Review: Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 (PS3)
Title: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Release Date: November 8, 2011
Developers: Infinity Ward / Sledgehammer / Raven
ESRB Rating: M
It’s the Michael Bay movie of the gaming world. The Call of Duty franchise offers big dumb fun, with explosions at a rate of 5 per second. So, with the trailers we’ve seen suggesting this is about World War III, we could pretty much expect much more of the same.
Arguably, any CoD game doesn’t need reviewing. It doesn’t need any previews, trailers, advertisements, anything. If Activision just set up a webpage saying “New CoD – 8th November”, it would still sell like nothing else out there. Just as importantly though, people would already know exactly what they’re getting – even with no specific info about the game. And that’s the big challenge for Infinity Ward; can they make a game that’s instantly accessible, but has a few tricks up its sleeve to appease the doubters? Read on to find out.
I’ll keep this review spoiler-free, although even after you play it you probably won’t know what the story is (more on that later).
On the whole, you’ll find MW3 extremely familiar and very easy to pick-up and play. There’s no tutorial like in the previous titles, but I suppose they just presume every man and their dog knows how to play Call of Duty by now. To be fair, in the opening exchanges of the first mission, I found it very easy to get back into the flow – even after not playing CoD for the best part of a year.
On to the campaign and as referenced to before, this really is a game that looks like it was directed by Bay himself. It’s a myriad of events that take place in amazing locations and the story has quite blatantly taken the backseat; a complete afterthought that exists to very loosely tie these situations together. MW3 is by no means a realistic recreation of war, rather it’s a spectacular Hollywood take on it.
The storyline is simply an excuse to go from country to country, a ridiculously jumpy narrative structure. “Makarov is in famous city A”. Cue lots of explosions. “Now Makarov is in famous city B”. Cue lots of explosions. Sometimes you won’t even know what’s going on, it just seems like a convoluted mess being stitched together with the highly advanced compositional device of gunfire.
That at least was my view half way through. Towards the final stages it does pick up – and ties together all three MW titles. There’s an unexpected plot twist which makes you sit up and take note, as well as tension ramping up towards the finale in classic CoD fashion. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an Arkham City-rivaling storyline, it was just good to see a little more cohesion and meaning to the narrative.
The variety in mission types is decent, but they’re all things you’ve done in the past games – sniper missions, controlling an AC130, carrying fellow soldiers to safety. Just like the set pieces and most other facets of the campaign, it’s all very expected.
And this is where the real predicament of judging the campaign (and the game as a whole) comes in. MW3 is the best bits of the previous two games rolled into one 100mph thrill ride. It’s short (took me between 4:30-5:00 hours on regular) but it’s non-stop shooting and running and dramatic jumping. Possibly the most over-the-top war FPS to date, the campaign will completely come down to personal preference.
In my opinion, it serves its purpose well – a fun few hours of very solid gameplay to tie up the floundering storyline. No emotion, nothing thought-provoking, just gunplay and set-pieces aplenty. Overall, I’d say it’s ahead of MW2 but way behind the original masterpiece. The feeling you got from the sniper mission in Chernobyl was truly special. In this one there are many brief ‘wow’ moments but nothing game-changing or genre-defining that you’ll look back on in years to come.
If you want to wander through the mountains of Afghanistan taking down terrorists in a feasible experience, skip this and stick to Medal of Honor. If you want a Hollywood game, or, like me, have room for both in your library, give MW3 a whirl too.
Away from the story and on to more general mechanics of the game; the controls are as tight as ever. As mentioned previously, it’s so easy to pick up and play, especially as you can choose from a variety of layouts. Personally, I prefer shooting on R2 (I have triggers attached to controller) with crouching on the right stick and CoD is one of the only games that allows this.
A new feature of the weapons I found useful on MW3 is dual scopes. On some weapons you can now click left on the d-pad to select a more suitable sight. For example, if you have a sniper rifle and suddenly come across some close-quarters combat, you can push the red-dot sight into position and take enemies down without any hassle. A neat little addition.
These alterations are few and far between though; you could make an argument that they’d already mastered the fundamentals or equally you could say the team are resting on their laurels. Either way, if you look at it in isolation, it’s a fantastic game. If you look at the genre as a whole, you’d say that MW has reached its point of maturation and should bow out now while it’s on top, before they embarrass themselves (I’m looking at you Tony Hawk & Guitar Hero).
Call of Duty is always a bit of a strange one when it comes to the graphical side of things; you’d neither say it’s bad, nor show it off to people as visually stunning. The game still seems to be running off the same engine as MW and although you can see slight improvements, the changes are nothing to write home about. For the next CoD game, I think we could likely see a new engine as this one is showing its age now.
MW3, like its predecessors, runs silky smooth; it may not be the best looking war game, but it flows like no other at a velvety 60fps. The character models of your fellow soldiers look quite good, while enemies are o.k. Some textures still look like they’re made of cardboard, but on the whole there’s nothing overtly noticeable that would put you off.
One thing that did catch my eye was the activity in the distance. Some of it is remarkable when you can see different battles going on, as well as air support laying down missiles, people trying to shoot down choppers and much more. It gives the world an atmosphere and you do feel like you’re in the middle of World War III as you’re completely encircled by the whole thing.
Like with most games, I played MW3 with headphones on and overall, it’s pretty sweet. Obviously whether your audio setup is headphones, your TV or a surround sound system, you’ll have a drastically different experience, so take it with a pinch of salt.
Although sometimes it can sound like a barrage of abuse to the ears with the constant explosions, on the whole there are some fantastic effects. You can definitely hear an improvement over the past games in general gunfire; especially when bullets just miss you – the sound of that round zooming past your face is great.
Because of the aforementioned summer blockbuster-esque nature of the game, the gunfire and blasts become the ambient noise of the game, so while I suppose they’re pretty decent sound effects, they do grate on you. The air support is pretty cool; for example, the sound of a harrier jump jet cutting through the air is quite something.
The word to most accurately describe the voice acting would be ‘meh’. It’s by no means terrible, but by the same token nothing special. Mostly the same voice actors as in previous games (including the exact same cockney accent for now a third character), it’s your usual array of “Oscar Mike”, “The LZ is hot!”, “Tango down” and “Noooooo!”.
The music, again, is bog standard. It usually fits in well with the environment and at the climax of a successful mission there’ll be that really American, victorious music; cheesy to say the least. Apart from that, not much more I can say – it did the job. I don’t really have any major complaints, but at the same time I’m no audiophile so maybe there’s subtle nuances that my untrained ears didn’t pick up on. For the average Joe, it’s fine.
Just as a bit of background, I’m a huge fan of the Infinity Ward multiplayer. MW re-injected new life into the genre with the original and I spent an inordinate amount of time on MW2. So much so, that the almost addicted-levels of game time led to me owning the game on both platforms, just so I could play with friends on each console. Black Ops just didn’t do it for me. The maps felt a bit soulless, while I hated the new monetary system – because you could buy your preferred gun straight away, it made leveling up completely pointless.
The primary reason I vehemently loathed it though, was that it became almost unplayable. The lag was absolutely unbelievable and (in my experience at least) you were chucked out of every other game. It just used to freeze half way through a game, citing problems with host migration or server connection, and threw you back into the menu. This was not the multiplayer experience I fell in love with.
MW3 is ultra solid – as I’d expected. So far, I’ve suffered no lag whatsoever, no games ending early, just a smooth run of senselessly murdering random people with precise bullets to the face. And that’s exactly the way it should be.
The online mode (like the campaign and spec ops) doesn’t do anything new or risk-taking – what it does do is polish the best online play on console. The progression system of MW has always been fantastic and the third iteration is no exception.
Relating back to Treyarch’s perplexingly poor attempt at keeping you hooked by earning CoD coins, with Infinity Ward’s take on the multiplayer, you earn different weapons and perks after hitting each level, or performing specific feats. Obviously, the greater weapons are further down the unlock line so it gives the online a real sense of longevity.
They’ve added a great new mode called Kill Confirmed – a twist on the traditional team deathmatch. Now, when somebody is killed, they’re dogtags are dropped and you have to go and pick up the tags to get a point. There’s also a tweak when it comes to streaks – now MW is more akin to Battlefield and Medal of Honor. You have support streaks that carry over across deaths, as well as streaks that temporarily give you extra perks. Welcome improvements to catch up with the competition.
The actual gameplay is still as frantic and twitchy as ever, so if you really can’t stand the fast pace of CoD it won’t be for you. However, there is a middle ground and it’s what I almost exclusively play when it comes to MW titles – Hardcore.
It’s such an improved experience over the standard lobbies, filled with pre-teens who think they’re some sort of big shot and where you get shot as soon as you respawn. In Hardcore, the pace is slower and more deliberate, you have to wait before respawning, no killcams, just a couple of bullets kill an opponent rather than unloading a whole round and many more brilliant adjustments. The tension is higher, especially in Hardcore S&D – listening out for footsteps when you’re the last man standing and you have to disarm a bomb to win the game is an amazing rush.
Now for the third and final section of MW3. Spec Ops has now been split into two modes: Mission mode and Survival mode. Mission mode is largely unchanged from MW2 – you and a partner take on an objective and try to earn as many stars as possible. For each mission, you earn 1 star for regular difficulty, 2 for hardened and 3 for veteran.
It’s a worthwhile inclusion but not a game-seller. I enjoyed it in the previous version and this one likewise but it’s basically just the single player maps cut down and with different enemy positions and quantity.
The other Spec Ops mode – Survival – is Infinity Ward’s take on what now seems like a mandatory inclusion for any game; a horde mode. You take on waves of enemies and try to survive as long as possible. Simple as that. This particular version seems very tacked-on and only takes place in recycled multiplayer maps – the mode isn’t my cup of tea anyway, added to the fact it’s not had much thought put into it makes it worse. If you enjoy these modes, you may well like it; I just generally find them tedious.
Like many a gamer nowadays, I’m pretty sick of Activision and the fashion in which gaming has almost become enveloped by the CoD franchise. Trust me, I’d love to sit here and say that the billionaire execs over there have rode this particular cash cow to death & that the pinnacle is long gone and never coming back.
After you’ve played MW3 though, that thought wouldn’t enter your mind. While Treyarch continue to fall short, Infinity Ward have done it yet again; creating a compelling (but ridiculous) single-player adventure and an addictive online experience, that make an unrivaled value for money.
I sincerely hope that they end the MW series here, because this behemoth of an FPS is a fitting finale. It’s been an amazing trilogy of titles that (especially the first two) revolutionised the genre. No matter how much we’ve come to hate the CoD name, there’s no doubt that IW are still top dog in the FPS world.
It’s more of the same, yes. But the first two were so damn good, that can only be a compliment.