Modern Warfare 3 review
Just assume for a moment that I’m not writing this for you. Chances are that you’ve already either decided to buy the latest Call of Duty or give it a miss — and that decision was made months in advance. So let’s just get that irritating canard out of the way; I’m not trying to convince you one way or another. My score is not an accurate reflection of whether I think you should get the thing or not, because let’s face it, anything I say is unlikely to make the slightest bit of difference.
So let’s play a game called in my opinion. It’s fun I promise. I’ll give you my thoughts on the latest from Activision and Infinity Ward, and you can tell me what you think in the comments.
Let’s start with the single player. This might not be the game’s bread and butter, and I’m already hearing the chorus of gamers explaining how they skip right over the narrative bread slices in order to get to the multiplayer filling, but I’m reviewing a whole package here. You might recall from my Battlefield 3 review that a deeply disappointing solo experience can colour my enjoyment of a title as an overall proposition, regardless of how polished the kill-other-humans mode is.
The first thing to say then, is that this is not Battlefield. The same tropes are certainly there — the ludicrous American power fantasy storyline that sees them re-fighting World War 2 against the Russians, who you get the feeling they’ve always had more of a grudge against than Germany. The whole trajectory follows a very linear pattern, with you jumping into various tangentially-related characters around the globe to live out a global war through the medium of tremendous set-piece action spectaculars.
The story picks up exactly where Modern Warfare 2 left off, with the US having been invaded by Russian forces, and most of the problems that plagued that title have also made the jump. You’ll often be playing a subordinate role, with other characters giving you orders on what to do, who to shoot and on occasion where to stand. Enemies continue to target you above your teammates and better potential targets, and the AI is nothing to write home about, even on higher difficulty settings.
The scripted “stealth” sections make a return, as do the inevitable skin-of-the-teeth vehicle escapes, for better or worse. Personally, I am also becoming slightly sick of the staggering-around-after-a-crash section, which must be in every FPS these day BY LAW.
However, and this is an important point, Infinity Ward have always understood how to write their ambitions in fire and blood on a superhuman scale, and the original team’s successors have that same knack. Where Battlefield’s campaign rapidly devolved into a rote series of dull obstacles to be overcome before the next bit of plot accompanied by QTEs, MW3 keeps you guessing. It’s difficult to become attached to the characters when you’re jumping about so much, but it’s also very difficult to become bored.
While the game is essentially reducible to a series of corridors you must run down in order to trigger the next objective, it’s amazing how the devs have managed to dress that tired old nag up in a variety of costumes. One minute it’ll be a desperate battle in a besieged city, the next it’s setting up a sniper nest to take out a VIP, before jumping into an AC-130 to rain down fire and brimstone from heaven.
The sheer scale of the high-calibre vandalism on offer is enough to take me aback, even as I’m marvelling at the spectacle. It’s difficult to justify that barbarian impulse to myself, and I often felt disgust with my character’s actions, especially in a couple of particularly egregious African missions. I can’t however deny the moments of awe, even as the jingoism raises my hackles.
Happily, the creeping sense of self-loathing that overshadowed all my experiences with the games single player simply evaporates on contact with other people, especially when they are coming at you with an assault rifle and a mouth full of juvenile abuse. It’s strange to think that enacting brutal murder on living teenagers is so much more satisfying and less problematic than massacring bits of game logic, but such is the way of the world.
Coop play makes a very welcome return, with split screen and system link options still offered as standard, a huge point in the game’s favour. Why developers choose to ignore the glorious couch-based play that we all grew up with for the relatively sterile Internet experience, I will never begin to understand. While it’s not possible to buddy up for the campaign, Infinity Ward have laid on plenty of Special Ops content, which can either be played as an objective-based ‘Mission’ or in simple survival mode, up against infinite waves of enemies.
There’s a lot to enjoy about the Special Ops mode, which extends the relatively limited life of the narrative out significantly. The missions are often mirrors of things you may have experienced in the single player played from differently angles, or may assign each player a different task to achieve. It’s a smart way to get players thinking about more than just their own well-being, and to shock them out of the comfort zone that the low difficulty of the campaign may have lulled them into. Spec Ops can be played on or offline, but we’d recommend hooking up with someone you can trust rather than relying on matchmaking. In the few pick-up games we tried, communication and teamwork was non-existent.
Possession of an abundance of brains and subtlety is not usually an accusation levelled at CoD’s versus multiplayer. However, it may be that critics have been doing the dev team a disservice. It may be that having created an astonishingly successful formula, they are simply refusing to make the mistake of introducing fundamental changes that may break the experience for players. Instead, it seems they’ve chosen to throw as much content up as possible, while allowing the core gameplay model to mature gracefully.
All the things that you remember fondly from the series are back – the constricted maps featuring multiple height layers, the satisfyingly chunky and effective weapons, the overpowered rewards for kill streaks and the frustrating lack of team spirit from the overwhelmingly self-obsessed playerbase. The developers have at least addressed some of the frustration about the tendency of killstreaks to make top-performing players virtually unstoppable by splitting out the rewards into Strike Packages.
The assault package is pretty close to the classic system, adding one-use bonuses designed to attack the enemy based on the number of kills you receive without dying. For less experienced players, or for those who are rubbish at pulling off headshots (I include myself in the latter category), the support package offers a more attractive option — a set of less-direct boosts that concentrate more on defence, picked up when you reach a set number of kills regardless of deaths.
The weapon customisation has been tweaked this time out as well, with each piece of kit gaining experience as you use it, encouraging you to find a loadout that suits you and stick with it. Build up enough points with any gun, and you can add specific perks to each one, such as dual attachments or less weapon climb.
There are two new game modes thrown into the mix for open online matches. In Kill Confirmed, you must pick up the dog tags from downed enemies in order to make the kill count, and their teammates can negate your advantage by scooping up the tags themselves. In Team Defender, each map spawns a single flag location which opposing teams must hang on to in order to amass victory points. Both new modes offer a nice twist on the old favourites, but don’t constitute a great change in how the game feels to play. As ever, Team Deathmatch and Domination modes are where the real action is, with the more advanced scenarios monopolised by organised teams of specialist players.
Despite the slightly updated veneer, the feel of playing MW3 is the same as playing any other Call of Duty game since Modern Warfare; extremely intimidating at first, with a growing sense of self-satisfaction at your expanding skill set as you become acquainted with the technique. The graphical updates this time around are scarcely worth mentioning, as are the new maps which roughly follow the same design priorities as in previous games.
Playing Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer is undeniably an awesome experience — in fact, it’s the same awesome experience that we all shared last year with MW2. Whether that is a bad thing or not really depends on how invested you are in the series, and if you can justify the purchase price to follow the online community. Make no mistake, while people may still be playing Black Ops now, the gradual winnowing away of new players and veterans is sure to hollow out the remaining fans, leaving only a crust of the serious hardcore behind.
All this leaves me with quite a dilemma. You see, in my review of Battlefield 3, I called the developers out for having created on the one hand a superlative multiplayer experience, while saddling it with an atrociously poor single player. That feeling of disappointment at the entire package offered was reflected in my score, which would counter-intuitively have been higher had there been no solo play on offer at all.
As I said at the start of this review, Modern Warfare 3 is no Battlefield 3. That comes with both good and bad implications — the narrative is nowhere near as outright offensive as EA’s effort, while for me the multiplayer is just lacking some of the constructive inducements to play as a team that makes BF3 such a blast online.
And that’s why I’ve been forced to score Call of Duty more highly. Not because I believe that it is the better game, or that I will pick it up ahead of Battlefield when I want to simulate shooting some friends in the head, but because it offers the better, more polished, less disappointing package overall.
After all, if I don’t enforce the rules that I make up, who will?
Feel free to tell me you agree wholeheartedly, or that I’m a complete idiot in the comments below.