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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 review

Excellent

Wondering what to expect from Modern Warfare 3? Look no further than the opening logo. As the first letter of “MW3” dramatically flips to reveal a bright and blatant “WW3” instead, the game both promises and warns you: This won’t be realistic, this won’t make complete sense, but this will always be epic. What little restraint the first two had managed to maintain is now gone in favor of an extremely wild and, yes, occasionally wacky sendoff for the trilogy. If you’re willing to suspend disbelief and go along for that ride, however, Modern Warfare 3 is more spectacularly scripted, unapologetically over-the-top fun than ever. 

 

Around the world in 6 hours

Despite their linearity, despite their ludicrousness and despite their length (or oft-maligned lack thereof), the Modern Warfare franchise’s single player campaigns are famous for a reason: each mission is uniquely designed and uniquely memorable. That sounds obvious, but can you honestly remember or distinguish every level from the last Halo, the last Battlefield, even the last non-Infinity Ward-developed Call of Duty, Black Ops? We can’t. Yet phrases like “ghillie suit” and “sinking ship” and “AC-130” are all we need to instantly flash back to our favorite moments in Modern Warfare 1, while “airport” and “gulag” and “burger town” all hold a special, shared meaning to those who experienced Modern Warfare 2.

That strength is particularly exemplified by Modern Warfare 3, in which the open conflict between Russia and the United States depicted by the second game spreads to encompass and engulf the entire globe, pulling the player into unforgettable battles set in unmistakable locations. Rather than fight through some vaguely European countryside or generically South American shanty town like before, you’re gunning down enemies on the streets of New York City, London, Paris, Prague and Berlin. Not just New York City, but the immediately recognizable floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Not just London, but the very iconic London metro system. Not just Paris, but – what else – the base of the goddamn Eiffel Tower. After straying far from reality in Modern Warfare 2, the developers have detached completely here. Believable? Not really. Clichéd? Maybe. Thrilling? Oh yeah.

Still confident, still controversial

True to Modern Warfare tradition, the stunts and sequences pulled off in each mission are as extreme and exhilarating as the settings. One takes place in a crashing passenger jet, with both you and the hijackers attempting to aim at each other through turbulence and temporary anti-gravity as the plane plummets to the ground. Another starts with you scuba swimming through a flooded commuter tunnel past dead bodies and drowned cars, then sneaking onto a submarine for close-quarters combat, then racing past the Statue of Liberty in a boat as the whole harbor burns and explodes around you. That’s a single mission! Sure, these games are only shooters, but the variety of action that Infinity Ward invents within the genre continues to amaze.

Notice we say Infinity Ward, not Sledgehammer or Treyarch – although Modern Warfare 3 required a collaboration from multiple developers after many of the franchise’s original creators left to launch their own company, this entry still seems like an authentic, Infinity Ward-style Modern Warfare game. Surprisingly, even the story and characters are handled with confidence, so much so that this campaign succeeds in tying together the confusing plotlines of the previous two campaigns, making a lot more retrospective sense of them in the process.

Of course, sticking to the series formula leads to a few predictable flaws as well. At 5-7 hours on Normal difficulty, Modern Warfare 3’s single player is just as short as you’ve come to expect – though, with this degree of popcorn movie insanity unfolding from minute to minute, you shouldn’t feel cheated. Minus the usual breathless cliffhanger, the ending is a bit anticlimactic – though the final fade-to-black scene is close to perfect. And yeah, there’s a totally transparent (also: maudlin, manipulative) attempt to drum up controversy less than halfway through the game – though its inclusion is easier to justify than the massacre from Modern Warfare 2.

Next page: Enough on the campaign already! What about the multiplayer?

More, more (and more) multiplayer

Reviewing Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer is simple. Not a fan of the online in Call of Duty? This is more of the same. Enjoy the online in Call of Duty? This is a lot more of the same. Rather than risk a reinvention – or even a major evolution – of the most popular competitive gaming of the current generation, Modern Warfare 3 wisely stays with what’s working, then adds and adds and adds. We won’t say this is the absolute best the multiplayer has ever been, as the maps left us slightly underwhelmed and many of the features are carried over from previous entries, but this is by far the most.

All the weapons, modes, perks and packages made classic by Modern Warfare 1? Check. The superb cooperative play introduced by Spec Ops in Modern Warfare 2? Yes, and with missions that cast you as an evil plane hijacker or an artificially intelligent camera turret, particularly inspired this time around. Everything worth copying from Treyarch and Black Ops? No Zombies or currency system, but Gun Game (every kill earns you a new weapon), One in the Chamber (a single bullet, three lives) and Theater Mode are back.

 

Truly new additions include modes like Kill Confirmed, in which a downed enemy’s dog tag must be collected before the kill counts (encouraging domination through scavenging as well as shooting); Team Defender, in which the side holding a flag earns double points per kill (combining the rules of Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Assassination into one); and most significantly, Spec Ops Survival, a wave-based co-op siege battle that clearly takes cues from Gears of War’s Horde, but throws in airstrikes and suicide bomber dogs. If none of those sound appealing, create your own mode with Private Matches – of the custom brews we sampled, a zombie infection with Juggernaut suits and a Gun Game with ever-worsening weapons stand out.

Leveling the field

Don’t mistake the size and scope of Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer, however, for some kind of bloated, overstuffed “everything and the kitchen sink” approach. This is refined, with developers keeping what fans loved and losing what fans loathed. Gone are game-ending nukes, gone are dual-wielded shotguns and gone are overpowered ninja perks.

Replacing these imbalances is clear support and appreciation for those of us who suffer from such winner’s cheats – the 99% who play Call of Duty casually and occasionally, but eventually lose interest as the competition becomes harder and harder to keep up with. For us, Modern Warfare 3 provides “pointstreaks” instead of “killstreaks” so that we can earn rewards even if we die. For us, the game offers “support” packages like deployable turrets instead of “assault” packages like predator drones. For us, there’s Call of Duty Elite, the new social service full of interactive maps, match statistics, weapon suggestions and overall strategy – while hardcore players will surely use it to get better, we can use it to overcome the learning curve and become hardcore someday ourselves.

Is it better than…?

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare? No. While Modern Warfare 3 features double to triple the amount of multiplayer that Modern Warfare 1 did, it’s still adding bricks to the groundbreaking foundation laid by the original. And while the campaign is a wilder adventure, it’s also way, way wackier – we miss the quiet and restrained mastery of “Ghillies in the Mist.”





Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2? Maybe. The missions are bigger and slightly better in Modern Warfare 2, but more memorable and cohesive in Modern Warfare 3. We prefer the multiplayer map design in Modern Warfare 2, but the variety of modes and features is clearly superior in Modern Warfare 3. A tie, then… which considering the development bumps this entry faced, is really a victory.



Call of Duty: Black Ops? Yes. Fightin’ around the world with Price and Soap trumps slogging through the clichéd jungles of Vietnam with Reznov any day – the setpieces made possible by the fictional, futuristic World War III of the former blow away what’s allowed by the historical constraints of the latter. And unless you’re obsessed with Zombies or tomahawks, the multiplayer in Modern Warfare 3 offers more.




For those who skipped straight to the end

If you’re looking for a new kind of shooter, look elsewhere. Modern Warfare 3 succeeds by doing more – much, much, much more – of what’s always worked spectacularly for the series. We still can’t get enough.

More Info

Available Platforms: Xbox 360, Wii, PC, PS3
Genre: Shooter
Published by: Activision
Franchise: Call of Duty
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language

180 comments

  • jairaptorfire - March 7, 2012 1:48 p.m.

    OMG pplz game is amazing i love the graphics and the quality. campaign mode a little bit shot but to the point not bad but what made my gaming experience even more worth while was my new modded controller! yah yah whatever ima cheater do you realize that half the gamer's online at this very moment are more likely using some kind of mod or cheat i ordered mine from raptorfire.com was referred to by gamingmodz.com another wounder full gaming controller modding company. they are i beleave number one in the USA and taking over please read my post you gamers will not regret taking a look around these two site might not want a modded contoller what about a customized contrller like hydro diped designs and illuminatinig shells and omg so much more thanks halla at your boy
  • wizardc - March 3, 2012 1:53 a.m.

    I love Battlefield 3 but I have to say this game rocks. I don't know what it is - but I find it a lot more fun than Battlefield3. They're both top of the food chain as far as I'm concerned but I give COD MW3 the edge. I highly recommend - you won't regret it.
  • jscriber100 - December 14, 2011 7:34 p.m.

    Campaign is awesome and SOAP DIES!!!! I almost shed a tear. Thats how important he was to the story. u never get to see who Frost is tho. I think I like survival mode even better than zombies and spec ops are better. Multiplayer IS BEAST and that is all nuff said...
  • The Wrath of Cratos - November 14, 2011 1:52 a.m.

    Yes I know that my English is quite rusty but I didn t use it for about 5 or 6 years.
  • The Wrath of Cratos - November 14, 2011 1:36 a.m.

    I am a HUGE fan of the MW series so I guess I am biased for the B3 fanboys but I dont care.One of the biggest complaints against the MW games is the unrealistic and out right stupid plot.I find it rather amusing from the perspective of a person outside of the US and a Eastern European who knows a lot about the russian culture and the mind set of russian people in general.I can t wait to have the money to buy MW3 and Charlie great review and keep up the good work.
  • dinesh-nandakumar - November 12, 2011 9:42 p.m.

    so is it better than BF3?
  • TheVoid - November 10, 2011 3:47 p.m.

    Greetings! I am an annoying troll that can't appreciate anyone's opinion (other than my own) and I have an incredibly difficult time when it comes to judging how various aspects of a game review factor against my own personal preferences. Nice to meet you! Rather, I'm far more comfortable using words like "bias", "boycott" and "sellout" entirely out of context, if not resorting to juvenille slurs tossed recklessly towards the reviewer and all who have a differing opinion. Watch me go! And I love to SCREAM AS OFTEN AS I CAN TO CONVEY MY DEEP-ROOTED FRUSTRATION, which probably stems more from external influencers (i.e. my upbringing, social ineptness, etc) than anything reflected on this website. As such I also have a tendency to cling FEVERISHLY to the review's final score and/or the comparisons made to other games despite those clearly being nothing more than soft points of reference. Of course it would be best if I just never looked at those dang numbers and simply read the review and digested it on it's own merits (while possibly occassionally offering a well-thought-out response if I felt strongly enough to do so), but sadly I will never learn. By now it should be clear that I am typically hard-pressed to engage in civil discussion and will often react quite defensively if called out on it. So for your sake and the sake of the other readers it would be best if you just ignored me completely. Thanks and farewell!
  • Thequestion 121 - November 10, 2011 7:48 p.m.

    Fantastic review!
  • BladedFalcon - November 11, 2011 11:01 a.m.

    You sir, deserve a prize. Sadly, most trolls will probably never read this, but still.
  • UcryinLikeaBitch - November 12, 2011 6:12 p.m.

    Add comment not Add Novel
  • TheCardist - November 10, 2011 9:30 a.m.

    I decided before this one was released that it probably wasn't for me. I've been burnt out on CoD style gameplay for awhile now. Knowing that I went ahead and bought it anyway and it was essentially MW2 in a new costume. They took out of the things I really enjoyed about Black Ops and went back to the exact MW2 formula. I know a lot of people enjoy this game, though I simply view it as a glorified expansion pack. It simply wasn't for me as I wanted new gameplay and a whole new experience. Sadly it feels all too familiar for me, which I suppose would have been great if I wasn't already burnt out on how COD played. I can't say I'm too terribly bitter about spending $60 on this since I turned around the day I bought it and sold it for $50. It was merely a purchase to hold my attention until Skyrims release... :)
  • mothbanquet - November 10, 2011 6:34 a.m.

    Well, I'm actually surprised that IW could pull out enough stops to differentiate this one from its predecessors. Personally, I don't think they will ever be able to top CoD4's campaign. Though I'll still admit it was solid and fun, the wild, OTT nature of the second game was a big disappointment for me when I got it on release compared to 4's sober, believable story. I won't be getting this right away but considering CoD's legacy of providing a polished SP experience it'll definitely be on my list once the price comes down. Til then I have BF3 for multiplayer. This was a good review and I consider the score fair. If BF3 stuck to its own roots when providing a single player campaign instead of trying to copy CoD like-for-like then I'm sure it could have achieved a 9 too but, alas, it didn't. I can already see that some people here seem to think that one aspect of a game is enough to give it a 9 but it really, really isn't. I agreed completely with the BF3 review and I'm sure I'll agree with this when I play it. Well done Charlie, and ignore the rabid, foaming fanboy responses. They shame all of us.
  • TURbo - November 9, 2011 10:24 p.m.

    MW3 is not just a $60 map pack. There's spec ops, and single player. To the people that say single player campaigns doesn't matter, never went months without an internet connection.
  • farsided - November 10, 2011 2:03 a.m.

    In that case, why the hell would you pay 60 bucks for a 6 hour gray scale michael bay film when Rage is out?
  • Yarok - November 10, 2011 9:46 p.m.

    Hey, I hear Deus Ex is $10 on Steam and Human Revolution is $50. Bam! hundreds of hours gone.
  • alienkid771 - November 9, 2011 6:08 p.m.

    To everyone bitching about people bitching, comment sections are meant for opinions, no just everyone mindless agreeing with everything the writer says,
  • BladedFalcon - November 9, 2011 6:55 p.m.

    Complaining isn't the problem at all. it's the way a lot of people say it, and make it sound like they are either flaming trolls, mindless fanboys, or that they knew the ultimate truth for everything concerning this universe. Disagreeing and creating discussion is perfectly fine, hell, that often what I aim to do. But it's pretty jarring when some people just go for the hyperboles and extremes.
  • avantguardian - November 9, 2011 8:19 p.m.

    it's sad that, given what is possibly the greatest modern discovery (teh internets), people just seem unable to rise above the lowest common denominator. all of this power to communicate, and bring like-minded people closer is just lost in a sea of insecurity and immaturity. it just becomes a faceless bitchfest. as if people have nothing better to do than just justify their shaky choices and metaphysics by slamming the choices/ideas of others. keep it up bladedfalcon, there are those of us that have got your back.
  • TheVoid - November 9, 2011 10:51 p.m.

    Here here!

Showing 1-20 of 180 comments

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