My scant and rapidly deteriorating gaming memories all seem to have one place in common: the arcades. After one failed test when I thought more about Zelda than subtraction, I was grounded from video games on the weekdays for the rest of my childhood. Apparently going to the arcades didn't count, I guess because it was considered a valid excuse for getting out of the house. Arcade games have always been some of my favorites, mainly because they're light on story, heavy on action, and all it takes is a few seconds to figure out how everything works. The plot is typically an excuse to throw everything imaginable at players and all they can do is make the most of it. Now you may think I'm going to talk about that new Dodonpachi or whatever but, nope, this is in fact a review of Activision's Modern Warfare 3.
Remember Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2? No? Okay what about parts of it? Still nothing? I can't remember much of anything about the events of that game myself. From what I recall, the good guys never got around to killing the main bad guy so this is why we have Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. As far as villains go, this Makarov fellow has done everything just short of kicking a box of puppies with grenades tied around them into an orphanage. Obviously his life must be ended in as brutal a fashion as possible - but, of course, our being in the middle of World War III complicates things a tad. Still, if you're a bad enough dude you just might be able to save the world. This is an arcade-game plot and it calls for arcade-game heroes in order to succeed. If you're not the type who shakes off helicopter crashes and spends every waking moment outnumbered and outgunned, you're not cut out for this job.
This is the best campaign Call of Duty has ever seen.
Clocking in less than five hours, Modern Warfare 3's campaign will most likely get ignored by the average fan of the franchise, and that would be a terrible shame. This is in my opinion the best campaign Call of Duty has ever seen. It's still linear, still one set-piece after another, and yet it delivers on every level. Aside from the screen shots, I'm not sure why Activision doesn't mention anywhere on the box about the single-player. The company could have used descriptions like "riveting," "intense," and "absurd in all the right ways" and would actually be entirely right. Even on repeat play-throughs where most of the surprise is lost, the campaign still holds up thanks to tight level-design and a more balanced level of difficulty. Whatever the reason you pick up Modern Warfare 3, I cannot stress this enough: you have got to give this campaign a look. However, I will say that I wish there were some sort of scoring system, since that's pretty established among a number of other popular shooters.
This I suppose is why the Spec Ops mode exists, as it caters specifically to the crowd who likes high scores and teamwork. Over a dozen different missions are available and there is a sizable amount of variety in their objectives. Sometimes it is basic stuff like running through rooms while gunning everyone down, but you can expect all sorts of unique scenarios. Everything that happens in these missions will affect your score - yes even how much damage you take. Expect to spend a lot of time working out inefficiencies and poring over the tiniest aspects just for those incremental improvements to your score. If you're getting the top scores on the veteran level of difficulty in these missions, I can only hope that you and the robot army you're a part of will spare my pathetic life.
New to Modern Warfare 3 is Spec Ops Survival. On first glance this may as well be the Zombies mode from the last Call of Duty game, but it's quite a bit different. This mode is limited to just two players and the maps aren't as thought-out with the sorts of gimmicks and other unique aspects that are a part of the Zombies mode. The core concept is the same at least: survive wave after wave of enemy soldiers, dogs, C4-equipped dogs, helicopters, and so on and so forth. Also expect regular visits from your unfriendly neighborhood juggernaut, a well-armored monster with a light machine gun. Survival is more than just shooting everyone in the head, it also requires trips to various consoles to purchase and upgrade equipment. As you play either of the Spec Ops modes, you can unlock new skills and equipment for purchase while trying to survive. If nothing else, this provides an incentive to play for an extended period of time, since some of the later air drops - like a delta squad to cover your six - can be quite useful. While it is not as developed as similar modes in other games, Spec Ops Survival is still great fun.
Competitive Multiplayer is not something I consider myself an acceptable judge of when it comes to the Call of Duty series. To me it has always felt like there are too many elements of randomness that go into the average multiplayer match. Let's think about the variables here. First you take into account your perceived skill level, and then whatever equipment you roll into battle with. After that it's the abilities of your opponents and teammates. Throw in the mode of play, the map, how much Mountain Dew everyone has been choking down, and who knows how the game is going to turn out. In one match I might get twenty-three kills and a couple of deaths; in another match I'll struggle just to stay positive. Some days I'm getting those kill streaks and dropping helicopters on everybody; other days I wonder why I'm making myself suffer. At times playing Call of Duty is like playing the slots, except even when you lose you still get a pay out.
If there is one model that this series has mastered above everything else it's in how it keeps everyone playing. Just when I thought I was going to quit - which is usually after a series of bad matches or a really good one - something is unlocked that gets me thinking, "okay I'll quit after this next match." Whether it's a new gun, a new gun attachment, some new perk, or even a trivial acquisition like some fancy banner or a new icon, I feel encouraged to keep playing. Modern Warfare 3 is especially successful in this aspect because it compresses everything. There is rarely a moment where I'm not completing a challenge or getting some award for doing whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing in the average multiplayer match. Eventually I just sort of go numb and the hours slip away like I'm sleeping, aside from the occasional expletive. It helps that I usually run with the support class, and my job is to keep as many UAVs in the air and ballistic vests on the ground as possible. Also I don't have to worry about getting those kill streaks just to make a contribution to the battle.
This act of compression extends into the other aspects of Modern Warfare 3's multiplayer. The maps are definitely smaller and a bit more packed than their predecessors, almost as if we're all rats in the same maze trying to get at each other's cheese. If you manage to go more than five seconds without seeing an opponent, you may have to take that blindfold off. I guess this was done to cut back on camping and to keep some players from hiding in a dark corner away from everyone else and calling in those air strikes. This may have also been done to create a more arcade-like experience, which would be more rewarding for players who rely on their reflexes over their favorite corner of the map. For the most part, however, the result is usually disorganized chaos. No matter where you are, it feels like you must always look around because at any second somebody on the enemy team is going to spawn behind you. Also, all of the guns carry a bit more punch than in previous games - meaning that if you're in a disadvantageous position, you will die. Considering the abnormally large possibility that the next enemy spawn will leave you in an unfavorable situation, more players are going to have trouble getting those abnormally high kill streaks. Which isn't to say that nobody is attaining them, they just have to work a bit harder or get a bit luckier.
I'm not sure what I should think of all these changes. In all honesty, I really enjoyed Modern Warfare 2. Its glitches and balance issues make it a guilty pleasure. With Modern Warfare 3, though, I feel like I've just gotten burned out too quickly. It uses the meat-grinder approach far too often and I never get the time to really get my head in the game. This becomes obnoxious in modes like Team Defender. While a player is holding the flag, his team's kills are worth 100 points and the other team's are only worth 50. The spawn-system is designed so that everyone is never more than two feet from the flag, essentially creating a tornado of mayhem. It's just an absolute mess and I can't stand it. Kill-confirmed on the other hand is a mode I really enjoy. Every soldier that gets killed drops a medal, the medal has to be collected in order for points to be scored. The action still gets frenetic, but there is an element of control, since clever players can lure others to their doom, and some will create equipment and perk builds specifically for collecting medals.
There are other issues surrounding the multiplayer in this game, some more predictable than others. Lag is as always a major problem, and if you're playing the Ground War modes you can expect to run into serious issues just trying to land a few kills. While explosives got toned down severely and the newly revised point streak system means vehicles never stay in the air for long, a handful of assault rifles and SMGs tend to control the battlefield above all else. As of this writing, the Type-95 is one that I am absolutely sick of seeing. Great power, high accuracy, point-and-kill - this gun has it all. Old favorites like the UMP still hold their own, and yet I still haven't unlocked a light machine gun that can actually compare. I shouldn't have to work harder than others to get kills but, oh well; things will hopefully improve over time. I'm honestly curious how a version of this game with substantially weakened guns would work out.
In conclusion, while Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3's embrace of arcade-like qualities has led to one of the best campaigns and a very impressive slew of cooperative modes, I think Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games would do well to take a step back and reassess the competitive side of this game. It's fine if your thought process is "New Call of Duty? Gotta play it." But even for a fan like me, the competitive mode is trying a bit too hard and it lacks the balance to keep itself reined in. While this series prides itself on its "definitive multiplayer experience," you should definitely check out everything else Modern Warfare 3 has to offer first. If for nothing else than hopefully Activision won't decide to dole out yearly multiplayer-only Call of Duty releases.