With the release of their latest Call of Duty title Modern Warfare 3, Activision want gamers, whether they are Call of Duty players or not, to know that the Call of Duty brand is going nowhere, and if critical reception and sales are to go by, Call of Duty is evolving into something much more than just a videogame. In the summer of 2011, to draw hype for the upcoming Modern Warfare 3 title, Activision hosted the first ever ‘Call of Duty XP’ event, a three-day celebration of the game series and overwhelming circle-jerk for die-hard fans. At the event, the blueprint for future Call of Duty titles was shown to the masses, which then dropped to their knees and cried tears of unrelenting joy at the very sight of the latest Call of Duty expansion, ‘Elite’.
Call of Duty Elite isn’t the first application of its kind, perhaps that honour would have to go to Halo Waypoint. What Elite is however, is the core of your Call of Duty career from here on in. Everything you do, from getting a kill, to capturing a flag is recorded through Elite’s stat tracking service. Whereas that may not be too impressive or different from the likes of Waypoint, Elite also features many other points of interest for the Call of Duty fan, such as; community videos (with the built-in functionality to upload them directly to your Youtube page), other videos (ranging from pitting a few ‘celebrities’ against each other in the game, to tips from a videogame ‘professional’ on how to improve your performance), the chance to compete in events for real-life prizes and also a dedicated section for clans and clan competition. This will all be covered in greater detail in my upcoming Call of Duty Elite review, but the impact that Elite has had on Modern Warfare 3, and will have on future Call of Duty titles is likely to drastically emphasize the Call of Duty series as being the most social online shooter available.
So, you have your Elite application, you’ve been to the Call of Duty XP festival, now all that’s left is to play the sales record-shattering FPS behemoth that is the latest Call of Duty game. After loading and downloading the inevitable update, you are met with the same first image that you laid eyes on in Modern Warfare 2, the 3-point main menu. Your choices are Campaign, Spec-Ops and Multiplayer. Being the fan of the Modern Warfare single-player experience that I am, I think I will start there.
Picking up mere hours after the conclusion of Modern Warfare 2, The Modern Warfare 3 story kicks off with a bang. Soap is dying, and now under heavy attack, Price decides that he needs to move Soap away from any danger. Still being aided by Nikolai, Price enlists the help of our new Protagonist, Yuri, who has his own motives for wanting Makarov dead. As the opening mission kicks into life, it’s here where we see our first glimpse of the true Call of Duty disposition. Explosions are in no short supply as you fight your way out of a compound still protecting Soap. It isn’t long before you get your hands on a new toy either, as you man a small remote-operated tank and quickly obliterate what’s left of the enemy defences. After successfully escaping, we meet our other heroes, ‘Team Metal’, as they repel Russian forces on home soil. What Infinity Ward (and their new cohorts Sledgehammer Games) do well in these opening levels is making us aware of the scale of the conflict. Sure, it may have been fairly improbable that Russian Forces simultaneously attacked Germany, France, the UK and the USA all at once, but this ‘ram-raid’ approach to the war by the reds is certainly fitting with the Call of Duty mantra.
As the Campaign continues, there are many more ‘Michael Bay-esque’ moments, including being on a passenger jet as it crashes into the ground, fighting through a live subway and even taking on a hotel full of insurgents whilst armed-to-the-gills in almost impenetrable ‘Juggernaut’ armour. These are the moments that we play the Call of Duty campaign for nowadays, and they are a heck of a long way apart from the emotional ending to the first Modern Warfare Game.
During the production of the Modern Warfare series, it seems as though Infinity Ward have gained a clearer understanding of their audience. Gone are the moments which tug on your heart-strings, instead replaced with scenes and moments almost suited to the likes of a Die-Hard film. There are a few rare moments of the same brand of story-telling suited to the original Modern Warfare however, with the death of the series’ second most prominent character Soap, being one of them. After all that Price and Soap had been through, it was saddening watching him say his last words to Soap on the dirty table of a Parisian bar. These rare moments however are overwhelmed by the full-blown action which has steadily become the norm during the evolution of the Modern Warfare series. Full-on city wide-assaults, the collapsing of the Eiffel Tower and the gruesome, yet satisfying death of Vladimir Makarov lead to an explosive finale, and almost a ‘dead-stop’ of events as Price reflectively lights a cigar in the final scene in the game.
What Modern Warfare 3 does well, it has always done well. It gives the player the opportunity to see the conflict from all angles (albeit, only on the allied side) and shows us a more glorifying side of war. The good guys win, the bad guys get what’s coming to them, and we all live happily ever after. Of course, we suffer the displeasure of watching some of our teammates die alongside us, but even if this is a grossly over-emphasized replication of a current global-conflict, there will be casualties. Unfortunately, the Modern Warfare plot is riddled with holes from the shells it so readily fires. Besides the unrealistic notion of Russia launching a global strike, we also are left wondering if Shepherd ever contacted Makarov, why nobody seemed to care that Price nuked Washington and how Makarov managed to stash around 50 armed men into the private plane of the Russian president. Some of the unanswered parts of the plot are left for us to decide ourselves (like were the actions of General Shepherd justifiable?) but for the most part, the campaign is black and white, and prone to a few incongruities. Nevertheless, if the Modern Warfare single-player experience can claim to be anything, it was fun, and Modern Warfare 3 is no different as the story draws to a close.
Stepping away from the Campaign, let’s delve into the ‘Spec-Ops’ game-mode for a moment. Returning from Modern Warfare 2, Spec-Ops allows two players to work together to complete objectives against the clock in a campaign-like environment. After you complete a level, your efforts are rewarded with ‘stars’ marking your performance in fields such as time taken and times incapacitated.
New to Modern Warfare 3 is ‘Survival Mode’. Similar to Halo’s ‘Firefight’ and Gears of War’s ‘Beast’ variations, survival mode pits two teammates against waves upon waves of enemy combatants until they are overwhelmed. The game includes a modest levelling system, varied enemies, and also the ability to call in certain kill-streaks and groups of NPC’s to defend the players for as long as possible. The game is a nice change to traditional Spec-Ops, but leaves little to be desired in the long run. Once you have registered a top score on each available map, it becomes harder and harder to return to Spec-Ops survival. With that said, the thing which keeps players constantly flooding back to the series is the games multiplayer component.
Call of Duty 4 introduced the prestige system, challenges and perk based multiplayer to the Call of Duty series first, and here we are five games later, with little having changed. Sure, there are now additional levels to be attained in the way of 80 per-prestige, but little else has been altered to the current multiplayer formula. Changes which have been made include Perks being tweaked, Kill-streaks introduced and weapons subsequently altered, but these neither drastically veer away from the current template, only build upon it.
Multiplayer remains typically fun, however. Faster than it has ever been, Modern Warfare 3 online can be accurately described as a ‘clusterfuck’. As soon as a match starts, it is a race to your vantage point as rogue shots, Javelin Missiles, and grenades are tossed cross-map from the off. During your average game, Ospreys, Stealth Bombers and Strafe Runs will lay siege to the already vicariously active war going on below as you fight for a respectable score. With each kill made, you see your usual flash of yellow numbering accompanied with a slew of Exp-boosting challenges that you have unknowingly accomplished, all adding to your progress to hit the level cap. This is what makes Call of Duty addictive, but has unfortunately provided the game with a half-life.
Sure, many people may love the current system of levelling up 800 individual levels, but sooner or later this formula has to change. This template cannot hold the attention of the masses for much longer, no matter how simple-minded that they are. Repetition is a great tool if you enjoy the levelling process, but as much as creating a Call of Duty for the future goes, things have to change. The current formula is great, if a little stale now. But, I am not the type of person that Call of Duty is marketed towards, so maybe my fear for the series’ future is unjustified.
Your same old tools of destruction all make a likely return. Killstreaks are now more varied than ever. Separated into three classes (Assault, Support and Specialist), you now not only have the choice of what killstreaks you want to acquire, but also which type. ‘Assault’ killstreaks are set up in the classic variation, simply obtain so many kills in a row without dying (also without being aided by another killstreak) and then you will obtain you desired reward. New killstreaks in the Assault package range from a Reaper Drone (a UAV drone mounted with several predator missiles controlled by the user) and a miniature robotic tank which lays waste to all in its path. Yeah, you read that right. For the Support package, your choices include an EMP (which only affects the enemy team) a SAM turret (which effortlessly takes down airborne enemy killstreak rewards) or a Stealth Bomber (which for obvious reasons, is constantly being attained in most matches). The main difference with the Support package however, is that even upon death, the points system doesn’t reset, meaning that as long as you hit 14 kills in a game regardless of your deaths, you get to carpet the map from fucking orbit. The third and final choice is the Specialist package. This package allows the player to choose from 3 optional perks to unlock in place of any killstreak rewards. So, for instance, you could spawn with Recon, Blast Shield and Dead Silence, but then unlock three other perks (one from each set) on top of the other perks you have originally selected for your weapon class of choice. Combine this package with the ‘Hardline’ perk, and you have the recipe for some serious one man army style ass kicking.
Perks have been tweaked to allow more balance in this year’s game, so that means no 10-foot knife lunges or constant class swapping in each life like in Modern Warfare 2. By level 55, you will have unlocked all perks, and will be all set up to try out some interesting variations.
Unfortunately, maps in Modern Warfare 3 are uncharacteristically poor. Designed more for a close-quarters kind of player, maps like Seatown and Fallen lack the usual openly spaced environments attributed to the series. If you are looking for an end-to-end snipe-fest like in Bog from Call of Duty 4, or even a more open close-range battle like Dome in World at War, then you will be just as disappointed as I was. Now, the maps in Call of Duty are on a completely different scale to those in Battlefield 3, however they have always included some degree of open space to wage war from. Maps in Modern Warfare 3, particularly Seatown and even the new map Overwatch seem more designed to funnel players in a certain direction, rather than allow them to choose which path suits them best. Add to this atrocious spawning meaning that you will be regularly shot in the back, and Modern Warfare 3 can become increasingly infuriating in a short space of time. Some maps are akin to those of old, like Interchange and Black Box, but the majority fall incredibly shorter of some of the series’ greatest maps, like Overgrown and Terminal.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 remains the pinnacle of console shooters, at least as far as sales go. For me, Modern Warfare 3 fails in several areas, and doesn’t deliver on promises of playing similarly to Call of Duty 4. The campaign is your typical overblown adventure, rounding off the series nicely. Multiplayer unsurprisingly sticks to the known formula for now, but for those of us looking for change, then maybe Treyarch’s next effort will deliver. Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer seems faster-paced and more in your face than ever before, however can quickly become tiresome with its one-way levelling system, killstreak overkill and sporadic spawning. Ultimately, most games boil down to who was the bigger stick in terms of killstreak rewards, but the game is still a typical Call of Duty title at heart, and entertaining nonetheless.
With that all stated, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 is awarded a 7.5/10.0 rating.
Check below for a short look at your average multiplayer game.
Image and video credits: Author.