The first Call of Duty (CoD) game I played was CoD3 and it was no doubt an enjoyable experience. At the very least, it was good enough to keep me interested in the yearly CoD instalments. Last year, I skipped out on Black Ops, believing that Modern Warfare 2 (MW2) was as good as a CoD game could get. Also, the yearly releases were starting to get to me as I did not feel there was enough differentiation to keep me engaged. Fast forward to October 2011 and I picked up Battlefield 3 (BF3), hoping it would be fresh and exciting. The multiplayer aspects of BF3 were well done. Not to mention the graphics and sound design are outstanding; but the BF3 single player was severely lacking. The whole time I was playing through it I was wishing it was CoD game. BF3 was certainly trying to replicate the high octane, non-stop, jaw dropping action that CoD delivers, but did not deliver on many levels. Now that I’ve had the chance to put Modern Warfare 3 (MW3) through its paces, does it stand tall as the king of first person shooters?
MW3 picks up right after the end of MW2. In fact it picks up right after the scene where you threw that knife through the enemies eye. If you’ve never played a Modern Warfare game, the story may be difficult to follow, but like any good action experience, the story is beside the point. The MW3 storyline, however, serves as perfect backdrop for all the set pieces the game tosses your way, which bombard you from start to finish. Choice is practically non-existent and downtime is minimal. The game funnels you to your next encounter efficiently via on-screen waypoints (usually in the form of the word ‘follow’ above someone’s head) and the pace of the game is frantic the whole time. Most of the time you feel like a very small part of a larger situation and it makes the scope of the game feel really wide. Some of the story in the middle of the campaign feels tacked on, but the end result of the game will be satisfying to anyone, whether they follow the series or not. You can blow through the single player campaign in 5 or 6 hours, but the multiplayer and special ops modes could keep ‘completionists’ busy for months.
So how does MW3 play? I found the AI in the game is pretty average. Enemies have an uncanny knowledge of where you are at, but frequently charge directly into your line of fire. I did not detect any organized tactics from the enemy AI. In campaign mode, the team AI approaches things similarly. They tend to hide behind vehicles and shoot occasionally, waiting for you to take out the lion’s share of the bad guys. As alluded to above, the control is extremely arcadey as realism is not part of the equation. I just found your actions seem to lack ‘weight’ in a way. The shooting mechanics however work really well. The guns all feel unique, as do the various sights. By and large, the game is extremely polished and well orchestrated. And a real pleasure to play.
MW3 multiplayer game will feel very familiar to many. The maps are generally close quarters in nature, with lots of hallways and corridors. As a player who likes to play in a very methodical way, I can find MW3’s arcade style run and gun multiplayer extremely frustrating at times. The maps require the player to play in a very 1-dimensional fashion to be effective. Multiplayer is where Battlefield 3 shines over MW3 in my opinion. Variety is the name of the game there, and with the wealth of vehicles and classes, its easy for everyone to contribute to the team, even if their kill:death ratio is less than stellar. However, MW3 offers up a ton of depth and there is still plenty to work towards. Such as each gun can now be levelled up individually through use and kill/deathstreaks can be customized. New to the Modern Warfare series are killstreak classes. Assault killstreaks mirror traditional CoD killstreaks; support killstreaks are not broken when you die (but focus on defensive rewards like UAVs); and specialist killstreaks add additional perks to your character. All the usual modes are on tap, with the interesting addition of a mode called ‘Kill Confirmed’. In this mode, dead enemies drop dog tags and in order to score a kill, your team needs to collect the said dog tags before the opposition. Collecting tags adds a measure of strategy to things, and is by far the most tactical of the available modes.
On a downside, I was disappointed the CoD: Elite service is not currently available in the PC version of the game. I hope it will be available to PC gamers in the future but for now Elite is not available. This is unfortunate when you consider what Elite has to offer. There are more stats and services than you can shake a stick at. So PC gamers are really missing out. So please keep this in mind before you make the decision to purchase the game.
Spec Ops is MW3’s co-op mode. Spec Ops mode is broken down into two main sections – Mission and Survival. The Missions are largely unrelated to the single player campaign and allow you and another player to play through the individual missions. Survival mode is lots of fun and similar to playing Gears of War’s ‘horde’ mode. I personally enjoy this form of multiplayer much more than the adversarial modes.
I played MW3 on my iMac (3.4GHz Core i7, 1GB Radeon 6970M, 16GB RAM) via Boot Camp and Windows 7 Pro. This setup ran the game at 2560×1440 with all the bells and whistles extremely well. I noticed no slowdowns and the game consistently ran above 60 frames per second. By and large, the game looks really nice. The characters in particular were quite impressive. The facial animation is realistic (with accurate lip syncing), and the characters move in a natural, if somewhat exaggerated manner. The environments are highly varied. You will visit New York, Somalia, Prague and Siberia among others, and for the most part they feel lifelike. The cities in particular sometimes feel a little too familiar. Buildings do not feel as unique as their real life counterparts, and it’s easy to forget where in the world you are unless a prominent landmark is on screen. I suspect there is fairly substantial repurposing of assets going on. Stairwells, warehouses, and subways all have similar feel, but then again, so do real life stairwells, warehouses and subways. It’s a little more noticeable when you’re running across countless piles of rubble that are indistinguishable however.
There were a few graphical glitches I encountered. I noticed some floating enemy soldiers, frozen characters, and objects clipping through each other. Some of the repeating objects: cars, trees, metal plating tend to have really low resolution textures, which look fine from a distance, but when you’re crouched behind a teal Kia-esque sedan for the 15th time, you tend to notice how ugly the texture is. I think that actually sums up the presentation of Modern Warfare 3. The engine throws an incredible amount of stuff at you, and it looks really impressive when you’re on the move, but if you stop and take a close look you might start to notice a few rough edges.
Before and after missions, you are treated to highly stylized, vaguely futuristic news briefings about the upcoming mission. These scenes work well to cover up the load times. The menus, on the other hand, are nothing to write home about. You get static lists of options with no graphical ‘jazz’ to speak of. Considering the amount of time you are likely to spend staring at the menu in multiplayer, a little bit of style would go a long way.
In terms of the multiplayer visuals, the graphical fidelity does not take any noticeable hit in the adversarial modes.
Sound design has always been a strong point of the Call of Duty franchise and MW3 continues this trend. That said, I found the music is largely forgettable but it does a decent job of adding to the mood of the game. You will feel tense as you race to the next objective, satisfied as you lift off in a helicopter after holding off an army, and disappointed when characters are killed off.
The sound effects are the star of the sound show in MW3. The weapons all sound unique, from the deep, sharp crack of a mounted machine gun to the muffled report of a suppressed sniper rifle, the weapon noises are all supremely satisfying. My one disappointment is the sound of grenades. It seems like no matter what surface you throw a grenade onto, the same ‘klink’ noise gets produced, and the explosions don’t seem to have as much ‘oomph’ as one might expect. This might actually be accurate, but it bothered me to a small degree throughout the game. This is one area where I noticed a difference compared to Battlefield 3. It sounds to me like Infinity Ward opted for a fairly flat frequency response, while EA bumped up the bass and treble a few notches. BF3 just sounds richer in this department.
The voice acting is excellent. The serviceable script doesn’t give the voice actors much to work with, but they manage to put a fair bit of feeling into their dialogue. Their delivery feels natural, and when paired with the fantastic facial animation the characters become strangely believable. There was also a pleasingly wide variety of contextual voice work. Your squadmates frequently point out enemy emplacements, and do so in various manners (ex. ‘up on the second floor’, ‘enemies at 11 o’clock’). Overall, MW3’s voice acting is head and shoulders above Battlefield’s. All told, the sound design in MW3 is first-rate, and this contributes heavily to how engrossing the game is.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is one of the most highly hyped games of this generation, and it generally holds up its end of the bargain. The campaign’s pace requires a seatbelt and the production value is top notch. The game multiplayer and co-op modes are varied offering up a limitless amount of competitive action. Overall, MW3 is a real pleasure to play and is certainly one of the best first person shooters on the market this holiday season.