To Infinity Ward and beyond?
After the unsavoury departure of West and Zampella from Infinity Ward at the beginning of the year and the subsequent the loss of key staff members to Respawn Entertainment that followed, most would have assumed that a studio in such disarray wouldn’t be capable of usurping Black Ops, the largest selling Call of Duty game of all time.
But this is Activision and Infinity Ward we’re talking about here, and with the astute acquisition of Sledgehammer Games to pick up some of the creative slack, failure was never going to be on the cards for most anticipated shooter of this generation.
Game: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Developers: Infinity Ward & Sledgehammer Games
After three modern Call of Duty games, four long years, hundreds of thousands of shots fired and a location portfolio that reads like Michael Palin’s memoires, Modern Warfare 3 finally brings a meaningful end to Captain Price’s epic tale of global terrorism.
Modern Warfare 3’s story is probably the best iteration in the series too and although predictably frantic, the plot is actually really well paced offering enough moments of quiet to balance the set-piece action sequences.
There’s one stand-out moment of storytelling in-particular arriving later in the campaign which weaves all the major incidents from previous Modern Warfare games together sending them crashing in to one extraordinary moment of clarity. It’s expertly handled, beautifully portrayed and, I’ll be honest, I never saw it coming.
The final act of any trilogy is always a difficult story to pitch because after sixteen hours of twists and turns, tying up all the loose ends including the super-villain Makarov is by no means an easy task. There’s also the issue of providing a fitting climax to a series which has become a cultural phenomenon since the release of Call of Duty 4 in 2007. In terms of drama and shock factor Modern Warfare 3 certainly succeeds in doing that and the end of the story is every inch the victory cigar moment.
Visually, Modern Warfare 3 is a tale of familiarity because once again the same graphics engine seen in Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 is on display. That’s not to say there haven’t been enhancements though and it certainly looks the most polished of the three games.
The most impressive improvements are actually found in the finite detail of the environments and although landmarks like Big Ben are almost photo realistic, it’s the small touches of design flair to signage, shop windows and even road markings which contribute to the richly immersive localisation.
You get the feeling that this is Infinity Ward showcasing the albeit aging Modern Warfare engine at the absolute peak of its powers and the fact it maintains a silky smooth 60 frames per second with all the on-screen carnage the game offers so persistently, makes it nothing short of a technical marvel.
The problem is that Modern Warfare 3 feels overly-familiar and although there is plenty of eye candy on offer, you feel like you’ve seen it all before and that I’m afraid is the fault of Infinity Ward who’ve recycled this engine one too many times now for my taste.
The voice acting throughout the Call of Duty series is never more than passable and the same applies to Modern Warfare 3. There are less moments of military “Huh rah” cheese but the game is still littered with soldier cliché and limited passages of dialogue.
One noticeable area of improvement though is the presentation of gunfire which is now chunkier and more realistic, making the arsenal of weaponry at your disposal sound better than it ever has before. It’s a pleasing addition and it makes the booming rounds that leave the chamber of heavy weaponry in particular more visceral and compelling.
Beyond that you’ll struggle to find any major advancement in Modern Warfare 3’s audio and until we are offered a new engine I’m afraid that will remain the case.
The gunplay in Modern Warfare 3 is unmistakeably Call of Duty and it has a slickness which is rarely matched in this genre. The responsiveness is what really impresses and as you down waves of enemies, effortlessly moving between scope and reload, you instantly realise why this game enslaves so many.
As always with Call of Duty though there’s a disappointing lack of recoil represented in the weaponry. This suits the close quarters action, but it does cause the weaponry to lose individuality. Proper bullet physics is also a big miss and whilst the point and shoot mechanic is enjoyable, even the smallest of nods to the actual science behind gunfire would be nice.
One area of the Modern Warfare 3’s gameplay that you could never criticise though is the breadth of variety it offers. One minute you’ll be controlling a speed boat tearing through the waters of Manhattan, and then it’s time to down helicopters with an Assault Drone, before moving on to providing air support from the imperious AC-130.
Modern Warfare 3 rarely leaves you performing the same task for long and it’s always eager to give you exclusive control of the battlefield at each and every opportunity. For that Modern Warfare 3 must be commended and although it can be a touch overzealous at times, this game has the beauty of war literally bursting from its seams.
The level design is conducive of the gunplay really because at its core Modern Warfare 3 is a corridor shooter. The battlefield rarely opens up in front of you and even when it does the path is singular and guided. The lack of new gameplay mechanics is also notable, as beyond breaching or rappelling your tactical options on the ground can feel a bit limited.
Modern Warfare 3 doesn’t make any apologies for this design though, and everything about the gameplay is tailored to the engines strengths, rather than it having delusions of grandeur about being the definitive military simulator. Infinity Ward know Modern Warfare 3’s niche in the market so well, and because of that confidence it never tries to be anything other than Call of Duty. That’s not going to win it any awards for innovation necessarily, but Modern Warfare 3 harnesses the one thing that most studios forget in their quest for critical acclaim, and that’s the ability to have fun.
Spec-Ops missions make a welcome return to Modern Warfare 3 and offer a pleasing change of pace compared to the Hollywood single-player action and rapid ferocity of online multiplayer.
The mechanics are essentially the same as Modern Warfare 2 as you compete in a series of timed challenges across an impressive selection of scenarios and maps. Completing Spec Ops Missions on higher difficulties earns you more rewards but the real prize up for grabs is the number one spot on the leader boards amongst your friends.
Survival Mode is the new addition to the Spec Ops suite which brings the much-loved horde mode format to Modern Warfare 3. The idea itself is nothing new but Survival Mode is fantastic when playing online with a friend and the combat style compliments Modern Warfare 3’s fast paced gameplay brilliantly.
The purchasing of new weapons, upgrades, explosives and air support is also well executed and the fixed upgrade stations force you to think tactically between waves of enemies. You can play Survival Mode on any of the 16 multiplayer maps in Modern Warfare 3 and the difficulty curve between them prevents the waves of enemies from becoming too predictable.
Spec Ops is truly great this year and for the first time it stands up to the single and multiplayer experiences as a genuine third option, rather than feeling like unnecessary padding. Survival Mode is the star of the show and although it doesn’t eclipse Nazi Zombies cult status it offers a more appropriate challenge for the modern setting.
Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer is every bit as comprehensive as you’d expect and the number of match types on offer is quite staggering, especially when you factor in the hardcore variants. The two new additions to the party, Kill Confirmed and Team Defender provide an interesting spin on the Team Death Match and Domination formulas and actually represent some of the better online experiences to be found.
The multiplayer progression has now returned to a more familiar format and the removal of Black Ops monetary based system is a major cause for celebration. Every new weapon, perk or accessory you unlock in Modern Warfare 3 is earned now and no longer purchased by the player with the fattest wallet. Levelling up is addictive as ever and the volume of new challenges mean you’re rewarded handsomely for even the most trivial of in-game actions. This can make the HUD feel overly busy at times but the pleasing feeling of achievement more than masks this complaint.
The new Strike Packages also represent a welcome change to form although based on my experience so far, the Assault Package is still the resounding favourite of Modern Warfare 3 players. The Support and Specialist packages offer good variety though and for players who struggle to rack up a high kill count there’s now plenty of options available to boost yourself or your teams scoring.
Unfortunately, some of the frustrations from previous games remain and speed still seems to rule any kind of tactical positioning. The ever migrating spawn locations also cause issues making it very difficult at times to know where the battle lines are drawn. Teams get mixed up very quickly in Modern Warfare 3 and the chances of being killed within seconds of spawning are still far too high. This is partly down to the map design which seems to twist and turn more than ever before. Most of the maps also lack a genuine focal point and so far I’ve yet to play anything that stands up to Modern Warfare 2’s comparably fantastic selection.
If you loved Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer then you’ll absolutely love Modern Warfare 3, but if fighting against the hordes of twitch-trigger gamers has left you frustrated in the past, then I’m afraid there’s little salvation to be found online this year. The break neck speed compliments the gameplay wonderfully and the matches are never boring, but multiplayer still fails to offer enough tactical options for those who wish to try and deploy them.
The single player campaign will take you around 6-8 hours, maybe longer if you decide to grind through on Veteran difficulty. Even then it’s a relatively swift campaign overall but a thoroughly enjoyable one none the less.
The longevity unsurprisingly comes from Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer which is as addictive and time consuming as ever. The temptation for “just one more game” is always too strong to resist and you’ll find yourself ploughing countless hours in to multiplayer without even realising.
Spec Ops and in particular Survival Mode add another layer of depth to Modern Warfare 3 and if you have a regular buddy online to team up with, the same amount of time could easily be spent here as in open multiplayer.
New map packs will of course arrive in good time to further extend the online experience and when you factor in the existing content, plus the inevitable future support, Modern Warfare 3 offers the most generous selection of first person shooter content I’ve ever seen.
My heart is telling me that this is one of the most enjoyable first person shooters I’ve ever played, and that’s not an exaggeration. The set-piece action sequences are utterly spell binding at times, and if you submit to Modern Warfare 3’s charms there’s no doubt in mind that you’ll have an absolute blast playing one of the most refined and complete shooter packages in gaming history.
My head however reminds me that it’s the same engine, the same linear structure and the same ideas. There are flashes of new brilliance in the form of Kill Confirmed, Strike Packages, environment detail and Weapon Progression, but they’re sadly sporadic amongst a largely unchanged, albeit incredibly successful formula.
Modern Warfare 3 is still the best shooter in it’s class for me, and for that reason it’s well worth your cash and when Infinity Ward do eventually decide to innovate the Call of Duty franchise they’ll have publishers throughout the land running scared.