Modern Warfare 3 is the video game equivalent of the massive summer blockbuster. It’s like a six hour interactive montage of the most explosion-filled parts of a Michael Bay movie, strung together with a Clancy-esque narrative that has more twists and turns than a rope factory. There’s not a great deal of subtlety to it and it would rather punch your teeth down your throat than bring a tear to a saddened eye.
This franchise divides gamers like no other. There are those who decry its obvious iterative approach and those who hunger for more of the same. That’s the interesting dichotomy with Modern Warfare and the wider Call of Duty franchise; people moan that it’s so unchanging and yet there’s nothing else quite like it. Call of Duty is popular for a reason: nothing else in the genre matches its unerring ability to dazzle, excite and compel.[drop]The game picks up right from the end of MW2, with Task Force 141 disavowed and hunted, thanks to the game ending double cross. It continues to follow the exploits of the remnants of the one-four-one, and various other units with a common goal, through the eyes of several different combatants around the globe. This globe-spanning body-hopping is now almost a trademark of the franchise and serves to vary locations and tasks while keeping the main narrative at least chronologically believable.
The largest difference between this and its predecessor is the amount of time you’ll spend rattling around various vehicular sections, firing at swarms of enemy combatants. This is not necessarily a bad thing. These tightly scripted sections allow for the game’s directors to go wild with the set pieces. Freed from the unpredictability of a roaming player’s positioning, the game can be timed to deliver the action at precisely the right moment for the most impact. Succinctly: they drive you through a narrow corridor, blowing up the walls as you pass.
I’ve never been a huge fan of these scripted sections in FPS games but in Modern Warfare 3, although they are frequent, they’re short enough that they don’t ever seem to drag or frustrate. It all adds to the choppy action that epitomises this biennial sub-franchise and the more traditional on-foot sections that they intersperse are well paced and interesting enough that there’s some degree of variation in what you’re doing.
The second half of the game is played out at a faster pace too. It gives the distinct impression of events escalating and the startlingly conclusive end game becoming rapidly more imminent, not just by explaining plot points in the pre-mission load but through the actual gameplay sections too.
There are also the usual smattering of quiet stages. Whether you’re swimming in the East River to assault a submarine or crawling through castle courtyards avoiding patrolling guards, those are always tense and expertly coordinated. It’s not a particularly subtle way of mixing up the player’s emotions during gameplay but it is effective. To go from “action packed shrapnel magnet” sections into “hold your breath and hope they keep walking” sequences means that the player is constantly kept switching pace and feeling differently without ever settling down too much.[drop2]The first half of the game has a strange feeling of déjà vu about it, many of the tricks and reveals are repeats from earlier in the series and the overriding feeling is that this third instalment is stretching too much and not innovating enough. The second half of the campaign makes it abundantly clear that those moments are likely intentional call backs as it twists the storyline around and shows key franchise moments in slightly different ways.
It’s a surprising degree of intelligence for a game that has always been almost proudly lacking in narrative subtleties, if not the big twists.
By the time you enter the third act, things have accelerated to a breakneck speed and the assaults become bigger and more explosive. This is where the game makes up for the familiar nature of the first third, not through any particular innovation but by turning up the pressure and intensity of the missions.
There are also several key moments which play on the relationships of the squad mates involved and, avoiding any spoilers, some quite surprising events that you will probably be second guessing right up to the point where the credits roll.
There’s no question that Modern Warfare 3 is largely more of the same. That’s neither a criticism nor a complaint though. This is the concluding act of a trilogy, the time for innovation has passed and left behind it the smoothest, most tightly tuned single player FPS campaign we’ve yet seen. That’s not to say that it’s the best, that’s a subjective term and different people will enjoy different things.
But there’s no doubt that it has historically been the most warmly received and that trend seems likely to continue, even in the face of its most serious competition for several years.
- Fast, smooth and action packed.
- Twitch shooting at its best.
- Bold narrative choices that will shock.
- The game engine is starting to show its age.
- It doesn’t do anything particularly innovative.
- A lot of the action and conceits now feel overly familiar.
When the credits roll and the game pushes you towards the Spec Ops co-op missions, you will likely have a series of mixed feelings about Modern Warfare 3. There’s a lot to take in. It’s not particularly clever or innovative but then, it was never meant to be. Modern Warfare has always been about explosive action and speedy, 60fps gameplay. In that regard, it delivers in spades.
If you approach it wanting a morality play about the way our world is kept secure then you’re going to be disappointed. This is not a piece of art about the philosophy of war. It’s a piece of entertainment about the protection of familiar values. You probably won’t walk away from Modern Warfare 3 with any heavy questions weighing on your conscience but detach your preconceptions and you almost certainly will walk away with a smile.
It’s a fast, furious careening journey through a global war zone and although its goals and methods are now familiar, it still achieves them like nothing else.
Game reviewed using the PS3 version.
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Image Credit: johnnyberg