Every review you are going to see for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is going to focus on the change in developers. Their reviews will focus on the departure of Vince Zampella and Jason West, or the new Elite service, or any of the controversy surrounding Activision Blizzard and/or Infinity Ward. At the end of the day, you aren’t spending your money on that nonsense – you want to know whether or not Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is worth your hard earned cash, and what new features have been brought to the table over its predecessor. Well, I can answer the first one simply – there is a reason why the Call of Duty franchise is #1, and that formula is very much present and accounted for in Modern Warfare 3. While the first shots of the war between Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 have already been fired by EA, it’s time to see if Activision still has the high ground.
The game opens with Price and a Nickolai pulling our favorite protagonist Soap into a litter to usher him into a safe house. As medics furiously try to save his life, we jump out to a Delta Force crew, designation Metal-01, who are furiously attempting to prevent a full-on assault on New York City. Sgt. Derek “Frost” Westbrook crawls out of a wrecked Humvee to see the worst sight any American citizen can imagine – the New York skyline alive with enemy fighters bombing our buildings and assaulting the city. His mission starts out simple enough – fight his way to the New York Stock Exchange to destroy a Russian jamming device on the rooftop. Following a Bradley through the debris-strewn streets, we make our way into the exchange, up to the roof, and lay Thermite on our target…but that is only the beginning.
“All war is based on deception.” – Sun Tzu
I want to really start this review off by saying that, at this point, Retired Army Lt. Col. Hank Keirsey, long time Call of Duty military adviser, must be scratching his head and saying “Uh…sure, I guess” when it comes to the story for the Call of Duty franchise. While MW3 does a great job of tying together the stories from the previous two titles, this third entry is so over the top, bombastic, and ridiculous that every level of the game is even crazier than the last. The whirlwind tour of the world has been set up and predicted with the last two games, and your objective couldn’t be any clearer – Makarov needs two to the body and one to the head. How you attempt to achieve that objective will take Special Forces from every continent, including both old friends and new.
One of the things that I hit Modern Warfare 2 for was a short and unbalanced single player game. Both of these issues have been mostly remedied with Modern Warfare 3. The single player game took me just over 7 hours on normal difficulty to complete, and with the exception of one area where I was asked to escort a set of tanks through a tight building corridor, I didn’t feel like the game was ‘cheating’. True, the game still does push you to constantly rush into enemy fire, throwing caution to the wind and breaking any good tactical sense, but this is Call of Duty – it’s nothing if not in a hurry. The game, as before, is still linear and has some completely predictable (almost cliché at this point) moments, but there are some set pieces that caught me completely off guard as well. Assaulting a submarine, taking the fight airborne in a few different scenarios, and even a handful of fantastic sniping missions round out just some of the crazy semi-connected battlefield settings you’ll visit. I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say that it is worth a play-through, despite its somewhat unbelievable nature.
“Aim towards the Enemy.” – Printed on Claymores
One of the most satisfying parts of the Call of Duty franchise is the multiplayer components. Obviously this has returned, but the cooperative Spec Ops mode has also returned to help prime players for the heavy skill-based multiplayer portions of the game. Spec Ops Mission mode gives players a 16 mission preview of some of the maps they’ll face online, but they can play them against the AI alone or with a friend. To start things off there is a very short target range to take down enemy targets while sparing innocents. From there you can tackle four maps right off the bat. The maps are a great addition to the single player game (and I recommend you play them afterwards to avoid spoilers!), giving you a look at some of the set pieces from the enemy side as well. All of the maps are unlocked by leveling up, but the experience and levels you earn here are separate from the online multiplayer mode. There are a total of 64 stars you can earn (and an achievement for doing so, of course) through this mission set, with unlocks specific set aside just for this mode.
Spec Ops Survival mode was the mode I was least excited about but surprisingly one of the most enjoyable modes for me. It is essentially a cooperative tower defense type system, giving players money for each kill that they can then use to purchase additional weapons, gear, airstrikes, and more. It’s essentially a cross between Counterstrike and Modern Warfare, letting players try out some of the killstreak rewards that they might otherwise have to skill up quite a bit to deploy. Setting up turrets, coordinating choke points, and otherwise cooperating to hold off waves of enemies (you get an achievement for knifing a Juggernaut to finish them off) is far more fun than it might sound on paper.
You can play both of these modes solo or cooperative, with the game supporting local split-screen as it has in previous titles.
“Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.” — Winston Churchill
Multiplayer is obviously the biggest draw with the Call of Duty series. With over 1.1 trillion shots fired in Black Ops daily, you can say that folks kinda enjoy it a little bit. With Call of Duty: Black Ops making over a billion dollars, you can be absolutely certain that Activision is being extremely careful with this golden goose. The multiplayer approach hasn’t lost sight of that, adding some new features, but still ensuring that the game remains true to the formula that has worked so well thus far.
Rebuilding the killstreak system from the previous game, there are now “Strike packages” available in MW3 called Assault, Support, and Specialist. These packages function essentially the same as killstreaks, but there are some new additions and a little shift courtesy of the Support class. The Assault class gets a pair of new and very powerful rewards courtesy of the Strafe Run which deploys 5 helicopters to cut through a line of enemies, and the Assault Drone which is a tracked remote controlled vehicle with a minigun mounted on top. Both perks will ruin your day and quickly, so look out for those on the field.
The Specialist class is interesting as it activates an additional perk after 2 kills, another after 4, again after 6, and activating all 15 perks after you hit 8 kills. It is awesome in the field, making somebody good enough to get an 8 kill streak almost unstoppable. The entire opposing team needs to really combine to take this person down or they will run roughshod over the map.
Taking a note from the previous game, the Assault class is very similar to the classic killstreak rewards. Care packages, Predator missiles, airstrikes, and the AC-130 comes with this class, but we also have the Juggernaut armor drop (it makes you damned near bulletproof), and the I.M.S. – a new anti-personnel weapon that function not unlike Bouncing Betty mines from WWII.
The Support class is a bit of a departure from the normal approach. While they do unlock killstreaks like other classes, their killstreaks rewards don’t just evaporate after you die. The perks are almost all related to providing support to the rest of the team. This means you’ll be dropping ballistic vests, advanced UAVs that provide not only location but also enemy vision orientation, and an Escort Airdrop that drops care packages and also defends them.
When all of these things combine, the multiplayer comes together nicely. The new Strike Package system rewards players like myself that enjoy playing a support role instead of a strike role. It also encourages more teamwork instead of an ‘everyone man for themselves’ mentality that is fairly pervasive in online gaming.
There are two new modes added to the package for MW3 – Kill Confirmed and Team Defender. Kill Confirmed requires that you actually pick up dog tags on your kills before your enemy can recover them, not unlike the way it works in the real world. Team Defender is essentially a capture the flag mode where holding the flag accumulates points for your team.
“The press is our chief ideological weapon.” — Nikita Khrushchev
You can’t talk about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 without talking about the new Elite service. While it won’t technically launch until after you’ve read this review, there was an extensive beta for the service over the last few months where we all got a taste of the Beachhead-developed product. First off, this product is completely separate from the game, requiring an additional 50 dollar subscription per year to participate. I will let you argue the merits or detraction for this service in the forums, but in the mean time I will explain what you get for your 50 bucks.
First, and probably most desired, Elite members get a full year of DLC for the game. Activision promises monthly content refreshes including maps, game modes, and far more that would cost you more if you purchased it separately. The second item takes a page out some other titles (e.g. Rock Band 3) with offering daily and weekly competitions for in-game prizes as well as real world goodies. Elite members will also be able to level up their clans in competition, have expanded video sharing (8X the standard amount), and additional tips from experts on the game to help them bring their skills up a level. The final perk is a chance to check out a new service called Elite TV. This subscription service will pit gamers against one another with celebrities Will Arnett and Jason Bateman acting as producers and hosts for the matches. We’ll have to see how the quality turns out when the service launches, but it sounds pretty fun on paper.
“All wars are fought for money.” – Socrates
So who wins in the battle for supremacy between Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3? The players win because both games are actually very different. Both are good in their own right, and anyone who insists that one is better than the other is just picking sides. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a completely crazy tour-de-force that carries you through trenches all around the world, as well as giving a great refresh to the multiplayer mode that has all but defined Activision in the console market. While there has certainly been enough controversy to fill a Deuce-and-a-half truck at the end of the day it’s about the gameplay, and Modern Warfare 3 has perfected it.