So here we are, another year, another Call of Duty. This time it is Infinity Ward’s turn for the latest guaranteed cash cow to be released, albeit with a little help from some other Activision studios. How the game is made isn’t important however, how it plays is. The short answer is that it really is more of the same and your enjoyment will vary depending on how fatigued with the series you are.
The campaign picks up where the last one left off, continuing the story with Captain Price and Soap, whilst introducing all new members to the macho cast. The premise is simple, the planet is on the brink of World War 3, the strings being pulled by the nefarious Makarov who orchestrates attacks across major cities around the world including New York, London and Paris. As usual you are dropped in and out of various characters but it all seems to go by in a blur. The story is pretty straightforward, as you might expect, but there doesn’t seem to be as much cohesion present as in previous Modern Warfare titles.
The actual act of shooting however is still as slick as ever, the constant 60 frames per second giving a fluidity to the experience that is missing from Battlefield. Time is spent not only on foot but in vehicles and gun turrets. The difference this time though is that there seems to be a more even spread, and I found myself in some kind of turret sequence far more frequently than ever before. MW2 took the set-piece bar set by its predecessor and raised it into orbit, so it was always going to be difficult for MW3 to continue in the same vein, especially when many members of the COD community stated that they thought it was just a bit too over the top. Therefore, whilst they have been toned down a bit, they are still always so sensational that even Michael Bay would blush.
The campaign then is very by the numbers, don’t expect to see anything that you haven’t already seen in previous titles. The last mission in particular is a lot of fun and a definite highlight of the story. Without going into too much, it is fairly clear to see that this is the end of this story arc, with most if not all aspects wrapped up by the time the credits roll. It will be interesting to see where the series goes next.
At first glance, too, it also seems that not too much has changed on the multiplayer front either. In actual fact the experience as a whole has been scaled back a little from not only the craziness of Black Ops, but from MW2 as well. Gone are the nuclear launches and the more overpowered kill streak rewards, whilst the rewards are still very much present. Those which have remained, such as helicopters and the AC130, have been toned down a bit to balance the game more evenly.
In recognition of the fact that not all of us are one-man killing machines capable of reaching the dizzy heights of ten plus kills, Infinity Ward have introduced what they call strike packages. These are essentially different types of roles, although it would be wrong to confuse them with those so cleanly defined in titles such as Battlefield. There are three available: assault, support and specialist. Assault is the exact same as it’s always been, kill and build up your kill streak until you die and the streak resets to zero. Where support differs is that the streak doesn’t reset upon death, meaning those less skilled can gradually climb their way up the streak ladder to get the more powerful rewards. The one caveat with this is that the rewards you can earn are mainly all support related to help out your team, be it utilising UAVs, ballistic vests, SAM Turrets and more. Some of the higher rewards are more offensive however, such as Stealth Bombers and missile strikes. This extra layer of team work can be the difference between winning and losing, so an effective mixture of both will no doubt go a long way to success in team based modes. Finally, the specialist package allows a more aggressive use of perks. Every time you kill an enemy, an extra perk is added into your repertoire, until eventually every perk is available to you. Though once you die all perks (apart from your starting perks) are lost.
Guns now have their own individual levelling up system, allowing a greater number of customisation options that can be applied as the weapon’s usage gets higher and higher. It’s an interesting system that certainly benefits players who have a fondness for a certain firearm. The guns are still unlocked as your progress through the levels, so if you want an AK47 you will once again have to invest a fair amount of time to be able to unlock it. Speaking of which, some of the starting guns have changed this time around; the M16 for example is available from the beginning, where as in MW2 it required you to reach level forty before it would unlock. It’s a small change, but enough that fans of the series will no doubt pick up on it. Ultimately it is all down to personal choice as to whether you will enjoy this version of the multiplayer or not.
Personally, I was not very impressed with the level design this time round. Some maps were bland and samey throughout, making it harder to identify certain areas when in team chat. Many also seem to have a similar layout, with a main hotspot where all players eventually end up, with various maze like areas around it. Some are better than others and again it is purely down to personal preference, your mileage may vary. Overall the multiplayer is just as good as before, though slightly different. That difference however keeps it fresh enough to justify another long slog through the levels to reach that prestige mode.
Spec Ops also makes a triumphant return this year, with even greater attention given to it. Some levels are brand new, some utilise existing campaign levels, but all offer a different set of challenges. The only downside is that this mode is still limited to two players, having a four player co-op mission mode would be better but it doesn’t stop what is present from being a lot of fun and certainly more than just a quick diversion. Every mission is timed and scored and the lure of competing with your friends is enough to keep you occupied for several hours.
In closing, it’s fair to say that with so much expectation and anticipation placed on MW3, Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games have had an uphill struggle to make this the game that does it predecessors justice. It manages it, just about. It plays it safe and doesn’t do anything unexpected, but doing so ensures that it is a game that whilst not quite as good as many would have liked, it is still worthy of the name Call of Duty.