With the cataclysmic rise in Call of Duty's popularity since the first entry in the Modern Warfare series, there has been as many detractors of the series as fans on the internet. Creating a mold that's been replicated by many other games does begin to show just how influential one series can be to an entire generation. The fact that the modern-era war videogame is essentially the 'new WWII market' shows that this oversaturation causes FPS gamers to demand something that branches into something that's worth sixty dollars. While developers Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games don't bring quintessential steps toward a fresh experience like Modern Warfare entries of past years had, the new refinements and nuanced cooperative/competitive modes still make this globe-trotting adventure through World War III an absolute blast.
Taking place right after the events of Modern Warfare 2, MW3 (Modern Warfare 3) has you briefly in the shoes of "Soap" MacTavish, the character you played as toward the end of MW2 and most of MW1, as he's being rushed to a small field base hospital in India. Shortly thereafter the now-disavowed Task Force 141 decides to bring in a new member named Yuri, character you play as for most of the game, and go after the Ultra-Nationalist leader Makarov. Going from just this small synopsis alone, it would be safe to play the first two Modern Warfare games-naturally-in order to fully understand the situation at hand. As all of the taglines and advertisements have shown, World War III has started and the outcome rests on the few soldiers you play as throughout the campaign.
One of the main complaints in MW2 revolved around nonsensical intrusions into what seemed like an average plot: certain missions didn't get their full explanations from events that preceded them and some twists were far-fetched. Since this sequel takes place right after MW2, the crux of the story still involves certain narrative aspects that don't rise to the occasion laid down by the first Modern Warfare entry. Despite the fact that some of MW3's drives have to suffer from past sins, the new twists and turns presented are well-paced and will leave you fulfilled. Despite rising to the occasion in the storytelling department, the high-octane moments and general setup are showing just how formulaic they're starting to become. The storytelling through dynamic loading screens is starting to rear its ugly head for just being a visual presentation to all of the militaristic acronyms given throughout the game.
Graphical fidelity has been constantly assaulted by gamers around the time World at War released. Although the game has some stunning set-piece moments, keeping to the "more of the same" idea isn't paying off in the long run (or short run, given that CoD's are released yearly). Still, MW3 succeeds at still being a looker by utilizing the amount of enemies on-screen while remaining incredibly smooth instead of pushing the polygon count. Most of the praises are what you expect: character models still look impressively varied, the exceedingly vast amounts of environments have some interesting details, and the sheer amount of destruction happening in front of your eyes is rarely seen in such a constant cycle. In the end, MW3's graphics are a double-edged sword: Critics will concede that despite the engine being dated, no other 2011 FPS has this sort of action to offer while fans will put that in opposite order.
Despite failing to reach MW2's exemplary visual/audible achievements (for 2009 standards), MW3 still does a great job in technical sound design. Gun sounds, voice acting, and sheer amount of noise happening at almost all times are noteworthy, though fail to reach towards something we haven't heard before. There also seems to be a redundancy issue when it comes to the orchestral score throughout certain areas of the campaign. Although that's not to say the soundtrack is subpar, it still fails to reach the sublime heights of the Hans Zimmer-composed MW2's OST.
The gameplay in the main series since the first Call of Duty has always been about throwing as much action in your face as possible while having only a few missions and loading screens to allow you to ease your nerves temporarily. Since the first Modern Warfare, this formula has been cranked to eleven with varying success. Although the aim for over-the-top, Michael Bay blockbuster sequences may feel humdrum to some, it still can't be denied that no other FPS title can outperform the Call of Duty series in this regard, despite the fact that so many other franchises have tried to replicate it. Being shuttled from one position to the next at such a break-neck pace has been polished to a mirror-sheen in this title.
Even if the series is still the best at what it does and constantly tries to polish it, some of that luster may be lost if integral changes are not made. This, unfortunately, is a fact MW3 knew but scantly answered. Although you're greeted with a good variety of weapons and attachments, such as hybrid scopes and a clustering flashbang, MW3 really plays it safe in regards to the variety we've come to know from the series. This time around you have an amphibious mission in order to control a Russian submarine, a skirmish against Russians outside of the New York Stock Exchange, and many more battles that wind down into being both exhilarating and familiar.
Where the Call of Duty series has commercially raised the stakes in the overall value for your sixty dollars (or one hundred dollars if you want the "Hardened Edition") is in the rewarding nature of the cooperative and competitive multiplayer. The under credited co-op option from MW2, named Spec Ops, has returned. Now divided into two parts, Spec Ops Missions retreads the ideas of MW2 and catalogues them mostly with missions seen in MW3 with a few new twists while the new Spec Ops mode, dubbed Survival, is essentially the new horde mode for the Call of Duty series with some Counterstrike roots. You and a partner are placed on a map and forced to survive increasing numbers of enemies in a never-ending onslaught. In between or during waves, hubs are displayed across the map that show where you can buy killstreak rewards, attachments, and weapons available for you to purchase in order to handle the harder enemies. What's interesting about both of these modes is how they're tied together by having a ranking system similar to the competitive multiplayer. Upon completion of a wave or mission, your leveling up unlocks new weapons, attachments, and killstreaks to be used in Spec Ops Survival. These additions, plus the typical stat-tracking of friends/players, make this another welcoming addition. Even when considering both Spec Ops modes are limited to 2 players max, they're still some of the most addictive co-op modes around.
The real reason millions of gamers still flock to the recent Call of Duty games is the rewarding experience system stitched into each iteration since Call of Duty 4. Now named "strike packages", your killstreaks revolve around a system with 3 different types of rewards. The Assault, Support, and Specialist all offer different stratagems that either fuel the lone wolf approach known since the beginning of the killstreak system or support the entire team through the means of defensive perks. Although the removal of the credit system from Black Ops is disheartening, unlocks in general will still happen more often thanks to them being tied into weapon proficiency. It's really surprising to see what a few wrinkles can do to change the formula so drastically. For what seem like minor changes at first glance genuinely make MW3's competitive MP stand out with some originality while still remaining with the classic formula.
Since Halo 3's bungie.net (and more recently Halo Waypoint) upped the ante for console games to tie in with dedicated websites, the CoD series has taken notice and now announced Call of Duty "ELITE" (with the second 'E' facing the wrong direction for reasons unbeknownst to me), releasing in tandem with MW3. This is essentially a stat-tracking website that dives down into the tidbits of how well you perform on each map with every weapon you have used. Although the ability to customize loadouts on certain phones capable of apps is a nice touch, it's tough to recommend purchasing the yearly subscription ($49.99) for the regular CoD fan. Fortunately, all of the features I've listed so far are free upon signing up, while free map packs and videos come as parts that require payment. Overall, ELITE is there just for the sake of catching up with Halo-which isn't a denunciation by any means.
In essence, MW3 is essentially all that fans can expect it to be: a similar package with fulfilling conclusions and MP modes that can keep you coming back years later. Even though it encompasses some standout qualities, this is another CoD title I can't outright recommend to the vast majority of FPS gamers (the last CoD to receive that honor would be CoD4: MW). MW3 is arguably the best-rounded FPS package available for this holiday season; however, it's also afraid to vary the formula to the degree of past Modern Warfare entries; furthermore, causing fans to wonder if this is just a by-the-numbers sequel (which is surprsing to ask considering the "father of CoD" co-developed this game).
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