November 8, 2011

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Review

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In a year full of thirds, Modern Warfare 3 is probably the biggest of them all.  It’s certainly the most popular, and along with this massive surge in popularity of the franchise, huge expectations are levied on each rendition of the Call of Duty brand.  This release is somewhat different than previous iterations. A legal battle between the creators of the Infinity Ward studios and Activision, led to the departure of the creators of the original franchise, who skyrocketed the series into fame.  While Activision retained some of the talent from Infinity Ward, it also called on talented developers from Treyarch, Raven Software, and Sledgehammer Games to take the reigns.  The question is, were they up for the task?

Well that answer is sort of complex.  Depending on how much you value minor changes to the core infrastructure of the game, you may either love or hate Activision’s latest.  This isn’t one of those games that has undergone massive changes. There was no engine overhaul, and you’re likely not going to be blown away by what you play in any of the games modes from a visual perspective . That is considering you have played a Call of Duty game in the last four years.   Underneath the shiny new logos and expanded perks system, the core gameplay of Call of Duty is very much intact in Modern Warfare 3. With a few game modes, and tricks up its sleeve to expand on the popular premise, Modern Warfare 3 is here, and it’s pretty much more of the same solid gameplay.

mw3 reviewWhen Modern Warfare first hit the scene, the single player was an impressive beast of a game.  It offered a multitude of scenarios where the everyman solider was placed in extraordinary conditions.  This time around, the game is definitely more centered on the story at hand, the characters that have developed over the course of the series,  continuing from Modern Warfare 2.  You’ll pick up right where you left off, the race to find Makarov before he completely destroys the entire free world, is the mission at hand.  The action will take you jaunting across the globe on numerous missions that lead you to your ultimate showdown, and while the setting is nice, it doesn’t quite hit home like Modern Warfare 2 did.  The campaign is littered with what you’ve probably come to expect from a Call of Duty game.  Vehicle based chases, Breach and Clear scenarios, and enough explosions to put Michael Bay to shame are mainstays of the franchise.   Unfortunately, for a game that is as action packed as Modern Warfare 3, the in-betweens had a bit too much handholding for my taste.  Following NPCs that feel a little behind the pace, Modern Warfare 3 never really puts you to the test when it comes to the actual first person shooter part of the game in its single player portion.  It’s a treat to look at, and many of the effects are very well done, but as short as the game is (5hrs), you’d think it’d be able to make it through without feeling stagnant.  After playing through the first two games, fans who persevere through the campaign will definitely be rewarded with an ending that doesn’t leave YOU hanging.

The perks system while touted as a game changer, doesn’t quite come off as different as advertised.But the single player isn’t what makes Call of Duty so incredibly popular.  The burgeoning online community, that is the COD faithful, won’t likely be disappointed in the least.  16 new maps to play on, a completely redesigned progression system for both your player and your weapons, and a newly remodeled perks system, will definitely give you plenty to unlock, and test to your heart’s content.  The gameplay is largely the same as its predecessors at its core, however. Subtle tweaks from COD: Black Ops have removed diving, and of course the weapons are of the more modern variety, but all in all it’s a COD game.  The biggest changes really occur in the new progression system.  You’ll still be leveling your online account as usual, but this time around, getting more kills with each weapon will unlock new attachments that you can use on each gun.  It’s a fairly straight forward system for the gun progression, with most of the weapons following similar paths.  It can make switching between weapons somewhat disadvantageous, but the basics, like red dot sights and grenade launchers can be had fairly quickly.  You also unlock weapon perks as well, and these can range on a number of features, depending on which weapon you are using.  Perks like extra attachments, reduced kickback, or being able to shoot through walls can be unlocked for each weapon as you progress.

mw3 review 2The perks system while touted as a game changer, doesn’t quite come off as different as advertised.  It feels largely derivative of previous games, with a large emphasis placed on racking up kills to get the best and most powerful weapons.  The most devastating weapons are of the traditional variety.  Stay alive long enough with the Assault Strike Package and you’ll find that you can call in many of the same tools of destruction as in previous games:  Attack Helicopters, Pave-lows, UAVs, Care Packages, Predator Missiles, and other tools that will certainly ruin your opponent’s day. What has changed is the two new Strike Package classes:  Support & Specialist.  With the Support Strike Package you don’t need to stay alive to rack up the bonuses.  As its name states, the support packages largely help your team on the battlefield with things like UAVs, Ballistic Vests, Booby Trapped Care Packages, SAM Turrets, Recon Drones, and other items that can turn the tide of the battle.  For the Call of Duty novice, that has hard time staying alive, you’ll get your shot at calling in the big guns as well, albeit not nearly as decimating to the enemy team.  With the Specialist Strike Package you don’t get any of the big weapons, but the tradeoff is that you can unlock up to six perks, instead of the traditional three.  So instead of your standard three perks that you select in a custom kit, you can now have three extras which unlock much like the Killstreak Rewards.  Die, and you lose them however.  While the changes may seem pretty significant, they don’t appear to change the game all that much.  There’s definitely a lot more going on with players having a much greater propensity to earn UAVs and SAM turrets that run the support class, so they can negate some of the helicopters and other heavy weapons of the assault class.

Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer is still one of the best out there.Alongside the new systems involved with the core gameplay, a couple of new game modes have been introduced to the multiplayer community.  Kill Confirmed and Team Defender aren’t exactly new ideas, but there inclusion into COD is certainly a new twist, when you factor in the Kill Streaks and other features of the multiplayer that carry over with them.  In Kill Confirmed, you fight to collect and protect dog tags as each team races to collect as many as possible.  Killing an enemy will drop their tags, and you only get points if you manage to collect them.  Team Defender is an odd ball or president style gamemode where you must defend the flag carrier from the enemy team.  Of course there is also a wealth of customizable gamemodes in the private match section, which also house some unique options such as Juggernaut, Gun Game, One in the Chamber, among others many others.

Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer is still one of the best out there.  It’s the same smooth and consistent experience that its predecessors were. And the new gamemodes and options afforded to the player are more than enough to keep you busy for the next year or so.  Focusing even closer on the multiplayer aspects of the game, Activision also introduced the Call of Duty Elite service, which ties directly into the Modern Warfare 3 experience.  With an app on Xbox Live that lets you seamlessly transition into monitoring stats, contests, groups, videos, and a wealth of other content, the Call of Duty fan will almost certainly always have something to keep them occupied. Though I must note, some of the features in Call of Duty: Elite are reserved for premium members and that premium is an additional $49.99 per year.

For many, that’s enough.  Right there, your price of admission for a year’s worth of first person shooter goodness is a pretty good value.  Though if multiplayer isn’t your thing, there’s still the Spec Ops mode that returns from Modern Warfare 2, as well as a new Survival Mode that is a great bit of cooperative fun.  The Spec Ops Story missions follow the same outline as they did in Modern Warfare 2.  They’ll place you in scenarios from the campaign and have you fighting your way through enemies much like the single player portion, to earn stars for progression.  In a way, these missions display more pure shooter action in Spec Ops, because you don’t have all of the grand events of the campaign.  The mode is better enjoyed with a friend, as working together to complete objectives is always more fun than going it alone. You’ll get a chance to man an AC-130, fight off enemies behind the bad assery of a juggernaut suit, or just stealthily escort hostages to safety.  The real changes to the Spec Ops mode however, is the Survival gametype.  Akin to the popular horde mode in Gears of War, Modern Warfare 3’s Survival Mode will have you fending off wave after wave of enemies, while offering you purchasable upgrades to help you along your way. Again, this mode is also geared towards the cooperative, but it is only limited to one other player.

At the end of the day Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 isn’t a huge departure from a comfortable spot for the franchise.  The gameplay in multiplayer is still the same, tight, controlled, chaos.  The single player might be getting a little long in the tooth, but it’s definitely enjoyable for either the new comer or the old hand, if just for the spectacle of it all.  The enhanced cooperative modes are certainly always welcome, but really lack the staying power that the multiplayer has.  It’s quite amazing that even with all of the turmoil that hit Infinity Ward over the past year, they were able to get out this final chapter in the Modern Warfare franchise, and have it be as polished as Modern Warfare 3 is.  The collaborative effort delivers on the same level as Modern Warfare 2, and may have launched with more polish and balance. Fans of the first person shooter, or Call of Duty games, should be more than impressed with MW3’s impressive collection of new content, even with much of the remaining infrastructure still intact.

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