Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is the epitome of blockbuster sequel entertainment. It can be thrilling, explosive, and have mile-a-minute pacing, but it also has a short attention span, frequent clichés, and weakens what made the major characters so special. It has a lot of entertainment to offer for its whole package, but all of it is ultimately forgettable.
Considering how old the engine is, Modern Warfare 3 is still capable of astounding the senses. Where other shooters strive for technical achievements, Modern Warfare 3 is built on the same IW engine as all Call of Duty games since Call of Duty 2; however, through creative scripting and attention to detail, Modern Warfare 3 still looks stunning. The sheer scale of battles, explosions, fire, bodies, bullets – the speed of the action never bogs down or feels flat. If Call of Duty has mastered anything, it is how to make intense atmosphere.
Sound is equally fantastic. As always, guns sound real and have unique aspects that pros can identify just from a short fire burst. The music is reasonably thematic, contributing to the action in all the right ways, playing loud when tension is highest, but laying low when you have ground to cover. The voice acting is just as strong, especially given that Captain Price and “Soap” MacTavish are the series regulars. Even the voice of Vladamir Makarov returns, and his light, nasal voice brings to memory all of the villainy of the Modern Warfare.
The story is where the game really suffers. Modern Warfare 3 is the trilogy finale to what has been among the most intense actions stories in recent memory. Picking up from the last Modern Warfare, World War III is more-or-less ongoing with Russia invading the US as well as most of Europe. While the war rages, Captain Price, Soap, and a new face, Yuri, work behind to scenes to find Makarov where all three can earn their respective revenge. There is not much more to it.
Cliché nuclear threat, cliché “the president has just been kidnapped,” cliché best buddy bites the dust and more of such clichés abound. I found myself predicting what would happen next with startling accuracy. Perhaps I have seen one too many action movies, but I still found this finale to be the same as any trilogy finale to date. Modern Warfare had sold itself on its narrative before, but it seems to have abandoned that for unclear reasons.
To make matters worse, the story is pathetically short. It is a sugar-rush at best, which is a shame given that the first Modern Warfare was so stellar. I think the particular weakness of the story is due to the forced nature of it all: Modern Warfare was a great in-and-of-itself game, but Modern Warfare 2 turned it into a typical Hollywood-style franchise with the inevitable, bloated finale.
To be expected, multiplayer is where the game actually hits its stride. Online deathmatches, dominations, or perhaps survival mode against waves of enemies – Modern Warfare 3 carefully improves upon the success of previous games. It retains the missions of “Spec Ops” mode, but adds survival mode similar to the horde matches popular in shooters nowadays. Survival allows you to progress like in multiplayer, gradually unlocking weapons and equipment, which should make splitscreen, an increasingly neglected segment of multiplayer, all the more entertaining for those that still love a good LAN party or friday night deathmatch.
Online the game adds nice little adjustments that have been overdue. No longer do you just earn experience for using a gun, but now you also earn abilities to reflect your actual skill with a gun, such as reduced kick or quicker movement when a given gun is equipped. Effectively a minor way of allowing you to equip an extra ability to your gun, perhaps for balance reasons, but it really feels like an improvement because it was what the series should have done several entries ago.
Other improvements to multiplayer include the ability to select different killstreak packages. Offensive killstreaks are traditional, and of course, give rewards for getting a given number of kills. But, support killstreaks are based on total kills, allowing even players such as myself, who rarely achieve more than 5 kills per death, to save up for bigger rewards. When Modern Warfare 2 came out, the customizable killstreak was a revelation, but it proved weak to exploitation. Modern Warfare 3 seems to have fixed the major concerns with the former while still bringing something new to bare.
In the end, Modern Warfare 3 is a mixed bag. I was gravely disappointed by the story, but I got a multiplayer experience that was expectedly improved overdue ways. Games do not show greatness by meeting expectations, but rather by exceeding them. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 might entertain you for a greasy snack, but before long you will probably move on to heartier fare this season.
Developer: Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer
Release Date: 11/8/11