Video Game Review: ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’ Stuns With Intense, Refined Action

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CHICAGO – By now, millions of players have screamed at their television as a screen popped up to reveal how some jerk got the jump on them and damaged their ratio of deaths to kills. And they’ve loved every minute of it. Such is the world of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3,” a place built around pain. The game exists to put you through the ringer, to keep you running, crouching, shooting, and dying…again and again and again. It’s also one of the most rewarding games of the year for the right players. Video Game Rating: 4.5/5.0
Video Game Rating: 4.5/5.0

Before anyone sends me a nasty email, as some seem prone to do the minute anyone praises a “Call of Duty” game (check out the massive disparity between critics and users on Metacritic for an example of the backlash), let me say this — I see where some players are upset that this sequel feels like a lot more of the same. I see it, but I don’t agree. There are enough minor tweaks to the gameplay and some major ones to both the campaign mechanics and multi-player, but I do see how anyone looking for a reinvention of the wheel would scream that this one is still round. Yes, the game works on a foundation that is not that dissimilar from the last title, although I think calling it “a $60 map pack,” as some critics have done, is a bit extreme. And it discounts the fact that “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” was amazingly profitable and popular. Why would you expect them to change it up in drastic ways? Some message board haters seem to be upset that this sequel is JUST another incredible series of multi-player maps with a stunning campaign and some of the most refined shooting mechanics in the history of the genre. What did you expect it to be?

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Photo credit: Activision

There also seems to be a bit of hatred aimed at “MW3” by fans of EA’s incredible “Battlefield 3.” Guess what? You can play ‘em both. You can love ‘em both. It IS possible to be a fan of both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones; Coke and Pepsi; Xbox and PS3. At the same time, I feel without a doubt that “BF3” is the better multi-player option and that “MW3” has a much-more-engaging campaign. What complicates matters even further and is something I’ll have to wrap my brain around when I get to my best of the year feature is the fact that the multi-player portion of “Modern Warfare 3” is pretty spectacular as well, so if “BF3” barely wins the multi-player war, that game get demolished in the campaign by “MW3.”

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Photo credit: Activision

Enough comparing, what do you get if you enter the deadly world of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3”? Like the last title, “MW3” is divided into three separate installments — a single-player campaign that runs about 6-7 hours, a massive multi-player experience, and a series of missions entitled “Special Ops.”

Let’s start where most people will…and this is a sign of changing times…the multi-player. It wasn’t that long ago that multi-player arenas were the bonus for the single-player campaign, but the fact is that millions of people won’t even touch the story of “MW3,” choosing to spends weeks of their lives in modes like Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Domination, and the wonderful new addition Kill Confirmed. In that mode, players have to collect the dog tags of their fallen enemies to get points to win the match for their team. It’s a fantastic new addition that requires new strategy (sorry snipers) and should be a popular staple of “CoD” games from now on. It may actually be my favorite mode, including the classics (although I still love Domination). There are other minor variations like streaks carrying over between matches and death streaks giving players rewards to try to encourage those of you getting pwned to stick around, but nothing will be strikingly unfamiliar to players of the last few games.

The upgrade system in this year’s “MW3” is deep but the customization and unlocks have an air of familiarity as well as the graphics engine and even the majority of the map design, and I think that’s what’s thrown off so many of the people complaining about this title. After a steady diet of map pack DLC for “Call of Duty: Black Ops” for the last year, people were ready to approach this as merely another DLC — new maps, new weapons, but nothing drastic. I call nonsense on that thinking. Not every annual model of a car is going to be distinctly different from the last one but when you get behind the wheel, you’ll know you’re driving a different car. This is a different car. It looks the same and operates under the same mechanics, but the ride is smoother and, most importantly, the track is more entertaining.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Photo credit: Activision

“Modern Warfare 3” contains some of the best multi-player maps in the history of the shooter and, for this player, it’s ALL about map design. There are some who get into customization options and others looking for specific modes (although it’s hard to believe either of those type of MP players could be disappointed here as well) but just give me a gun and throw me out into an entertaining, well-designed, varied series of maps. The variety and depth (there are sixteen!) of the maps in “MW3” are stellar, just a notch below “Battlefield 3” and that’s the most expertly-designed multi-player game yet produced. This is a close second. I will be playing multi-player “Modern Warfare 3” for months to come, probably until the next “CoD” game comes out, and what more could you ask for from a title like this one?

What about single-player? Once again, it’s a lot more of the same, as you race around the world basically trying to stop World War III. And I mean “stop as in it’s already started.” Major cities are under attack and the storytelling features widespread carnage on a level we’ve thankfully never seen in real life. You will kill thousands of people and you will probably get a bit bored by the story (although the final revelations do work nicely for those who have been loyal to the franchise). Yes, a few too many of the enemies are mindless drones, but the sometimes-faulty A.I. never gets in the way of your enjoyment. Probably because you’re too busy running and screaming. This is one of the most adrenalin-pumping, fast-paced, nightmarish campaigns yet produced and I’ll admit that I enjoyed every minute of it. I may even go back to play it on a higher difficulty level. Pity me.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Photo credit: Activision

Finally, “Special Ops” is another import from the last model, a series of mini-missions that can be played alone but are more fun tackled co-operatively. It is not merely an afterthought, even if it gets nowhere near the press of the campaign or multi-player portions of the game.

It hasn’t helped the overall impression of “Modern Warfare 3” that their fan-driven service — “COD: Elite” — has been hampered by technical difficulties during its launch. Still largely out of service, the idea behind Elite is that serious players of “CoD” can track each other’s progress along with getting new map packs delivered automatically over the next year. It also allows strategy, as you can examine maps and their spawn points along with seeing charts of where you died. Hardcore players will surely spend hours with the bells and whistles promised by Elite (I say surely because I have yet to be able to get it to work, although some major patched have reportedly recently been installed). It’s a bit pricey, especially in the current market, but it will pay for itself many times over for people who would buy the map packs one by one. It will be interesting to watch how successful it is because this may be the model for future games heavy on DLC. It seems to be working as of this writing, as a million people have reportedly already signed up.

With success comes backlash and there have been waves of it aimed at “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.” And yet it’s going to be the most profitable game of 2011. I’m struck by the discrepancy of how so many people seem disappointed in this title and yet they can’t stop buying it or playing it. There are millions of people playing multi-player right now and probably typing up their complaints on message boards between rounds. Complain all you will about lack of innovation, what matters most is a title that you want to come back to again and again and people are clearly doing that with this one. I know I am. Time to go work on my ratio.

‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’ was released by Activision and developed by Infinity Ward. It is rated M (Mature). The version reviewed was for the Xbox 360, but the title is also available for the PS3. It was released on November 8th, 2011. content director Brian Tallerico

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mw3 guy's picture

mw3 is awesome

mw3 is awesome even though some people have been giving it a bad review

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