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Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
by Andrew Testerman

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Infinity Ward
Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Reviewed on
Xbox 360
First-person shooter
Best price we found in GBP:
My vision blurs, and myriad shouts and explosions fill my ears as I come to. I’m sitting in an overturned Humvee, trying to come to grips with the chaos going on around me.

“We gotta move, now!” calls my squadmate, cutting himself free of his seatbelt. I open the door and hoist myself out, as outside light blinds me. My eyes adjust, and I watch a cruise missile collide with a skyscraper, sending debris cascading down to the street around me. The report of gunfire, grenade concussion and screams of terror and pain wells in my ears. Not far up the street, invading troops are bearing down on my position, barking orders and sending a hail of bullets in our direction. My squadmate tosses me a magazine, and I load my weapon, ready to meet the enemy head-on. This is Modern Warfare 3, and this is only the first level.

Many, including myself, wondered if Infinity Ward - now sans numerous key members of its creative team - could pull off the sort of bombastic, thrilling campaign that the Modern Warfare name is known for, whilst retaining the tight, finely-honed gameplay that brought the series popularity in the first place. Fortunately for gamers everywhere (which numbers at least 6.5 million, based on first-day sales alone), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 meets Infinity Ward’s high standards, with perhaps the best campaign since Call of Duty 4, and even manages to surpass that hallowed game in several respects. Add the series’ already-exceptional multiplayer and several well-designed cooperative modes, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 easily ranks among the year’s top titles.

Modern Warfare 3 picks up immediately after the end of the second game, with Russia invading the United States over a misdirected terrorist attack, orchestrated by Russian ultranationalist, Makarov. Players take control of several characters over the course of the game, but primarily occupy the boots of Sargeant Derek 'Frost' Westbrook of the US Army, and ex-Spetsnaz soldier Yuri. The game largely expects gamers to remember events from the story in the previous two titles, doing little to re-explain who Makarov is, or why Russia is waging war with the United States, except in brief flashbacks. For those willing to pay attention, as well as dig through the rat-a-tat delivery of military speech voiced by nearly every character, the game does a great job of driving the action forward and providing context for each mission. I’ve seen many folk on Twitter crowing about how difficult the story is to follow, but I thought Modern Warfare 3 does very little to deliberately obfuscate its narrative.

The game trots players around the globe, from Sierra Leone, Africa; to a shelled-out Hamburg, Germany; to a frozen diamond mine buried in Siberia. Variety is the order of the day, and in addition to its many explosive setpieces, Modern Warfare 3 does a good job of changing up gameplay styles and including slower, more deliberate moments, such as navigating a mine-strewn harbour to board a submarine, or using stealth to evade guards on the dark, rainy streets of Prague. Modern Warfare 3’s pacing is outstanding, using the calmer sections to build up the heavy ones, sometimes within the course of the same mission. Admittedly, the game does play it a little safe; none of the scenarios push expectations of what the series can do with shooting. Still, each mission is pitch-perfect and wound tight as a drum, with none of the tricks used by similar games to pad the difficulty or create frustration for its own sake (read: no enemy spawn-closets, and no ‘fend off endless enemies until the data downloads’ missions).

I find Modern Warfare 3’s story to be as good as that of any action movie, and was surprised how - for an ostensibly shallow single player game - the campaign drew me in, and even provided a few emotional moments. The title does an excellent job of building on characters (within the context of a military shooter; this isn’t Mass Effect, after all), and I found myself building an attachment to members of my squad in ways that I hadn’t felt during many recent shooters' campaigns. There was also one moment before the end of the first half that elicited an emotional response from me in a way I hadn’t felt since the infamous Aftermath scene from the first Modern Warfare. The narrative is pure action movie fare, but it’s the very best action movie fare, and is a must-play for shooter fans.

Of course, Call of Duty hasn’t achieved its legend status in the gaming industry solely because of its single player mode. Modern Warfare 3 brings back the series’ much-loved multiplayer, letting players battle it out locally or online via Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, with the option to bring one additional guest via split-screen. Changes are light, but not insignificant. Modern Warfare 3 ditches CoD Points from last year’s Black Ops in favour of level-specific unlocks. Perks have been further rebalanced, feeling more like strategic add-ons rather than nearly-mandatory requirements, and gun-specific perks like Iron Lungs or Deep Impact have been reincorporated as weapon bonuses. Weapons also level up in Modern Warfare 3, unlocking goodies like silencers or personalised scopes through general use. Lastly, Infinity Ward has added two new types of killstreaks (called Strike Packages) that differ from the usual 'kill X players without dying for bonus Y'. Support packages summon team-boosting effects, and allow gamers to retain their kills after dying, whilst the Specialist package gives players additional perks for as long as they can keep their kill streak going. Most will stick with the traditional streaks, called Assault in this game, but the added options are definitely appreciated.

New modes are light in Modern Warfare 3, but fortunately, they’re all keepers. The first is Team Defender, an odd mix of Capture the Flag and Team Deathmatch, with players earning double points whilst they possess a flag. The other (and better) mode is Kill Confirmed, a variation on Team Deathmatch that requires players to collect the dogtags of their fallen victims in order for their kill to count, effectively reducing the effectiveness of camping. Both new modes add a small semblance of strategy to the usual Team Deathmatch fare, and stand proudly alongside staples like Domination, Sabotage and Demolition.

Maps in Modern Warfare 3 are fun, though they merely feel ‘pretty good’ rather than ‘great.’ Maps are much more conducive to tight, close-quarters action, though many have enough open spaces to make sniping a valid strategy. As always, learning a map’s chokepoints and alternate routes will help determine players’ success, a problem that Activision’s new social tool , Call of Duty Elite, is supposed to help address. However, at the time of writing, the service was still largely out of commission, and I was unable to dive into the its finer points. Whilst each map is more than sufficient for team play, Modern Warfare 3 lacks any standout maps, like Afghan or Nuke Town. Still; deeper, more rewarding multiplayer games are hard to come by, and Modern Warfare 3’s online modes should be more than enough to satiate those with an itchy trigger finger.

For players uninterested in competitive play, Modern Warfare 3 also includes two flavours of co-operative gaming with the return of Spec Ops. New to Spec Ops is the Horde-esque Survival mode, which pitches increasingly-difficult waves of enemies against players, forcing them to group up, purchase weapons and revive one another in an effort see how long they can last. The Missions mode is similar to Spec Ops’ iteration in Modern Warfare 2, pitting teams of two players against a variety of objective-based situations, from rescuing hostages in an African village to collecting samples of biological weapons in a hulking Juggernaut suit. Best are the scenarios that place gamers in specific roles, such as a mission where one player must utilise a base’s security system to clear the way for another player, who must reach the endpoint before time runs out. Mission mode features sixteen different operations to work through, and finishing each one requires teamwork and constant communication, leading to an incredible sense of satisfaction upon completion. Spec Ops also features a progression system similar to the one found in multiplayer, adding an extra incentive for return sessions.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is absolutely crammed to the gills with worthy content, from its harrowing and thrilling single player campaign, to its deep and addicting multiplayer, to its varied and rewarding co-operative play. It is incredible that a brand like Call of Duty can operate at such a high level, year in and year out, and Modern Warfare 3 toes the line, providing the best franchise experience in years. Perhaps next time, Activision could try to innovate a bit further and push gamers’ expectations with the series. Still, what’s here is absolutely stellar, and shooter fans owe Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 a spot on their shelf this holiday season.

10/10 [?]

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- Andrew Testerman

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