“If it ain’t broke…”
Well, it’s here.
Like it or not the Call of Duty franchise is a juggernaut. Modern Warfare 3 sold 6.5 million copies in its first day. The franchise has moved a staggering 100 million units since its inception, grossing over 6 billion dollars and that number is still rising. They must be doing something right, must they not?
Yes and no.
I first played Call of Duty on the PC and it was a very good game, but I fell in love with Call of Duty when I first got my Xbox 360. I purchased Perfect Dark Zero and promptly realised that there was not even a miniscule glimmer of what made the original so good and so immediately returned it and bought Call of Duty II. The single player was immense; it like was nothing I had seen before on a console. The size of the battles and the amount of insanity taking place at any one moment was mesmerising. I was genuinely blown away by it all. I also really enjoyed the multiplayer mode. All I played was free for all, known as deathmatch then, and the only thing you had to do was win. No perks, no custom profiles and no killstreaks. It was a pure challenge of skill supplemented with picking the correct predetermined load out for the map. It was exhilarating and unbelievably frustrating. The same can be said for the single player game on the demonic setting that is veteran. It was a completely unforgiving, relentless and rage inducing beast. It is one of the hardest things I have ever done on a computer game, mainly due to the fact that it took me a while to figure out that COD uses a “monster closet” respawn system for the enemies. If you don’t push up then the Nazis just keep appearing, for ever. Many hours were wasted cowering behind a crate whilst methodically picking people off prior to this revelation.
Call of Duty I & II were made by Infinity Ward, at the time headed up by Vince Zampella and Jason West. As the franchise got bigger another company; Treyarch, were brought in to develop games when Infinity Ward weren’t. They first produced Call of Duty II: Big Red One and then Call of Duty 3. Both were fairly forgettable games as far as I remember. I recall disliking COD 3 rather a lot, it just didn’t offer the same sense of involvement and drama that COD II did. It did, however, do fairly well, selling over 1 million units in the last two months of 2006.
Then along came Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
This was the game that changed the face of Call of Duty forever. It didn’t do anything terribly revolutionary as far as first person shooters are concerned but it viciously kicked everything up a gear. The single player campaign started to become the interactive blockbuster movie experience that it is now, it moved everything away from the extremely well used WWII setting and brought the madness to the modern day. It incorporated (at least one) stealth based levels to break up the action and introduced us to the heroic Captain Price. What it did above all else though is give birth to the Call of Duty multiplayer game that we all know today. Gone were the simplistic win or lose skill matches, overhauled with lashings of customisation. You could choose your primary weapons, your secondary weapons and even the type of grenades you wanted. You also had different perks to try and give you a competitive edge on the battleground by playing to your strengths. It was all driven by an extensive experience and unlock system; you got XP for using particular weapons and unlocked various scopes and attachments. You also got XP for completing challenges, rewarding you in new guns and challenges as you levelled up. You also unlocked killstreaks; combat support devices awarded at 3, 5 and 7 kills in a row. There was nothing better than racing against another player to get to the all-important kill limit; it was all so unbelievably addictive.
This was then followed by another Treyarch production; Call of Duty World at War, which was also a very good game, not as good as Modern Warfare, although it did give us Zombies. Then came Modern Warfare 2, it was good, very good. It wasn’t anywhere near as big a leap as COD II to COD 4 was; the same basic principles from the previous game were all there but pumped up on steroids. As before customisation was key; more killstreaks, more perks and more levelling. The campaign mode was moving even closer to blockbuster mode; Russian invasions of the USA, nuclear weapons launches and some graphic controversy. It was all very linear and scripted, but it was a tried and tested method and it worked. It was, however, at this stage of the franchise, starting to lack much innovation and they were still using the same engine as Call of Duty II albeit a tweaked version.
Black Ops was then released, and it was very much more of the same, a few tweaks here and there, but ultimately a very similar game. It was still very addictive and you could lose yourself for hours online, but it was only a very small innovation on the Modern Warfare formula.
And so here we are; Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, the third instalment in the Infinity Ward saga.
First off, the campaign mode. This is easily the most intense and adrenaline filled campaign ever to feature in a Call of Duty game. It is a breath-taking jump from explosive set piece to explosive set piece, it is very linear and scripted, but that is what COD campaigns are all about. The set pieces are epic, I won’t ruin it for anyone but it is the most completely insane and over the top Michael Bay style lunacy you have ever seen and I, well, I really kind of liked it. I wanted to not like it as it encapsulates everything I dislike about modern shooters, linear gameplay, quick time events, predictable AI and monster closet spawning but it was fun and I can’t deny it that. Some of the set pieces are also extremely satisfying; despite all the guidance and hand holding it does make you feel like an action hero at times. It is, however, very short and I wouldn’t place a great deal of hope that there will be many people replaying the single player game unless you happen to be a masochist completionist looking for a large portion of veteran pain. I must also mention that there is nothing new here, at all. It is all just a more mental version of what we have seen in previous iterations.
Spec ops mode is also back from MW2. This is a collection of short challenges that have you completing varied objectives from rescuing hostages to disarming bombs and holding your ground prior to extraction. There is also the addition of the all new survival mode. This will see you pitted against an infinite wave of enemies that get progressively harder, giving you mere seconds in between waves to restock your ammunition and explosives. This is obviously Infinity Ward’s answer to the immensely popular Zombie mode. It doesn’t quite hit the mark but it is a damn fine effort. The whole of spec ops is quite enjoyable when played alone, however, when you introduce a friend to the equation it all starts to make a great deal of sense. Once you have someone else to strategize with (and scream frantic orders at) it becomes so much more tactical and enjoyable. This is probably the most open ended mode that COD has ever had, although suffering from extreme linearity in some places, other challenges are far more open ended; in places allowing your teammate to run around taking people out whilst you are perched atop a rooftop providing cover. There are, importantly, a finite amount of enemies on some of the levels meaning you can go about the mission as you please rather than having to reach a very specific place to stop the onslaught of monsters enemies. Spec Ops is probably the most promising thing about the MW3 experience; if Infinity ward are able to capture what it is that makes these missions so good and translate that into a campaign experience I think they would have something rather special on their hands.
And now for the main attraction of the evening.
I would imagine that multiplayer is the main reason that most people will be purchasing MW3, and you can see why. It has the most longevity out of all of the game modes; there is an absolute plethora of content to unlock here via the levelling system. Everything from MW2 is back and bigger than ever. The elusive prestige mode is back, now available after a gigantic 80 levels. Gone is the monetary system of Black Ops which is something I welcome as I felt that it detracted from the levelling system and allowed you to unlock too much too soon, although I will miss the gun games. Another new addition is gun levelling; you are now able to earn specific perks for individual weapons through getting kills and completing challenges. These perks allow you to customise your gun to your play style and make amendments like reduced kick, bullet penetration and extra ammunition. These are a good addition to the game although the more time you spend with one particular weapon the more it puts you at a disadvantage to switch which weapon you primarily use.
The killstreaks have also had a bit of a shake-up. Now you are able to choose one of three different classes of killstreak, which are now called strike packages. You are able to assign assault, support or specialist strike packages to your loadout. Assault is the killstreak system we all know and love, there are a few tweaks to the rewards from MW2 but it is essentially the same, although I welcome the Pave Low being moved up to 12 kills rather than 9 as it was immensely overpowered in the previous Modern Warfare game. The support strike package is exactly what it sounds like; your rewards are much more support based, you unlock such things as ballistic vests, advanced UAV radars, airdrop traps and remote turrets. The main difference with this package is that kills carry over even if you die so it gives some of the less advanced players an opportunity to unlock some serious assistance for the team even if they die a lot. This is a welcome change to the COD formula and gives the game a much greater accessibility for less experienced players. Due to the lack of firepower in the rewards I can see most people opting for a more aggressive package but it gives the game a more level playing field nonetheless. The final package is the specialist package; this rewards you with additional perks every time you reach certain kill count milestone. This has been designed with the more hardcore player in mind. It focuses entirely on the player’s ability to go out and source the kills for themselves rather than relying on offensive and defensive gadgetry. I haven’t spent too much time with this package yet, although I can see it being deadly in the hands of a veteran player. One thing I was also very happy to see was that the strike package selections are made within the custom profile, meaning you can have a different loadout for each profile you have; this saves a lot of unnecessary tweaking in between games and gives you more scope to change your play style mid game.
Modern Warfare 3 also adds a couple of new game modes to the mix including the new Kill Confirmed game which forces players out into the open to collect the dog tags from their kill before it is acknowledged on the score. It also gives the opposing team the opportunity to deny the kill by collecting it first. I like the resultant games from this mode, it creates a mad panic at a given choke point on the map and stops too many people sniping, although it won’t be long until people realising that by working together you could have a combination of snipers and runners that would make for quite the formidable team.
So all of the things that are loved about the multiplayer are here, but there really isn’t much innovation or advancement present. There are new things, but they feel more like tweaks rather than leaps. Don’t get me wrong, it is unbelievably addictive and very few games allow you to quite literally pick up and play like MW3 does. You really can just have a quick 10 minute match without feeling like you have missed out on too much or not had enough time with the game to make it purposeful. Alternatively you can also spend hours playing online; the approachable nature of the title combined with a short down time between matches means you really can get lost in it all. The problem is that I could do all of this with the previous Modern Warfare instalment.
One thing that deserves a great deal of praise in the game is the work that has been done with the sound design. One of my biggest complaints with previous iterations of the series was that the guns lacked weight. This is no longer the case, the first time I fired a gun in the game it brought a big smile to my face. Guns now sound weighty and punchy and give you a much greater sense of involvement. Sniper rifles make a satisfying mechanical boom and pistols sound appropriately lighter without sounding like pea shooters. It was a desperately needed overhaul and should it continue the series will benefit greatly from it.
Graphically the game is undeniably the best looking game in the series; some of the campaign levels paint scale and drama like very few games available on the market place. Taking a moment to look over the crumbling New York skyline prior to boarding a submarine positioned in the harbour was something that will stay in my memory for a good while. The thing is, although being the best looking in the series, the engine is starting to show its age despite what some of the outraged developers would have you think, and it isn’t a massive graphical leap from the last game.
Modern Warfare 3 is a very good game, there is no avoiding it. I will undoubtedly pour hours of my life into the online mode and spec ops, I will get enraged by being beaten and I will continue to shout obscenities at my television until I go blue in the face. The problem is that it all feels a little like Modern Warfare 2.5. As the series gets larger the leaps it makes seem to get much smaller. Whilst some may argue that this is because they are getting closer to perfection I would argue that the business of Call of Duty has bled into the creative ambition of the game; they have changed very little with the worry of alienating the established fan base. It is understandable to be cautious when you have something this successful on your hands but they will need to be careful. Activision positively murdered Guitar Hero by essentially re-releasing the same game over and over, although MW3 had the biggest ever launch day sales in the franchise history, I do worry about how much longer this will continue if only small tweaks are made. The engine is still good; it achieves a consistent 60 frames per second, no matter what is happening on screen at the time, which all makes for some very fluid gameplay. It does, however, need a more drastic overhaul; I would love to see some form of destruction in the next instalment of the series and I have a feeling this would only be possible with a completely new engine. I would also like to see some more dramatic changes made to the campaign mode; it would be great if Infinity Ward were able to do something to incorporate some of the elements that made Spec Ops so enjoyable. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is definitely an achievement, it really is. There are very few computer games that generate the sort of excitement and drama that Call of Duty does; it is an explosive, adrenaline filled behemoth.
I will more than likely purchase the next incarnation of the monstrous franchise that is Call of Duty and I think Modern Warfare 3 is genuinely a very good game; but the comfort that comes with familiarity can rapidly change into boredom and without the necessary change I can see a transition on the horizon.
Riley1343 - Xbox Live