When thinking of Call of Duty, one of the first words that comes to mind is ‘popular’. Tens of millions of people flock to retail outlets every year to pick up the latest installment, while hundreds of thousands (if not millions) queue on the eve of release to purchase and play the game at the first possible moment. While the vast majority of those gamers will play the campaign at some point, it’s Call of Duty’s multiplayer that drives each iteration’s sales into the tens of millions; a fact never more obvious than on November 7th, at just after 12am in North America, when well over a million people were already busy shooting each other in the face.
But as the old saying goes, “what’s popular is not always good and what’s good is not always popular.” Thankfully for Call of Duty fans, Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer is both popular and good. Very good, in fact.[drop2]For us, what makes Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer so great is that gamers of all skill levels can have a good time, even if they’re not racking up 50 kills a game. Our first foray in to Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer was not a successful one. Although we’re no strangers to the franchise, the multiplayer moves a lot in faster than that of Black Ops, last year’s Call of Duty offering. But it was during this time of struggling that something became very noticeable. Even when we were only getting 5-8 kills per game (and dying a lot more than that), we were still consistently completing challenges, ranking up, and unlocking new toys to play with. It was enough to keep us moving forward, and move forward we did.
We used those new perks, weapons, and attachments to craft classes that felt just right. In doing so, we became a lot more successful. Over time, 5-8 kills a game started turning in to 15-20 kills a game. We ratcheted up the kill streak rewards – which are now actually called ‘strike packages’ but more on that below – and before we knew it, we were dominating the battlefield with strafing runs, advanced UAV’s, and remote-controlled turrets. Sure, being able to use the rewards that are unlocked with larger amounts of kills is more fun but we never lost of sight of the fact that we were having a good time, no matter how successful we were in any given match.
That’s probably the thing that Modern Warfare 3 does best. It somehow manages to cater to both the hardcore crowd that play for several hours a day and the casual gamer that may only get to game once or twice a week. No matter what your skill or commitment level, there’s always a challenge or rank that’s only a handful of kills away from being unlocked.
Speaking of kills, one of the improvements Infinity Ward made in Modern Warfare 3 is how kill streaks work. As we mentioned above, they’re now called strike packages and they’re not just unlocked with kills. The developers rightfully realized that too much emphasis was being placed on kills. In games like Capture the Flag, Domination, and Headquarters, objectives were taking a backseat to how many enemies you could take down.
Now, you can keep your strike packages moving forward by completing the objectives and shooting down aerial kill streaks (except UAV’s). Still having a hard time doing these things consecutively? Modern Warfare 3 covers that area too by separating the strike packages into different groups, which allowed the developers to govern how they work.
There are three different types of strike packages to choose from – assault, support, and specialist. Assault packages are the streaks that you’re already familiar with, such as attack helicopters, AC-130’s, and so on. For the assault packages, your streak has to be completed in succession, with any death resulting in the streak starting over. For support packages, the streak doesn’t reset when you die. For the entire length of the game you can keep working towards the three awards you set aside. When you reach the top reward, the streak automatically starts over again, even if you don’t die.[drop]To keep things balanced, the support packages are missing a lot of the rewards that can cause mass casualties to the opposition. Instead, they’re replaced with more options that will support your team, like ballistic vests that any teammate can pick up, multiple different kinds of UAV’s, and even a remote controlled helicopter than can be used to target enemies for your comrades. We really can’t speak highly enough about how welcome this change is and how differently the game plays when you’re not constantly worried about breaking your streak with a death.
The specialist strike package is a bit out of left field but brings a unique idea to the table. With the specialist packages, you can set a new perk to unlock every two kills, in addition to the three perks you already have for each class. When your kill/score count reaches eight, the pro version of every perk in the game unlocks, effectively turning you into a super soldier. While we didn’t find this class of package all that appealing, some of the higher skilled players out there will definitely find the benefit of having every perk in the game.
Outside of the strike packages, not much else has changed when it comes to how you select your load-outs and classes. There are a few new guns and perks but, for the most part, it all looks very similar with the one exception being ‘gun ranks’. Every gun in the game now has a rank associated with it and every time you hit the next rank, a new weapon-specific item unlocks. This actually isn’t as big of a change as it sounds, although having a visual representation of how much success you’ve had with each weapon while building a new class is nice.
Once you’ve constructed just the right setup for your solider, you’ll be sent out on to 1 of the 16 maps that ship with the game. The average map feels smaller than that of both Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops, and that forces the game to move very quickly. While the design of the maps leaves little to complain about, we were disappointed to see so many small boards, with none of the maps really being all that big. It all but eliminates the option of sniping for players that haven’t mastered the furiously frustrating art of ‘quick scoping’.
The vast majority of the game modes found in Modern Warfare 3 are also familiar but there are a couple of new ones. Kill Confirmed is the first and it requires you to pick up the dog tags of anyone you kill in order for your team to get credit on the scoreboard. You can also pick up the tags of dead teammates, blocking the opposition from scoring any points. It makes for an interesting strategy to deathmatch because you can either rush in to grab the tags immediately, or you can camp on them and wait for another enemy to try and grab them back, in an effort to rack up an even higher count of tags.[videoyoutube]There’s also Team Defender. Just like Kill Confirmed, this is simply another variation of the team deathmatch mode so many fans are comfortable with. In Team Defender, the first person that dies in every game drops a flag. The idea of the game is for your team to grab the flag and keep it in your possession for as long as possible. The overall objective is still to score more points via kills than the opposition, but when your team has the flag you get double points for every kill. Team Defender provided some fun and crazy games that moved faster than any other game mode out there but we didn’t like it quite as much as Kill Confirmed.
If you’re not the competitive type, there’s still fun to be found in Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer, it’s just not against other human opponents. Spec Ops makes a very welcome return but this time it has a few new tricks up its sleeve.
Spec Ops is broken down into two different categories: missions, and survival. The missions involve 16 different levels, most of them only taking a few minutes to get past on regular difficulty but potentially much longer on harder difficulties. Just like Modern Warfare 2’s Spec Ops offering you’re given a star rating of 1-3 depending on how fast you completed the mission, or which difficulty you completed it on.
The survival portion of Spec Ops pits you against increasingly difficult waves of enemies on each of the multiplayer maps. For every enemy you kill, you earn money. You can use that money to purchase new weapons, equipment, strike packages, and attachments. While you only start with a pistol, you can quickly gain enough cash to purchase a proper arsenal for defense. You can also pick up enemy weapons and ammo but we found that buying our own equipment was usually the way to go.
The reason Spec Ops works so well is not only because of how polished the missions/levels are but because it has its own ranking system that keeps you moving forward. Just like in competitive multiplayer, not everything is unlocked right off the bat. You have to keep ranking up to earn the really effective toys but there’s always something there to keep you striving forward. The only downside is that you can still only play with up to 2 players. Granted, you can go at it alone if you wish, or you can even find a random person to play with online via built-in matchmaking but we really wanted to see 4 player support. With Black Ops’ zombies mode supporting four players, taking Spec Ops to the same level seemed like a logical jump.
- Loads of depth in competitive multiplayer.
- Changing kill streaks to strike packages is a huge improvement.
- Accessible to gamers of just about every skill level.
- Silky smooth online experience.
- Spec Ops’ new ‘survival mode’ is very well done.
- The game still plays very similarly to that of previous Call of Duty titles.
- Spec Ops still not supporting more than two players is a bit of a letdown.
- We would’ve liked to see a couple of bigger maps.
When looking back at our time with Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer, the only complaint that seems worth dwelling on is that it’s still largely the same formula as the previous few titles. Sure, there have been an entire host of small changes and tweaks that do make a considerable difference in some areas but if you’re already tired of Call of Duty’s online formula, we can’t guarantee there’s enough here to keep you playing for weeks.
That said, Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer carries on the torch from previous Call of Duty titles and remains one of the smoothest and most accessible online experiences you can have. Those who have played all the previous games and have grown tired of Call of Duty are just about the only people we wouldn’t recommend Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer to. For everyone else, dive right in, the warfare has never been better.