Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 ReviewBlake Anglin
It's impossible to escape the spotlight Modern Warfare 3 is under. With the recent departure of original creators Jason West and Vince Zampella, along with most of the Infinity Ward team, and the high-profile competition this year, many have speculated that this could be the swan song for the venerable franchise. With a little help from their friends at Sledgehammer Games, the depleted team tries to capture the magic that made Modern Warfare a household name in the first place. The blueprint is still there for an excellent game, but the team seems to be spinning their creative wheels trying to innovate the aging formula.
At first glance, you would be hard-pressed to differentiate this from Modern Warfare 2. The aesthetics are eerily similar, you're shooting the same guns and series protagonists Captain Price and Soap are still always in mortal peril. The game is still split into three drastically different modes: Campaign, Multiplayer and Spec-Ops, and even the menus and music are alike. If you couldn't get enough of MW2 or Black Ops just wasn't your thing, you'll likely find plenty to love here. However, by this point it seems almost unfair for the Modern Warfare and Treyarch series to both bear the Call of Duty moniker. Almost all of the great innovations from Black Ops are nowhere to be seen. That means no more sweet emblem customizations, no more unlocking guns and perks in the order you want and there isn't a zombie in sight. They also removed the dive feature, a move that may irk players who have grown accustomed to using it (like myself). Despite all this, the few innovations seen to change up the game in interesting, and mostly positive, ways.
Modern Warfare has always hung its campaign hat on spectacle. The newest installment of Task Force 141's fight against Makarov has that in spades. You won't go ten minutes in the roughly six-hour campaign without running into a jaw-dropping moment. You'll lose half of your plane mid-flight, escort the Russian President and his nubile daughter through a snowstorm, and have to be caught from a long fall one-handed before the credits roll, and every stage is packed with epic setpieces around seemingly every corner. Between these moments, however, you will engage in the same pop-and-drop gunplay we've seen since CoD 2. Pop out of cover, shoot some Russians, drop, reload and repeat. Expect to breach some doors in always-satisfying slow motion, and the obligatory "shocking" scene involving civilians. While the climax offers a satisfying and epic end to the story started in 2007, most of the settings feel re-hashed. Haven't I already assaulted a submarine, engaged in a one-on-one sniper match and shot predator missiles inside a snowy base? It also seems like a huge misstep not implementing a co-op campaign. You have somebody by your side the entire game, so it feels like IW is just being lazy, or more likely, sticking too rigidly to the MW2 blueprint.
Spec-Ops Mode returns to tickle your co-op fancy, and again doesn't stray far from the formula. You unlock ever-more-difficult missions, and you'll encounter myriad gameplay styles. One minute you are creeping through a snowstorm stabbing guards and the next you're covering your co-op partner via sentry turrets. You even get to step into the Juggernaut armor for a mission or two. If you actually care about the story, you may want to hold off on Spec Ops. They rip story segments straight from the campaign, and a few of them completely give away major plot points. A brand new Horde Mode-like Survival Mode is the standout mode in my book. It doesn't shake things up in any major way, but the gameplay feels fresher than anything else. I can't say I enjoyed the specific Spec-Ops missions as much as MW2's, but the fact that Spec Ops now has its own persistent level system is enough to keep me playing for a while.
As everybody knows though, most people will be picking this up for the competitive multiplayer. Despite my initial misgivings, the multiplayer doesn't disappoint. The most obvious change is in the new strike packages. There are now three distinct strike packages available: Assault, Support and Specialist. Assault works much like what you are used to: You pick three killstreaks, including old favorites like the AC-130 and Attach Choppers along with new toys like Remote Heli Drones, and your streak resets when you die. I, however, found myself using the Support package more than anything. While the specific kill streak rewards aren't as offensive, you get points towards it for completing objectives like capturing points in Domination, and, even better, it doesn't reset when you die. This gives less experienced players a chance to unleash a higher level reward. Hardcore players may find the most to love with the Specialist package. Instead of kill streaks, successive kills net you additional perks in the order you want. This allows for some incredible situational customization. Playing a longer mode like Domination or Ground War? Set yourself up with Sleight of Hand first, unlock Extreme Conditioning to get from flag-to-flag faster, then round it off with Scavenger to replace all the ammo you've been shooting. The customization options are incredible, and I've spent too much time customizing my packages. You can also finally sort through your rewards mid-match, so you don't have to use five UAV's before you get to your Attack Chopper. It's a small touch, but it makes a world of difference.
One area that hasn't grown stagnant is the map design. Each of the sixteen maps are available for Multiplayer and Survival, and honestly couldn't have been better. You get to know these maps just by fighting on them, but when you take into account the constant spawning of enemies and dogs in Survival Mode, you really get to know every nook and cranny. And you can be assured that many (probably expensive) map packs are on the way.
It's tough to dislike such a polished title, but I have to wonder how long this can go on. While it may be mistaken for a map pack, there is plenty of content here for series devotees and newcomers to devour. If you were hoping for something new or different though, prepare to be disappointed. Especially with a new Treyarch-developed Call of Duty already announced for next year, I would like to see a little more parity with that series, because the changes are starting to feel a little jarring. If all you wanted was more Modern Warfare though, you should be quite happy with your purchase. Against all odds, Modern Warfare managed to create another well-executed title. With an explosive campaign, polished and engaging multiplayer and some co-op activities to round it out, I'll be too busy to complain... for now.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.