A Modern Warfare 3 "Reviewtorial"
By Chris Davis on November 16th, 2011 (15 comments)
This console generation has been one of the best times to become a gamer in the history of the video games. Unlike the television and movie industries where the quality of the products can vary between major releases this console generation has seen quite a fair amount of AAA releases of top notch quality. No series this generation has seen more praise or discussion than Call of Duty, the annual shooter franchise that dominates year over year in both sales and online console play.
Shortly after Modern Warfare 2 was released in 2009 a remarkable and still controversial event happened: Jason West and Frank Zampella, the co-founders of Infinity Ward and the original minds behind the franchise, were fired by Activision over meetings the two held with Electronic Arts after Activision failed to pay royalties to Infinity Ward. The result of this was an ongoing legal battle as well as a staggering departure of 46 other Infinity Ward employees, cutting the studio in half. With the developer crippled, Activision pulled Sledgehammer Games, another studio assigned to the franchise, away from their own action title and had them team up with Infinity Ward to co-develop Modern Warfare 3.
While Activision claims that Infinity Ward has been fully rebuilt after the mass exodus in the spring of 2010 the true test of this claim can only be verified by Modern Warfare 3. Does the conclusion to this epic trilogy show that the studio that started the franchise has come out unscathed?
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 (Xbox 360)
Developer: Infinity Ward/Sledgehammer Games
Release Date: November 8, 2011 (NA)
History is Written by the Victor
Modern Warfare 3 picks up shortly after the events of its predecessor. The Russian Federation’s invasion of the United States blindsided the country forcing extreme measures to be taken in order to ensure the country’s survival. General Shepard, commander of Task Force 141, turned out to be the mastermind that started the war by goading Ultranational extremist Vladimir Makarov into faking a CIA-backed terror strike at a major Russian airport. Shepard then tried to cover up his involvement by wiping out TF141 but a few survived: mainly Captains Price and “Soap” MacTavish. Shepard paid for his crimes with his life but not without leaving his mark as the duo were cited as international fugitives and Soap was gravely injured in attempting to kill the general.
The next iteration in the series picks up shortly after the death of Shepard and the destruction of Washington D.C. The Russians are still in the process of invading the US and Delta Force operatives are called in to hopefully break the siege of New York. On the other side of the world Price and compatriot Nikolai are hunted by Makarov’s men while desperately trying to save Soap’s life. With Soap nigh out of commission Price must rely on Yuri, a Russian Loyalist, who becomes the player character in their portion of the storyline.
Much like the previous games in the series, Modern Warfare 3 is an epic globetrotting affair that has you trekking through Asia, Africa and, for a large part of the game, Europe. In the boots of various soldiers you will fight off the invading Russian forces as they attempt to take control of the European continent. You’ll go places, make things explode, and do it all while mowing down thousands of opponents. In short, pretty much what every Call of Duty title has ever done. There isn’t one particularly large problem with this formula. After all, this is what every shooter made since id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D has done. You’ll have fun as you romp through urban European and Asian battlegrounds and you’ll want to play through the campaign probably a second or even third time to get the full experience.
The problem instead lies in the overall campaign itself. Simply put, there isn’t a single particular moment or level in the campaign that is memorable. Previously in Infinity Ward’s titles there’s always been this moment, this event that makes you hold your breath and go “wow, that was cool.” In Call of Duty 2 it was the storming of the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc. In Call of Duty 4 no one who has played it will probably ever forget All Ghillied Up and Death From Above. I will always remember Modern Warfare 2’s The Gulag stage but in my time playing through the campaign of Modern Warfare 3 there wasn’t a single one of these to be found. A few come close but the overall experience in the latest entry in the series doesn’t truly deliver.
Perhaps this is because of the success the franchise has seen previously. After all, the past three titles in the Call of Duty series have increasingly become great singleplayer experiences. In Modern Warfare 3 though it seems like Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games decided to play things safe. Most of what is shown in the game seems to almost rehash previous ideas. A prime example would be Hunter Killer, a mission revealed at E3 2011 where you must infiltrate a Russian missile sub and use its weapons against the Russian fleet. This idea is actually taken from Modern Warfare 2’s Contingency stage with the actual launch by the player being a cut portion of that level. Similarly, a later mission in Modern Warfare 3 has you switching between soldiers on the ground and an AC-130 Spooky which, in turn, is an amalgamation between Call of Duty 4’s Death From Above and Black Op’s WMD level.
One thing you can appreciate though is that Modern Warfare 3’s campaign does its best to solidify that this is the end of the trilogy: there's nary a bit of sequel-mongering to be found. Several old characters that were missing from Modern Warfare 2 appear but noticeably absent is Sergeant Foley and the rest of Hunter 2-1. It also doesn’t answer a lot of glaring plot holes from Modern Warfare 2 though it does attempt to tie up some seen in the first game of the trilogy.
In short, for those of you who actually are interested in the story of the game prepare to be a bit disappointed. Perhaps the rumored singleplayer DLC will answer a few more leftover questions but, as a final product, Modern Warfare 3 doesn’t dare to experiment with any new ideas.
Bringing the Rain
While it is clear that the campaign doesn’t attempt to try anything new it seems that Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer decided to do the exact opposite with Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer components. Compared to the various multiplayer designs featured in all the Call of Duty titles released over the past five years this latest entry is by far the most profoundly different experience to be had. The overall feel of the competitive part of the multiplayer is that of a mix between the more methodical Call of Duty 4 gameplay and that of Modern Warfare 2’s more hectic, reward-focused gameplay. The result however is a mix of good and bad and will take series veterans a bit to get used to.
Level design in the multiplayer is a decidedly urban-focused affair with a mix of long sight lines and small ambush points. No single level really shows off a large, open ground affair nor is there a wooded with only one mixed terrain stage that is modeled on a African village level seen in the singleplayer. Most of the levels look inspired by the urban nature of the European stages. It is also worth noting that none of the multiplayer levels are remakes or returning levels from previous Modern Warfare titles: all sixteen of them are brand new.
The biggest, most remarkable change in the overall design comes in the form of the new leveling, perk and rewards systems, the later of the three being the more radical. While Modern Warfare 1, 2 and Treyarch titles World at War and Black Ops focused on killstreak-only rewards MW3 opts for an intriguingly different approach by allowing players to focus on one of three different reward systems per class. Redubbed as Strike Packages, you can choose from Assault, the traditional killstreak (now called pointstreaks) system; Support, which allows you to keep your pointstreaks after being killed with an emphasis on reconnaissance and helping your teammates; and Specialist, the least similar of the three. Less frontline players will find themselves opting for the Support package but it would be fair to point out that, once you become comfortable with your weapons and the levels themselves, you might want to try out the Assault package.
The Specialist package is a whole other beast in comparison to the others. Instead of focusing on pointstreak rewards you instead earn perks. The more kills you earn the more perks you get with an eight killstreak allowing you to utilize all but one perk at a time. You are reset to your class’ normal three perks when killed but if you can hold your own until earning eight kills in a row chances are you will last quite a few after that.
A couple new modes offer a bit more variety in how you can play the game. Team Defender, an amalgamation of a capture the flag mode and standard deathmatch, has your team earning extra points for kills so long as you are in possession of the singular flag that’s placed on the map. This mode is quite fun but the real meat of the experience can be found in Kill Confirmed. Much like a standard Team Deathmatch round, Kill Confirmed has you facing off against an enemy team albeit with a twist: you do not get points for kills so much as picking up their dead bodies’ dog tags. This new way to play is quite addicting, especially so for fans of Crysis 2’s multiplayer which utilized a similar concept for killstreaks.
Overall, as far as the competitive part of the multiplayer goes, there’s a great product to be found. Spec Ops on the other hand goes even further.
Returning from Modern Warfare 2, Spec Ops’ cooperative-focused gameplay comes in two distinct flavors: mission mode and survival. Mission mode has you and a partner completing various stages based mostly on the levels seen in the campaign. These missions, in the general sense, are fun to play as they vary nicely in design and scope though it would have been nicer if it had included original stages or even ones from previous Modern Warfare titles.
Survival mode is clearly where Modern Warfare 3 intends to draw in the Black Ops crowd. Living up to its name, you and a partner face off against wave after wave of increasingly harder enemy soldiers on one of the game’s multiplayer maps. When I played it at E3 2011 I found it to be an exciting and stressful affair that is just as addicting as Black Ops’ zombies mode and almost nothing seems to have changed since then. It is definitely harder than that of the zombies mode for reasons beyond what is readily apparent: dogs, suicide soldiers, enemy helicopters and juggernauts keep coming in until you two are dead. You are able to call in support in the form of AI soldiers and air strikes as well as purchase new weapons and perks but unlike Black Ops there doesn’t seem to be a best strategy that works across all maps at this point. This is probably the most addicting mode in all of Modern Warfare 3 though so be prepared to log quite a bit of time in it.
The Beginning of the End
Many have talked about Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 being one of the most anticipated titles in years and while this may be true I’m beginning to think that the series as a whole no longer deserves the mantle it has lain claim for most of this generation. For the first time in a long time I’m starting to feel fatigued with a game series, something that hasn’t happened for me in at least a decade.
As a whole Modern Warfare 3 is a pretty good game. It isn’t the great game it should have been however. This was an excellent opportunity for Activision and the remaining members of Infinity Ward to say that they still have what it takes to be competitive and while sales numbers reflect that the overall gameplay design does not live up to what it could have been. There is only so much a series can iterate itself before becoming unpopular with gamers and I fear that will soon happen to Call of Duty. Activision has had experience with this before, most notably the Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero franchises. I just hope the publisher realizes how big a mistake it is making in continuing the series on an annual cycle.
Don’t get me wrong: I still love the series as a whole. It is just that, given the annual nature of the series and how big a fanbase it has I want to see other competitors, particularly those at Dice and at Respawn Entertainment, create great experiences that bring new ideas while at the same time making Infinity Ward/Sledgehammer/Treyarch’s baby do the same to keep it from becoming stale. I just don’t see this happening.
In the end it seems to me that, given how much Infinity Ward plays it safe in Modern Warfare 3, they are no longer the company that we remember them to be. The magic hasn’t died but it has started to dim.
80-89%: Great - Only very minor issues get in the way of greatness.
I am 4Player's video and feature producer. I've been writing about games for years and I enjoy every minute of it. I'm pro-developer and I have a few friends who have gone on to successful careers in the industry. I may only be an amateur but I've got things to say.
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