At Least The Multiplayer's Awesome
Full disclosure: I have not played Battlefield 3, and I don't mean to compare this game to Battlefield 3 at all. Instead, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is incredibly similar to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. If you’re sick of that game for different reasons than I am sick of Modern Warfare 2, you should probably skip Modern Warfare 3 until you feel a hankering to play Call of Duty. If you’re up for some timely military conflict, though, there’s some cool stuff to see in Modern Warfare 3.
In most games, the campaign is the most substantial part of the release, but the same certainly isn’t true of Modern Warfare 3. The multiplayer has been fleshed out in some very intelligent ways that allow for players like me to really get hooked on the game’s more effective systems. The cash system from Black Ops has been removed, instead returning to the experience-focused system of the classic Modern Warfare titles. The change back is welcome, as the cash system allowed players to plateau by equipping their favorite weapon with the most effective attachments and ignore progression for most of the game. While perk experience have returned in Modern Warfare 3, weapon experience has made them almost redundant and adds another level of progression that mirrors your character level.
I quickly found my weapon of choice, as the kind-of-trashy MP5 has stood by me as my favorite gun since Modern Warfare. However, what I didn’t expect past that point was to eventually drop my standard Red Dot Sight to earn more weapon abilities. Weapon abilities are abilities beyond the traditional attachments or perk systems; this addition has allowed for the “Bling” perk (which allows for two attachments) to be moved to weapon abilities, along with an ability that reduced recoil or increases weapon range. These, along with attachments and weapon camouflage, become available as the player increases their weapon level. This allows for a sense of progression even within a single weapon, which is a fantastic way to help people who play irregularly get a sense of progression.
Another casual-friendly move made in Modern Warfare 3 is the addition of support and specialist killstreaks. Support killstreaks, which don’t reset after death, generally are non-combat killstreaks that allow for players who can’t make longer killstreaks (like myself) to feel that they’re contributing to a match. Some of the support killstreaks that seem pretty obvious are UAV recon planes that illuminate enemy players positions on the map, SAM Turrets that shoot enemy aircraft from the sky, and support packages that include ballistic vests, extra ammo, and Juggernaut suits that allow for other players to be heavily protected from enemy bullets. Meanwhile, specialist strike packages remove killstreaks altogether and allow a player to gain 3 more perks, allowing for weaker players to develop their ultimate playstyle. The new options are refreshing, and the support packages especially allow for players outside of the traditional Call of Duty skillset or the devotional level of play time to help their teams.
The maps themselves, too, focus on another skillset from those of Modern Warfare 2. Every map I’ve encountered (though I haven’t seen some, thanks to player voting) has an exceptional focus on the use of closer-range weapons and mobility, a drastic change from the camp-heavy Call of Duty games of the past. Of course, the way some people prefer to play Call of Duty certainly facilitates the older map design, as it allows for a little less randomness, but between the new maps, the support killstreaks, and the weapon progression, I found myself having my best Call of Duty multiplayer experience since Call of Duty 2.
It is here, however, where my glowing recommendation of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 must stop. While some might praise the Spec Ops mode, I largely found it to be too similar to the Spec Ops levels in Modern Warfare 2, and I found myself immediately turned off from playing it all the way through. The way I play Spec Ops only facilitates long periods between play, where eventually I’ll play a few stages with a friend in couch co-op. There is also a survival mode similar to the Horde Mode found in Gears of War, but there is a level progression throughout the Spec Ops survival mode. A player can progress their survival levels in the traditional Spec Ops mode, and levels in Spec Ops are locked behind the Spec Ops player level, but the two do not interact otherwise. Again, I’d assess its quality, but I feel like someone else might do a better job, and I did not find myself compelled to play it once I finished the campaign.
The campaign, itself, is largely some of the most vanilla Call of Duty fare you could imagine. You’ll breach a whole bunch of doors, you’ll protect someone who’s injured, and mostly you’ll shoot a lot of dudes. Those who remember the Call of Duty series before Modern Warfare may remember the days where an objective might be “clear out these six houses on this one block” or “defend this small fortress from all angles.” These moments are literally 100% stripped from Modern Warfare 3; the best that can be accomplished is the inclusion of some sections in which the player is allowed to enter a building instead of fighting from the street, and there are sections where the player might defend a statue or monument from one angle of assault and basically hide behind one bunker for the encounter.
Linearity wouldn’t be something to inherently criticize in a game like Call of Duty if the game could muster up enemies that attacked in another fashion or bothered to spread out. However, the combat puzzle in Modern Warfare 3 seems to be “pull left-trigger as often as you pull right-trigger and the snap-to-head function built in the game will allow you to kill six or seven dudes without moving the right stick.” The challenge very simply comes from not knowing where the one enemy with a sniper rifle or rocket launcher is situated, and then respawning and killing him early in your next attempt. This is the sense in which Modern Warfare 3 is most like a light-gun shooter a lá Time Crisis, and is more similar to that experience than even the mounted gunner sequences.
That said, there are a number of mounted gun sequences in Modern Warfare 3. While some have exaggerated the amount of time you spend without control of your character, too much of the game is spent simply mowing down everything that runs towards your men without much opposition. These sequences would probably not feel so problematic if the rest of the game weren’t almost as easy. The game doesn’t really offer a thoughtful challenge. It’s sad, really, because the gunplay is just as strong as ever, and five minutes in the multiplayer is enough to remember that the Call of Duty gunplay is still near the top of the line. But the level design refuses to let you use the gunplay to do anything interesting or challenging, and it feels like the game should’ve built to a much larger challenge in the game’s short four and a half hour run time.
In that run time, though, they manage to fit in a few cool moments. Just about anyone you might’ve cared about from the Modern Warfare games (except for Keith David’s character or Ghost/Gaz) shows up for at least a line or two of dialogue, and there is a good arc for Captain Price present in the storyline. Unfortunately, Soap is not really developed, and those who did not find him especially compelling in Modern Warfare 2 will find themselves disappointed with how little they managed to do with the character. Meanwhile, much has been made of one character who has apparently appeared throughout the entire series, behind the scenes; one note is that the plot twist involving said character is pretty blatantly obvious, and the other is that said character really doesn’t do anything of interest during these moments. It’s more than they really needed to do, but it’s certainly not offensive. If you’re a logical thinker, you probably already have most of the game’s plot mapped out in your head, and apart from a couple details, you’ll largely be right. The only questionable aspect of the game is a series of missions you play as US Special Forces operative Frost, where little plot occurs and little effort is made to make the rest of his crew likeable. They’re shoehorned into a late-game mission to tie their efforts to the rest of the game, but they’re otherwise simply a chance to view Modern Warfare 3’s World War III firsthand. I’d rather have seen more groups fleshed out similarly to the two missions you play as the Russians or the British than stuck by Metal Squad, as the Metal Squad missions largely left me annoyed that I wasn’t playing as someone else. These missions, while not blatantly problematic, seem like a missed opportunity.
For some, all of Modern Warfare 3 will probably seem like a missed opportunity. But for those of us who play the multiplayer more casually, the game has put in a lot of effort to allow us to run-and-gun our way through the progression tree and see some cool character evolution before settling into our style. That said, much of the flavor that really colored the previous titles has been lost here, and it’s disappointing that there isn’t more to enjoy outside of the multiplayer offerings. That multiplayer, perhaps now more than ever, is accessible and still pretty fun to play, and I have trouble recommending many other online experiences in 2011 over Modern Warfare 3.