Infinity Ward changed the entire action genre with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The game became the standard mould in which new titles were cast, and ever since the franchise has grown to become one of the most successful ones in the industry. Four years have passed, and not a lot has happened to shake things up. Most action titles that have come since haven't really tried to take the concept any further.
And the publisher of the game, Activision, hasn't really shown any greater interest in changing things up either. How you feel about this lack of evolution is going to be the key factor in deciding whether you will enjoy this year's edition. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is the fifth game using the same engine and offering the same core experience.
The world is faced with a new great planet spanning war in Modern Warfare 3. An utterly evil Russian is to blame, and only the player can make things right. The story begins where we were left off with Modern Warfare 2, and manages to deliver a satisfying end to the trilogy and rewards those who have made the effort get to know the principal characters. Much like in previous games you're fighting in exotic environments with great variation as you jump between missions all over the world, and you'll see more perspectives on the conflict than ever before. The end result is a varied experience few games can match.
While the series isn't known for a strong narrative, it still offers up the epic action moments you'd associate with a Michael Bay film. And Modern Warfare 3 really takes things up a notch as every chapter is a roller coaster ride of jaw dropping moments. It feels both fantastic, but also overly directed and predictable. The two predecessor were also filled with scripted moments, and it feels as if they have started to run out of ideas. You will grow tired of it, even if the campaign only lasts for five hours.
When you're playing Modern Warfare 3 it's hard to imagine that almost half the development team left the studio a year and a half ago. Infinity Ward has been helped by Sledgehammer Games, and considering the fact that the game has been made by two separate studios it comes across as surprisingly consistent.
It's easy to tell that they have really mastered the use of the graphics engine. The game graphically offers the most impressive views and effects of the series, and everything runs at 60 frames per second. As far as audio goes, music, explosions and voice work add to the experience nicely.
In the heat of the battle it's nothing you think about, but when you stop to think about it it is clear how much this piece of technology has aged since last fall. This year it's competing with Crysis 2 and Battlefield 3. The lighting is rather weak outdoors, and some poor textures ruin the overall impressions. But not even an aged engine can ruin the beautiful design of the environments, and it's easy to immerse yourself thanks to the fantastic atmosphere.
It's not just the looks that feel familiar in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, the same goes for the gameplay. Perks works the same way they always have, the balance between weapons remains, and it is still just as intense and addictive as it was five years ago. If you want to be a bit unfair you could call it a glorified expansion of Modern Warfare 2, but then you're really missing the point.
One of two major new features is the fact that you level up your primary weapon along side your profile, and the more you use a weapon the better it becomes. This adds another layer of depth to the multiplayer, and players who take the time to learn the pros and cons of their weapon will have a big advantage.
You can also choose between different Killstreak systems to find one that suits your playstyle best. The three different systems allow you to take different roles on the battlefield, and if you want to play support it's now an option. The development makes the game feel fresh for a while, but for every new addition it seems something is missing from last year's Call of Duty: Black Ops. It's all about minor changes and it reminds us of how certain publishers have treated their annual sports titles.
Soon most players will spend their time with the multiplayer, but let's not forget about Spec Ops, a mode that was introduced in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. It's a co-operative mode for two players, and this time it lives up to its full potential thanks to progression and leaderboards.
A total of 20 new missions based on levels from the campaign have been created, and these offer up some of the best moments in the entire game. Nothing that will surprise us the same way as when we first controlled a AC-130 in Modern Warfare 2, but the missions are just as great as in the predecessor and makes me wish I could play through the entire campaign with a friend.
But I supposed we can't get everything, and its of some comfort that there is now also a Survival mode for two players. Simply put it's the zombie mode from Treyarch's Call of Duty titles, except without the undead. Players take on an infinite number of enemy waves, and use money earned to upgrade their weapons, calling in Predator missiles and activate perks. It's one of the better versions of this game mode we've experienced, and as a total package Spec Ops now truly delivers one third of the total package. The best third, in fact.
The true ace up the sleeve, however, isn't Spec Ops but Call of Duty: Elite. It's an external service that adds a social layer to the multiplayer. It keeps track of squads, clans, tournaments, and more stats than you will ever find use for. Heat maps, the ability to record matches, and the option of learning your rival's history with the game are tools you can use to become better at the game. Elite makes it fun and easy to invest yourself in an online career in a way that has never before been done in the genre.
While it has no direct effect on the game mechanics it is still a powerful tool that will take your game to the next level. Elite and the options that allow you to tailor your game modes, are factors that will see Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 clinging on to its players even longer than previous titles. There is tremendous potential for the community here.
Modern Warfare 3 takes what we've come to expect of the series and makes the best of it. Infinity Ward hasn't changed up the gameplay and never really tried to do so. The fact that it remains as fun today as it was four years ago, is evidence enough that the core concept is so strong that it doesn't need constant evolution to appeal to players. It's a core experience most of us haven't grown tired of, but for those who have tired there is nothing here that will make you a believer.
I'm not saying that Call of Duty should continue on the same track for yet another year, but the fact that the series hasn't evolved has not stopped me from enjoying Modern Warfare 3. Regardless of how you feel about it, you know what to expect of this game if you played previous Call of Duty titles. And that's both a positive and a negative.