Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Review
Written : Friday, November 11, 2011
By: Lee Abrahams
When tasked with reviewing an entertainment juggernaut like the Call of Duty series, it's difficult to win. If you lavish too much praise on the game then you are accused of being a mere fanboy, or worse, of being at the beck and call of Activision’s evil empire (note: actual chance of them being an evil empire is minimal). A low score creates the opposite effect, with our entire staff suddenly being fanboys for some other shooter series or just being controversial for the sake of a few web hits, to attract girls, because our favourite hair product had sold out (delete as appropriate). The only way forward is to take the game purely on its own merits and hope that things make sense in the end - and that the inevitable slew of death threats are merely in jest.
Certainly this is a game, nay a series, that needs no introduction. From its humble roots as a PC classic to the bombastic, polarising, mega seller of today, Call of Duty never fails to stir up a media frenzy. Whether most of that press, both bad and good, is necessary or whether it is merely canny PR is debatable but it is safe to say that most gamers have already made a snap judgement on the latest instalment long before it hits their respective console.
"Let mayhem commence!"
The newest instalment will be instantly familiar to long-time fans and finally rounds off the storyline that seems to have begun so long ago with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. It seems that, in truth, the single-player aspect of the game is now the weakest link in the chain, though that mainly stems from the fact so little has changed. While the first Modern Warfare was a groundbreaking experience, with superb characters, wonderful set pieces and genuinely thought-provoking twists throughout, that same formula seems to have been transferred wholesale to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. The engine that was so fresh when the series first started is now starting to show its age too and is surely due for an overhaul. The saying, “familiarity breeds contempt” may hold a certain element of truth here.
That is not to say that there isn’t some fun to be had though, as CoD has always been a master of superbly scripted moments and tight gunplay. However, the same issues that have plagued the series for so long are still present and (in)correct too, with AI that seems to solely focus on your player despite an army of alternative targets being present, grenades that seem to have homing beacons attached to them and a series of linear and narrow levels that look huge in scope, but in actuality offer a carefully funnelled route through each and every level.
While the story may not be as tightly structured this time around it is good to see things reach a satisfying conclusion, even if most of the supposed twists and shocks are entirely too predictable along the way. After all, the series has been introducing characters and then killing them off dramatically for so long is it really a surprise anymore when the same thing happens this time around? Some of the one-off moments and set pieces are as fun as ever, and the banter between the leading players is once again a high point even if the villainous Makarov seems to be a stereotypical, sleazy 80s-movie-style villain. While the campaign will probably only last you a rather underwhelming six hours, it is hardly what you played the price of admission for in the first place is it? IS IT?!.
"They did it, they actually did it!"
No, the real meat and drink of MW3 is the multiplayer offering as you would expect. As ever you can expect to head online and face stiff competition from the get-go, with series veterans ranking up at an alarming rate and putting the rest of us to shame with their ludicrous array of skills. Either that or we have two left hands, comprised entirely of thumbs, and an inability to hit a barn door from five yards with a rocket launcher. The argument has, and probably will always be, whether or not CoD offers enough each year to justify a full release, but on this occasion the answer seems to be yes.
A host of new maps have been developed and the emphasis is firmly on close-quarters action, with players encouraged to take advantage of clever angles and tight corners. Certain areas on each map seem to rapidly develop into kill zones, with bodies stacking up as teams pile into the same spot. However, such events never become too off-putting as players constantly adjust their strategies on the fly and the action spirals off into some oft-forgotten corner of the map. If anything, the maps seem a little too confined at times, with sniper rifles feeling a touch redundant and kills or deaths often coming in rapid succession. No doubt some larger maps will be forthcoming, but players who enjoy their combat at range may well struggle to hold their own for now.
That of course may well be a design choice rather than an oversight, as the issue of players camping in one spot has been prevalent for some time. A more obvious remedy may well be at hand though with the new Kill Confirmed mode, which is sure to become a firm favourite among players. While you may snag individual points from offing foes, your team will need you to snag the physical evidence of your kill, in the form of dog tags, in order for it to count towards victory. By the same token you can snag the tags of your downed allies to hinder the opposition, as well as creating clever ambushes over the bodies of the recently deceased. It certainly creates a more frenetic atmosphere to begin with, until it seems to settle down and players start to play more tactically.
"Right. That's the jeep parked."
Obviously the usual array of alternative modes are still present and correct too, not to mention a whole new set of Prestige levels to attain and a slight twist on the kill streak and perk systems. Now you can opt for more team-based benefits like UAV systems over and above the more destructive attack choppers, or you can even go for perk-based rewards for your point streaks if that floats your boat. It is also nice to see that points towards streaks can now be earned from objective-based actions too, so even the less skilled players can feel the benefit from time to time.
As you rank up you can unlock new equipment, new perks and also rank up the abilities of your weaponry to boot, so that recoil is diminished or your aiming time is improved. Hitting prestige will also allow you to trade in your token for new emblems, abilities or even double XP should you wish. As ever, this is where most of the action will be when it comes right down to it, and the multiplayer is certainly on top of its game once again. Things are not entirely perfect though, as players are free to leave games at the drop of a hat and the matchmaking system can take its time in finding some replacements. This can see players up against insurmountable odds assuming they don’t quit and instead stick it out until reinforcements arrive, as we did, like real badasses. Being left flying solo will be less of an issue if you can find some sturdy friends to take up the fight with, but for solo players it could become a bit of a turn off.
The middle ground between the meaty multiplayer offering and the rather threadbare single-player is once again the Spec Ops mode. Offering a choice between mission-based bites of action and yet another variation of horde mode via the Survival maps this is certainly a fun diversion for two players to spend some time with. The Mission maps are certainly the better part of the deal, as you get to negotiate certain levels and areas from an entirely different angle. They aren’t as much fun solo, but then they weren’t designed to be, so if you can find a co-op buddy to plug away with, then they'll certainly provide a good few hours of fun. That being said, once you’ve completed them all to Veteran standard then there is very little impetus to go back and run through them a second time.
"Extreme fancy dress made real."
The Survival maps are a mixed bag too, and see you face off against waves of enemies in a bid to rack up points. You can use the cash you amass to buy equipment to help you out along the way, including new weapons, air support and turrets to flesh out your defences. The better you do, then the more points you will earn and the more you will rank up. Higher ranks mean more and better items will become available to purchase, so that future attempts will yield a greater chance of success. Again it is fun to get stuck in to with a friend but less attractive on your own. Plus, the waves of foes are fairly linear and generic in nature and provide little in the way of competition, assuming you take your time and find a good spot to hole up in.
It’s actually a bit surprising then that so many of the points assigned to MW3's achievements are tied up in Survival mode, and you will have to spend a hefty amount of time in levelling up enough to purchase all of the equipment and get to wave 15 on all 16 maps to boot. The rest of the points come through the single-player campaign with a smattering for the Spec Ops mission mode too. Nothing is tied into MP at the moment, which is sure to cause fans of quick games to rejoice. Though the type of player that will sink hours into MW online is hardly likely to care whether or not they get the full thousand anyway.
So, this is CoD, like it or lump it. Once again you can expect a well put together multiplayer offering, with the added bonus of a decent single-player campaign and an entertaining, if rather throwaway, Spec Ops mode. Things feel overly familiar and that will be just fine for people looking for more of the same, but for gamers hoping that the latest title was going to break the mould in some way, then this may be a touch disappointing. You will still have a great experience whether you are playing solo or online, but Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is pretty much the same experience you’ve had with all of the CoD games for the past few years. It is almost as if the games' runaway success is actually holding it back from branching out, because, well, why would Activision want to tinker with a winning formula? Enjoy Call of Duty for another year then, as the next one will be along to blow your mind with hyperbole soon enough.
The voice work and sound effects are top drawer as ever, although the script is pure hokum in places. Though that only matters if you aren’t having fun shooting stuff and making it go boom.
Some wonderful set-piece moments but the underlying engine is starting to look its age if truth be told, plus while most of the online action is flawless it can be hit with lag from time to time which, in a game of this nature, can be crippling.
Still one of the best military shooters out there, with responsive controls, a good mix of modes and weapons, plus an addictive multiplayer mode.
Same shit, different day is the theme here with all three modes feeling like you’ve been there and done that. It is certainly still a great package but one that is being held back by its own success.
Mainly tied to the campaign, with the rest requiring some Spec Ops action. That’s a great thing for completionists but as most of them are progression-based, there is little reason to get excited.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a well produced title that will give you another slice of entertainment, whether you choose to go it alone or head online to kick ass and take some names. It's nothing new though, and single-player feels especially lightweight this time around, so there is still room for improvement. More of the same next year then – which is both great news and a bit disappointing really.
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