When it comes to the world’s most successful - and popular - franchises, few video games can match the Call of Duty series. Though Call of Duty has been an annual franchise for the past few years, the Modern Warfare iteration of the game has been released on a two-year cycle since its inception in 2007. Despite the in-house issues that caused much consternation between Activision and developer Infinity Ward, the third, and supposedly final, game in the Modern Warfare trilogy arrived this month. There was undoubtedly concern about whether or not the remnants of Infinity Ward, who teamed with Sledgehammer Games, Raven Software, and Neversoft to complete it, would be able to deliver an experience on par with the level of excellence expected of a Modern Warfare title. Those worries are ultimately unfounded though, as Modern Warfare 3 is not only one of the strongest Call of Duty entries to date, but it’s also an excellent conclusion to an intense, action-packed trilogy.
The moment you fire up the campaign in Modern Warfare 3, Infinity Ward puts its foot on the pedal, and doesn’t let off the throttle until the credits roll. US military forces are still trying to push the Russian invasion from the Eastern seaboard. Price and Soap are on the run, injured and wanted by various governments. Villainous Makarov is still moving pieces on the board from the behind the scenes, and hopes to put an end to peace talks between Russia and the other nations of the world (along with acquiring nuclear launch codes) by kidnapping the Russian Prime Minister. Told through the eyes of series mainstays Price and Soap, as well as a small handful of new US troops, Modern Warfare 3’s story will have you bouncing from one end of the world to the next in rapid succession. The white-knuckled pace makes for a highly enjoyable third act when viewing the trilogy as one complete narrative. As a stand-alone story, it can be a little hard to follow, particularly considering there’s virtually no recap of the events leading to this point in the saga (short of the brief overview when the disc first loads). If you’ve been following the story of Soap and Makarov from the beginning though, Modern Warfare 3’s campaign is an extremely satisfying payoff for the trilogy. I know there aren’t a lot of people out there who play Call of Duty for the story, but as a member of that minority, the highs and lows of this adventure have been a joy to witness, and I’m a little sad now that it’s all over.
Competitive multiplayer is a huge part of why Call of Duty games are so successful every year, and Modern Warfare 3 does not drop the ball. All of the familiar modes are back, and new modes Kill Confirmed (where kills only count if you collect a fallen foe’s dog tags) and Team Defender (a new flag variant where teams only fight for one individual flag) breathes a little more life into what has become a fairly standard affair. It’s a highly polished affair to be sure, but the addition of these new modes definitely gives competitive multiplayer an infusion of interesting new concepts. Sadly, the Wager matches are limited to private online games, which is an odd omission from the Black Ops experience. However, my sadness over the lack of competitive betting was quickly washed away by the new weapon leveling system and inclusion of Strike Packages.
In previous Call of Duty titles, weapons in multiplayer were unlocked with some bizarre algorithm that benefited people who played non-stop, and left more casual combatants in the dust. Modern Warfare 3 ditches the branched-path leveling of the past, and instead allows players to level up the weapons they’re most comfortable with. Simply put, the more you play with a particular loadout, the more experience you gain with it, and thus you can unlock better weapons in the same category. This is also how you unlock attachments like scopes and secondary fire add-ons, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Now I can work within my own comfort zone instead of the one dictated to me by the game, and I can play to my strengths. This much more welcome method of leveling is also benefited by the new Strike Package system, which redefines Kill Streaks in a great new way.
"It’s not often that a game franchise can be this good on such a consistent basis, but the Modern Warfare series continues to impress thanks in large part to its stellar story and highly-replayable multiplayer components."
There are three different ways to make use of Strike Packages. The Assault package works just like killstreaks used to in previous incarnations. You get three different streaks, and they unlock as you earn more kills. Of course, the counter will reset the moment you die, unlike the new Support package. With the Support package, your counter will still increase even if you die. However, the killstreaks you unlock are of a different variety, and are better suited for players who enjoy the team-based gametypes. Support packages are also great for newcomers, as you constantly get rewarded for good play, but aren’t truly penalized for dying. The Specialist package doesn’t give you any killstreaks at all, but instead opens up three more perks for your class to use. Only the veterans need apply here, as it takes a very skilled player to play only with perks and no killstreaks. For me, this completely reinvigorates the competitive experience, and gives players much more control over how they want to play.
Cooperative multiplayer gets a nice shot in the arm this time around as well. Spec-Ops was a pretty fun mode before, but now it has been fleshed out even more, as it has two ways to play. Just as in Modern Warfare 2, there are 16 story-based missions that you and a friend can play through to try and reach the top of the leaderboards. The missions are loosely affiliated with Modern Warfare 3’s story, and provide an excellent compliment to what’s happening to Soap and the gang. As fun as those are, I got even more out of the new Spec-Ops Survival mode. Similar to Horde mode, you and a friend face wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemies on a given map. The big difference here is that you earn money for kills, and that money can be used to purchase defensive and offensive upgrades that are crucial to your success. You have a finite set of ammunition and health, so you have to be conscious of what you’re spending your hard-earned money on in order to progress. The only thing this mode is missing is the ability to add a few more players.
Infinity Ward has pretty much pulled everything they can out of the IW Engine used to power the game. While Modern Warfare 3 doesn’t look all that much different from the last sequel, that doesn’t mean it is a bad-looking game. It’s quite the opposite in fact. Explosions are just as impressive, the characters look great, and the various locales you’ll visit - both on and offline - are rendered with the same attention to detail you’ve come to expect when playing a Call of Duty title. When a game has looked this good for this long, you don’t really need to change things up a whole lot. I can understand how some people might see this as a negative, but the Modern Warfare games have a distinct look that has held true from the first game to this most recent entry, and I think it helps make the trilogy a more cohesive collection. That said, I was actually pretty disappointed with the soundtrack this time around. Hans Zimmer brought such an epic score to Modern Warfare 2 that it was going to be tough to top no matter who was brought on. It’s not that Brian Tyler’s (Rambo, Battle Los Angeles) score is bad; it just doesn’t have the same authoritative, driving personality.
I have very few complaints about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. The trilogy’s story is brought to a close in an appropriately epic fashion. The cooperative and competitive multiplayer options are the best they’ve been since the start of the series. With so much being done right, it’s easy to see why Call of Duty continues to sell the way it does. I don’t know where the series is going to go next, as there aren’t very many global scale events that have stakes high enough to replace a third World War, but wherever Infinity Ward wants to take me, I’ll be glad to follow. It’s not often that a game franchise can be this good on such a consistent basis, but the Modern Warfare series continues to impress thanks in large part to its stellar story and highly-replayable multiplayer components. I don’t know if it’s a game of the year contender, but Modern Warfare 3 is definitely the best Call of Duty yet.
Release date : 2011-11-08
Publisher : Activision
Developer : Infinity Ward
Gameplay : Shooter
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