I’ve been playing first person shooters since there were first person shooters.  I don’t limit myself to any platform or game genre – I simply enjoy playing them.  Over the years, certain franchises have risen to the top and captivated players in a way that cements their place in gaming history.  A lot of us can remember the feeling of playing Battlefield 1942 and all its expansions and mods. And, pretty much everyone reading this has either played or seen a HALO game.  A strong FPS takes a hold in the gaming community with a grip that can only be compared to the most successful of MMORPGs.  There is no arguing that the Call Of Duty franchise cemented its place in gaming years ago and has fought hard to stay on-top in a genre filled with competitors.  The only question is, with Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, did Activision step up its game and raise the bar or just tow the line?

Campaign

The campaign’s storyline picks up where Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 left off, with our dogged heroes “Soap” and Price hunting the ever frustratingly-elusive Makarov around the globe.  Where Makrov goes, destruction is his companion as New York, London, Berlin, Paris and more suffer immensely in his wake. One of the most powerful scenes taking place in London and being disturbing enough to grant gamers the opportunity to skip that segment! Much like Modern Warfare 2, the gameplay is not just designed to be a fun FPS, but also show the horror of terrorism and put your heart into the gameplay.  You want to see Makarov pay for the atrocities he commits and delivers upon the world – you feel vested in stopping a monster who not only attacks those who signed up for the battles but also those innocent civilians who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Some who don’t care much about story and just want to shoot might take the option to skip the stronger images of the story but they are reminders of real-life terrorist tragedies and so should be watched as a vigil.  As usual, I don’t want to give away the story but parts of it definitely feel satisfying and help take care of some of the more bothersome and depressing loose ends of Modern Warfare 2.  Unfortunately, some points in the game’s plot don’t really make sense but, with some suspension of disbelief which we mainly reserve for action movies and action games, you can get past that.

The graphics are beautiful with excellent detail – from green leaves in jungle locations and concrete debris and metal fatigue in cityscapes.   Some of the situations and set-pieces that you will encounter really push the game’s engine, which is the same one used in Modern Warfare 2.  The battle gets chaotically intense at times but the graphics engine holds up for the most part and, during quieter moments or during the cinematics, it is nice to take a moment and notice how thorough the detail is.  During one scenario you are in a plane out of control and since the environment, from items to enemies, all change through your actions the graphics engine has to compensate for changes when adjusting the direction of gravity to simulate a plane’s pitch, yaw and roll!  You can also tell they spent some time at the gun range as part of their research, because the graphic depiction of the weapons and the firing process (firing mechanism, discharge, recoil, cartridge ejection and reload) are all spot-on and flawlessly-detailed.  It is the closest most armchair warriors should probably be to the real weapons as most of them are heavy, awkward, and painful to fire by the untrained shooter.  There are even the scenes where a slow motion shoot out happens and everything moves like a beautiful John Woo-esque ballet of carnage.

The in-game audio is also very immersive – so much so that I found myself playing with headsets on so that I could get the full soundscape that the game provides.  It’s also not just a lot of gunfire, explosions, and yelling.  You hear your footfalls on metal, the sounds of metal fatigue as it threatens to give way beneath your feet, and you hear the rumble and crackling of floors and whole buildings as they collapse in clouds of debris – sometimes with you on or underneath them!  When a chopper goes down, you hear the whine of the engine and watch the struggles of the pilot until you wish there was something you could do to step in and help and between the sounds and the graphics it is really easy to forget you aren’t really crashing down with the crew.

The game controls of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 are pretty much the same as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. When a special quick-time event actions are required, the key necessary to perform the action is displayed in the middle of the screen.  Fair warning: Don’t take your hands of the controls just because a cut scene has happened as you never know if you are going to have to suddenly hit certain buttons to survive!  Assigned keys are all conveniently located so no awkward, Cirque du Soleil movements are necessary to complete a mission, I didn’t find it necessary to re-assign any of the keys as they were intuitive to an FPS game – jumping right in and getting the play underway is a snap.  Any questions can be quickly answered by checking the controls section.  I love gaming on all platforms but, sometimes, there is a certain satisfaction about using gaming mouse precision to take out a long-range enemy, popping their virtual heads in giblety-detail.

The playtime of the campaign can vary extremely, if you just want to see how fast you can play through, you are probably looking at a bit over 5 hours.  If you concern yourself with any of the side things like picking up a few of the enemy intelligence packages and changing out your weapons slots for what you think will next serve you best, it will probably last between 10 to 15 hours.  If you want to complete all the achievements, try out as many weapons as you can, and you want as close to 100% complete you are easily talking about over 15 hours of play – most likely more in the 20+ hour range.  This seems like a pretty good length, if you just want to complete it for unlocks you can do so pretty quick, if you want to play a nice storyline it doesn’t get boring and if you want to do absolutely everything you can from the game the campaign gives you plenty of time to invest.

Multiplayer

For a lot of Call of Duty players, this is the most important part of the game.  I will try to discuss some of the issues facing the multiplayer aspect of the game after going over the gameplay options a bit, during which fans of the COD franchise will probably feel some deja vu.

First off, the multiplayer game controls are the same as campaign’s, the other Call of Duty game controls, and FPS games in general.  If something requires a different key than usual, it is nicely displayed on the screen either in the middle, the bottom, or both.

The graphics are also the same as the main game with map locations that are familiar to the campaign and familiar to those who have played the COD franchise.  Certain maps tend to become player favorites but the nice thing about Modern Warfare 3 is that they took “problem” areas of the maps, such as locations of spawn campers, favorite sniper points, and pretty much anything that gave an unfair advantage to one side or the other and fixed or changed them.  These changes, combined with the improved graphical look of the maps, makes it so that sometimes it takes a moment to remember the map and how to traverse it.  So, the result is a familiar deja vu-like feeling to maps which are in their own right changed enough to be considered new maps.  Some players, mostly those who exploited spawn camp locations for higher scores, will find these changes frustrating while the victims of previous campings get great spots to snipe spawn campers who run to take up their old positions only find a hail of bullets.

This brings up map balance, a highly contested subject in every multiplayer game no matter how well balanced maps are there will always be someone who believes there is an imbalance.  In past maps that certainly could prove true where whichever team wound up with certain spawn points at the start of the map had a disadvantage to be overcome that could generally be overcome with superior playing, if the teams were about even they would usually lose.  Also, as long as spawn points are targetable from inside the game, there is the risk of spawn campers.  Games can try to compensate for this, some make one spawn point unreachable or not attackable, others make the spawn point shift frequently.  This game does a decent job with shifting spawn points pretty regularly and giving players who have died in quick secession a few seconds of speed boost in case those deaths were do to camping you have a chance to find cover before getting killed.  The maps are relatively small for the most part, one or two really work well with sniper weapons but for the most part mid to short range weapons will work fine.  This I find both a bummer and a joy because I truly love sniping but these maps force me to try different weapons on different classes and I have found that if you put a SCAR-L in my hands I will be a happy player.  Personally I feel MW3 has done a very good job at map balance and prevention of spawn campers while not taking any entertainment value out of them

Certain maps have already become server favorites so that only a few rotate on it so it really helps that there are so many game play types.  These too servers have found favorites of but they tend to use multiple types on their favorite maps.  Team Death Match is an old tried and true and still loved by players and puts maps to great use, Team Defender which is the capture the flag location is almost always in the mix and an old staple of FPS games and a new one called Kill Confirmed where you shoot your enemy then collect his dog tags or get prevent someone from getting one of your fallen teammates’ dog tags seem to be the most common to show up on servers and are all pretty fun and when mixed up with a few different maps makes for some variety.  There is also a whole different category of multiplayer called Special Ops which combines the old gameplay of co-op variations of the single player levels and a new one called Survival which was popular in Halo games where you survive waves after waves of attackers.  If there is a map style or game play you liked from COD:MW2 multiplayer you will find it here with a just a few new additions.  Which brings up a whole new subject.

Is It Really Just A Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Expansion?

This question I notice has popped up a lot, both amongst critics and particularly players.  The engine is the same, there are just a few additions to multiplayer and the story picks right up from MW2.  Well since I am reviewing this I will give my own pop culture take on it.  When the original Star Wars Trilogy came out the first one was written so it could technically stand alone but after that the other two were designed to definitely interconnect.  COD: MW2 actually reminds me a lot of the Empire Strikes Back, it was pretty depressing, it ended with the good guys thinking about how they had gotten their ass kicked and how they wanted to hunt down the bad guys, save one of their leaders and kick asses.  Which are all things that were done in the third movie.  I know people who have just watched the third one and liked it, I know people who have watched the second one and hated it for being depressing but no one says they think the two should have been made into one movie.  COD: MW2 we got our asses kicked and were left with loose ends.  COD: MW3 wraps up the trilogy well as a story, it is like a third movie so they wanted it to feel like a trilogy and have about the same graphics, same weapons and same engine even.  If you look at the story lines it breaks up like a trilogy, it is only when you look at the multiplayer, which is what most people concentrate on that it feels like an expansion.  I think they could have gotten away with making the multiplayer different, it didn’t require the same feel and that probably would have made fans and critics feel more like it was a separate game.  Because without a story to advance the same play and physics it would feel like an expansion.  So what is my take in short?  The story feels like part of a trilogy and the multiplayer feels like an expansion.

Which Is The Better Game: Modern Warfare 3 Or Battlefield 3?

I have played many first person games – from the big titles to the $1 indies. In the end, neither is “better”.  I think someone may like the narrative of the campaign for one more than another since they are both told a little different.  I think they both have similar Multiplayer modes but they also have very distinct differences.  Traditionally, Battlefield maps are larger, usually requiring vehicles to get to different points on the map as much as to battle with and lots of open ground great for sniping while Call Of Duty games tend to have tight confining maps, sniping depending on very key locations and there is a good chance that after a couple shots someone will get you, only on a few maps is there really any sniper room.  Leveling for Modern Wafare 3 is quick, with lots of perks and customizable weapon choices at lower levels tons of achievement.  Right now if you play it on the Xbox or PS3 you can even get double experience from specially marked soft drink caps.  Battlefield 3 has much slower leveling, perks are a bit slower to arrive.  So what it comes down to is if you like your multiplayer to have quick leveling with lots of quick options and smaller maps then Modern Warfare 3 will look better to you and if you like wide open spaces on your maps, slower leveling and working more for your options Battlefield 3 will look better.

You noticed that I really didn’t compare the campaigns much?  I think Battlefield has a tendency to deliver a mixed bag of story – sometimes good, sometimes kinda weak, this time I think both titles delivered fairly similar story quality.  One thing I really notice a difference in is the graphics Modern Warfare 3′s visuals are good, but designed to match the last game.  Battlefield 3′s Frostbite 2 engine creates amazing detail that just completely outshines the Call Of Duty contender.  When going back and forth between the titles for the purpose of this story, sometimes the beauty of Battlefield 3 would just stop me in awe for a second. Only one time did Modern Wafare 3′s visuals stopped me and that was because the sewer walls and object looked almost cartoonish.

Elite Club

The one thing that a lot of people forget about is the Elite Club.  With the Elite Club premium subscription account players get monthly benefits which will include downloadable content, competitions for real and virtual prizes, the ability to start and join clans, special clan achievements and battles with other clans, even separate clan leaderboards.  So with BF3 you buy a single player campaign with multiplayer until you get bored, MW3 is guaranteed to give you a year of extras if you bought the Hardened Edition or buy a separate subscription for $49.95.  Elite Club even has Facebook integration that can check all your friends on Facebook and give you a notification if they join any Call Of Duty title and you can invite them to chat in a mutual lobby.  It has had a bumpy start to begin with but once it stabilizes members will immediately have access to all kinds of content.

Last Call

Even if someone wants to argue if Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 should be considered an expansion or a stand-alone game, the title is worth picking up to complete the storyline and experience the new multiplayer fun.  If you were able to swing the “Hardened Edition” or subscribe to Elite Club, you are getting a year’s worth of gaming extras which definitely takes the game up a notch and can make it almost like a MMOFPS, socially-speaking.  If this works the way Activision hopes, this controversial title may be riding the crest of a whole new wave of FPS gameplay.

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