Another November, another Call of Duty title. The business model of this huge military-fps series is as regular as my bowel movements, and almost as stinky. Nonetheless, I picked up this year’s release, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, along with maybe eighty percent of the human population. I did so with some trepidation, considering my dislike for last year’s, and the worrying events at developer Infinity Ward since the last game, but I was hopeful that it would once again capture the hugely compelling action of the older games.
some scrubs I'm gonna kill later
Nobody plays these games for the singleplayer, obviously, but since it’s part of the package I played through it, so let’s mention it and get it out of the way. The narrative is mostly stupid, Michael Bay movie shit. It’s the near future, and the big baddie Makarov has, through the events of the past two games, played the powers against one another to cause all out world war. Russia has invaded mainland USA, somehow, as well as most of Europe. The player switches between characters, variously fighting the regular Russian military and Makarov’s personal terror cell. Not a bad setup- a little overt, perhaps, a far cry from the relatively muted, Clancy-style narrative of the original Modern Warfare, but plenty of scope for the high action set-pieces the series is famed for. And action there is, relentless action, with the standard infantryman play interspersed with decent turret sections- exactly the gameplay formula we’ve come to expect. Which is fine, really; it’s a competent formula, and though it’s a little stale by this point, there was no real call for a hotbed of gameplay innovation. That said, I don’t think it comes off as well as the older games. Modern Warfare was never The Elder Scrolls in terms of freeform gameplay, but this game approaches monorail levels of linearity- you follow your boss from setpiece to setpiece, and stray not a fucking inch or you will die. The dreaded quick-time event makes a few appearances as well, perhaps surprisingly a series first. This definitely gets grating- the campaign is not long, clocking in at about six hours on the higher difficulties, but I was bored as all hell by the end. In terms of gameplay, it’s not terrible- it works without any huge bugs I can recall, and everything is at least as polished as a game this heavily recycled should be.
Special mention goes to the finer details of the singleplayer narrative for being the most unrelentingly retarded crap I’ve experienced in years. I’m not asking for Pulitzer Prize shit, here, but holy god damn! Call of Duty 4 set the bar for a storyline that was thrilling without being overtly overt. This game flies an F-22 into the bar, blows up the stadium, and then escapes to Hogwarts on a rocket jetski. I get the feeling the developers were given a list of landmarks to shoehorn in at all costs, and the result is a game that is more like a sightseeing tour than a special operation. Turn your brain all the way off for this one, otherwise it will ask annoying questions, such as-
- Why is the roof of the New York Stock exchange a good place for jamming equipment?
- Why are the Paris Catacombs a good place to stage an invading army?
- Why is there an army of terrorists aboard the Russian president’s plane mid-flight?
- Why does a 30 second segment need to show dozens of union flags, a red bus, the Houses of Parliament, a football, a red postbox, a red phonebox and Tower Bridge to demonstrate that it takes place in London?
- Why does the chopper pilot fly into dangerous conditions with no co-pilot to assist him or to operate the cannon, but instead have the player character remotely control the gun using some sort of iPad while fighting on the ground?
- Why did the developer think that in a post-Team America world it would be okay to, without irony, blow up the Eiffel Tower?
- Why did I buy this stupid fucking game?
There are no answers to any of these, or the dozens of other head scratching moments, more satisfactory than “because it was kind of cool”.
me headshotting some scrub
I was pleasantly surprised by the ‘Spec-Ops’ cooperative segment of the game, especially compared to the poor showing from the more staple singleplayer and competitive multiplayer parts. Split into Missions, where players must complete a set task or scenario, and Survival, where they fend off ever more ferocious waves of enemies for as long as possible. Playable splitscreen or online, it’s very competently executed, and quite compelling. Missions are usually under ten minutes long, but if you die you are put back to the very start. There’s a really strong one-more-go mentality with these, and you’ll find yourself discussing tactics and manoeuvres to get to the finish. I’m not sure if there’s quite the same variety as MW2’s coop missions, nor the same steady increase in challenge, but there’s plenty of fun to be had with these. Survival mode is also really cool, doubtless an acknowledgement of the Treyarch games’ hugely popular zombie mode. It’s the standard waves-of-foes gameplay you’d expect, with weapons, equipment and air support requisition points to summon extra gear with the cash you earn for killing enemies. These are linked to an unlock system akin to multiplayer- what you can call in depends on your experience level. I’m not sure it works as well here, especially in the splitscreen context- I had giant machine guns and automated sentries while my buddy was forced to make do with only an ancient shotgun. Still, it adds a bit of depth, and replayability, which might otherwise be lacking. The survival mode is let down a little by being stuck on the same horrible maps as multiplayer, however. Seriously, these maps are shit.
me killing some other scrub
There’s also the Call of Duty Elite thing, I guess? It’s like a stat tracker, I think, and also a delivery system for CoD related content. I had a look at it, though I don’t really see the point. You can look at some really detailed statistics, and watch policemen play MW3 with firemen, apparently. You can also buy a subscription that unlocks enhanced features and includes access to all the map packs and other DLC as they become available, which they haven’t at the time of writing. I don’t really know what to say about it. It works fine, with a smooth if a little confusing interface in the console application, so maybe it’s of use to someone?
Modern Warfare 3, then, is about what I was expecting. It’s pretty competent in design, if flawed in places, full featured and pretty well polished. The engine tech was a little dated when it was used in CoD4, and there’s not been much changed since then- it’s definitely not cutting edge technically, especially compared to competition like Battlefield 3. It’s a by the numbers Modern Warfare game, basically just this year’s instalment. Personally, I don’t like it nearly as much as I did the first two. Those felt like games the creators wanted to make; this feels like one the accountants wanted. That’s not exactly surprising- while it’s possible that the creative talent at Infinity Ward remained in their comfy jobs during the staff exodus, and the jobsworth hangers-on jumped ship to the newly founded and unproven Respawn, my money’s on the reverse. Frankly, there is a pervading stink of playing it safe, simplification and of pandering to the low-skill, casual player who has become the target audience. CoD4 multiplayer was enjoyed by the casual gamer as it was straightforward and compelling, but also by the hardcore neckbearded asshole like me because of its depth and variety. MW3 will be enjoyed by the casual gamer because it was made purely with him in mind.