Monday, November 21, 2011

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

I'm really curious how close this game is to what it would have been had Jason West and Vince Zampella not been fired by Activision and taken a lot of the higher level talent at Infinity Ward with them. Was the plan for the game already in place, or did the people left behind have to come up with the whole thing? If there was a plan, how detailed was it? I'm curious because I had fun with the game, but it doesn't do much besides meet the standards of the previous ones without bringing much new to the table. This is the fifth Call of Duty game in this style in as many years, and both the formula and the graphics engine are feeling a little old at this point. At full capacity, might Infinity Ward have brought their A game and raised modern military shooters to a new level? Or was Modern Warfare 3 always destined to be yet another solid Call of Duty game?

There's nothing really wrong with that, I'm just not sure that I need to play many more of them. Modern Warfare 3 has everything you'd expect and little you wouldn't. There's a campaign that will last you five to six hours which features lots of dramatic explosions and firefights. The Spec-Ops mode returns with plenty of new missions and a survival mode, because every multiplayer shooter needs a survival mode. And there's the traditional online which feels basically the same with a few tweaks and additions. If it's worth it to you, there's nothing really wrong with the package. It's just that it's a very familiar package by now.

One thing in the campaign's favor is that it actually manages to bring the overloaded plot of the Modern Warfare sub-series to a mostly satisfying conclusion, as long as you're okay with the series' practice of resolving story threads by killing off every character involved in them. It seems like shooters are always trying to outdo each other now, and MW3 definitely tries to build that excitement by going as big as possible, essentially portraying what a modern World War III would look like. On one hand you'll be playing alongside familiar characters from the first couple games, chasing down the series' biggest villain, but on the other you'll be hopping all over the place, fighting battles in familiar locations and very extreme conditions. You'll start by saving New York City's harbor from a Russian naval fleet, and then hop to various hotspots all over Europe with your squad of celebrity voice acted comrades. At times the plot justifications for each new location will seem thin, but when all you really want is to shoot bad guys and see exciting stuff happen all around you, it tends to work really well. I don't really buy that Russia would be able to cause this much trouble for the US and Europe all by themselves, but it's an easy thing to let slide. The series' ability to create unique, memorable moments is certainly a boon, as it makes the campaign seem a lot more noteworthy than the one in Battlefield 3, despite featuring similar gameplay and a less technically advanced presentation. The Uncharted series might be the only one that pulls off huge spectacle better in the world of action games.

Not everything is great, though. In what might have been a constraint due to the labor issue surrounding the game's creation, you sure spend an awful lot of time in the campaign driving or riding in vehicles instead of moving on your own. It's not that these sequences are boring, but most shooters use vehicles as a way to occasionally change the pace a bit, and here it seems like a design crutch for when they needed you to kill a lot of guys without finding a more clever way to do it. They did manage to avoid the sort of frustrating choke points that have frequently plagued the series in the past, but instead the game seemed almost too easy on regular, until the final mission which ended up being pretty annoying. You gotta get the bad guy! You only have three minutes! But there's a ton of guys between you and him and they can all shoot you with deadly accuracy the second you leave cover! Go faster! No, slow down and let yourself heal! There are better ways to make a conclusion dramatic than the way they handled it. It seemed odd that some of the biggest twists in the story involved a new character that we didn't have time to really learn much about, and it's hard to be shocked by anything the series does anymore. In the past the series has effectively used the deaths of characters to create memorable moments, but when you get the point where you basically assume everyone is a goner, it stops seeming special.

Also, I'll be honest - I haven't tried the other modes. Battlefield's larger, objective-based multiplayer is more interesting to me, and most of my time is being taken up by other games anyway. Some of the things they've added like ways to get bonuses in multiplayer without being skilled enough to earn a kill streak seem neat, and Spec-Ops was pretty fun from what I played before. I know some people only care about Call of Duty for the online, but I bought it because I wanted to see the end of the Modern Warfare story, and I'm pretty sure I got that. It wasn't exactly a unique or inspirational game, but it was a fun one, packing plenty of interesting moments and enjoyable gunfights into the amount of time it lasted. I'd like to see the series do something really different before I try picking it up again, but it's hard to complain about this as a temporary send-off.

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