The most highly anticipated videogame of the year, and potentially the biggest seller, is finally upon us. Activision and Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 has been delivered to an eager audience with the typical amount of style and grace that you would expect from a brash Hollywood style production: loads and very little. It’s a blockbuster production in presentation, marketing, and of course in terms of its gameplay too.
The single-player campaign featured in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 breaks the mould and throws the player straight into the action. There’s no tutorial here: point and shoot, that’s what this videogame is about. If something appears on-screen as an overlay, it’s probably of interest. Here’s a white dot, move to it. That’s all the training players ever really need, the rest they can pick up as they go along, and it’s shocking that such a huge title as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 would be the first videogame to recognise this.
The design is similar to previous instalments in the Modern Warfare arm of the franchise: a rip-roaring ride from A-to-B, stopping along the way only to kill bad guys and destroy monumental constructions. The dramatic set-pieces that appear in near-every level are the kind of detailed presentations that most videogames only offer once or twice throughout their entire duration. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 isn’t afraid to wear its pedigree – and budget – on its sleeve.
The level design is fantastic for most of the campaign. At times the player is funnelled down a linear path, point-to-point with their AI teammates, and at others the map is open to explore: cover to utilise, rooms to clear and vantage points to find. It’s a traditional set-up of open-close-open that makes the player feel as though they are actually travelling through locations and playing different set-pieces when the variety – aside from the visual dressing – is actually very minimal, however Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 has clearly perfected the art. The pacing is crucial, and Infinity Ward has managed to get it spot on.
The duration of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s single-player campaign is far beyond that of previous Modern Warfare titles, addressing one of the most criticised factors of Infinity Ward’s recent productions. It culminates in an experience that is arguably leagues ahead of most other first-person shooter (FPS) campaigns, and to most gamers it’ll be less than half of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 story. We all knew that Infinity Ward would never be able to rest on their laurels, that their audience would demand even greater set-pieces and more explosive action Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s single-player component, but surely few would be expecting this.
Moving from the single-player videogame to the co-operative multiplayer, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s Special Ops returns with a significant overhaul. Playable by either one or two players simultaneously, either online or split-screen, games can choose one of three difficulty settings for each of the challenges. New to the Special Ops mode is the Survival option. More commonly known as ‘Horde Mode’ in the modern industry, thanks to Epic Games’ renovation of the formula with the Gears of War series, Survival Mode sees the team playing through waves of increasingly difficult enemies attempting to set a high score. The experience here is the most enduring aspect of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 when discussing the AI design, offering players the opportunity to outperform their friends of their own previous scores, creating their own challenge.
Of course, for many the most enduring aspect of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 will be its competitive multiplayer component. Gamers familiar with any previous instalment of the Modern Warfare arm of Call of Duty will immediately feel at home, and it won’t be too much of a stretch for gamers who have only dabbled with Treyarch’s efforts. Up to eighteen players can take to the battlefield in the traditional Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes, but also in the returning Search and Destroy mode. New modes Kill Confirmed and Team Defender see players collecting dogtags to score and to capture a flag from a downed player respectively, however the biggest renovation applied to the multiplayer gameplay is in that of the Killstreaks, now known as ‘Poinstreaks’.
The entire system has been revamped: kills are no longer the only way to increase the player’s Pointstreak. Completing objectives such as planting the bomb in Search and Destroy or capturing a flag in Capture The Flag increases the player’s Pointstreak, and Pointstreak rewards are organised into three different “strike packages”. These strike packages consist of Assault, Support, and Specialist variations, offering rewards like the Predator drone, UAVs and other perks. Players are allowed to choose which Pointstreak rewards they want to use when they gain it during the match, rather than choosing them between rounds as is the typical presentation.
The adjustment in the way in which these mutliplayer bonuses works brings Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 more inline with the conventions established by multiplayer-centric FPS titles, such as Brink, Enemy Territory: QUAKE Wars and the Battlefield series. There’s no denying that such objective-based multiplayer videogames had previously been the thinking gamer’s choice for their online competition, and it’s clear that Infinity Ward has set their sights on capturing this market also. Sadly, in attempting to please fans of the previous Modern Warfare titles, casual FPS players and the core demographic, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 comes away as a slightly muddled experience. It’ll undoubtedly find an audience – and an audience of millions at that – but there will be many who find the changes a bitter pill to swallow.
The visual quality of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is of course beyond comparison. While the cutscene sequences of Battlefield 3 may be stunning in the lifelike performances of the videogame’s characters, the in-game quality of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is second-to-none. There has been some controversy surrounding the reuse of assets from previous Call of Duty: Modern Warfare outings, but it seems that those complaining have selectively chosen to forget that such practices have existed since the 16-bit era: there was a time when Konami made a name for themselves by recycling CastleVania sprites, and back then few seemed to mind. That Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 offers so much depth in it’s environments that buildings from previous outings were used to fill the backdrop says more about the astonishing scale of the videogame than it does about the development process.
While Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 tries to appeal to the core demographic just as it does the casual FPS market, it has all the same shortcomings as its predecessors in this regard. It’s not a videogame that’s going to compete side-by-side with the likes of Halo: Reach or Killzone 3 in the eyes of the experienced gamer, but for those who dabble with a handful of releases a year Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is undoubtedly going to set a new standard against which others will be judged. In delivering a cinematic single-player Infinity Ward has achieved the goal of making standard fare glamorous; in expanding the Special Ops mode Infinity Ward has checked all the right boxes for modern co-operative FPS titles; in revising the multiplayer Infinity Ward has given their audience much more to think about than simply shooting for the kill. Ultimately Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is everything it promised to be: the closing chapter in a series that has been deemed essential by an audience of millions.