It’s been a hard last two years for Activision, though the game publishing giant never showed it. After Infinity Ward all but disappeared and a serious lawsuit between the developer’s founders against Activision for unreceived bonuses, a major portion of Infinity Ward’s staff left to create Respawn Entertainment, now working with Activision’s biggest competitor EA. After Modern Warfare 2′s lackluster single-player and cooperative play modes, there were serious concerns whether Activision and what was left of Infinity Ward could pull together a proper sequel in two years time.

Modern Warfare 3 not only puts those sentiments to rest, it blows them the hell out of this world.

Infinity Ward spokesman Robert Bowling was right when he said that MW3 is Modern Warfare‘s gameplay with Modern Warfare 2‘s technical excellence. Like the classic original, MW3 is a three-part masterpiece cut in two halves, a single player campaign and 16 cooperative missions playable solo, online or split-screen; and a deep, feature-filled online multiplayer made to last for months of continual play, if not years. MW3 is packed to the brim.

The single player campaign is a huge improvement over MW2′s mess of a story, which threw characters in and out of play on the whim of a single plot line, held like a thread for players to reach for but never get. Like teasing a cat with string. No,  MW3 offers a coherent story, well defined goals and characters, and understandable events that make sense. It doesn’t pack the overall punch of the previous two cinematically, with nuclear explosions in space and on the ground, or watching two men beat the stuffing out of each other while pulling a knife out of your chest. What MW3 does have is amazing action during gameplay, without quick-time events. That is a real achievement.

What MW3, which was co-developed by Sledgehammer Games, Infinity Ward, and Raven Software, does so beautifully is that it gives players just the right amount of combat. It doesn’t get boring, it doesn’t get tiresome, and you’ll never go “oh this again?!” Levels and areas are unique, cityscapes are vast and pretty damn impressive, and there’s a real feeling of grandeur at the scope of some segments. It’s not like God of War 3′s full boss-as-a-level or the urban jungle of Crysis 2. Instead, MW3 delivers very focused, very story-driven gameplay. There’s no player choice, but that’s not the point. The point is to have a ton of action sequences that kick ass, and that’s exactly what we get.

I’m particularly impressed with the cover system, or lack thereof. For years I’ve spouted that FPS games should use cover, albeit no game has done a good job at it. The three developers, however, have found a very simple trick around it: conform the cover to players. Now instead of cover fully shrouding players, it’s at gun-level. That means you can shoot over walls at actually at enemies, all while standing or crouching. Players can still get shot, but they’re much more hidden than in other games, where cover leaves players exposed when firing. It’s a wonder no one has thought of this ingenious concept before.

Cooperative play, once again called Special Operations (or Spec-Ops), pits one or two players in various missions with simple objectives. Free the hostages, capture the president, steal data, etc. Nothing too fancy, but every mission actually fits with the story’s overall plot in some fashion, although some don’t actually occur in the game. Players will be both the good and bad guys, will go in stealth and walking-tank body armor. It’s the closest thing, unfortunately, that players will get to full campaign coop, but even then Spec-Ops is tremendous fun. And those are only the missions.

Survival mode  pits two players against a never-ending wave of enemy combatants. Each new wave brings harder, stronger enemies with better guns, better armor, and more chemical and explosive devices. Suicide bombers, dogs with bombs strapped to them, juggernauts (remember those walking tanks? Yeah, you fight them), attack choppers, etc. Whatever you see in the game can come and bite you in the ass. Meanwhile, players have a full arsenal of purchasable items available, spread across three computers for armor, weapons and artillery. Each kill earns money, and specialty kills (head shots, melee kill, killstreaks, etc.) earn even more. It doesn’t take long for these teams of two to feel overwhelmed by the overbearing onslaught of weapons fire, and there is no end. Play on until you’re downed on any of the multiplayer maps.

Survival mode is incredible fun, so much so that I’m surprised that it’s only a two-player mode. Two players just aren’t enough, especially on larger maps. Considering how fun this mode is, and how it’s basically Modern Warfare’s answer to the bi-annual Call of Duty title with Zombies, it really needs to work with more than just two players.

Online multiplayer…with a few days of playtime, it’s hard to say just how good online play is. The game is made to last through the next year, and that’s very clear with just how long it takes to level up weapons. While in one night I managed to level up to 20, I couldn’t clear a single weapon even 10% through in that whole time, using it nonstop. Weapons leveling is just as important as personal rank, if not more important, because it opens up new features for weapons, such as weapon perks, attachments and camo. Unlike MW2 or Black Ops, it takes a long time to really unlock new weapons and get the most out of them.

Several new gametypes are included, though the standout is Kill Confirmed, a twist on standard Deathmatch. Players must not only kill enemies, but collect their dogtags before enemies get them first. Without those dogtags collected, kills don’t count. It makes the game a tug-of-war, where players have to keep an eye on both the enemy and their own teammates, to collect any and all tags. Because it’s easy to steal an enemy’s kill, as well as lose your own.

The perk system has also been upgraded to match three different playstyles. Traditional killstreaks (now called pointstreaks) can earn standard strike packages under the Assault class, where three perks can be gained and used by players as they get kills. The Support class doesn’t reset it’s pointstreak when killed, but has limited access to what perks are available, and none of them can hurt the enemy. Instead, the support class has access to reconnaissance and general support abilities, but no calling in airstrikes or missiles. Finally, the Specialist class starts with no perks, but each kill adds a new perk, so players can theoretically become a powerhouse if they don’t die and have a raging pointstreak.

Multiplayer in MW3 is excellent, plain and simple. I’m not a huge fan of the maps, and think that there are far better maps in the past few Call of Duty titles, though MW3 does have a few gems. Too few, however.

There is one major aspect of MW3 that was a disappointment; the score. Modern Warfare 2 was scored by the good folks at Remote Control Productions (the Hans Zimmer studio, which also produced the scores for both Iron Man films, Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, Inception, etc.), and there are several scenes that even now stand out in my mind because of the incredible music. MW3 had nothing of the sort. The score was simply there, simply good enough to move the game along but not enough to make any impact.

As I sit here, completing this review, my biggest thought is to just go back and have fun. That’s really what Modern Warfare 3 is, a good time, and it offers that excitement for all sorts of players. The solo campaign is a mad dash of action and shooting, with an exceptional normal difficulty and challenging hardened and veteran modes. Cooperative play meets two standards, mission play and the never-ending survival mode, a great way to kill 20-30 minutes and really test your skills. And to round it all out, a very deep multiplayer that will keep players enthralled, equally excited and passionate, for months, if not years to come.

Editor’s Choice

Rating: ★★★★½

Excellent



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.