Fire and debris rage from explosions overhead. The pained one-liners from your squad bark themselves out rapidly. You desperately clutch your assault rifle and fire off more rounds into the indefinitely respawning terrorists and you begin to wonder: Didn’t I do this four years ago?
For all its merits and improvements, however large or small, Modern Warfare 3, the next installment in Activision’s annual shooter franchise, cannot escape the similar feel of its predecessors. That’s not to say that the game isn’t good, but it just doesn’t feel different enough from the last four years of Call of Duty. The graphics are hard to differentiate from previous Call of Duty games, and the music still feels similar as well. That’s not to say the game doesn’t look or sound great. The soundtrack is typical action movie fare, and the game runs at a silky-smooth sixty frames per second. Technical quibbles aside, let me explain my qualms with the actual gameplay.
This game, especially its singleplayer, is all about spectacle. Depth is thrown out in favor of huge explosions and Michael Bayisms that would even make the director blush. An action sequence onboard a Russian airplane gives off the feel of a Hollywood action film. However, that is the problem; this game has all of the assets to create an involving, smooth first person shooter that could immerse its players into a magnificent war story. What do we get instead? A half-baked, action-saturated story that copy/pastes elements from practically every 80′s action/war movie. On top of a half-baked story, the gameplay in the singleplayer is completely linear. The game almost punishes you for trying to take alternate routes. Enemies spawn based on environmental triggers, so your best bet is wipe out wave after wave until you can sprint to the next piece of cover to turn off one enemy spawn, and turn on the next. The triggering mechanic gives the game a sense of weightlessness, as if your actions have no real outcome on how the game actually plays out. For example, in one mission you are fighting in the streets in Prague, Czech Republic.
At one point in the level, the player is tasked with following a NPC through the streets. Once the player and the NPC reach a certain statue in front of a road blockade, the NPC jumps through the window of a building to the side of the statue, and the player must follow. Now, if the player decides to move ahead of the NPC and try to blow up the exact same window, nothing will happen. The player is forced to wait for the NPC to be in the exact same position to trigger the scripted event. I’m not saying that scripted events in shooters are a bad thing, but when they dictate every facet of the gameplay and you literally feel like you are playing an on-rails shooter? The moving is only to fire off the next set piece. That isn’t to say that the Modern Warfare 3′s singleplayer isn’t fun. It certainly is. The singleplayer’s cheesy story and repeated quick time events can wear thin on some, but I did enjoy how extravagant the missions could be. Not to mention, towards the end of the game, the plot becomes a bit more enjoyable by fleshing out some of the newer characters while tying off loose ends with others. Overall, it’s enjoyable if you have been following Modern Warfare’s plot since the first in the series. Otherwise, you will just marvel at how silly and hard to follow the plot can be.
The multiplayer in Modern Warfare 3 feels like Modern Warfare 2, with a few exceptions. Infinity Ward has placed in a new way to earn killstreaks(now called pointstreaks). These pointstreaks can be earned by killing someone, capping a flag, or destroying another enemy’s pointstreak reward (such as a helicopter or sentry gun).
The pointstreaks are divided up into 3 categories: Assault, Support, and Specialist. Assault is your run-of-the-mill loadout with predator missiles, assault drones, and other killing devices such as helicopters. Assault pointstreaks stack on top of one another a la Modern Warfare 2, and chains of pointstreaks can be repeated in the Assault set by staying alive; i.e. my predator missile can earn the player another UAV if the player did not die before firing off the predator missile. Support pointstreaks are mostly passive (with the exception of the stealth bomber), consisting of ballistic vests, counter UAVs, and other rewards such as riot shielded, E.O.D armor suits. However, support pointstreaks don’t reset after death. Therefore, someone who gets 22 kills and 26 deaths could earn a pointstreak worth 18 kills or points. The last, and my personal favorite pointstreak loadout, is the Specialist. Specialist pointstreaks allow the player to choose three perks to earn for killing other players or scoring points, each perk being earned after two kills or points. Once the player has hit eight kills or points, the player earns the specialist bonus, which allows to him to have every perk in the game at one time. Infinity Ward has also added two new game modes into the mix, Kill Confirmed and Team Defender. Kill Confirmed plays like Team Deathmatch with a twist. In order to score points for a team, the player must pick up a dog tag left by the enemy’s corpse. However, the enemy team can deny your kill by picking up a teammates dog tags, creating tense combat scenarios where players risk their precious Kill/Death ratios to pick up tags to win the game.
Team Defender plays sort of like a warped version of Oddball from Halo. There is one flag on the map, and the team in possession of the flag gets 100 points for every kill by anyone on the team. The team without the flag only gets 50 points for a kill. This game mode usually devolves into a blind rush for the flag, then whichever team that plays the most defensive wins. Kill Confirmed, the superior of the two additions, is worth the price of admission alone. Although Infinity Ward has changed up how the killstreak rewards work in the game and added some new game modes, the company has still failed to provide balance to their multiplayer creations. Assault rifles rule the day in practically every map, due to the fact that the maps themselves have power positions that give players a 360 degree killing field around objectives and chokepoints. Gun balance is thrown out the window when dual machine pistol secondaries outperform submachine gun primaries, and shotguns are completely useless until leveled up to unlock certain attachments. Stealth perks are once again the most viable option to use in the game, so other perks in the same tier become less viable. The game itself completely discourages aggressive play, even going so far as to punish good players by giving out deathstreaks to bad players. Deathstreaks range from dropping a grenade after death, to falling into a prone position where the player is allowed to shoot back at the enemy, then return to normal health if the player has survived long enough. Too often have I had my killstreak ended by someone killing me from a prone position. However, for all of its balance flaws, Modern Warfare 3′s multiplayer is still extremely enjoyable. Most of the guns, save for the shotguns, feel powerful and the sound system is excellent, giving away enemy players with footsteps and alerting players with call outs of flags being captured or lost. As long as it is not taken seriously, Modern Warfare 3′s multiplayer can be a fantastic time with friends.
In addition to the single player and online multiplayer modes, Modern Warfare 3 features two co-operative modes: Survival and Spec Ops. Spec Ops is exactly like the previous version from Modern Warfare 2. Up to two players can work together to complete missions ranging from a hostile takeover of an airplane to disarming a nuclear sub in five minutes. All of the missions are very fun and challenging, and offer up more satisfying gameplay than the singleplayer brings to the table. Survival is identical to Gears of War’s Horde mode or Halo’s Firefight mode. Waves of enemies spawn and the player (and/or his or her partner) must stay alive and destroy every enemy. The player or players can purchase new weapons, equipment such as claymores or body armor, and support such as a squad of NPCs or Predator missiles. Both modes are very satisfying, and along with the multiplayer, stand out as the most engaging part of the Modern Warfare 3 package.
Modern Warfare 3 feels like more of the same, but it is a “same” that I continue to pull enjoyment from. For every moment of frustration with the game, there are at least fifteen more moments of joy and fun. This game will not sway you if you have never liked the Call of Duty series, so do not expect any sort of surprises. For fans of the series, however, this is a solid iteration in the series and proof that Call of Duty can still bring some fun to the table, even if that fun feels a bit tired and recycled after four years.