Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Xbox 360) Review

Many, including myself, have considered the Call of Duty franchise the heavyweight champion of first person shooters.  Over the years, many publishers and developers have attempted to create an FPS experience comparable to Activision’s beloved franchise, but inevitably they fall short and are unable to take down the shooter of all shooters.  Year after year new Call of Duty games arrive with each new one seemingly able to up ante over the previous one.  When Call of Duty: Black Ops arrived on the scene last year it managed to break records in the sales department and critics abroad praised Treyarch for cranking out arguably the best Call of Duty game to date.  This year, Modern Warfare 3 arrives, and just like last year it has some pretty big shoes to fill and some gigantic expectations from those CoD fans that want bigger and better every year.  Can developers Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games knock one out of the park and please the masses?  You better believe they do and in a big way.

The last time Infinity Ward developed a CoD game; they followed up with a great sequel to the original Modern Warfare game.  Although Modern Warfare 2 took the “if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it” approach they still managed to improve the single player and multiplayer experience.  The leap from the original Modern Warfare to Modern Warfare 2 was slight, but it was an improvement nonetheless.  This time around, the improvement is significant making Modern Warfare 3 the definitive CoD game to date.  Yet, before I get into some of the games new features and multiplayer aspects of the game I will just recap Modern Warfare 3’s single player storyline.

The events in Modern Warfare 3 follow immediately after the events of Modern Warfare 2.  The Russians have continued their invasion into the United States, most notably New York City.  The Russians have also expended their attacks into Europe, including England, France, and Germany.  Meanwhile, Modern Warfare’s familiar cast of characters, Price and Soap, along with Nikolai, are on the hunt for Makarov.  Makarov and his men are kidnapping important political figures and they have secured some chemical weapons.  Several of the missions that take place involve Price and Soap’s hunt for Makarov while other missions involve an American squad of soldiers attempting to fight back the Russian invasion.

Similar to previous CoD games, the single player campaign has you playing as more than one character.  It is almost as if you are following several storylines and it can be confusing at times, hence why I would recommend you play the single player campaign a second time so that many of the events that directly tie into the events that occurred in the previous Modern Warfare games are understood.  As with every CoD game, Modern Warfare 3’s storyline takes several twists and turns.  There are some shocking moments that will surely generate some buzz and some other moments where you will be wondering what the heck is going on.  Modern Warfare 3 is a direct sequel to Modern Warfare 2, so for those of you who played the previous Modern Warfare games you will readily recognize the characters.  The game does a nice job of reminding you of some of the events that took place in the previous Modern Warfare games with some flashback sequences.

Modern Warfare 3’s story manages to grab you right from the get go and at about the halfway mark you start hanging on every word, which is something I cannot say for all previous CoD games.  The story makes it difficult for you to put the game down.  By no means is it an Oscar winning storyline, and it certainly overshadowed at times by the stellar combat, visuals, and sound, yet this story hooked me in and nicely wrapped everything up at the end of the game.

If you play on easy or regular difficulty, Modern Warfare 3 will take you anywhere from 5-7 hours to complete.  On Hardened or Veteran difficulties, it should take you closer to 8-10 hours to complete.  The campaign mode in Modern Warfare 3 is certainly little shorter than I expected; however, I never felt like I was getting ripped off or deprived of any experiences.  Granted, a longer single player progression is something I have historically gripped about with the CoD games in the past, but this time around I will play through the single player at least a couple of more times after everything is said and done.  Going back and playing the game on a higher difficulty almost feels like an entirely different experience.  Easier difficulties allow you to you run and gun, but on the higher difficulties you really need to plan ahead, and yes you will die and die a lot.  It is certainly more of a trial and error game the higher you crank the difficulty but it is still rewarding.

Modern Warfare 3’s single player experience very much follows the same formula as previous CoD games.  It is a hectic, fast paced and an intense experience.  You are often racing through missions and sometimes it is hard to take in and enjoy the scenery around you.  There is also plenty of variety this time around.  There are sequences where you will be following a team of Navy Seals underwater as you swim past dead bodies floating in the water in a tunnel, dodging underwater mines, and eventually you will disable a submarine in order to board it.  There are also scenes where you will have to man a turret on a helicopter and another where you will have to mow down enemies with a tank’s turret.  Add to this that you will have to navigate your way through a sand storm, save hostages, escape a building from a crashing helicopter, parachute off a cliff, interrogate enemies….phew, there is a lot to do.  In any event, you get the idea, as there is more to Modern Warfare 3 than just running and gunning.  It is a game that leaves you guessing from one mission to the next and it is a single player progression that never leaves you bored.  It a great thrill ride that I enjoyed, and one I think all others will enjoy too.

As for bugs and glitches, I did not experience any.  The game ran smoothly and I was simply stunned that I never encountered any anomalies.  As with previous games, the issue of regenerating enemies rears its ugly head on a few occasions, but this seems to be done on purpose.  For instance, when the character Sandman yells “push forward”, you need to push forward and fight through the re-generating enemies.  If you do not “push forward” the enemies will respawn.  It can lead to a frustrating experience at times as just when you think you have an area cleared more enemies keep “magically” coming back.  While these sequences can be frustrating they can also be highly rewarding when you manage to make through to your next checkpoint.

While many may be disappointed you cannot play through the Modern Warfare 3’s single player with another friend in a Co-Op mode, you can jump into the Special Ops mode  which is the game’s co-operative gameplay experience.  Spec Ops is broken down into two game modes – survival and mission based games.  Survival Mode makes its first appearance in the series, and is much like Gears of War’s Horde mode where you face multiple waves of attacking enemies.  All 16 multiplayer maps are all available to play in this mode.  At the start of the level you are forced to defend yourself using only a pistol and whatever guns you manage to pick up from fallen enemies.  As you progress along, defeating waves of enemies, you can spend cash you accumulate on such things as guns, grenades, and strike packages.  How do you accumulate cash?  You need to take down armed enemies, attack dogs, heavily armored juggernauts, attacking choppers, and enemies strapped with C4 to name a few.  Playing this mode with a friend is simply fantastic and addictive as hell.

Spec Ops’ Mission mode returns in Modern Warfare 3 allowing players to team up with a friend, locally or online, for 16 new time-trial and objective-based missions.  Much like the games in Survival mode, Mission based mode is best played with a friend.  Every mission seems to be drastically different from the other.  In this mode I found that I would be wearing the Juggernaut suit and diffusing bombs; or I was sniping from a rooftop while dropping Predator Missiles; or I was making my way through an area while my co-op partner protected me with a camera Turret linked up the areas security camera system.  I was simply amazed at the creativity and some of the innovative ways the developers managed to keep the Mission games so highly entertaining.

I should note there is an independent rank progression system within Special Ops which spans both Mission and Survival modes based on the rank progression players encounter in multiplayer.  So if you just wanted to get the game for Spec Ops alone, you would be getting your moneys worth as both the Survival and Mission modes have 16-maps/missions each and this includes the ever so addictive progression system.  The XP system within Spec Ops will have you coming back for more.  So for those of you who find the multiplayer aspects of CoD a little too intimidating, Modern Warfare 3’s Spec Ops mode is for you.

Of course what is a Modern Warfare 3 without deep, engaging, and highly addictive multiplayer online gameplay.  Modern Warfare 3 has all that and much more, as it is easily the deepest online experience in the franchise to date.  More importantly the Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer experience appears to be more focused on getting new CoD gamers into the game and enjoying it.  In years past, new CoD online gamers often spent a lot of time getting their butt kicked.  Modern Warfare 3’s emphasis remains on gunplay, but the playing field is a little more balanced due to a few new wrinkles in the mix.  Instead of re-hashing some of the old online features that have been around since the first Modern Warfare game, I will focus on some of the new features this time around which makes the game all the more appealing and balanced.

The biggest new addition to the MW3 online experience is the new Strike Packages.  What this basically means is that the Killstreaks have been redesigned to reward different play styles and different skill levels through unique Strike Packages.  Completing game mode objectives now counts towards your Pointstreak progression.  For the first time ever, kills are not the only way to earn Pointstreaks.  There are three strike packages in the game: Assault, Support and Specialist.  With the Assault Strike Package pointstreaks within this package chain together and are designed for more direct damage (predator missiles, attack helicopters, etc.), just like they were in Modern Warfare 2.  Your streak resets when you die if you are using the Assault Strike Package.  Support Strike Package pointstreaks do not chain, but their streaks do not reset on death.  Streaks are more support oriented (UAV, Counter UAV, SAM turret, etc.).  Finally, the Specialist Strike Package is designed for the expert players.  Rewards come in the form of additional perks.  A player activates additional Perks as they progress in a Pointsreak and the additional perks only last until you die.

This year you get 16-maps out of the box and they all have their own unique flavor.  There are no super close quarter maps where you take one step and die, but there are also no vastly wide-open maps where sniper experts run amok.  All the maps seem extremely balanced as no particular spawn sites seem to have an advantage over the other.  The level of verticality within each map was also highly noticeable.  You not only have to look towards the left and right, but you also have to look up and down now.  You will never get too comfortable and all the maps seem to keep you on your toes.

As one who is by no means an expert CoD online gamer, but I can certainly hold my own at times, I liked the fact the multiplayer is a little more balanced.  Make no doubt about it though that the hardcore CoD gamers will continue to rack kills, but newcomers should be able to produce more kills a little better than before.

For those that enjoy certain guns in the game, these guns will now become more comfortable and perform better for you the more you use them.  In short, Modern Warfare 3 evolves your gun progression and features more than 40 of the most high-speed weapons that are either in-use or are being field-tested by Special Forces.  The new weapon progression is designed to improve specific weapon leveling unlocks (attachments, reticules, and camos) and Weapon Proficiencies.  Weapon Proficiencies allow players to specialize their weapons with new attributes (some unique to weapon classes).

Modern Warfare 3 also features a couple of new game modes on top of the already extensive list of modes.  Fan favorite game modes return such as Free-for-All, Team Death Match, and Domination, but Modern Warfare 3 has added a new mode called “Kill Confirmed” and another one called “Team Defender”.  My favorite new mode is easily “Kill Confirmed”.  Kill Confirmed mode is all about collecting dog tags from killed players.  Once you kill a player you then have to walk over to the virtual dog tags floating in the air and confirm they are dead.  You can also deny a kill if you manage to get to collect your fallen teammate’s dog tag before the enemy grabs it and confirms the kill.  Grabbing these dog tags also earns you XP.  This mode certainly adds a new level of strategy and teamwork to the game.  It is just as important to get the kill, as it is to confirm the kill in this mode.  Team Defender is a new mode where you grab the flag and protect the flag carrier to increase your team’s score.  It is a variant to previous game modes we have played but great little addition nonetheless.

For those of you who like to spend time online playing party games with familiar online gamers, Modern Warfare 3 features Private Matches with a bevy of new game modes.  Infection, Gun Game, and Juggernaut were easily my favorite party match modes and something I will inevitably encourage our community to play on a regular basis.  Infection mode involves killing enemies to recruit them for the infected team.  With every kill, another player becomes infected and once everyone is infected the game is over.  Gun Game allows the host to select the order in which guns will be used in the game.  Each kill a new gun unlocks and the player is immediately armed with it.  The player who is able to circuit through the entire gun list the quickest wins the game.  This is similar to the Escalation mode found in GoldenEye 007: Reloaded, which we just reviewed and posted on the site.  Finally, Juggernaut is all about hunting down the player who is the Juggernaut.  If you are able to kill him then you become the Juggernaut.  All in all, the Private Matches in Modern Warfare 3 should not be ignored, as there is plenty to offer and some good times to be had by all for those who participate in these modes in a private setting.

New to the Call of Duty experience this year is the much-hyped Call of Duty Elite experience.  Elite is Activision’s new digital service for the CoD online community.  You can access this social hub online via your Xbox 360 console, the web, or by mobile phone.  You can join specific groups such as a football fan group or a specific city group.  These are just a couple of examples and you are free to create your own group too.  You can also create and manage a clan.  Here you can share HD video directly from the game.  Elite also allows you to win prizes as Activision plans on running some contests on Elite right from launch.  What would an online service be without stats?  Elite is a stat freaks dream.  Wins, losses, kills, deaths, ratios, assists, and kills by weapon type are just a few examples of the stats available on Elite.  You will also have access to tips and other strategies to help you master your weapons and master your overall Modern Warfare 3 online experience.  Needless to say, Elite has a lot to offer and far more than I can cover in this review.

So how much does Elite cost?  Well there are two tiers as there is a free and a premium service.  The free service will include access to stats, groups, watching videos, uploading videos, access to strategy guides and Facebook integration.  The premium service allows you access to all of this plus it allows you to access all Modern Warfare 3’s downloadable content.  You will have access to 20-pieces of content that will be released on a monthly basis.  You are also eligible to win some pretty cool prizes if you have the premium service and you will have access to Call of Duty Elite TV where you will be able to watch shows hosted by Will Arnett and Jason Bateman.  The premium service costs you around 50 bucks.  If you are an avid CoD online gamer who regularly purchases all the DLC, the premium service is for you as not only do you save money but you have access to the maps early.  All in all, Elite is certainly a game changer and will take your CoD experience to a new level.

The Call of Duty franchise has always raised the bar when it comes to visuals in an FPS and Modern Warfare 3 is no different as the game’s graphics are once again outstanding.  Modern Warfare 3 is a stunning looking game period.  The single player experience features some of the biggest and best large scale epic scenes I have seen in a game to date.  Additionally, the multiplayer’s visual aspects of the game have been polished and given a fresh coat of paint too.  Without question, Modern Warfare 3 is the best-looking CoD game to date.

Activision clearly has another Call of Duty title they can be very proud of.  Everything from the impressively detailed Lower Manhattan city backdrop to the incredibly realistic looking downtown core of London, England, Modern Warfare 3 is a stunner.  Every level in the single player mode seems to feature at least one jaw dropping moment.  Whether it is witnessing the Eiffel Tower crashing to the ground or a commercial jetliner splitting in half as it careens through a forest, Modern Warfare 3 features one fantastic set piece after another.  It is almost relentless how the developers just manage to hit you with one eye-popping visual moment after another.

Modern Warfare 3’s character animations have also received an upgrade from previous CoD games.  The attention to detail is what separates this game from so many others.  The artwork that goes into the character’s facial expressions, scars, tattoos, battle wounds, torn clothing, and even dirt stains is top notch and these are just a few tiny examples.  Even the weapons seem much more polished this time around as you can every little detail right down to the serial numbers on the guns.

Modern Warfare 3 runs on the same engine as it has for the past several Call of Duty games.  The developers have made tweaks and adjustments along the way, but alas it remains the same engine.  That being said, in no way does it seem to be showing its age.  Once again, the game runs at 60-frames per second, and as a result it plays as silky smooth as ever, and this includes online.  Even during some of the most chaotic moments with enemies everywhere, bullets whizzing by, and explosions blasting from all angles, the game runs without a hiccup.

Much like Modern Warfare 3’s visuals, the attention to detail carries over into the sound department.  Whether it is things like the buzzing from a pop machine, a fence rattling, some random tarp flapping in the wind, to the large scale Hollywood movie soundtrack or booming explosions, Modern Warfare 3’s audio package is pure gold.

Much like last year, Modern Warfare 3’s soundtrack features big sweeping Hollywood-like orchestral tunes that perfectly match the epic scenarios taking place in the game.  The music sets the perfect mood and you will hum the tunes well after you have played as the music from the gameplay and menu screens somehow subconsciously enters your brain.  There were occasions during my time reviewing the game where I would fall asleep to the music looping over and over in my head.  It is infectious and something I cannot say for many other games these days.

Another improvement is the incredibly realistic weapon sounds.  I know what you are thinking; this is nothing new to the franchise as Black Ops’ weapons sound equally fantastic.  Yet, every time I seem to fire up a new Call of Duty game the weapon sounds blow me away.  The shotguns, sub-machine guns, assault riffles, predator missals, semtex grenades and rocket launchers all have very unique sound effects, and this is only a small example of what you will hear.  Modern Warfare 3’s weapons sound incredibly good and have once again, dare I say it, raised the bar for how weapons should sound in a first person shooter.

The voice acting and battle chatter between you and your squad-mates once again is bang-on.  The dialogue between Soap, Price, Sandman, and Yuri is incredibly engaging.  The voice actors deliver every line with passion and nothing seemed to over the top.  It really felt like I was watching a movie.  Tobey Maguire, Christopher Meloni, Corey Stoll, Christian Coulson, Roman Varshavsky, and Troy Baker all lend their voices in the game.  Needless to say, the voice acting combined with a great storyline made for a more engrossing experience this time around.

In my view, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 stands as the best Call of Duty experience to date and is arguably the best multiplayer shooter experience on the Xbox 360.  With 16-maps out of the box and a glut of DLC to come, Call of Duty gamers will without question be playing Modern Warfare 3 online for months to come.  Although the single player experience can be a bit on the short side, it is deeply engaging and features some of the most epic scenes we have seen in a single player game to date.  The Spec Ops co-op mode and Elite service only serve to enhance the overall CoD experience.  At the end of the day, Modern Warfare 3 is a must own and is as good as it gets for Xbox 360 shooters.


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