It’s that time again. Lines are being drawn in digital sand as one of the most divisive franchises in gaming drops its most recent work.
Love it or hate it (seemingly the only options) Infinity Ward’s latest in the Modern Warfare series is exactly the game expected. Whether that is a good thing or not is entirely up to the taste of the player.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 does not move on past the parameters set for the series in 2007. There is no risk here, and only time will tell if this conservative design approach will finally start to alienate the game from its generally aggressive fan base.
Being pumped yearly for a full-price game that offers at most tweaks in the graphical department and a change to the roster has previously been the domain of sports games, as other genres have generally been content to offer DLC in the form of map packs and extended gameplay for a small price. Many consider the previous Modern Warfare little more than an overpriced expansion pack, and it is this slowly growing belief that may finally cause a dent in the massive profits made on the Modern Warfare brand.
Company politics and pricing decisions aside, there is much to enjoy here. The single player campaign picks up almost immediately after the events of Modern Warfare 2, presenting an environment moments from a Third World War with the oh-so-evil Russian Makarov doing everything in his power to see the world burn.
This time the tale is considerably more coherent, with less wobbling around an unsure plot. A story chock-full of terrorism, treachery and blockbuster movie stunts spreads out across the globe with easy-to-follow characters that behave consistently. Far from a cluster of shocks breaking apart the story that made earlier titles hard to follow, the few major shocks in Modern Warfare 3 enhance the experience rather than confuse it.
The aforementioned blockbuster stunts work at keeping players on the edge of their seats; this is a game where diving in slow motion from explosions is bread and butter, and gravity is a plaything to enhance the gunplay experience.
A moment of pointless shock value is the only real blunder, as the player is planted in the shoes of an American tourist in London happily filming his daughter chasing birds before she is caught in the detonation of a dirty bomb. Whilst not as extreme as Modern Warfare 2's airport massacre, it serves no purpose and brings nothing to the game.
While the retooled Modern Warfare 3 engine does it’s darnedest to pump out carnage at a staggering pace, the time-worn Call of Duty corridor-combat template puts a dampener on the experience at times. Moving from moments of awe as everything explodes to tired, infinitely spawning enemies trying to stop the player from crossing an invisible line can get old, and expecting help from AI allies will likely result in rage.
The single player is a highly polished, if slightly tired romp but it's the multiplayer that will both determine the games longevity and the final grade.
The core of the multiplayer experience is unmistakably Call of Duty; A fast paced, frantic frag fest where headshots are power and the 16 available maps offer few places to hide. The unlock system, too, seems to have been built to keep the pace going even off the battlefield with a system that will ensure players of every level will start expanding their options almost immediately.
It’s all about the experience, as every game played adds something to the players kit. Every aspect can be levelled up or augmented through use; weapons, accessories and perks all get better with time. By the end of one multiplayer session the player’s available weapons, weapon modifications, and perks will all have expanded five-fold.
The perk system, which had moments of controversy in its earlier outings, has had some work done in the hopes of taming down the balance-breaking streak abilities. The more unstoppable streak bonuses have been reigned in slightly so the appearance of bombers or attack helicopters does not mean hurling controllers against walls. Along with a slight reduction in game-breaking there is also more control over perks obtained, what bonuses are received and when they are unlocked.
Infinity Ward has created Strike Packages to make perks a more enjoyable experience for all, as they offer the ability to select the benefits obtained from a streak. The Assault Strike Package is designed to increase body-count, rewarding the player for constant kills. The Specialist package caters for the more experienced, giving up to three additional perks as the streak total rises.
The Support Strike Package is the most interesting addition, offering a chance to players who may not feel able to keep up with the intense kill/death ratios of the higher ranked players. Streaks for this selection do not reset after death, so it is possible to build up to useful abilities even if frags have been thin on the ground.
Game modes have also been expanded with the introduction of new content. Kill Confirmed is the most notable; this new mode takes the regular Team Deathmatch and adds more strategy. It is just a small change to the tried and true formula – for a kill to count; a players must collect the dog tag dropped by the dead enemy, making each downed soldier a magnet for more action. Along with collecting enemies tags, players can also grab them from fallen allies, denying the opposing side a chance to score.
Co-op is back with another 16 Spec Ops objective-based missions to play with a friend. These range from two-player variants of stages from the campaign to all-new encounters. Survival mode uses multiplayer maps and requires players to outlast wave after wave of increasingly dangerous enemies; it's a new addition which rewards quick thinking and teamwork.
While it is easy to attack the Modern Warfare franchise for sticking to a template, it is also good to be reminded that there is a well-tooled enjoyment machine here. With such a formulaic production system it could easily be argued there is room for innovation, and until this series pushes the boundaries there will always be a sense of annoyance from a large section of the first-person shooter market.
Put that aside and enjoy Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 for what it is: a brutal and rewarding game that knows what players expect, and delivers it with well-earned confidence.