Activision came into this holiday season with a few questions lingering over their collective heads. How do you top the staggering sales numbers of last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops? How do you handle the very-public divorce and fall out with Infinity Ward’s masterminds, President Jason West and co-founder Vince Zampella? And how can the acclaimed publisher not fall into the “Tony Hawk/Guitar Hero/Rock Band” fatigue that occurs when a game sequel is released each and every year?
The answer, luckily, is for Activision to just keep on keeping on. Tony Hawk be damned.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is the latest incarnation of the mega-millions-selling franchise, and the third (obviously) and last (not so obvious… more later) chapter of the Modern Warfare saga.
Picking up mere moments after the end of 2009s Modern Warfare 2, MW3 continues the story of World War III, told in a very realistic and believable scenario. The mad plotting of Vladimir Makarov has left the U.S. Eastern seaboard in ruin, the Task Force 141 team disavowed and on the run, and Moscow and Washington working to find a path to peace and an end to the conflict, even as the fighting continues and much to the chagrin of Makarov.
Returning characters, former SAS Captain John Price and “Soap” MacTavish, along with a bevy of U.S. Forces Delta members are put to one final test as they seek to find Makarov and prevent him from interfering with the peace process. But Makarov has other plans, and he unleashes a new deadly attack in London and Paris and then captures the Russian President to force him to give up the Russian Nuclear warhead launch codes. Good times, good times.
MW3 continues the legacy of previous Call of Duty games by telling the story using multiple characters, and their multiple perspectives. It is kind of neat to be playing as Yuri, a Task Force 141 operative in one mission, and the next chapter play as Andrei Harkov, a Russian federal secret-service-like agent tasked with protecting the Russian President. It works to keep the story fresh and adheres to the great fiction writing adage of “show, don’t tell.”
In the end, the Modern Warfare story arc is finally resolved, and the world can finally exhale and begin the rebuilding process.
As always, the Modern Warfare world graphics are some of the best ever rendered in a first-person shooter video game. The framerate runs a fast 60, and I did not notice a lag at all in the solo campaign, and barely notice hiccups in the online multiplayer. The recent CoD games have all been amazing to look at, and inasmuch as I like the story, and the multiplayer modes, the graphics are what makes me boot up a CoD game over, say a Battlefield, or a Medal of Honor game.
Gameplay in the solo campaign is not much different than the previous Modern Warfare game, which is both a good thing for casual players, and a point of contention to hardcore CoD fans. In fact, MW3 has been labeled by some as “Modern Warfare 2.5.” That comparison is not fair, as any game sequel can easily be pushed into the “point-five” category. I firmly believe in this instance, what is happening is that “fatigue” of a new game every year that I mentioned earlier.
Fans expect leaps and bounds in gameplay and story with each installment, but with such a short turnaround time, developers have to pick and choose what upgrades they can implement, short of a full-game overhaul, which just doesn’t happen often in this industry. EA’s Madden NFL franchise would never take a year off, though it desperately needs to. The reason for this is because the gamers speak with their wallets, and with a game like MW3 selling 400 million dollars worth of games on day one, those wallets are SHOUTING, and they aren’t negative in the least.
This is me jumping off my soap box.
The Spec Ops multiplayer options make a return, with a new Survival mode, which puts the player, or players, in situations where enemies pour in and, well, it’s up to you to survive. It is reminiscent of Black Ops Nazi Zombie swarm games, with 100% less undead enemies.
It is nice to have the option for solo, multiplayer (split-screen), and online multiplayer in the Spec Ops game mode. In my first attempt to try it out, I could not find a partner, as my level one status scared every veteran that was assigned to me away. After playing a few solo games, my level and cash reserves shot up and now I can play with the big boys. Or now the big boys can play with me.
Also returning is the always-stout multiplayer mode. A new feature of the venerable team deathmatch game is “confirmed kill” mode. Now, if you get a kill, you only get credit if you strip the corpse of its dog tags. Unfortunately, the enemy can get there first and prevent you from getting credit (and the XP). It adds a new wrinkle to a tried and true game mode, and can effectively hurt the sniper/camper players.
There is also a major overhaul of the killstreak system. Certain killstreaks now survive your own death and continue to accumulate, and killing enemies isn’t the only way to get streaks, as meeting certain requirements (survive three explosions, capture five enemy flags, etc.) unlocks in-game bonuses. It is the biggest revamp of the killstreaks since their inception, and if it is any indication, Activision may be onto something.
Another feature getting much love is the rankings system, and the inclusion of more varied perks. There are also a ton of cosmetic unlocks and weapon customization options that can turn even the most novice player into a killing machine in no time.
MW3 is also the first Call of Duty game to use the new Call of Duty: Elite service. Elite is a way to keep track of your records with leaderboards and you can earn rewards for excellent gameplay. The beauty of this is that it is tied to your CoD career, so your records in Black Ops would transfer (that is as far back is the Elite service goes) and accumulate along with your MW3, and future CoD records. The Elite service is free, but there is a subscription option that runs about $50 annually and includes all map packs in a given year (four, on average, PLUS Elite members get to play them first) and gives the player new perks such as contests for physical prizes and even cash.
Seeing as the map packs run about $15 a piece, at four packs a year, you save about $10 annually with Elite. If you look at it that way, the service pays for itself.
MW3 succeeds in continuing and effectively ending the Modern Warfare story. Exquisitely beautiful, the graphics alone make it this year’s go-to FPS title. The pulse-pounding, sometimes horrific battles, both in solo and in multiplayer, gives the game its true soul, and is the reason Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 sold 400 million dollars worth of games in one day. It’s not a reinvention of the egg, but is the base of a damn fine breakfast.
Shop for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 or the PC for a discounted price at Amazon.com (November 8, 2011 release date).