Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Review

Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: November 8, 2011

In all the games that I play, I try my hardest to stroll in with hopes that good times will lay ahead of me. Even with that mindset, and I’ll be completely honest, I wasn’t sure how I would receive Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Not that I thought it would be bad, but modern military shooters always feel so creatively anchored by the barren desert of reality both figuratively and literally. Dinosaurs, robots, laser beams, and zombies are all left by the wayside in favor of realism and serious undertones, a decision that I am stubborn to get behind. Even including the clashes with my personal taste, Modern Warfare 3 overcame plenty of it to become a quick favorite in the long-standing series.

The stories in the Modern Warfare games never rubbed me the right way. Telling a majority of plot points during the boring loading screens map was always a uninteresting way to convey what was happening. It made for a game to just feel random, without any sort of logical reason to the actions that needed to be completed. Also, aside from Captain Price, no other characters stood out from the lack of characterization, cool mustaches, and (most importantly) a voice. It was almost as bland as it could get.

The incoherent story of Modern Warfare 2 continues and is simply World War III. Everyone’s least favorite ultra-nationalist Makarov is at the heart of every thread and he must be taken down before every major city is turned into rubble and debris. Soap and Price, now disavowed, give the story some small, but needed, characters to attach to with a few other thrown in the mix. We’ve been with Soap and Price for a few games now, so they’ve finally begin to grow and become memorable. Along with having a story that’s easier to follow, these guys wrap up the trilogy nicely in a fairly satisfying way.

However, the constant body-hopping can be disorienting. Whereas Black Ops took the more interesting route in only lending the player two or three characters to play as, Modern Warfare 3 throws in a few too many to become invested in. No matter who you play as, Mr. Explosion always takes center stage. This may speak to the greater story at large though. This isn’t about one guy, but rather the whole world so it’s a tad understandable why they don’t focus on just a few dudes.

While I would have preferred a singular soldier with a personality, I can’t argue about the grand spectacles switching sets them up for. Except for a few, none of the Call of Duty “wow moments” ever wowed me. Whoa that tank exploded in front me… again. Yawn. It was just generic and tame compared to what other games offer and felt forced to create some false sense of urgency.

The bar has been raised considerably in the past few years for set-pieces in general and Modern Warfare 3 does a good job of keeping up. Explosions actually have some meaning and give way to create some pretty spectacular moments due to the effects they have the environment and your current soldier. My heart was always racing, and while it is easy to criticize the lack of lows to appreciate the highs, the highs are so well done that it is hard to complain (even if a couple feel a little less polished). The incredible sound design, filled with more explosions and yelling than you can possibly dream of, also helps create a better atmosphere for the intensity at hand.

This intensity keeps action flowing at such a high pace, but this doesn’t always translate for better gameplay. Yes, this is a war, so there are a bunch of enemies to shoot, but there is almost too many. It’s all too easy to get lit up by a soldier that is hiding in some corner that you can’t see, something the series has always struggled with. Killing the men in front of you may go swimmingly, but there’s a high chance of having someone with a rifle just out of your field of view to ruin your day. Captain Price (or whoever your current superior is) can feel this intensity as well by screaming the objective at you if you so happen to meander just a few feet of the strictly laid out path. It’s restrictive and annoying to be yelled at so frequently and this is where the linearity begins to become a pejorative.

When problems like these stay hidden, that leaves room to enjoy the shooting, something you’ll be doing a lot of. The act of pulling the trigger is immensely satisfying due to the incredibly high framerate, giving almost everything that involves a gun such a smooth feel. Mechanically, this is the game to match in terms of pure feel.

Modern Warfare 3 has you covered pretty well if you want to wreck shop by yourself, but having friends is where this title goes above and beyond the call of… nevermind. The co-op focused Mission Mode makes a comeback and pits you and a friend in sixteen unique scenarios where you must help each other progress. Most are ripped out of the campaign (albeit reversed or from a different angle) but are such fun to tackle in a co-op setting. Some do fall a bit flat due to poor vehicle sections, but after getting three stars in all of them, I can safely say that this is some of the most enjoyable co-op around.

Any game with fun combat definitely deserves a Horde-like mode, and Modern Warfare 3 is no different. Branching off the already-successful Mission Mode mentioned earlier, MW3 takes that and Zombies from Black Ops and forms something that might not be totally new, but is better than the sum of its parts. Again, you and a friend face waves and waves of enemies with an all-important economy dictating if you win or lose. Purchasing the right equipment or guns against these waves and just plain surviving is pretty thrilling because it boils down what Call of Duty does so well: shooting. Blasting away is such a pure joy and doing it with a friend in a controlled arena makes this one of the better Survival modes out there.

If there’s anything Call of Duty has built its legacy on, it’s the multiplayer. It’s definitely familiar with the leveling madness that consumes most of the people it ropes in, and it has tweaked a bit. Killstreaks reward different types of players now since, with the right loadout, the count doesn’t reset when you die and capturing objectives can go towards the point count as well as kills. This is the biggest change to the overall online frontier and it’s pretty safe to say that it was for the better. Leveling up guns is new, but just about everything else about the multiplayer is something the fans will definitely recognize and have fun with.

I don’t review these games in a vacuum, so some of my criticisms are based on the things outside of the mechanics. In terms of the act of pulling the trigger, MW3 is probably the smoothest shooter out there, online or off. Few rational people will object to that. However, having fun after having a lengthy vacation away from Call of Duty can take a long time to get used to. Matchmaking is fast, but at the cost of actually matching you against people near your skill level. In addition to causing lopsided matches, it makes it hard to have a good time because of all the quick deaths by people leagues better than you. Putting in a bunch of frustrating hours is probably the only way at this point for less experienced people to become anything above mediocre because jumping in is so difficult. When my first match already had multiple people that had already prestiged, I knew something was wrong.

Here it comes. You’ve been waiting for this paragraph. Yes, Modern Warfare 3, in many respects, can be viewed as an expansion pack. Just about everything from the font, stupid quotes after dying, menus, weapons, breach sequences, shooting, animations, and more can feel directly lifted from its previous entries. Whether or not that is good or not is up to you, but it is hard to get excited after so many cracks at the franchise, no matter how well it is built.

It’s would be too easy to hate on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Contrarians love hating something this popular regardless if it deserves it or not and Call of Duty has always been a target to this overly vocal crowd. While it is hard to deny that it is eerily similar to past games, Modern Warfare 3 is a well-built shooter no matter which way you look at it. I’m not a born-again Call of Duty lover, praising Captain Price’s mustache at every turn, nor am I a unconditional hater, eager to type out my hatred on a message board, but I was pleased with this latest entry in a series I didn’t care too much about. I think that says enough about how good Modern Warfare 3 is.

+Story is much more intense and actually makes a fair bit of sense
+Spec Ops Mission and Survival modes are spectacular
+Silky-smooth shooting
+Mechanically, online multiplayer is deep and solid
-Basically identical, annoyances included, in almost every asset to Modern Warfare 2
-Too hard for newbies to get into multiplayer
-Campaign is a bit too guided at times

Final Score: 9/10

Platform Differences: Xbox 360 owners get the DLC about a month earlier than PS3 and PC owners.

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