Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is an interesting game to review because it seems like every type of gamer already has an opinion on the Call of Duty franchise. Some take this series as the most important thing to happen to gaming in a decade, while others simply see an overblown, overmilked cash cow that needs to be put out of its misery. While Modern Warfare 3 may not be trying to win over the haters, those who already appreciate and enjoy the franchise are in for the ride of their lives.
The campaign in MW3 picks up immediately at the conclusion of the last game, with large-scale war breaking out between the U.S. and Russia as well as across Europe. Once again, the story takes players on a globe-trotting, character-swapping mission to survive the mayhem and finally track down Makarov, the mad Russian behind it all.
Unlike the previous games, which had plots that felt disconnected and confusing, MW3 works hard to bring together all the pieces and wrap up the current story in a conclusive and satisfying way. Instead of jumping around to a half-dozen different perspectives, players mostly control two characters, with a third thrown in near the end. This keeps the narrative thread intact throughout the game, ultimately culminating in a much more cogent story. While Call of Duty games may not be exactly renowned for their plotlines, special recognition goes out to the writers for doubling down their efforts and making such drastic improvements.
The levels are just as exhilarating as ever, once more showing us what the world would look like if Michael Bay had chosen to make video games instead of movies. The set piece moments are still huge and dramatic, and I found myself gripping the controller extra tight at times as the world seemed to burn down around me.
The only real downside to this constant thrum of action is that the series may have lost its ability to truly surprise. The "shocking death" twist wasn't so shocking this time around, and the "controversial moment" didn't really resonate. Also, I went into every level knowing that eventually things would devolve into a massive firefight; it was just a matter of when. Even the quiet, controlled beginnings of some stages ultimately yield to the need to fill the screen with gunfire and explosions, so players go into every mission not wondering if things are going to go sideways, but rather when.
Complementing the impressive, if predictable, campaign is the franchise's signature multiplayer, once again shattering expectations and proving that, no matter what anyone may say, the Infinity Ward staff are the true kings of modern shooter multiplayer. The tweaks to the competitive multiplayer, combined with the revamped Spec Ops and new Survival mode, makes for a package that is nearly impossible to resist.
On the competitive front, the team has changed to way killstreaks work to better accommodate a variety of skill levels and play styles. Renamed "strike packages," the in-match boosters are now divided into Assault, Support and Specialist varieties, each of which caters to a specific type of player. The Assault package will be the most familiar to longtime players, as it once again doles out rewards for taking down other players while remaining alive. These bonuses are centered on offense, granting gunships and missile strikes to decimate the opposing team.
The Support package is more defensive-oriented, granting SAM turrets, ballistic vests and EMP bursts to beef up your team while crippling the other guys. The unique twist of Support is that streaks don't reset after death, meaning this will be the preferred strike package for those of us more likely to wander into the path of bullets and grenades.
Specialist is a completely different animal, forgoing killstreak rewards for the activation of additional perks. In addition to your standard loadout of three perks per round, a killstreak of two grants another perk, four provides one more, and at eight kills, every single perk is unlocked. Does this make you an almost unstoppable force? Yeah, it really does.
Another tweak worth noting is that weapon experience has also been overhauled so that sticking with the same gun reaps much larger rewards than before. Some of the old overall perks, like hip fire accuracy, have been stripped away and are instead tied to individual weapons. Suddenly, it behooves players to find a weapon that works for them and stick with it rather than jumping at every new unlock.
New multiplayer modes have also been added, foremost among them the clever and addictive Kill Confirmed. In this mode, your team doesn't score points until you pick up the dog tags of fallen foes. This leads to a lot more close-quarters combat, though clever snipers can perch out of sight and pick off unsuspecting players looking to swoop in for a few easy points. Players also get bonuses for getting to the tags of teammates before the enemy as well as collecting their own markers, so the action rarely slows down. For those looking for a tactical spin on the traditional Team Deathmatch, this may be it.
On the co-op front, the big news is Spec Ops Survival, which is the Modern Warfare take on Horde mode/zombies. This two-player setup tasks teams with taking out waves of increasingly challenging enemies, all while running around the map to buy upgrades and new equipment. It's not a radical departure from what we've come to expect, but it's still a great way to play alongside a friend in a more focused atmosphere. It's just unfortunate that the mode is capped at two players; supporting teams of up to four would have been a nice bonus and provided a perfect training ground for clans and teams.
Looking back over this generation, it can be argued that Modern Warfare reinvented the way we play shooters, and now, Modern Warfare 3 may have come as close as we'll ever get to perfecting it. What few complaints we do have feel negligible in comparison to everything the game does right, and both the campaign and multiplayer components deliver on all fronts. If you've always been hesitant to try Call of Duty, this might be the time to jump in. It honestly doesn't get much better than this.
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