Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

It’s very easy to make fun of something that a lot of people are obsessed by. So much so, that sometimes people do it without even realising it. We have nothing against Call of Duty here though – anything that keeps the children off the streets is fine by us.

A few people have had a dig about Modern Warfare 3 for running on the same engine as the previous games. As soon as the first level – a dramatic jaunt through a war torn American city, and not some dull forced tutorial – it becomes apparent that the age of the engine isn’t an issue. It copes with the heavily-scripted carnage magnificently, with lighting and shadow effects that impress and never a hint of slowdown even when a dozen enemies swarm on your location.

The plot has a notable degree of coherence to it too. Mad Russian Makarov wants Europe and he doesn’t care if it’s a burning wreck when he takes control. Familiar faces Soap MacTavish and Captain Price return, ready to finish the fight, but there’s also the chance to play as a few other characters including a Russian bodyguard trying to protect a President during an airplane hijacking. Another playable character is Yuri – his sections show off the developer’s storytelling skills, with one very clever playable flashback section in particular that involves bits from the previous Modern Warfare games.

There’s a sense of familiarity in some environments that may be a little overwhelming for some. A mission set on a sinking submarine, which is rather linear as you can imagine, bears resemblance to Call of Duty 4’s sinking oil rig, while a shanty town you have to visit in Somalia isn’t massively different from the one found in Modern Warfare 2’s rendition of Favela.

The missions set in Europe are a mixed bag too. The ruined beauty of Paris is captivating, as you run through art museums and book shops mowing down the bad guys, and then ends with an ferocious battle with a crumbling Eiffel Tower in the background. The London mission starts in a dull building site in Canary Warf and then escalates to the London Underground which doesn’t really resemble any London Underground that we’ve ever been on. That said, the game is set in the future amidst World War 3 so this could just be the developers using their creative talent. Berlin is pretty nondescript but it does contain one of the few innovative moments – using a handheld device to mark the beginning and end points of a bombing run. Innovation really isn’t Modern Warfare 3’s forte.

You may have heard about a ‘controversial’ section, which involves a chemical bomb in London. It lasts just a couple of minutes and although it can be skipped it’s unlikely to offend – a lorry explodes killing a mother and daughter on holiday, but it’s not as if you’re forced to see their disfigured bodies. They just vanish under a plume of green smoke. The point that the developers were trying to make is that during war even the innocent are affected. Whether Activision asked them to put something like this in to get more press coverage prior to release is something we’ll never know.

Anyway, we digress. The six hour long campaign really is the equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster, packed with often unexpected set-pieces and moving at a very swift pace. The fact that it’s hard to pick a highlight, as there are so many, shows how much of a rollercoaster ride it is.

But just to illustrate how scripted it is, even though you get to jump into tanks, helicopters and Jeeps the only vehicles you’re given full control of are a waist-high mobile recon unit, which is controlled from first person, and a rubber dingy on the second mission.

Another minor gripe is that we’re sure the developers could have given us something more exciting than laptops to find on each level. Homefront had newspapers that helped expand the backstory; Gears of War 3 had artefacts with commentary.

While tactics are rarely required in the campaign mode – even EA’s Army of Two flexed our grey muscle more – you won’t get far in the Survival or Spec Ops (read: challenge) modes without a few tricks up your sleeves. The Survival mode is a new inclusion and similar to Gears of War’s Horde Mode. The emphasis is on the word ‘similar’ there. You have to fight waves of enemies, starting off with soldiers then ending with helicopters and juggernauts, and use cash earned from kills to buy new items but it is has its own way of doing things too. The countdown between waves can be skipped as soon as you’re ready for action and new weapons can be purchased at any time from the laptops placed around the levels. Using a laptop during a wave of enemies isn’t advised – they can still harm you while you flick through the menus. A radar helps you plan your approaches while killstreaks give more cash. Trying to get to a later wave than you previously did is rather addictive.

We don’t need to point out how addictive the multi-player mode can be. We’ve heard of people in the past playing nothing else; not even thinking to touch the campaign mode. There are 16 maps in total, the perks have been balanced out and the new Kill Confirmed game mode has a nice twist – you have to pick up the dog tags of downed enemies to register a kill, thus putting yourself at risk as you go to collect them. The sniper and riot gear classes are locked at the start, but it doesn’t take much more than an hour of play to unlock them, while promotion unlocks new items and new emblems for your customisable tag. The infamous ‘kill cam’ still plays an integral part of learning your foe’s location; the chance to see the kill that won (or lost) a team their match in glorious slow motion is, well, glorious. The menus haven’t changed at all though, apart from the option to purchase the extra Call of Duty Elite stat tracker, and there are still very few achievements linked into the multi-player modes. You’d think that achievements for becoming ‘prestige’ would keep people playing, even if they’re having their behind repeatedly kicked.

The ending credits reveal that five companies collaborated to produce Modern Warfare 3. With so many different teams involved we were concerned that it would be disjointed in places or perhaps have an erratic art direction, but there’s a consistency to it that few games have and a degree of polish that other first person shooters out there are sorely lacking. The thrill ride of the campaign mode may not last very long, but the three other modes on offer more than make up for its shortcomings.

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