by Sean Nack
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)
Developer: Infinity Ward
Release: November 8, 2011
In the Army, we had a term: “performance punishment.” It refers to when someone is so good at something, they never get to do anything else.
Modern Warfare 3 (MW3) is a good, fun game, but when it comes to innovation, it’s essentially stagnant. But is more of the same a bad thing?
THE LONE GUNMAN
When it comes to the game’s campaign, I’d certainly say no: more of the same is not a bad thing. It’s just as loud and frenetic as you remember it being, with none of the slow build-up that you see in the the typical Call of Duty (CoD) storyline--not even a shooting range section! Most importantly, does the whole plot make sense? More sense, certainly, than MW2, with poor General Shepherd receiving only the barest of mentions, and enough twists and turns to, honestly, make me want to play it all over again the day after I was done. There’s a lot of criticism about the spawn gates in the CoD series, but here’s an old infantryman’s perspective: what does the spawn gate force you to do? Seize territory. What are you forced to do in a dismounted gun battle? Seize territory. So while the infinite enemies pouring through a doorway are unrealistic, the mechanic itself has some merit insofar as it forces you forward.
MW3 drops you straight into the fancy boots of Delta Force operative Frost as he and his teammates help repel the Russian invasion of New York City. These early levels are stunning, in a variety of ways; the intensity of the firefights, the incredible tableaux of destruction, and the brilliant level designs. Forcing a Russian missile submarine to surface is a particular highlight, but the game just does not let up, with incredible moment after incredible moment. I’d love to talk with you about them, but I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say that the action touches almost every continent, following not just Delta but series regulars and SAS troopers Captain Price and the unfortunately nicknamed Soap as they hunt for international terrorist Makarov.
The environments look and feel fantastic, with some real moments of unforgettable action. No one tells this kind of story like developer Infinity Ward. When it comes to explosive action, MW3 delivers like no one else.
A VERITABLE ORGY OF REMARKABLY FAMILIAR VIOLENCE
Multiplayer is both the bread and the butter of the CoD franchise. The problem in MW3 is that the butter’s discolored and the bread’s a little stale.
The main issue at work here is not the fault of Infinity Ward’s developers; it’s a problem inherent to the video game industry. CoD games make boatloads of cash, whole flotillas worth, even. So publisher Activision creates a system whereby there’s a new CoD game every year, which only allows for iterative growth in a core product that is inherently limited. This isn’t Battlefield; there are no vehicles to play with, no classes with significantly different gameplay mechanics. CoD does tight, almost claustrophobic multiplayer maps with blistering-fast gameplay better than anyone else, which is great, but how can you substantially change or grow that experience on a 365-day development cycle?
They’ve done their best, but what they have amounts to substantial but still incremental improvements. Killstreaks are now organized into Strike Packages: Assault, Support, and Specialist classes. Assault is the familiar kill-oriented list, with Predator missiles, gun turrets, and the like. Support is more team oriented, with advanced UAVs (which display which direction enemies are facing in addition to their location), anti-aircraft turrets, and ballistic vests that are available to the entire team. The Specialist class has access to all the killstreaks, but is only for the hardest of the hardcore.
You also now have the ability to level up your weapon individually, and it receives its own weapon perks that reduce recoil or increase the number of attachments available to the weapon. The game rewards you for using the weapons you love. And oh how the game loves to reward you. I hope you like that level-up sound/scream! You’ll hear it all the time.
The perks are also reorganized a bit, breaking some down into two separate perks. The old “Sleight of Hand,” for example, gave you faster aim-down-sight and faster reloads; each of those is now a separate perk.
BUSINESS BEFORE PLEASURE
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 has to be understood in context. It is undeniably gaming’s biggest title, if you’re judging by sales alone. MW3, and really the whole CoD franchise, is organized around fast-paced reflexive shooter gameplay, and nobody does it better. But how many times have we played this game, with subtle changes?
That’s the problem. CoD sells and sells, and faces no real pressure to innovate. If MW3’s multiplayer feels like an update or a map-pack for MW2, that’s because we’ve been playing this same basic game since 2007. Yes, there are engine differences between developer Infinity Ward’s CoDs and developer Treyarch’s CoDs, but the game mechanics are exactly the same.
So is this a good game? Yes. Is it fun to play? Also yes. If you buy it, are you rewarding Activision for complacency and putting profit ahead of innovation? Most definitely. Activision is clearly approaching brand exhaustion when what should amount to substantial changes to a game feel like window dressing.
Modern Warfare 3 maintains the series’ standard of excellence, but after four straight years of essentially the same game, maintaining the standard just isn’t doing enough.