Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3

It comes as no surprise that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was the biggest entertainment launch of all time. Fans once again camped out on the streets to grab a copy, and first day sales in the US and UK alone amounted to a staggering 6.5 million units – racking up a respectable $400 million. Within just 16 days, sales had surpassed $1bn! What’s more, other records were being smashed, with more Xbox Live gamers playing concurrently on Modern Warfare 3 than ever before - 1.4 million simultaneous users!

But underneath all those stats and the bravado, the latest edition is hardly genre defining; if you’ve played any of the previous games from the past few years you’ll know exactly what to expect. But the fact it’s more evolution than revolution is no bad thing. Everything feels very familiar – the controls, gameplay and looks.

There is still lots of testosterone oozing from the screen, plenty of oo-rahing and chest beating, as well as copious expletives being flung about as you and your compadres fight your way through various wartorn environments. There are stacks of weapons to find and fire, as well as scopes, riot shields, frags and flashbangs to help you progress. It all feels very comfortable and accessible.

The traditionally-short campaign is full of the usual set pieces; huge explosions, helicopters smashing into the ground, buildings being destroyed, grenades raining down upon you… all of which keeps you on the very edge of your seat for every second of your fun-filled six hour(!) playthrough. It’s nice that the action moves into recognizable cities too with Paris, London and New York among those given a virtual makeover.

Aesthetically, it's perhaps starting to look a little dated what with the release of the likes of Battlefield 3, RAGE and more recently The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – but it’s still great fun to play. As ever, the plot makes little real sense and you could easily be forgiven for thinking you were playing some DLC for Modern Warfare 2. While the Easy difficulty setting is painfully simple, Veteran is just as frustrating as before but hugely satisfying when you struggle on to each checkpoint. When all is said an done there is still plenty of reason to replay, fuelled by the nicely conceived achievements such as shooting terrorists before they hit the ground during some severe turbulence on a plane to taking out all the helicopters with only grenades from remote-controlled tank in another mission. Then there’s the usual intel that you need to hunt down if you’re after that illusive 1000G or Platinum trophy.

Of course, we all know that the solo campaign is not what die hard fans are yearning for. It’s playing with friends that will keep us all occupied long after the escapades of Soap and Price are forgotten. While many of us will have no problems firing off a few headshots, newbies will benefit from the inclusion of Deathstreaks as well as Killstreaks, which give less proficient shooters a helping hand and, as a result, makes proceedings far more enjoyable.

The various maps and innovative new game modes besides the usual Team Deathmatch and Free For All options certainly add to the immense longevity of the title and I’ll wager this will dominate your lives until next year’s release. Also the revamped strike packages – Assault, Support and Specialist – as well as the huge array of weapons and challenges make it more worthwhile than ever to spend some time in the Barracks honing the set up for your various classes before a match. There’s absolutely loads to unlock from guns and callsigns to emblems and perks. It’s fantastic, and addictive.

Much to this reviewer’s delight, however, the Special Ops co-op mode makes a very welcome return too, allowing you to take on a series of increasingly tough challenges alone or ith a friend. Completing them in a set timeframe or to certain criteria you’re awarded stars. One word of warning though, I got 1000G on Modern Warfare 2 after completing the Special Ops and they look easy in comparison to these new ones – even with a friend onboard! Smack Town is particularly tricky on Veteran, while another level saw us boarding a submarine but unable to make it out again. And those bloody training courses with their strict time limits have seen me throw many expletives at the screen. Hours have passed but those three little stars remain illusive...

The new Survival mode is akin to the Gears of War Horde matches, where repelling wave after wave of attackers is the objective. What makes this a little more fun is the addition of various stages around each level where money accrued for kills and completing each stage can be spent on various upgrades, ammunition or special weapons such as Predator missiles, claymores or sentry guns. It adds a really nice tactical feel to the mode, with the added pressure of having to make purchases or get into position before the short timer ticks down and the next wave appears. You’re immediately lulled into a false sense of security as you painlessly take out footsoldiers who stupidly run into your line of fire like lemmings, but things get tough very quickly and before long you’ll have attack helicopters, floods of soldiers and those almost immortal juggernauts lumbering towards you. It’s hellishly difficult with a friend and almost impossible on your own. Nevertheless, it will makes a refreshing change in six month’s time to just booting up the disc to play the online multiplayer maps.

The script and missions in the campaign won’t really throw up many major surprises beyond some nice set pieces for those accustomed to the series, but it remains an enjoyable way to spend a few hours – and it’s good to see Soap and the moustachioed Price again. Multiplayer remains great fun and as the first few days have shown, the lobbies are absolutely heaving with players ready to take up the fight. With Special Ops and Survival mode thrown in for good measure, this is a fantastic package and the hype is entirely justified. Definitely worth adding to your playlist.