They say time passes at an ever increasing rate the older one becomes, and it's certainly true for the most part.
That's why exciting new experiences are the key to slowing the passage of time. The more different each preceding day is from the last, the more memorable the year becomes. By setting up concrete markers, it's no longer possible to confuse September with August. Spring with summer, last weekend with yesterday morning. Plentiful vacations are one way to achieve this. Likewise, tragic events tend to stick in the mind. The one thing sure to make each year blend into each other with no discernible difference however is to tune into Activision's Call of Duty franchise.
Regularity has been a common theme since 2007's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Apart from a slight locational deviation in World at War, developers Infinity Ward (who are joined this year by Sledgehammer) and Treyarch have served essentially the same canteen food to the same largely appreciative audience in annual instalments, content to tweak the side salads and add pepper to the meatloaf where necessary, yet generally provide a predictable gaming experience at all costs. It's an approach that has proven remarkably beneficial to all involved, apart from perhaps the dedicated PC gamer who has seen the series appropriated and championed by a new generation of console players, and suffered through the disenfranchisement generally associated with such a transition.
Modern Warfare 3 is no giant leap forward for the series, rather it's a predictable evolution. The campaign picks up almost exactly where Modern Warfare 2 left off, with a desperate attempt to avoid a global war set in motion by the malevolent Makarov. Country-hopping between hotspots, the chapters are laced with constant over-the-top action, dramatic gunfights, furious vehicle chases and explosions that could barely explode with more conviction if they'd been exploded by an explosion. It's frantic, non-stop, and overwhelming. Hurt Locker? Hurt Tardis, more like.
Previous Modern Warfare campaigns were likewise imbued with outrageous combat scenarios, but where Modern Warfare 2 suffered from a broken, irregular story arc and a confusing lack of coherency, Modern Warfare 3 is content to gradually feed the narrative out, never really outstepping the pace or usurping memorable moments with ridiculously implausible plot twists. It's no Call of Duty 4, but heartwarmingly, it marks a return to form for Infinity Ward, and will likely be received well by those subscribers who only invest in singleplayer.
Whilst the flow and the overall structure of the campaign doesn't disappoint, the same predictable "move, shoot, cross invisible line, rinse and repeat" mechanic has been retained. It's nowhere near as bad as the atrocious Brazilian Favela level from Modern Warfare 2, but it is noticeable and does break immersion. In any case, this is to be expected, and will hardly come as a surprise for campaign veterans. Problems such as this – and the noticeable recycling of assets from previous games – can be largely tuned out over the six hours or so it's likely to take most players to finish it, which is an achievement worth striving for as it's one of the more memorable ends to a story arc in recent memory.
Accompanying the campaign, the Special Ops co-op is spit between Survival and Mission modes. Survival is as it would appear: by playing either solo or in pairs, players take on increasing waves of enemies, pausing between each to restock weapons and supplies purchased with money earned from the previous wave. It's not a new concept by any stretch, but it is implemented well and affords the player a good introduction to weapon classes and map layout that carries over to the multiplayer proper. Slightly baffling is the two-player restriction however; even Treyarch's Nazi Zombie mode allowed up to four, and it made for a more tactical experience.
Mission co-op serves up a batch of new scenarios with their own ranking system and unlockable rewards. These are loosely taken from identifiable segments in the campaign, but feature new objectives and locations that offer a solid layer of additional content. Juggernaut escorts, collecting virus samples or even defusing explosives on a submarine – they're far from merely tacked-on, arcade-esque additions to the campaign as was the case with Modern Warfare 2, and serve to show that the multitude of developers involved in Modern Warfare 3 have worked hard to provide the title with lasting appeal.
Many of those who have followed Call of Duty since the first fledgeling title in 2003 will likely view the campaign and co-op content as a curious addition, and reach straight for the online multiplayer server queues. The modifications found in Modern Warfare 3 have been documented for some time now, and we've covered these fairly extensively in previous articles. In effect, these changes have really placed an emphasis on not only character progression through levelling, but have also managed to encourage new players to try as many different load-outs as possible to ensure the full experience is attained. In the long run, this should make for a far more dynamic online experience.
The 16 maps on offer show a much tighter approach to combat, which – although early days yet – tends to favour much closer action, and seem less likely to appeal to professional snipers. They appear to have been designed specifically to funnel players towards various choke points, and feel less vertical as may have been the case with previous titles.
Domination, Deathmatch, Search and Destroy, Demolition and Headquarters all return, as well as newcomers Team Defender and Kill Confirmed. The former simply relies on a squad member holding on to a flag as their teammates defend him and accrue points, whereas the latter forces the player to drop dogtags upon death, which must be collected by either side to alternately confirm or deny the kill. Kill Confirmed is fast proving a favourite online, as the tactical requirement to ascertain the safety behind retrieving a fallen comrades tag or merely avoiding the possibility of becoming a statistic in a similar fashion leads to protracted, heated battles.
Happily, Modern Warfare 3 online hasn't suffered from the release-day glitches seen with Black Ops multiplayer, as there's no real issues with latency (as tested on two separate DSL connections) nor is there a tendency towards graphical stuttering during combat. This really affords the player the ability to sit back and enjoy the addictive levelling that is the hallmark of the series, without constantly worrying if technical issues are in some way subtracting from the balance of play. Even the integrated Elite service manages well, serving up all manner of statistics for people who really want to push the bounds of social interaction with incessant boasting. Again, nothing really all that new on the PC, but at least the majority of the service is free.
Sure, there's been talk of advanced lighting and better animations, but there's no need to get carried away. Graphically it's Modern Warfare 2 underneath the party frock. As the graphical requirements for that title are basically on a par with the first Modern Warfare, there's probably a few smartphones that can even join in the fun by now.
Perhaps the biggest change to Call of Duty as it stands is that it no longer stands alone. It's impossible to avoid comparisons with Electronic Arts' recently released Battlefield 3, particularly for PC gamers where the focus on cutting-edge technology is strongest. But in reality, the two titles are really only comparable in the quality of their campaign mode, a curious irony that Electronic Arts has engineered themselves. By aligning their campaign structure so similarly to Call of Duty, they've given Activision the chance to bite back with a better singleplayer alternative – which Modern Warfare 3 certainly is.
Comparing Battlefield 3's online multiplayer with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is largely pointless however. Both titles serve different interests, have fostered different communities and have different expectations of the player. Battlefield is a much more tactical experience, it's larger in scope and offers a greater level of diversity in actions taken during combat. Modern Warfare 3 is the known entity; it offers exactly what it means to with close-quarter action, aggressive levelling, extensive loadouts, and short yet highly-charged battles between small pockets of troops. If it's hard to choose between the two, simply play whatever your friends play, and leave the bickering to others.
It would have been nice to have seen Call of Duty evolve with more determination over the last four years. Perhaps a newer engine, a longer campaign, or a change of location outside of those already featured. But it's hard to deny that Call of Duty – the Modern Warfare brand in particular – is a product of its own success, and a product of its consumer appeal. It exists in the way it does because it sells, and it sells because it's predictable.
On the latter point, Activision has you covered.