Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

on November 12, 2011 4:00 PM

Call of Duty is one of those odd games that people seem to love to hate, and then buy anyway.  It is a package where you know almost exactly what you’re getting when you pick it up, regardless of whether you do so for the single player experience, the multiplayer experience or even the Spec Ops mode.

Modern Warfare 3 is no different than its predecessors, really.  That is to say it is good, frustrating, impressive and convoluted all at once.  That goes for the multiplayer as well as the single player.  The overall package is a mixed bag to be honest, but one that comes out on top.

To begin, the single player campaign is actually surprisingly great.  The campaigns are generally very good in the Call of Duty games, but Modern Warfare 3’s actually managed to rival the enjoyment I got out of the campaign of Call of Duty 4, which was to say, a lot.  A number of frustrations are still there, but overall, the single player comes closer to its roots, and is therefore better than the campaigns of the last three games between the first Modern Warfare and this most recent entry.

The story this time around wraps things up very nicely, and I was surprised at how emotional I got when certain sequences passed.  While it is not quite on the level of a Metal Gear Solid game, it is still a franchise that is five years old and managed to establish some memorable characters like Soap and Price.  Their admittedly two-dimensional characters, but they’re still characters we have followed over the years.

Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

The story itself is also more coherent than it was in Modern Warfare 2.  It actually manages to accomplish this by being less descriptive.  Instead of explaining why Paris or New York are under siege, they just are, and your job is to complete the various missions inside the cities.  I think this tactic of storytelling really works for Modern Warfare 3.  It allows the pace of the story to be nonstop without getting caught up in itself like the second game tended to.  The few flashback sequences are fantastic, mainly because we get to see some very interesting perspectives on some very memorable events.

The cinematic events in are back in droves in the campaign too.  The entire opening half hour of the game, a running battle through New York City is fantastic.  It includes a particularly great cat-and-mouse fight with a Hind-D helicopter and culminates in a nuclear submarine.  Another stage takes place in the middle of a revolt and the chaos that surrounds the revolt was very cool to see.  The breakneck pace really continues through the whole storyline, and even includes some stages that are deliberately reminiscent of prior games, though different enough to not feel rehashed.

Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

The campaign is not without its flaws however.  The game still has the tendency to make you feel like you’re the only target on the battlefield, even though you may be surrounded by other men.  This leads to a number of frustrating deaths, where enemies will snap to you with pin-point accuracy instantly.  It has been toned down from previous games, but it was still a noticeable issue.  For the record, I completed the game on the Hardcore difficulty.

The next big issue is the checkpoint system seemed really inconsistent.  Sometimes I was granted a checkpoint in the middle of a firefight, out of cover and with only a few bullets in my clip.  Other times I would clear a large section of a level, reach a mission marker and not be granted a checkpoint.  It’s not game breaking, but it can be very frustrating.

So the single player is very, very fun and should not be missed.  Unfortunately, we all know why the majority of people enjoy Call of Duty.  The multiplayer has gone on to become the true heart of the game.  As much as I hate to say it, it is not quite as stellar as it once was.

Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

The core of the multiplayer experience for the Call of Duty series has been the usually stellar XP system that first revolutionized the way we played first person shooters in Call of Duty 4.  This time around, the XP system has just grown to be too much for its own good.  I mean that literally; the system is convoluted to the point where it is overly complicated.  Guns now have levels that unlock new things the more you use them.  These are separate from the player’s own level progression and just make everything much more complicated than they need to be.  I get that people love the equipment systems, but it is getting to a point where the game is getting absurd.  It also feels like there are fewer weapons than there were in the previous games.

That is not to say that the whole system is bad.  You do have prestige points to unlock more stuff if you’ve played the previous games, which is a very cool addition.  The new killstreak system is pretty awesome, as friends of mine who were playing the Support Class had UAVs up left and right and were dropping body armor and the like for us to use, while those of us on Assault and Specialist were calling in Airstrikes and Care Packages.  Also, the AC-130 is still tremendously satisfying to call in.

Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

However the actual gameplay of the multiplayer suffers now from a lack of balance.  The overwhelming number of perks and combinations throws off the balancing of each game, at least until you are at a high enough level to be able to have a class for everything.  It honestly just feels silly.  Short of the Hardcore multiplayer modes, nothing, save Sniper Rifles, feel like they actually have power.  Pistols feel useless.  Assault rifles feel underpowered, in the sense that you will literally empty the majority of a clip into someone before they go down.  Even frag grenades feel nerfed.  I’ve watched my grenades literally land next to people and not have them die.  Either the blast shield perk is ridiculously overpowered or grenades are now severely underpowered.  It really is a lot of little things that make Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer feel off, and unfortunately not quite as much fun as one would expect from a series that did it so well for so long.  This is all compounded on top of the attitude that seems to surround the multiplayer, which I will not comment on past this; the community of Modern Warfare 3 is one that has been distinctly unpleasant to play with so far.

Now, there is another multiplayer mode.  The Spec-Ops co-operative mode is fantastic.  The standard co-op spec-ops missions are a blast, and require a challenging amount of both skill and patience in order to press through the various stages.  They aren’t really the highlight in Modern Warfare 3 however, as this year the developer’s added a Survival mode.

Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

The series has always been fun with Treyarch’s Zombies game, but Spec Ops combines the best parts of Modern Warfare 2’s spec-ops with the horde modes of both Black Op’s Zombies and games like Gears of War 3.  The result is the run-and-gun style of Call of Duty’s gameplay mixed with the hellish tension of a horde mode.  Of course with Call of Duty’s surprising range of enemy types, the mode stays fresh, even among long bouts of playing.  While the perk system in the core multiplayer seems to be stretching itself too thin, it actually works very well in the Spec-Ops mode, where unlocks and various new toys become very welcome very quickly.  When you combine that with the streamlined menus that need to be accessed in between rounds, the upgrade system shows that the upgrade interface can be made simple.  Add all this to the fact that you can play it with a friend and Spec Ops proves itself to be the biggest surprise in the package.

Finally, I would love to be able to discuss the Call of Duty Elite service, however, it has been mostly down since the release of the game.  When I can access it, it does contain some very cool information.  Unfortunately even when I can access it, much of the information or services seem to time out, so I will refrain from discussing the service.

Modern Warfare 3 has already sold huge amounts, but if you’re on the fence, frankly the game is actually very easy to recommend.  The single player is stellar, and while I complained about aspects of the multiplayer, at its core, it is still competent.  Hardcore multiplayer modes still prove themselves to be a lot of fun as well, as they seem to remove most of the annoyance of the non-hardcore modes.  The Spec Ops mode is once again a lot of fun, and made even better with the addition of the new Survival mode.  All in all, it is a complete package, and while there might be a better multiplayer FPS on the market, Modern Warfare 3 as a full game is still very good.

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Scott just graduated from Law School. But he didn't let that stop him from gaming, a hobby that he has stuck with ever since he received his NES at age 5. His favorites are Metal Gear Solid, OutRun, Half-Life, Deus Ex, Ratchet and Clank and most recently, the Mass Effect series.