CoD MW3 Review: WW3 has been declared in CoD MW3, so Matt Swider and Alex Roth review the game to help you determine if you should join the fight or stay neutral.
Editor's Notes: 1) Matt Swider and Alex Roth wrote this Call of Duty: MW3 review. 2) A perfect score does not necessarily mean a perfect game. Please read the text for cons.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 opens with the invasion of New York City by Russian forces, a result of the American-blamed terror attack that occurred in a Moscow airport during MW2. With world-famous buildings being annihilated and iconic-looking yellow taxi cabs set ablaze by falling skyscraper debris, the gutted streets of Manhattan already look lost to the series' persistent Russian enemy. However, the same can be said about Call of Duty's fight againt its exterior opposition. Battlefield 3 launched two weeks ago with strong support from the PC community, the original Call of Duty developer, Infinity Ward, lost a chunk of its founding staff during development, and a few outspoken gamers are calling this eighth edition of Call of Duty ?more of the same? and ?merely downloadable content.? However, the fall of Call of Duty is as likely as the Russian's winning in the end of MW3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3's thrill-ride of a campaign, impressive Spec Ops additions and greatly expanded multiplayer mode makes this the easiest $60 you'll spend in 2011.
Beginning the game by gunning your way through bombed-out buildings of New York's Financial District strikes a nerve, one that FPS rival Homefront wasn't able to deliver earlier this year. You'll navigate your way through the twisted steel of the city's forever-changed concrete jungle, snipe enemies while taking cover behind the statue of George Washington in front of Federal Hall and flank Russian soldiers holdup in the booths of the stock market trading floor. Ending this NYSE-located battle with ?Your stock has gone down, comrade? is entirely up to you.
What's not your call is the tempo of the action; it's always intense. The MW3's six hours touch all parts of the globe, notably countries that are typically terrorism-free. Watching New York, London, Paris and Germany fall in their own unique way, then touring the globe to take revenge is riveting enough to keep you playing through all six hours in one sitting. The campaign's seamless transition between missions never gives you a chance to be bored and the mission structure itself offers a good amount of variety. The second level, for example, has you scuba diving through a submerged Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, storm the cockpit of an enemy nuclear submarine and make your getaway in a speedboat. Subsequently, you perform a little bit of quick-time-event surgery on a fallen buddy in the third level. This means that in a half hour's time, you're a scuba diver, nuclear sub captain, speedboat pilot and doctor - it's hard not to feel as if you're a jack of all trades and Call of Duty is the master of fun.
Keeping up with the driven gameplay are MW3's graphics, physics and emotional connection to the world set ablaze. There are subtle visual details like the ultra-fine stitching of your gloves, which come into focus when manning the first level's helicopter gun turret. The reason this is so striking is because they're clearly in focus at such a close range, yet your attention is supposed to be on the action that's occurring beyond their woven fabric; there's an entire smoldering NYC skyline and a relentless dogfight with a Russian helicopter that's just as detailed. In the end, your depth of field is so wide that it's unnatural. But for a visually striking game like Call of Duty, that's important.
There are also very obvious visual upgrades like cover being radically transformed due to a barrage of enemy bullets. Hiding behind a mack truck upon seeing a half dozen bad guys with automatics, I was surprised at the level of detail that went into the truck's before and after state. It wasn't obliterated after being pelted by a hundred bullets, but the passenger side window above me shattered into a million pieces, then the two front tires exploded and, finally, the front end of the truck leaned froward ever so slightly. Everything happened in succession like it should and in a matter of seconds. Needless to say, I hit the crouch button with extreme angst just to be sure I wasn't given an unscheduled flattop haircut. The world of all of Duty is alive and my nervous system doesn't like it; thankfully everything else in me does.
Above all, the reason MW3 is more realistic than its predecessors is because of the three times it includes innocent bystanders in a freshly panicked environment. None of the instances will stir controversey like MW2's ?No Russian? campaign level in which you can actually shoot civilians at a Moscow airport. No, these scenes are more subtle. A great early example of this is the floating bodies of suit-and-tie wearing commuters in the aforementioned submerged Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. It won't cause debate, but its message is just as emotionally charged: these are ordinary citizens and this is who you're fighting for over the next six hours.
MW3's gameplay never fails to deliver mission-to-mission variety within its own game, but some of the objectives feel like shot-for-shot reskins of prior Call of Duty games. ?Oh, this is the mission where I follow another soldier's lead and attempt to stay in stealth mode,? I thought during one level. He barks orders at me, we simultaneously snipe enemies and drag away the bodies to avoid detection, then surprise, we quickly need to go prone to crawl under the noses of some guards. This reskinned sense of gameplay is coupled with a paint-by-the-numbers Call of Duty story and a fair share of ?Press X to win? quick-time events. Veteran players may get the feeling of d?j? vu from the campaign mode's storyline, while newcomers may not know what's happening with returning characters Price, Soap and Yuri - everything that's happening isn't well explained. MW3 just picks up where the previous game left and the developer included a minimal amount of flashbacks.
Multiplayer has always been Modern Warfare's crown jewel, and it's been given significant polish this time around. Much grumbled about features like Nukes, Marathon, and side-arm shotguns have all been stripped away, and the result is the most honed and balanced online experience since the original Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007.
Infinity Ward hasn't just trimmed the fat, there are significant additions like the revamped killstreaks, which come in three forms: Assault, Support, and Specialist. Assault is your standard killstreak, get kills without dying to earn rewards. The Support killstreak doesn't reset when you die, and gives you armor and SAM sites to call in for your team. You can also use air strikes and predator missiles, they're just more expensive. Then there's Specialist, which is built for survivalist players who skate through matches with only a couple deaths. Instead of airstrikes and ammo drops, Specialists gain additional perks as their killstreak reward. A slick Specialist can get a monstrous six perks under his belt.
The new killstreaks add nuance to the game. Each of them rewards a viable style of play once ignored by past Modern Warfare games. Support may seem like training wheels, but don't underestimate it. Kamikaze players with no regard for their kill/death ratios will be the life of the party, calling in game-changing equipment drops. Specialist is for the show-off, the gambler, or anyone who wants to learn how to play conservatively and stay alive. Here's a tip: make Scavenger one of your six perks. If you live that long, you're gonna need a few extra clips.
MW3's new game modes are another source of variety. There's Kill Confirmed, a form of Team Deathmatch where players collect their victim's dog tag to score, or grab their friend's to deny the enemy a point. Exploiting people's behavior in this mode is a blast. Whenever you see fallen tags, keep an eye out for enemies rushing to grab them. There's also Team Defender, which is delightfully chaotic. There's one flag, a sort of totem held by one player, giving his team double points for every kill. The flag carrier is marked on the map, so it's up to his teammates to protect him if they want to keep the bonus.
On top of that, there are also Custom Matches, where players can design their own scenarios. Every weapon and perk is unlocked, giving match designers a full arsenal to work with. When making a match, you control every variable: the map, equipment, how much health players have, radar, perks, etc. Couple this with Elite, a promised launch pad for the latest and greatest custom games, and MW 3 could develop a user-created back-end to rival Half-Life and Halo 2. There's quality, and so much quantity: 14 maps, 12 modes, and then Spec Ops, right out of the box.
With all the multiplayer mayhem, it's easy to forget Spec Ops, but with two beefy game types you really shouldn't. There's Survival, which has players buying perks and equipment to survive waves of enemies. It's basically Call of Duty's Horde mode, and it's awesome. Then there are Missions. While there's no narrative to link these levels, make no mistake, this is MW 3's co-op campaign. There are 16 missions, and while they have common elements like stealth, on-rails gunner sequences, and covering teammates via turrets. Each one is dynamic, challenging, and utterly worth your time, especially if you prefer your multiplayer splitscreen.
As linear as any level in campaign, Missions become speed runs upon repetition. The game grades you on multiple factors, and you can always come back to try and best a score. Some levels get replay value out of giving players different roles; in Firewall, one teammate is on the ground while the other covers him using remote turrets. Communication is key to make sure your teammates stays within your protective view.