reviews\ Nov 8, 2011 at 3:00 am

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Review


The politics surrounding a video game’s release should never overshadow the product itself, but when West and Zampella were shown the door at Infinity Ward (over a rumored hubbub with Activision’s closest rival Electronic Arts), I was nervous about the state of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.  It’s not often that the situation surrounding video game companies have an effect on a product, but the departure of several key talent had me wondering just what kind of effect would take place.  Then I heard that several development teams were helping Infinity Ward out with the project, including Raven Software and the new team at Sledgehammer Games (consisting of several former Dead Space development team members).  So, yeah, concern rose its ugly head.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 screenshot

Keep in mind, this concern is solely because of the importance of Call of Duty in general.  Over the years, it has blossomed into one of the most dominant forces in gaming, not only offering an unprecedented level of quality most companies miss out on, but also providing the kind of multiplayer that would addict players for long periods of time, both professional and n00b.  A lot was at stake here, and I wanted to see Modern Warfare 3 succeed, just as the previous games did.

Well, all these months later and countless hours into gameplay, I can honestly lean back in my chair and laugh at my silly notions.  Just as Retro Studios proved long ago with the Metroid franchise, Sledgehammer Games and their collective partners have done just as well with Modern Warfare 3.  The game is as epic as you could possibly imagine, with the kind of stuff that will get your heart racing and your trigger finger busy.

Let’s discuss each aspect of the game, starting with the single-player campaign.  Where Battlefield 3 managed to come up short (it’s the ire of certain fanboys at the moment), Modern Warfare 3 smoothly runs as a continuation with what’s transpired in previous games.  It opens with the Russian Federation still in the midst of a full-fledged assault on the United States (and parts of the world), with the vicious Makarov leading the charge.  The game whisks you between characters all over the world, mainly the newcomer Yuri, who teams up with outcasts Captain Price and “Soap” McTavish; and “Frost,” a soldier working alongside a team to try and complete initiatives back in our favor.  Along the way, you’ll also take control of various side characters, including a member of the Russian president’s detail (in an astounding piece aboard his turbulent plane) and, for a couple of moments, a tourist, giving you a clear view of just how harrowing war really is.  (It ties in with that leaked London clip, a harrowing moment that’s right up there in emotional wringing as the “No Russian” piece from Modern Warfare 2.  You can skip past it if you prefer.)

It all comes together into a series of tour-de-force action pieces that are unprecedented – even by the likes of Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops before it.  Take one of the early stages in the game.  You start out underwater, creeping your way past an armada of Russian mines as you plant a bomb on a submarine.  As it surfaces from the explosion, you board it, set it to blow and then high tail it out of there, all in real time, as ships explode throughout the harbor.  This is merely a taste of what to expect, as later stages will whisk you through an enormous firefight in Paris (which results in an epic conclusion involving the toppling of a monument), a wild firefight through a castle stronghold, and, finally, a run through a hotel, where Makarov and his small army are waiting.  I won’t go any further, but let’s say this is definitely a fight to the finish.

Everything runs at a fluid 60 frames per second, save for some moments that get blurry or slow motion for the sake of drama.  Sledgehammer Games utilizes the Modern Warfare engine to its fullest, creating a series of dreary locales (ripped apart buildings, explosions, bullet-laden hallways) that really make you feel like you’re in the thick of World War III.  The animation is superb, whether you’re capping off a gunner from a distance with a sniper rifle (always a treat) or taking out someone close up with a brutal melee.  And the attention to detail?  Staggering.  Shatter a few windows and blow up some cars if you want to see just how much this engine has evolved.  The way the glass pieces fall to the ground, or how ashes smolder from the explosion, are quite a sight.  For an engine that’s not as “fresh” as other development engines, Sledgehammer and its respective studios have gotten a lot of mileage out of it.  (Just like Treyarch did before them.)

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 screenshot

Activision has also backed the game with quality audio.  Brian Tyler and his orchestra have once again put together a moving soundtrack that really sticks with you, getting low and sentimental where it needs to and picking right back up with triumphant moments.  The sound effects, as always, are impressive, between the individual gun effects (these guys must live and breathe in a gun shop), the constant soldier chatter, and the ear-rattling explosions.  Though the voiceover actor list isn’t as star-studded this time around as in Black Ops (we couldn’t even hear Tobey Maguire anywhere), there’s still an A-list cast here, including new and returning actors alike.  William Fichtner, the badass from Drive Angry, does solid work here, but credit must go to the veterans, including Roman Varshavsky as the vicious Makarov and Billy Murray, who knows exactly what he’s doing with Price.  The guy just sounds like he was born to kick ass.

Now, the gameplay. Needless to slay, Sledgehammer sticks with what worked so well in previous Call of Duty games.  Why wouldn’t you?  Precision is everything in this game, from aiming down your gun sights at an unlucky target to running for dear life from an exploding helicopter that’s about to land RIGHT ON TOP OF YOU.  The gameplay captures every part of an action game’s true essence, even if you’re just knifing someone in a quick, “blink-and-you-might-miss-it” movement.  What’s more, the way you use particular weapons throughout the game brings plenty of destructive joy, whether you’re launching mortars in a village or detonating mines with a remote.  Of course, nothing beats a traditional assault rifle – or in some cases, a powerful shotgun.  BOOM.

If anything, some quick-time event-based stuff towards the end was slightly annoying, but for the record, not nearly as bad as what you had to do in, well, that “other” game.  Just a heads up.

A word of warning – this game brings the pain just as excessively as previous Call of Duty titles.  If you play on a higher-up difficulty, you’re going to be in for a pounding.  Soldiers will charge at you and shoot with utmost efficiency, and you’ll be fighting for every bit of survival.  This is where most of you will feel right at home, so have at it.  And for those n00bs who feel like Jonah Hill did when he pulled the pin out of the grenade in the commercial, relax.  Lower difficulty settings are available, complete with auto-aim when you use the left trigger.  We won’t pick on you for being a weakling.  Some people just aren’t built for war.

The single-player campaign will only take you a few hours to get through, but it wraps up the saga effectively, giving you a sense of completion.  You know, unlike that “other” military shooter that’s making the rounds.  (No, not Heavy Fire, dolt.)

Where Modern Warfare 3 becomes a comprehensive package is in its multiplayer.  Being able to log on to Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network and take on friends in a new course of maps is an exhilarating feeling, and one that’s bound to dominate a huge amount of your time through the Christmas season…and beyond.

The maps are quite good, taking place in different locales.  One features a cramped up village with small routes scattered throughout, so you can easily get a jump on an enemy from behind or dispose of a camper in your own blood-spilling fashion.  Others include a construction yard, an abandoned coastal city, and many more.  These maps were designed with utmost care, and players will have no problem naming their favorites.  Some should even have a few picked out by the time this review posts.  We know we do.

What’s more, the perks you can earn over the course of multiplayer combat continuously shine.  You can rank up quite easily, and once again create your own class, customize weapons (even with skins – more on that in a second), and essentially choose from what soldiers you can play as, along with Strike Packages.  These additions, talked about in great length at Call of Duty XP a couple of months back, may divide players a bit depending on how they play.  Some offer team rewards for working alongside your squad; others shower you with Perks, such as remote-activated cannons and rocket launchers, to make you an unstoppable force.  It’s really worth screwing around with, just to see what’s a best fit for you in the heat of battle.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 screenshot

What’s more, the ranking system is amongst the most balanced you can get in gaming.  You’ll rank up and earn new emblems and titles, which you can change however you see fit, and some of them are really out there.  Whether it’s a woman in a bikini, a pink whale shooting rainbows (relax, there’s a reason behind it) or a Band-Aid, each of them add a bit of personality to your profile.

Oh, yeah, and Kill Confirmed?  Crazy.  Along with the other match types in the game (Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, etc.), this is a great new addition – and, despite what you may think, not a “home for campers”.  Players drop tags when they’re killed, and you can either pick up your teammates’ tags for extra points (confirming the kill) or have them picked up by enemies (denying the kill and thus giving THEM points).  It’s a solid new mode that will keep you busy for sure.  If you’re not into the pre-set modes, you can also create your own, or try out new ones.  During a recent session, someone managed to create a mode where you need to kill the Juggernaut in each stage, and if you do, you become the Juggernaut.  Talk about ridiculously chaotic – and fun.

One more thing – make sure you pay the Prestige Shop a visit.  Here, you’ll be able to buy additional perks for yourself in battle, including Double XP and additional custom classes, among other rewards.  You could spend a while here alone, just trying to figure out what would make you a more balanced soldier.  (Just make your choices and get back into action, soldier!)

Now, let’s say you’re NOT the competitive type and prefer to work alongside friends.  Well, Spec Ops has plenty of that to go around.  The game features a cool Survival-style mode, where you take on waves of incoming enemies alongside a buddy.  As you do, new perks open up, including air strikes, new assault rifles and shotguns, grenades, and more.  The better you do, the more your arsenal expands.  You’ll need it too, because later waves of the game will introduce bomb-strapped dogs, Juggernauts (nearly unstoppable soldiers in plated armor), helicopters…all at once.  This mode alone is sure to get the same level of popularity as Gears of War 3’s Horde and Beast offerings.  As it should.  What’s more, everything ties back into the single-player mode, and vice versa, so you really feel like you’re progressing – no matter what you’re doing.

There are various missions you can also take on in the game with a friend, set across different locations based on the story mode.  From a firefight that times you on how quickly you can overtake a submarine for detonation to a situation where you’re actually in control of one of Makarov’s men, this will take a lot of time off your hands as well.  No doubt.  You can also post best times to online leaderboards and see how you fare.

Now…Call of Duty Elite.  Though it’s a supplemental package to Modern Warfare 3 (and not something you need in order to enjoy the game), we have to admit, its features really do stack up.  Here, you can customize your player even further, keep track of your progress through online sessions, form your own clan (and provide them daily messages and updates), and more.  And it’s accessible through mobile platforms, PC, and your gaming console, so no matter where you go, you can keep tabs on it.  Sure, it’s an additional $50, but it comes with a wide assortment of downloads, and it really tallies up your multiplayer experience in one place.  Besides, you’re probably picking up the Hardened Edition anyway, and that comes with a one-year membership to it automatically.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 screenshot

Is Modern Warfare 3 way overhyped?  In some ways, sure, but can you really blame Activision?!  It’s one of those products that not only lives up to it, but, in some ways, surpasses said hype.  It feels like a complete package, especially in this day and age when certain developers are playing half-ass with their over-produced projects.  The single-player is not only comprehensive but thrilling and, once you finish it, satisfying; the multiplayer is beyond addiction, whether you subscribe to Elite or not (but you should check it out if you’re a hardcore competitor); and the Spec Ops will help you become a better team player, even if the odds are ludicrously stacked against you.  Kudos to Sledgehammer Games for not letting surrounding situations get to them, and producing a killer effort for their first go-around, even if they had a little help from the pros at Infinity.  They’ve produced a grandeur action experience, one that’ll keep you busy for session after session.  In fact, don’t be surprised if you’re still playing it after Treyarch introduces its next beast for 2012.  You know it’s coming.


(For the record, Activision did provide us the necessary resources to review this game at a private event for gaming press in California including transportation and lodging.  But keep in mind that this did not have any effect on how we felt about the final game.  These guys could’ve flown us out to an icing farm in Alaska and we would’ve given the game the same marks, despite the frostbite.)

[Reviewed on the Xbox 360]


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