Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Review
As Modern Warfare 3's campaign begins, World War 3 is already well underway. The game doesn't really take the time to explain how the world got itself into such a mess, instead making the assumption that you've completed Modern Warfare 2's campaign and are already pretty much up to speed on things. Not that you can't play Modern Warfare 3 without first playing the two games in the series that preceded it; the Modern Warfare series has always been more about creating tense and dramatic missions without worrying too much about the plausibility of the narrative. Modern Warfare 3 certainly carries on this tradition and quite admirably, with an opening mission that takes place in a New York City facing a full-scale invasion by Russian forces. Fighters and helicopters navigating Manhattan's concrete canyons while tanks and soldiers battle it out on the streets below and naval vessels choke the surrounding rivers all make for a very dramatic setting, and set the tone for the rest of the game that follows. The first level is also a preview for what you're in for in the rest of the campaign which includes plenty of large-scale military battles on the streets of major cities such as Paris and Berlin. The diverse mission locations play host to a variety of missions that keep the gameplay from devolving into a long exercise of "kill all the enemies in the area and then move to the next area and repeat." Part of the fun in making your way through the game is finding out what's in store for you in the next mission. The gameplay still falls into the "corridor shooter" category, with linear gameplay, triggered events, and enemies that will continually spawn until you push forward to that next trigger point. It's a testament to the game's design that even though you're pretty much lead along the path it doesn't necessarily feel like you're playing under the restrictions that you are.
The single player campaign features seventeen missions grouped into three acts that will take you about six hours to complete. You may want to spend more time with it after that since 100% completion isn't awarded unless you play through it at one of the higher difficulty levels and find all of the hidden enemy intel locations, but if you're a "play through it once" kind of gamer then like me you'll probably wish the campaign ran a little longer.
The level of difficulty in the campaign at the normal level is probably on the easy side for anyone who plays shooters regularly. The enemy AI is relatively good, but the snap-to targeting in which a tap of the aim trigger snaps your weapon right to the enemy you're aiming for gives you a decided advantage. The game seems to be designed to be played at one of the higher difficulty levels, which still include the snap-to targeting but kick the enemy AI up a notch and make you more susceptible to damage.
Once you complete the campaign and the credits finish rolling, the game will ask you if you want to move on to Special Ops mode. Spec Ops mode is essentially two collections of challenge missions that can be played on your own or cooperatively online or split-screen. The Missions mode in Spec Ops is a collection of sixteen individual missions tied to the game's campaign, and the reason that the game prompts you to play them once you've finished the campaign. They're not simple rehashes of the missions you've already beaten in the campaign, but are new missions that average about five minutes in length each that are ancillary to the main story - basically you'll get to see what happened in some of the "off camera" action while you were engaged in the primary missions, some of which are even played from the enemy's perspective. Each mission scores your performance in a number of categories, and when you successfully complete one you'll get a full score breakdown and see how your performance stacked up against that of other players on the leaderboards. There's plenty of motivation to replay each of the missions in addition to the fact that a lot of them are flat out fun to play, not just for bragging rights or self-directed challenge but also because the game tracks your scores in setting your overall experience level. This experience level is separate from the experience level you earn in competitive multiplayer and is tracked for two primary reasons. The first is that the Spec Ops missions are grouped into tiers and each tier has a minimum experience level required to unlock its missions. The second comes into play in the other Spec Ops mode, Survival.
Survival mode has you squaring off against endless waves of enemies, either alone or with a co-op partner, on each of the game's sixteen multiplayer maps. Like the Mission mode, the maps are grouped into four tiers. Each map on a tier has its own set of enemy type progression as well as a minimum Spec Ops level required to unlock the tier. The goal, of course, is to survive as long as possible, but the skill with which you dispatch your enemies is important, too. Headshots, kill streaks (in this case, number of enemies killed before you take some damage), and multi-kills will award you with more points than sloppily unloading an entire clip into an enemy. These points not only determine where you'll rank on the leaderboards when all is said and done, but also contribute to your Spec Ops level and award you Spec Ops cash. The cash is important because you begin Survival mode with only a pistol, and although you can scavenge weapons from fallen enemies, the only way to gain better weapons, restock on grenades, or call in special air support attacks is to use your cash on-hand at the upgrade stations on the map.
Multiplayer is where the majority of gamers purchasing Modern Warfare 3 will undoubtedly be spending most of their time with the game. After the success of Modern Warfare 2, the temptation was probably there to make a minimal set of upgrades to the multiplayer game in Modern Warfare 3, watch it sell millions of copies anyway, and then call it a day to count the money rolling in. Fortunately the developers resisted this temptation and have refined the gameplay even further, cementing the series' position as the marquee multiplayer shooter on consoles.
Let's start with the game modes. All of the modes from Modern Warfare 2 return, starting with the ever popular deathmatch modes of Free-For-All, Team Deathmatch, and Mercenary (Team Deathmatch with teams strictly randomized, i.e. no clan teams). There are two control point capture and hold modes, one with multiple control points, Domination, and the other with a single point that can also be destroyed, Headquarters Pro. There are also three bomb-based variants, Demolition, with one team trying to destroy designated targets and the other trying to prevent their destruction, Search and Destroy, which is like Demolition except without respawns, and Sabotage, with both teams competing to be the first to destroy a neutral target. And then there's the old stalwart of Capture the Flag, which should require no explanation.
In addition, two new modes have been added to the game. The first is Team Defender, which is a Capture the Flag variant. In this version of CTF, there is only one flag and no base to return the enemy flag to. Instead the idea is to capture the flag and to hold onto it as long as possible. If the flag carrier is killed the flag is dropped, and can be picked up by either team. The mode is essentially a game of keep away. This mode does a good job of ensuring plenty of action as it concentrates the action on the flag and keeps the players converging on the same area. In this way it plays somewhat like Headquarters Pro, except that the headquarters is mobile.
The other new mode is Kill Confirmed, and it's one of those modes with a relatively simple premise that's such a great addition to the game that you have to wonder why no one thought of it before. Kill Confirmed is a Team Deathmatch variant in which player kills do not immediately award points to the team making the kill. When a player is killed he drops dog tags behind and in order to get credit for the kill the tags need to be retrieved. If the other team beats them to the tags, though, no credit is given for the kill. This small change adds a new depth of tactical options to the venerable Team Deathmatch mode. For example, Tags can be used as bait for an ambush; the more players that fall into the trap, the more enticing the bait becomes. Collecting tags also provides an option for newer players to gain some much needed experience, something that's more of a challenge in straight Team Deathmatch where leveled-up players have a distinct advantage. Kill Confirmed is an addictive mode, and I think it will quickly become one of Modern Warfare 3's most popular modes.
Modern Warfare 3 includes sixteen total multiplayer maps that provide a good variety of small and large locations. The maps are all well-designed and nicely balanced - Modern Warfare 3's map designers are really on their game here. Which maps are "best" is sure to be one of those topics that Modern Warfare 3 players will debate for as long as they play the game, but I did find that I really enjoyed playing on four of the maps. Dome is a small map set in an abandoned desert radar station with a yard filled with derelict vehicles and containers. Two indoor areas, a small underground service tunnel, and an elevated platform on the old radar dome offer a lot of options for such a small map. Village is set in an African village and includes a lot of small twisting alleyways ringed by a jungle trail. Downturn is set in a war-torn New York, and offers rubble-strewn streets, damaged office buildings, and a subway station with multiple entrances. Lastly, my admittedly favorite map is Resistance, a map set in Paris with several winding cobblestone streets, a small park, and a courtyard area that's home to an open-air caf�.
In addition to the modes available in competitive multiplayer, there are new modes available for private matches. Private matches allow you to adjust most of the match settings, but that freedom comes at the price of experience - gameplay in private matches doesn't count towards your rank. Still, they're worth playing for some of the purely fun modes that you can't get in the regular multiplayer. For example, there's a progression mode in which everyone begins with a pistol but each kill awards the player with a more powerful weapon. Juggernaut mode puts one player in the role of the heavily armored Juggernaut and while only the Juggernaut scores points for kills, the player that gets credit for killing the Juggernaut gets to take on the role next. Infection is a zombie-inspired mode in which the infected players kill the other players to "infect" them and add them to their team. The downside of private matches is that you need to send invites to recruit players, but hopefully Elite will make it easier to locate like-minded private match players.
OK, back to the public competitive multiplayer mode. Modern Warfare 3 eschews Modern Warfare 2's kill streaks for point streaks, which is a good change for the game because it awards good team play while deemphasizing the need to more selfishly maintain a personal kill streak. Captures, defends, assists, and like actions now all contribute towards your point streak. Your awards for point streaks depend on the strike package you've selected. The Assault package's awards are geared towards aerial assaults, and aerial kills earned stack with your kill streak. The Support package is geared towards counters and defensive awards, and point streaks are preserved through deaths. The Specialist package is a progression of extra perk slots added on the fly (you specify the perks you'll receive beforehand), however all extra perks are lost on death.
A new feature in Modern Warfare 3 is weapon ranking. Just as you gain rank as you play, the weapons that you use do as well. As you rank up a weapon you'll be able to unlock camo skins for the weapons, attachments, and the like. Weapons will also be able to receive proficiencies, which are basically perks tied to a specific weapon. Proficiencies can affect weapon-related attributes such as kick and sway.
It's impossible to review Modern Warfare 3 without touching on the new Elite service. Basic level Elite membership is included with Modern Warfare 3, and with it you get full stat tracking for every multiplayer game of Modern Warfare 3 (and Black Ops as well) that you play. If you're a stats freak, Elite is your nirvana. In addition, you'll be able to manage your custom classes and loadouts through Elite as well as Elite mobile apps for iOS and Android. Elite also supports public groups that you can join to find like-minded gamers to compete with or against, as well as private clans. If you upgrade to the premium level at $49.99 a year, you also get access to all DLC released over the next nine months for free. In addition, there are competitions and giveaways planned for premium members and a video channel with exclusive programming. Premium membership is also required for clan-leveling and sponsored clan competitions. If you're planning on downloading all of the DLC for the game or play competitively as a member of an active clan, then premium membership is pretty much a no-brainer. If you're a more casual or occasional gamer, you're probably fine just sticking with the basic membership.
Hopefully the groups feature of Elite will help address the issue that's been
a part of the last few Call of Duty games; namely that it's a rough initial road
for new players. The game auto-balances teams, but if you're a rank one player
in a game full of players twenty ranks higher you're going to be at such a
weapon and perk disadvantage that you're going to be kill fodder for the higher
level players. While there are ways to mitigate this, such as playing modes that
give points for capturing objectives or the like, new players, as well as the
casual, occasional gamers, really have to take their lumps. Perhaps new and
casual gamers will be able to find each other and stick together through
Elite groups, but that remains to be seen.
Overall, Modern Warfare 3 is a pretty impressive package. The game continues to deliver the 60 frames per second graphics the series is known for, and the controls are tight and responsive. As long as you play the multiplayer side of the game, you'd be hard-pressed to find another game that will deliver so much fun and excitement for your money. I can't imagine anyone who enjoyed Modern Warfare 2 or Black Ops not being completely happy with Modern Warfare 3, and if you haven't played a Call of Duty game before this is a great time to start. Modern Warfare 3 is Call of Duty at the top of its game, and it sets the standard against which all modern shooters will be inevitably judged.
Final Rating: 94%. Modern Warfare 3 is the elite of the elite shooters.