Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

It seems like Call of Duty, namely Modern Warfare, is never far from our minds. When bonus DLC isn’t being pushed out throughout the year, we’re being fed trailers and news most of the year. Last year Call of Duty: Black Ops enjoyed a successful run despite not being a part of the Modern Warfare continuity, and whet FPS appetites until the hotly-anticipated Modern Warfare 3 would come along. Fast forward to 2011, and the behemoth is now upon us. It’s got the million-dollar ad campaign, matching sodas, and a rabid fanbase who’ll cut you if you don’t think Activision can do no wrong. But does it actually deliver?

At the very least, Modern Warfare 3 does attempt to tie up the loose-ends kept frayed throughout the series’ multiple releases. The spotlight is back on Vladimir Makarov, who effectively became the linchpin of the third World War. The world’s been thrown into chaos, and the fight has been taken all across the globe: Berlin, Paris, and Sierra Leone are only three of the stops Capt. John Price, series favorite, and John “Soap” MacTavish make during their manhunt for the maniacal terrorist. They’ve brought the fight to America. They’re on our soil. You’re required to feel a certain sense of patriotism and “‘Murrica, F$#@ yeah.” At least, that’s what I got from it.

Things feel just as tight as ever, like you’re experiencing the franchise for the first time. Controls feel tight, the action is paced fantastically, and it’s always satisfying to plow through a fresh batch of enemies with the devastating array of armaments at your fingertips. There’s plenty of flash and fervor, grenades, breaching, and everything you’d expect in an “oo-rah AMERICA!” war game. So it follows protocol and delivers beautifully. In fact, other than some segments that seemed to, unfortunately, drag on far too long past ever being interesting, I’d call Modern Warfare 3’s campaign the most fluid yet. Certain moments like breaching an airplane and clearing it of terrorists before its impending crash are heart-pounding, and “Hunter Killer,” a visceral underwater-to-surface boat chase, breaks tradition a bit and allows for a mixture of land and sea combat and could have worked later on in the game after the levels start to blur together. When it’s good, it’s near-perfect. But when it dips, it’s a slog.

It’s all very dramatic, and full of the explosive moments we’ve become accustomed to after Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare hit the scene. It’s riddled with faux-intellectual one-liners that, while decrying the horrors of war, also glorify it in a sense. How awesome you can be if you’re the hero. You know, that old chestnut. Unfortunately, what emotional investment I had in the series died off as soon as a new American task squad stepped into the picture. Soap and Price have been around since the beginning, so I found myself wishing and hoping for more time with them than I got. When forced to play as Frost, I grew cold (see what I did there?). I cared less and less each time the story veered away from the familiar characters, and as the game ventured into Soap-Gets-Hurt-A-Lot territory I realized these characters have truly made the series what it is. So when I reached the climax, I certainly walked away more than a little disappointed.

And amidst the tight, perfectly orchestrated action, there are plenty of those forced “No Russian” scenes – remember Modern Warfare 2’s scandal? They’re back, and even that level is revisited for a brief few moments. A particularly unnecessary scene with a little girl and her family on vacation didn’t strike me as heartbreaking or controversial, just annoying and a timewaster. A “level” set up simply to elicit a shocked or disturbed response to me seems to exist just for the sake of existing, as the entire scene lasts about 45 seconds, if that. “Shocking” for the sake of shocking in this franchise has morphed into something I can certainly do without. Stop trying to outrage me and focus on engaging gameplay. In lieu of these irritating attempts at tugging at players’ heartstrings, I would have preferred more engaging firefights. I can only stop and pop for so long.

Yet, despite these complaints, I still found myself enjoying the incredibly short campaign. Its punchy, more memorable moments gave me the drive to continue long after I grew bored with Makarov’s shtick (he certainly didn’t seem very threatening to me, anyway). However, it seemed as though I breezed through the missions, even after spawning on top of grenades several times over. Though the story came full circle and found resolution, it was over far too fast, obviously opening up the floodgates for what every Call of Duty fan foams at the mouth over: multiplayer.

I myself am a Call of Duty multiplayer vet, having become entangled in every outing so far, and I still proclaim that even after Modern Warfare 3’s release, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare manages to trump it in every way. Still, even though I’m not as impressed with the perks and the tweaks as it seems the rest of the world is, there’s still a bountiful amount of content here. Brand new strike packages, the killstreaks you know and love, and familiar perks return in the most feature-rich multiplayer yet. One addition to the stable of game modes, Kill Confirmed, intrigued me the most — it’s not enough to down an enemy. You must also nab their dog tags. It’s an interesting game type that requires those who might usually camp to come out into the open –which I’m all for. The introduction of Call of Duty Elite only furthers the constant there will always be someone online to go up against as well.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is explosive, loud, and frenetic, but it’s also riddled with many of the same clichés that have begun to plague the franchise. It’s obvious it’s gotten a big head from all the success, but on the bright side it’s still the same mechanically perfect game you remember playing last year. It’s just lost a little of the heart that made the original Modern Warfare the game to be playing. I’m hopeful for the future of the Call of Duty license…if we can get out of the modern age and the modern constraints that come with it.

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