It’s Call of Duty time again, the last year has gone by so fast. I didn’t really like last year’s Black Ops, and so, despite reaching the highest rank in multi-player (well, without prestiging), I’ve almost certainly spent more time playing Modern Warfare 2 over the past year. And now with Battlefield 3 being out, and being pretty awesome, I don’t know whether I really need another online shooter. I actually seriously considered not getting Modern Warfare 3 on release, but in the end I thought the deals in the supermarkets were too good to pass up on. So I’ve played it, and now I’m going to enrich the internet with my wild uninhibited opinions!
I quite enjoyed the single-player campaign. It’s almost non-stop action, with the odd pause for a bit of sneaking or sniping. But I think the underlying story is the strongest in a Call of Duty game since the original Modern Warfare. Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 both suffered from a bit of a confusing plot. Black Ops probably tried to be a bit too clever with its brainwashing angle, I suppose it wasn’t too bad though, at least it tried to do something different. Modern Warfare 2’s plot somehow ended up with Russia invading the US, because of some unhinged terrorist, while at the same time some British SAS guys were doing some other stuff, I can’t remember how that tied in, that was the confusing bit. And you can’t really compare the plot of the only other intervening Call of Duty game, World at War, because World War II actually happened. But the plot of Modern Warfare 3 makes sense, even though it picks up and continues the story right from the end of Modern Warfare 2. I don’t want to go into spoiler territory, but the story has you playing as several different people, which the narrative links together quite satisfactory, and it also provides a good conclusion, not just to the game, but to the entire Modern Warfare strand.
The game doesn’t really add anything new to the Call of Duty formula, almost every part of the game can be broken down as one of three things: moving from A to B while shooting wave after wave of people, defending a point from wave after wave of people, or sneaking and sniping. The game probably relies a bit too much on that last one as its default change of pace, the only other thing it offers is being the gunner on a plane (or a helicopter, or a drone, they play out very similarly), which often happens for 30 seconds or so before you go back to the going from A to B shooting things again. Towards the end of the game I did begin to thing: “A sneaking bit, again!?”, as I’m sure it was standard for Call of Duty games to have just one level like that. Instead of having just one level, what this does instead is have you sneak around for the first half of a mission and then make the rest of it a standard A to B shooting thing. I can see they’re trying to evoke memories of that level from the original Modern Warfare, and it does do that, but it would have been nice to see a few different approaches rather than relying on the same thing several times.
The bits where you’re a gunner in an aircraft of some sort are all right, but they are all quite short, there’s not a full mission as there was in Modern Warfare 1. There’s also a bit where you control a little remote-controlled tank-like thing, which has a machine gun and a grenade launcher. It’s a step up from the exploding RC cars that were in Black Ops. And that’s how a lot of the game feels, evolution not revolution, though it was never really going to be anything else. But I still found it to be quite fun. I played through it on Veteran difficulty (the hardest) and completed it in about six hours. It may well be the easiest Call of Duty game so far, I can’t remember any really difficult bits where I had to try the same checkpoint over and over again, something which previous games had at least a couple of examples of. There were a couple of annoying points where the checkpoint seemed to restart me directly in the line of fire, resulting in me dying almost instantly if I didn’t move straight away. But they were the only bits that felt cheap; I wasn’t on the receiving end of endless amounts of grenades, and I don’t think there are any bits with infinite enemies, which were annoying things in some of the previous games.
The game has a Spec Ops co-op mode, which first made an appearance in Modern Warfare 2. As someone who’s never liked the Nazi Zombie mode in World at War and Black Ops, it’s a welcome addition. There are 16 co-op missions, which take place in areas from the single-player. Each mission has a bit of an explanation to it, on some of them you’re sort of given the bad guy’s side to the single-player story, while others have you as the good guy’s, but before or after the events in the single-player. They lack the polish of the single-player missions though; there’s no voice-acting or cut-scenes, it’s only the brief amount text on the mission select screen explains what’s going on. I also found that they tended to end quite abruptly; I’d kill a few people, go round a corner and bam! The mission complete screen appears. They were still quite fun though.
The game also introduces a proper horde mode style, erm, mode, where you battle increasingly more difficult waves of enemies on each of the multiplayer maps. You can only play this with two people, like the Spec Ops missions, which is a little bit disappointing, I would have liked to see up to four players, as in similar modes in other games. You earn XP and rank up as you play, like in the multi-player, but it’s separate from it. You start each level armed only with a pistol and some grenades, but you can pick up weapons and ammo off dead enemies, though the amount of ammo you are given from each pick-up is quite small. As well as giving you XP, each kill gives you some in-game cash, which you can use to buy weapons, ammo, and equipment from one of three computers which are spread across the maps. Each computer gives you access to different things, and, as they are usually placed far apart from each other, this adds a bit of strategy in deciding where to go in the limited time in-between waves. The things you can buy are limited by your rank, which is a little bit annoying, as things like sentry guns make it quite a bit easier to survive.
The 16 maps are split into four groups of four, which get progressively harder. Basically, when you progress from one group to another, new types of enemy are introduced, and the rate at which the other generic types get stronger as each wave passes is higher than before. Unlike in some similar modes in other games, as your opponents get tougher you can see a visible change in their appearance; early on they’re just in regular camouflage clothes, but as the waves pass they begin to wear body armour, first just a vest, but eventually a complete suit.
I’ll admit I haven’t played the multi-player much, but that’s mainly because I didn’t really enjoy it. I don’t really like any of the maps, they all seem to be designed the same way and so lack any sort of individuality. Take off the thin veneer which gives the appearance of an African village or a New York street, and the maps would be virtually indistinguishable, bar a few differences in size. In an effort to dissuade camping, the maps have clearly all been gone over with a fine-tooth comb to make sure there are no easy spots to hide. Every interior room has at least two entrances, and there are no little nooks or crannies anywhere to hide in or under. A lot of the maps have some form of elevation, but there are very few vantage points from which you can see a large section of the map; typically a window looks out onto another building rather than a street or an open space. To me this makes the game feel over-engineered and unrealistic; you can almost read the mind of the developer as you play.
I’ve always played Call of Duty in a quite systematic way. As I learned the maps I’d pick out advantageous spots, things like windows and roof-tops, or the end of a corridor where you can see right to the other end, spots where you overlook a large section of the map. Then I’d usually play the game by moving between several of these points on a given map, going to the one closest to where the other team was. But the new maps don’t have many, if any, of these points, instead they have been tailored to force everyone to play in the “run and gun” style, which, frankly, I always thought the realm of the idiot. Real soldiers don’t run around like headless chickens until they run into someone, and then have a contest to see which one is faster on the trigger, they secure the high ground and use cover. Basically they use intelligent tactics, which is something I always tried to do too, but these new maps seem to be specifically designed to nullify this style of play. Perhaps I take things too seriously, but that’s a side-effect of me being very competitive.
The game has a new kill-streak system, but I’m not sure about it. There are now three different “strike packages”, as they call them. One is the old style of kill-streaks, called the Assault package in the game, where you have to make so many kills without dying to unlock a reward. The Support package is similar, but lets you carry over your kills between deaths, the trade-off being that the rewards are less powerful, and they are geared towards helping the team rather than getting you more kills. The third type is the Specialist package, which rewards you with an extra perk for every two kills you get, until you reach eight kills, at which point you are given all the remaining perks. When you die you lose all your bonus perks and have to start again. While the new system is interesting, I feel it is also unnecessarily complicated. What was wrong with the old system? As lesser skilled players can now get decent rewards even if they die often, there is a constant stream of kill-streaks being used, more so than any previous game in the series. Like with the map design, it seems like a choice made so that something is always happening, even if that something takes away from the game’s core player vs. player mechanic.
Alongside the maps and the new kill-streak system, the only other really new thing is the weapon proficiency upgrades. Basically, as you get kills with a gun, you will unlock attachments like sights, grips and other such things as in the previous games, but you will also unlock weapon proficiencies. These are sort of like perks for your gun, you can only have one on at a time, and they do things like reduce recoil, or increase bullet penetration through walls. Most of them are equivalent, or nearly so, to proper perks in previous games; for example one weapon proficiency lets you have two attachments on your gun at once, which is what the Bling perk did in Modern Warfare 2. Others are not though, one increases the range of sub-machine guns and shotguns, which isn’t something you could do in previous games, unless I’ve forgotten about it. As with the new kill-streak system, I feel the weapon proficiencies overcomplicate things a bit.
You can’t fault the game for not offering enough customisation options though. Once you’ve unlocked everything, you can outfit your virtual soldier with three perks, each one picked from a choice of five (so there are 15 perks in total), a primary weapon from a choice of 33, a secondary weapon from a choice of 16, a choice of six items for the lethal grenade slot, and a choice of eight for the tactical grenade slot. That alone gives just over 3.1 million unique possibilities. But when you throw in the different weapon attachments and weapon proficiencies, the possibilities increase still further. Each primary weapon can have one of six weapon proficiencies, and has between five and 10 attachments, the secondary weapons also have between two and five attachments. This varying number of attachments makes things difficult from a maths stand point, but the possibilities are around 200 million! (If my workings are correct of course.)
Adding the different kill-streaks in as well; the Assault package has a choice of three kill-streak rewards from 15, the Support strike package three rewards from 12, and the Specialist strike package has the choice of three extra perks from the ones they’re not using, so three from 12. I’ve had to take some short-cuts because, for example, some kill-streak rewards are incompatible and can’t be chosen at the same time, but I estimate there to be over 100 billion different possible ways to outfit you character in the game! Oh, and I’ve just remembered, I’ve left out the gun camouflage options; they’re just cosmetic though, these other options actually affect the gameplay. Anyway the point is the game has huge customisation ability, which is great, and it’s perhaps the multi-player mode’s best feature.
In closing, I would say the game has a decent single-player, and very good options for co-op play too. In both those modes I’d say it provides a much better experience than the rival Battlefield game. But in multi-player I must say I prefer Battlefield 3, but that’s not to say Modern Warfare 3 is bad in that department. They have definitely made some changes I dislike, mainly because they are at odds with the way I personally like to play the game. In particular I’m not convinced by the design of the new maps, they all feel too similar and too over-engineered. But for some people that may not be a problem, and if you like the maps you’re sure to have fun irrespective of the other changes. Whether or not the new gameplay tweaks add to the formula, or take away from it, is up for debate. In my opinion it’s the latter, because I feel it makes things more chaotic than any of the previous games, with the effect of partly negating skill. It sort of feels like Mario Kart to Battlefield’s Forza or Gran Turismo, with the items being the equivalent of the kill-streaks, I’m wondering whether the next Call of Duty game will introduce a Blue Shell. It could be that the next game will mark the end of an era, as it may be the last Call of Duty game on the current generation of consoles, two years from now we’ll almost certainly have new consoles. I may have to buy it just to complete the set.