November 16, 2011
Arguably the shallowest of the three features that Modern Warfare 3 has to offer is the campaign mode, which is yet another breakneck entry into a story that is about as over the top and believable as the Die Hard films. Gamers pick up where Modern Warfare 2 left off, taking the role of soldiers around the world to give an overview of events as they occur. America is in a desperate struggle to overthrow Russian forces in New York while Price and Nikolai struggle to keep Soap alive while at the same time running away from Makarov's forces who are trying to destabilize the planet through various acts of terrorism. New characters are introduced, but little is done and players never really get to know who they are, which leaves everyone's part in this war feeling extremely disconnected. Unlike the other two games, a large majority of the gameplay takes place under the faceless individuals, and it's hard to really care about what's going on to these individuals let alone the world.
Equally disappointing is the pacing of the game which still relies entirely on the player, so pushing through a level is entirely dependent on how fast the player moves against a relatively unlimited number of enemies. It doesn't matter how many bad guys you put down, they just keep on coming until you make it to the next checkpoint. It's also worth noting that the allied AI will always rely on the players cues to do any sort of work. Granted that the single player experience isn't really a main selling point to the game, but as a bit of side fluff it's still a fairly frustrating experience on higher levels of difficulty. Not hard per se, but inconvenient and sloppily handled, which makes enjoying the already lacklustre story even more difficult.
That being said anyone buying Modern Warfare 3 for the single player experience alone either has brain damage or otherwise lacks an internet connection. This is a game almost entirely dedicated to the multiplayer component, and even with just a minor bit of polish the experience shines. MW3 is at its core an arcade shooter meant for players to jump in and out of action with as little interruption as possible, and while this sort of non-committal setup to online gaming is almost completely the opposite of where community gaming seems to be heading, for MW3 it works.
Players still select individual builds that feature a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, customizable components for each gun in addition to perks and tools. A few new perks have replaced older, less balanced ones from the prior games, and the same classic features such as being made invisible to radar, faster aiming, and rapid reloading are still staples to the core gameplay. Unlocking new weapons remains the same, as players earn kills and contribute to their overall score they eventually level to be granted access to new features. By using an individual weapon, earning kills and assists, players slowly unlock more and more features for the gun. It's similar to the way the old system works, but far more clear in what will be unlocking when on top of providing players with an easy way to determine exactly what weapon is thoroughly used and what gun should be used a bit more.
In the same way that weapon and skill levelling has been subtly adjusted, killstreaks, the popular mechanic of the series, has also been tweaked for the better. Instead of a sweeping set of three killstreaks that apply to every single class, each class that players design have the option of selecting individual load-outs for killstreaks, which are broken down into three categories. Assault features killstreaks that are far more aggressive, and must be obtained by killing players without suffering any death. Helicopters, missile strikes, precision airstrikes are all part of the Assault killstreak set and should be fairly familiar to anyone who has played previous Modern Warfare titles. Support on the other hand provides killstreaks designed to assist the team, and are all killstreaks that can be earned throughout the game no matter how many deaths a player suffers. Earning things like UAVs, EMP blasts, or sentry guns without having to worry about general deaths is a fantastic way of rewarding players who enjoy more objective based scenarios while at the same time not granting them anything extremely overpowered. Those who choose the Specialist package forsake getting killstreaks for instead earning perks as they score kills, eventually being granted every perk in the game at once should they kill enough players without dying.
The entire setup for killstreaks may seem a little obtuse, but the breakdown of these individual bonuses is extremely well balanced. Although the Assault killstreaks are naturally a little more intense than the ones provided by Support, there are no single overpowering killstreaks that would be considered game ending. This is partly supported by the fact that players are able to throw down a wider variety of tricks than just calling in different kinds of airstrikes. Items like robot controlled drones, proximity explosives or manually controllable sentry turrets lend a hand in breaking up the general danger that a level may provide. More intelligent level design means that players have quite a few more ways of navigating a particular map as well, and fans of the series should be happy to know that each level isn't simply a matter of choking down a single point. Entry/exit points are strewn throughout every map to ensure that players don't get thrown down into a corner with no viable means of escape.
Part of this breaks down in game modes like Demolition where spawns can be camped to a particular extent, but as a whole the issues with multiplayer have largely been fixed. Game modes are broken down as well, and as of the time of launch a decent amount of both normal and hardcore gametypes exist, which is fantastic news for those actually interested in playing more than just regular team deathmatch. The only real complaint that a player could possibly have is that the game 'hasn't changed much' since Modern Warfare 2, but it's fairly clear that Modern Warfare 3 is more about perfecting a multi-million dollar system rather than redefining it.
The third mode is an unusual blend of both the frustrations of single player and the fun that multiplayer has to offer. Co-op allows players to go on individual missions against AI, or to compete in a Horde Mode style arena where players have an entire level in which to fight off waves of enemy AI with a friend. As players progress through the levels they gain better weapons and the ability to call in various kind of support. It's an interesting way to keep the players engaged, since just straight up shooting waves of enemies would be fairly boring, and does a great job of highlighting all of the improvements made to Modern Warfares system. Unfortunately, anyone familiar with the AI on hardcore difficulty should be all too familiar with the route that the intelligence eventually takes. It's never smarter or more intuitive, and only manages to become more of a challenge because enemies either become able to withstand massive amounts of punishment (like the juggernaut suited enemies) or they simply use a specialized version of an auto-aim program to try and headshot you from what would otherwise be impossible for a normal player to achieve.
The sound in Modern Warfare 3 hasn't really strayed far from the other engagements in the series, and the graphics (while slightly updated) also hasn't seen much of a facelift. That being said the game still looks quite good visually, and the most important part is even when there's a lot going on in scenarios like Ground War there's never any slowdown or graphical lag.
So is there anything new for Modern Warfare fans to look forward to? Absolutely, but those new things are what some people may consider to be trivial and aesthetic. New weapons, killstreaks and upgrades provide that extra bit of fun to a series that's become known for being able to be picked up by just about anyone, and the developers did a great job in keeping things fairly competitive without handing over an overwhelming advantage to players who are good at killing. Anyone looking for dramatic changes to the combat is being unrealistic, but those who have already committed quite a bit of time to the online play of Modern Warfare 2 or Black Ops should find themselves fairly satisfied. It's simple enough to pick up and play, the levels are complex enough to provide quite a bit of strategy for just about any gametype, and killstreaks still have that brutal satisfaction to them that has made Call of Duty so popular as a franchise.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was reviewed on the Xbox 360. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.