so (or more) without getting too frustrated at it.

Getting a care package.

How they hook you is the XP system. Every kill, every bomb plant, every flag capture, and just about everything else you do gives you XP. Earn enough and you'll Rank Up (Level Up?) earning you a new collection of guns, perks, or other such abilities. Perks are three unique abilities you can pick for each of your classes (such as an ability to run longer, reload faster, etc.) allowing you to customize your classes with guns, gun attachments, perks, and more. It's a robust system, one that was revolutionary when it was introduced in Call of Duty 4, and it did an excellent job mixing the RPG drive of XP gain with the fact paced, always rewarding you shooting experience. Hence why it sold twenty trillion copies.

Why am I bringing this up? Two reasons. First, most people buy these games for the multiplayer, so I figured I'd cover it first. Second, the Call of Duty formula has remained essentially completely unchanged since first iterated in Call of Duty 4, and it's finally starting to get old.

Ding! XP.

The shooting in these games is completely unchanged from the original game. There are maybe two new guns, a few new items of equipment you can use, and some more killstreak bonuses, but as it stands everything else is completely identical. Which, while this was robust when Call of Duty 4 came out, the lack of new additions is very noticeable, especially for a vet. On one side this is nice, because if you played a bunch of Modern Warfare 2 you are going to feel right at home. On the other hand, this lack of innovation makes this feel like a glorified expansion pack rather than a full release game.

What is different? A few things that will only change the game for those invested. Guns now level up with XP when you use them, because everybody knows more XP bars mean MORE FUN! Leveling up guns unlocks the attachments. You can still "pro" Perks by fulfilling their list of requirements, and the money system from Black Ops is gone. Lastly, you can now assign different killstreak packages to individual customized classes rather than having a set overall, and adding one that still goes up even if you die is great for the prone-towards-death players such as myself.

Killstreaks are still very impressive.

That's basically all that's changed. Everything else is the same, which frankly is kind of appalling. Halo realized it had to innovate four games later, with Reach being a vast improvement over the others. Even Call of Duty itself rebooted with Modern Warfare. This game is easily just a stale cash-in on the phenomenon, with the changes so minor it hardly seems worth a full release and not just a patch.

The bigger offense, however, is this game might actually be worse than Modern Warfare 2. The maps certainly are. The maps in previous Call of Duty games were crafted with care, offering a good mix of wide open areas, sniper nests, secret spots that the clever could use to get lots of kills, and enough stuff to hid be hind but not be annoyingly obstructive. Modern Warfare 3 seems to think that "more stuff = more fun!" with crap littered all over every map, the wide open spaces from maps such as Mansion from Modern Warfare 2 gone for a bunch that really just feel like the same crappy map with a different skin.

The other factor that is making me withhold from saying "At least new players will love this game," is that this game has the worst damn community of any game I've ever played. The problem is they have had seven games to hone their skills (four if you only start counting on Call of Duty 4), meaning 75% of the people playing this game (or more) are already masters. They are also rude, pompous, and other words less dignified (that they frequently use). New players will find a difficulty curve rivaling that of DOTA, and old players who took a brief hiatus (such as myself) will feel that sting as well. Combined with the bad maps, the same gameplay as before, and all the other issues, it makes it impossible for me to recommend the multiplayer unless you are really good already or have a lot of patience for this thing.

The single player has some crazy setpieces...wait, not yet? Ok...

So before I get to the campaign let's talk the other multiplayer mode, the two-player co-op missions Special Ops.

These are pretty similar to the last batch (from Modern Warfare 2). They are designed around two players working together to accomplish goals in pre-set mission scenarios. Like the previous game, these are solid all around, though they do all come off as very similar. There's only so much "shooting dudes together" or "stealthing dudes together" you can take before it all starts to blur. They do have unique ones (like the mission where your partner is on security cameras with a rail gun and you have to fight through guys on the ground to give him more camera access to assist), but as a whole this entire thing gives a really weird sense of deja vu. Only without snowmobile sequences. Which is too bad; I liked those.

You can also play together in a horde-esque mode, and Spec Ops has its own leveling system across both that gives you more unlocks for that horde mode. It's an ok addition and fun with a friend, but hardly earth shattering.

Soap is back, as are all the other guys you only sort of care about.

Lastly we have the single player. It's a short roller coaster at about 4-5 hours on easy, but to my surprise I actually really enjoyed it. I thought Modern Warfare 2's single player was ok, Black Ops didn't interest me at all, but Modern Warfare 3 just turns it on and never turns it off. I think they accept the fact they are the Michael Bay of video games and totally rolled with it. One mission has you sabotaging a submarine underwater, forcing it to rise, then fighting your way inside, launching its missiles at the rest of the fleet, and then driving a small boat around (and through) these battleships as the missiles rain down on them before driving the boat into the back of a helicopter. It's all completely absurd but still a lot of fun, even if the set-pieces are obviously scripted.

Where it falls apart are the large-scale battles where you and your team are on foot against a lot of guys. The Call of Duty games have always been really bad at this; killing you with bullets or grenades from nowhere, only allowing you the briefest of time to pop out and shoot, killing you behind cover, etc. It isn't hard, once you figure out the systems, it's just tedious. The group battles have been dramatically thinned from the previous games (making way for a lot more setpiece moments), but when they come they drag the action down.

Stuff can get kind of crazy

Graphically the game looks good, running at 60 FPS always and doing well masking the limitations of the old Call of Duty 4 engine with lots of explosions and clever texture work. It's fine, though it is starting to look old despite their best efforts. Sound design is top notch as usual, though the abundance of military jargon gets annoying very quick. Guns sound good and voice actors do their jobs well, so I can't complain.

My biggest problem with Modern Warfare 3 is despite all these nice things I have to say about it, I didn't really enjoy the game past the single player (which was atrociously short). Spec Ops was fun, but it was identical to what I did two years ago with Modern Warfare 2, and only really gets good if you are playing with friends and just screw around the whole time trying to mess each other up (adds a whole new layer of difficulty). The multiplayer is by far the largest disappointment for me. Even with one or two new modes and a handful of improvements, the core game hasn't changed at all. I don't see any reason why this game exists when what is very nearly the exact same game has been coming out since Call of Duty 4. Yes, I know there have been differences (I've played them all quite a bit), but as it stands I'm very heavily getting sequel fatigue. And I do know why they keep making these: they print money better than the yearly Madden installments, and I'm assuming require the most minimal of effort to create since they just take the previous game and make it again.

Surprise! This is a Modern Warfare 2 screenshot. Couldn't tell the difference, huh?

Added bonus that the multiplayer is much worse this time around (worse maps, worse balance, and personally I feel it's a step down from Black Ops) and again: no reason to own this game if you own any other Call of Duty game. I'm really hoping the next installment does something drastic and original like Call of Duty 4 did all those years ago, but for now I'm hanging up my hat for the Call of Duty series until that moment of ingenuity comes. It still is a solid shooter series, it just really needs to evolve. Now.

I was torn between two or three stars, but after thinking over how the reason why I got this game was the multiplayer and I have no incentive to play it whatsoever, I think two out of five is a fair score. Again, if you've never played a Call of Duty game this one is pretty good, but fans of the series (like myself) really need to stop letting Activision pander this crap to them in a $60 package every year.

More at http://nathanvsvideogames.blogspot.com

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