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Video Game Review: Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 3

Video Games

Video Game Review: Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 3

Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 3 box art
Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 3

Release Date: November 8th, 2011
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
Developer: Infinity Ward & Sledgehammer Games
Publisher: Activision Publishing Inc.
Genre: 1st-Person Warathon
ESRB: M for Mature

CLR [rating:3]

MW3: The One in Which the Proverbial Soap is Dropped.

The preamble of each of the Fallout games is a simple line, always intoned with the magnificent grit of Ron Perlman’s vocal cords:

“War. War never changes . . .”

In those games (that of the retro-futuristic apocalyptic RPG variety), these words are a jumping off point, a way to keep the listener informed that even though most of what they’re about to see is going to be strange and alien, the fundamentals are still going to be the same. People are still people, and we will never stop killing each other, and constantly use the same reasons to justify ourselves when we do.

I’m guessing the remaining staff at Infinity Ward must be big Fallout fans, because they took Mr. Perlman’s words, turned them into a rule, and then made an entire game out of it. They’re calling it Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, but I think I liked this iteration of quasi “realistic” first-person gun combat (with the regenerating health) better when it was called Modern Warfare 2. At least in that installment you could tell they were still trying to impress rather than simply expect you to show up.

Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 3

Be honest, if I replaced this picture with one from Modern Warfare 2, would you REALLY be able to tell the difference?

For those scared that the big “3” that follows this installment’s title will be an impediment to understanding the plot of the single player campaign, even though the single player campaign is easily the least important part of the game, allow me to summarize. Improbably well-informed terrorists, led by an improbably super villainish man named Vladimir Makarov, have initiated World War 3 by installing a war ready Ultranationalist party to take control of Russia (MW1), and then used false flag terrorist attacks to goad them into invading the United States ala Red Dawn (MW2). Now it’s up to the player to take control of various soldiers (some of whom will perish) in order to wrest Soviet control of America’s eastern seaboard and traipse around the world trying to prevent the war from going all-out nuclear while it still rages throughout Europe.

This world saving escapade involves assisting disavowed fugitives “Soap” MacTavish and Captain John Price of Task Force 141 through the eyes of an ex-Spetsnaz soldier named Yuri for the majority of the game, while alternating regularly with a faceless U.S. Delta Force soldier with the mandatory cool call sign “Frost”, because subtlety isn’t really the game’s strong suit. What is though, are the rampant explosions and crazy stunts that occur during the course of the game’s highly scripted missions; whether you’re blowing up the Eiffel Tower or parachuting out of a jeep driven over a cliff, you’re sure to encounter enough crap blowing up that you’ll think you’ve somehow wandered into Michael Bay’s paranoid fantasies. Meanwhile, about forty bazillion people will completely ignore all of the Tom Clancy inspired speculative military fiction that’s been written into the game to allow for a credible World War 3 without mentioning the word “China”, and simply shoot each other in the game’s extensive multiplayer mode.

Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 3

Though it’s just a case of coincidence, the first missions have you “de-occupy” Wall Street (along with the rest of New York) from Russians by force. Unfortunate implications ensue.

All in all, as long as you can get behind a game that unabashedly glorifies armed conflict between soldiers fighting a war based on deception and lies while fetishizing guns more than the time the NRA got double booked with the Adult Entertainment Expo, this installment of the single-player campaign proves to be a satisfying conclusion to this sub-trilogy in a series now in its eighth installment, mostly. I say “mostly” because while it is a mile a minute roller coaster filled with thrills, it’s also all a bit . . . standard. Everything in the game feels like the folks at Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer were checking off a series of Call of Duty boxes on their spread sheet.

Is there a sequence firing ordinance from air support? Yep! Check.

Are there sections where time slows down during a breach, allowing you to take down multiple foes at once? You betcha! Check.

Is there a frank and disturbing interrogation that portrays our heroes as having little regard for morality? Sure thing! Check.

Are there sequences where you’ll learn new functionality on a weapon you’ll never use again? Darn skippy! Check.

Is there a moment where the needless waste of life is portrayed, perhaps to court controversy and get some more publicity? Uh-huh. Check.

Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 3

Unfortunate implications about ‘Merican stereotypes present in MW3: in a game made entirely in the U.S.A. we blow up the Eiffel Tower . . . and it’s seems unnecessary as it’s in the background of the level. FREEDOM FRIES 4EVER!

Don’t get me wrong though, the folks at Infinity Ward, and writer Paul Haggis (of Million Dollar Baby & Quantum of Solace fame) are at least trying to mix things up here – one of the “breach” sequences occurs during a car chase, another sequence on a crashing plane allows for some zero-g gunplay ala Inception due to turbulence – it’s just that it all feels obligatory and passionless. Why, it’s almost as if several key members of the Infinity Ward staff left
the company after a very public dispute, and the remaining team members had to push out a game or they’d lose their jobs too.

Nah. That couldn’t be it. Probably just my imagination.

Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 3

Something that requires no imagination: the level of awesome that is Price’s beard.

Which, actually, is exactly what this game lacks. Imagination, I mean. Not only in the single player campaign, which doesn’t really do anything new to the series until the final level, where a long standing secondary gameplay concept is used for first time in “canon”, but also in the game’s multiplayer features, both in the co-operative “Spec Ops”, and the copious amounts of competitive multiplayer modes.

Almost nothing has been done to change the core experience of the competitive MP from Modern Warfare 2. There are changes of course: a new game type called “Kill Confirmed” promotes sticking with teammates, the “killstreak” system is expanded to allow more customization, weapons now rank up independently from your character and feature mini perks called “proficiencies” on their own, and the perks seem more focused and better balanced. While all of these additions are generally for the better, they’re also all rather subtle tweaks compared to say CoD: Black Ops’s Wager Matches and buyable upgrade system, both of which radically altered how you progressed through the now de rigeur “light RPG” progression meta-game.

Honestly, I’m trying hard to think of things that really stand out as fresh new additions to the game’s basic dynamics. There are now controllable recon helicopters that allow you to tag opponents for your team and controllable land drones that you drive around like a battlebot armed with machine guns, but both of those are ripped out of this year’s earlier annoyance Homefront. You can also finally wear the “Juggernaut” armor like a North Hollywood bank robber with as a hard to get special bonus, but it’s still nothing quite like MW2’s riot shield, which added a major, if strange, defensive option in a game otherwise entirely focused on offensive combat, and the while the perks feel more balanced than the ridiculousness of MW2, they’re also not quite as fun.

Perhaps the most telling example of the MP’s perfunctory nature though, are the maps themselves. All of them have good, solid layouts and work well for the quick-paced, short lifespan gun battles the franchise is known for. But, none of them really pop out either. Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops had really interesting maps that took advantage of unique locations, such as the Favelas of Brazil and Missile Silos, and used a lot more verticality in their design while having a brighter color pallet that didn’t repeat itself as often. Here, several of the places you’ll shoot other players in the head are familiar and muted; the rubble of gray buildings under gray skies seems a common theme, and even the levels with some greenery seem like their suffering from color deprivation.

Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 3

I don’t know if the art designer or his boss looked at the levels and said “Needs more gray.” But someone one of them is apparently a Labrador retriever.

Then there are the co-operative modes. Special Ops returns from Modern Warfare 2 with a series of co-operative play focused short missions for you and a friend. Most of these are missions taken from the single player campaign but backwards or with one tweak or another, but in an online era where having four players in co-op is the norm, having only two for these just seems underwhelming.

This is even more obvious in the game’s biggest addition to Spec Ops: Survival Mode. Here the idea obviously was to make something similar to the popular horde modes from the Treyarch made Call of Duty games, “Nazi Zombies” and/or “Dead Ops”. However, in order to make everything fit within the whole “Modern” motif of the rest of the game, all of the interesting things that occur – namely the zombies and the wacky dark humor that accompanied such a ridiculous turn of events in the otherwise grounded reality of the game – are excised and it turns into a much more basic “kill waves of opponents from the Single Player game” endlessly on the same maps you’ll battle on in MP and without any sense of playfulness. Oh, and it’s also only available for two players rather than the “Zombie” standard of four!

Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 3

This underwater infiltration is actually one of the more exciting portions of the game. It’s a shame it lasts about thirty seconds though.

This seems to be the main issue with Modern Warfare 3 overall, it lacks any recognizable human emotion in any of the various game modes. Like both its antagonist Makarov (and the arguable protagonist Price), everything’s about cold, dispassionate murder in order to accomplish some larger goal. In this case, that goal is to separate your money from your wallet while providing another yearly installment to a franchise that really, doesn’t actually need it. Especially with the one truly new feature, Call of Duty Elite a subscription based service that currently adds so little to the game that its purpose is nebulous at best.

Hmm, let me get this straight. The main creative staff behind the series, though perhaps a bit arrogant, is ousted/bails on the company over a legal matter, leaving the reigns of the series in the hands of a bunch of corporate suits. Said suits force along development of the game, even though they have either no intention or idea on how to make the game live up to either the flamboyant arrogance of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the ridiculous spectacle of Modern Warfare 2, or the “hungry for recognition” drive (if not quite as talented at design) of Treyarch’s Black Ops, and the only major new feature is something you’ll have to pay additional money for and is mostly about pre-selling the customer on future products?

Basically, the folks who went to school for business rather than game design, try to sell me more stuff while the product in question, a game, flails into complacency?

Color me shocked.

Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 3

Then in a surprising turn of events, the game pulls a complete 180 and you end up resolving your differences amicably. Nah, just kidding. You put on enough armor to get classified as a tank and SHOOT EVERYONE.

Yet, with all this said, there is one good thing about sticking completely to a tried and true formula and adding little in the way of novelty: everything’s just as you left it. This does mean that at the end of the day, the endless gunning and grenadier-ing that the online MP provides is still fun and addictive. It means that the controls are familiar and flow perfectly with your input in the same way they always have, as if you had a mind link to the game. It means that if you ever enjoyed a Call of Duty game in the past, you’ll be able to enjoy this one too.

But the cracks are starting to show, and it doesn’t seem like Activision knows how to find the correct Dutch child to plug them. If EA wasn’t so busy blundering the release of their own current entry to the “Modern-Soldiers-shooting-people-from-a-First-Person-Perspective” genre, they might actually have some real competition. But alas, this seems to be the year of the New Coke versus Crystal Pepsi for the genre. Both corporate monoliths aren’t bringing their “A game”, and in a year’s time, when whatever comes next is hopefully more inspired, we’ll look back upon this moment . . . and try to forget it ever happened.

Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 3 Trailer

As one of the unfortunate few born with three first names, Adam endured years of taunting on the mean streets of Los Angeles in order to become the cynical malcontent he is today. A gamer since the age of four, he has attempted to remain diverse in his awareness of the arts, and remain active in current theater, film, literary and musical trends when not otherwise writing or acting himself. He now offers his knowledge in these areas up to the "California Literary Review," who still haven't decided what exactly they want to do with him yet. He prefers to be disagreed with in a traditional "Missile Command" high score contest, and can be challenged this way via his Xbox LIVE Gamertag of AtomGone, and if you want to "follow" him on twitter, look for Adam Robert Thomas @TheCromulentMan



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