|Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3|
|Published by: Activision|
|Developed by: Infinity Ward|
I’m going to do this review a little differently than in the past for two simple reasons: Firstly, if you’re already a fan of the CoD series then chances are you’ve already bought this game regardless of what I, or anyone else, has to say about it. After all, the game has already smashed records by making $775 million in its first five days. Secondly, if you’re really not a fan of the CoD series then this game probably won’t change your mind regardless of what I say about it.
Given those two facts, I’m going to delve less into the story and more into what I think are the significant factors that those of you who are sitting on the fence might want to know about. More specifically, I’m going to talk about the PC version and how it stacks up to previous games and the competition. You may recall that in my review of Modern Warfare 2 I ended up not recommending buying it for the PC because Infinity Ward had pretty much screwed the pooch with a straight port from the console version that dropped several key PC features, the most significant of which was dedicated server support. There was a lot about MW2 on the PC that was great, but it was offset by a lot of shitty decisions that, at times, made the multiplayer game almost unplayable.
But first, let’s talk just a little bit about the single player portion of the game. It literally picks right up where Modern Warfare 2 ended and it’s a non-stop roller-coaster ride from the get go. If you don’t recall the events of MW2, which you probably don’t as it was a confused mess at times, there’s just enough recap in the opening sequence to jog the brain cells into not really remembering anything at all. Not that it matters as, once again, you’ll be jumping back and forth between multiple characters in different military groups shooting your way through seemingly endless waves of bad guys on the hunt for the Big Bad Boss that started World War 3 and caused this whole mess. I’m happy to report that the story in this outing is quite a bit more coherent than it was in MW2. I never found myself wondering who the hell I was supposed to be at any given moment like I did with MW2. There is, as there was in MW2, a “controversial scene” which you are given the option of being warned about ahead of time so you can skip it if you wish. I won’t spoil it, but in my opinion it was far less of a problem than the one in MW2 and I wasn’t really bothered with the one in MW2 either.
The biggest complaint to be had about the single player campaign is the same one that I lodged against its predecessors in the series: It’s too damn short and it seems to be getting progressively shorter with each release. The first game took about 8 hours for me to get through the single player at normal difficulty, the second took about 6. This one was a very short 4 hours, 27 minutes, and 21 seconds. I know this because the game actually says so on the start screen. Probably not the best idea to advertise just how short your single player game is. Also, and this is probably a nitpick, it was surprisingly easy. If you want the single player game to be a challenge then you’ll want to kick it up past the Normal difficulty setting. That said, it was also a lot of fun and brought the story line to a close in a satisfying way. The only reason to play through it again is if you give a damn about finding all 46 of the “intelligence briefings” that are hidden throughout the level. If you don’t then a single play through will probably be all you’ll bother with.
This is the meat and potatoes of the game and, really, the part that everyone buys the game for. It’s also the part that would show how well Infinity Ward weathered the whole firing of its founders and subsequent loss of most of the top development crew that happened afterwards. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this story, back in March 2010 Activision fired Jason West and Vince Zampella, the two guys who founded Infinity Ward, for “breaches of contract and insubordination.” Following that some 46 employees, nearly half the staff and many of them senior developers and project leads, left for greener pastures — some of them joining West and Zampella at the new development studio they were setting up. Lawsuits were, of course, filed on both sides and IW was left with a game in mid-development and a deadline fast approaching. To pull it off, Activision brought in Sledgehammer Games — already developing their own CoD game which was put on hold — and Raven Software to work alongside IW to finish MW3. The result feels strangely familiar.
One of the major disappointments of Modern Warfare 2 on the PC was the decision to abandon dedicated servers for the peer-to-peer networking system used in the console versions of the title. Word prior to the release was that Modern Warfare 3 would see the return of dedicated servers that could be run by fans as opposed to the rent-only dedicated servers of Black Ops, an announcement which made a lot of fans very happy to hear. Alas, the reality is still very disappointing. Yes, you can run a dedicated MW3 server if you wish to, but how you get to them is not immediately obvious when your first boot up the game. Instead, what you’re presented with initially is the same crappy P2P system used in MW2. They stopped calling it IWNet, but that doesn’t remove the stink of how shitty it is.
Let’s recap the problems I listed with this system from MW2:
- Because it picks one of the players to be the host there’s a good chance that the host’s firewall settings haven’t been set properly resulting either in you being dropped midway through a game or never being able to connect to the game in the first place. Plus the host has an unfair advantage of having the best ping time.
- Worse, it often picks a host that isn’t really up to the task resulting in lag like you wouldn’t believe.
- If the Host rage quits the action is interrupted while the game tries to pick a new host which could take a game from running pretty smoothly to one that suffers from the problems in points 1 or 2 above.
- They rely on Valve’s Anti-Cheat system to detect cheaters which can take several weeks before it decides to ban someone, assuming it’s able to detect the hack to begin with.
- There is no vote to kick option for getting rid of troublesome/cheating players. This, combined with the point above, means that cheating is fairly rampant.
- Because you don’t have any real control over which host you connect to if you decide to eat the loss and quit a game that’s got a hacker or which gives you a shitty ping there’s no guarantee that the matchmaking system won’t drop you right back into the same game when you try to find a new one.
Now, to be fair, the P2P system in MW3 does seem to work a bit better than it did in MW2. The majority of the time it seems to pick a semi-decent host and the connection succeeds more often than not. Also the number of obvious hackers using aimbots and the like seems much lower than it was with MW2. That said, it’s still far and away worse than having dedicated servers to play on where there are administrators around to handle the trouble makers and you can consistently choose the same server that you have a good connection to.
So the obvious solution to this problem is to use the dedicated servers, right? Well, first you have to find them and to do that you have to go into MW3 options and turn on the server browser. Yes, by default this option is turned off to discourage you from using it. Once you turn it on you get an extra menu item named Servers that will bring up the server browser and allow you to connect to one of the dedicated servers out there, but there are two problems with going this route:
- If you want to experience the whole ranking up your levels and unlocking weapons and ranking them up that you do in the P2P version of the game, well, you can’t as the dedicated servers are not ranked.
- Because of point 1 above, there’s a lot less dedicated servers out there to choose from and a lot less players to play against as a result.
In short, you can choose to have the full MW3 experience with a shitty networking system or you can have dedicated servers with an amputated multiplayer experience. I tried to play a few games on dedicated servers to see what they’re like and was only able to get into a few because most of them are completely devoid of players. Just now I pulled up the server browser (about 2PM on a Monday) and there are 2,471 servers with 1,033 people playing. Which sounds like a lot until I pull up Black Ops, which only has dedicated servers, and find that there are 4,978 servers with 8,227 players for a game that came out over a year ago. Which game do you think I’m most likely to find a server close by running the game type I wanna play?
The one advantage to the dedicated server option is at a LAN party where ranking can actually get in the way. The host has the option of unlocking all the weapons and perks so that no one has to worry about not having access to some of the toys someone with a higher rank has access to. Plus it appears that you can configure game types not supported by the standard P2P playlists such as Gun Game — which was part of Black Ops — where you start with a pistol and each kill gives you a new gun until you make it through the entire list and win the game. It appears that there are several of these variants (Infection, One in the Chamber, etc.) that can be done on the dedicated servers as well as the “private match” option in the standard P2P system. Other than LAN parties, the lack of ranked dedicated servers is a real negative for MW3. Still, things have improved enough that I won’t say that this is reason enough not to buy the game for the PC like I did with MW2, but it’s still a major let down.
As for the gameplay itself, it feels a lot like MW2 and, honestly, I’d be willing to bet that it’s largely a re-skinned MW2 multiplayer with a few new bits and bobs tacked on. Don’t get me wrong, graphically the game looks better than MW2 did and there’s lots of new effects that have been woven in, but it’s still largely the same engine that ran previous Modern Warfare games and as such it has a lot of the same feel. The amount of stuff Treyarch crammed into Black Ops multiplayer was very impressive and in particular I liked their “cash” system of unlocking weapon accessories over the progressive challenge system used in MW2. In BO you got to choose which weapon accessories to unlock so long as you had the CoD points (cash) to do so. In MW3 we’re back to the same unlock system used in MW2 where you have to complete weapons challenges (get X number of kills or X number of headshots with a particular gun) to unlock the first accessory and then the next and the next in the same order every time. A lot of the weapons are the same as MW2 too. So much so that if you were good with a particular one in MW2 then you’ll be good with the same one in MW3 because they feel exactly the same. Quick scoping, something I really hated about MW2 because it’s total bullshit, is back in MW3 after being quashed in BO. Which is further proof to me that this is just a gussied up MW2 engine running the show. All of the flaws that plagued MW2 also plague MW3 despite the improvements that have been made.
And there are some improvements. Particularly the Killstreak system has been totally revamped and I must say that it’s a big improvement over the previous versions in the series. The name has been changed to Pointstreaks and there are three different types you can choose from. The first, called Assault, is just like the Killstreak system of old. Get X number of kills without getting killed and you’ll be able to call in everything from a UAV (3 kills) to mark the enemy on your map to an Osprey Gunner (17 kills) which allows you to rain death down from above. Die and your kill counter resets to 0 and you start the climb again.
The second strike package is Support and it is aimed at the players who aren’t as adept at racking up high kill counts or who prefer to work on the objectives and support the team. The rewards you’ll get are aimed more at helping the team in general and include things like ballistics armor you can drop so your team can get added protection to EMPs to take out enemy equipment to Escorted Airdrops that’ll shower your team with care packages (which provide random kill streak rewards) and will stand guard over them while your team races to pick them up. Unlike the Assault strike package, your kill count does not reset if you die ensuring that you will eventually get even the highest kill count items eventually.
The third strike package is called Specialist and it’s interesting. Instead of calling in special rewards it allows you to choose three additional perks in addition to the three you get by default. The first is unlocked after 2 kills, the second after 6, and the last after 8. So if you’ve ever wanted a class that had all the sneaky perks of Assassin, Dead Silence, and Blind Eye, but still wanted the usefulness of Scavanger, Quick Draw, and Extreme Conditioning then now you can do it. Assuming you can rack up the kills to unlock the extra three.
Additionally, each class you create with the Create A Class can choose which of the three strike packages you want to use with it and each class can even choose to have different rewards (up to three at a time) available to it from all the ones you’ve unlocked. Used to be that you chose three killstreaks and they were the same regardless of which class you played, now each class can have its own set of three allowing a good deal of customization. The Strike Packages concept is a big improvement to the game.
There are also two new game types available in multiplayer. The first is called Kill Confirmed and it adds a new wrinkle to team deathmatch. When you kill someone in this game mode he drops a pair of dog tags and you don’t get a kill credit until you or one of your teammates collects the tags. If the opposing team manages to collect the tags before someone on your team does then you’re denied the kill and your team’s score doesn’t go up. That means collecting tags, both of the opposition and your own teammates, is crucial to winning the game and you can’t afford to rush in until you’re sure there isn’t another enemy waiting for you to make a dash for the tags. This adds a new strategic element that I found very refreshing.
The other new game mode is called Team Defender and it’s a new take on capture the flag. When the first person is killed in the game he drops a flag which either team can pick up. Whichever team holds the flag will get double the kill credit for any kills made during that time. If no one has the flag then it’s straight 1 to 1 ratio just like normal. The objective is to carry the flag for as long as your team can while racking up as many kills as they can before being overwhelmed. This is one of my favorite game modes so far.
All the traditional game modes make a come back too such as Domination, Sabotage, Free-for-All, Headquarters Pro, and all the hardcore variants. Plus a couple of modes that allow for multiple game types to be played from map to map or with larger teams. There is also a voting system for the next map to be played. The game will present two maps and you click on the one you want to play and the one with the highest votes wins. Ties are decided at random. When in a multi-game type mode the map choices will also provide different game modes to play on. One map might be Team Deathmatch and the other Domination.
Speaking of maps, the ones in MW3 are probably the most claustrophobic out of all the games in the series. None of them feel particularly large and many are smaller than I care for though all offer multiple paths through them so there’s no one choke point that can be dominated by a team. Arguably this makes for a faster pace, but it also means that it’s quite common to respawn right between two enemies with no chance to get your bearings before being mowed down. I find myself not using sniper rifles as much because there’s so few places on the maps to really do it right and quick scoping seems way too bullshitty for me to bother with.
All in all, Modern Warfare 3 is an evolutionary step up from MW2 with just enough new stuff and graphical polish to make it worth picking up. The option of dedicated servers at least allows for LAN parties to set things up to run locally and with whatever unlocks and perks you want to make available. That’s definitely more than what MW2 offered, but the fact that you have to use their shitty peer-to-peer system for ranked games is a big disappointment. It’s fun enough that I’ve already hit Prestige rank once and am halfway towards hitting it a second time, but compared to Treyarch’s Black Ops it’s a big step backwards for the series’ multiplayer game. Which is saying a lot as traditionally Treyarch’s versions of CoD have been considered the lesser innovative ones.
Stick a fork in Infinity Ward ’cause I think they’re done. It took three studios to bring out MW3 and it’s only got a few good things to show for it. It was a major blow to the studio to have most of its top creative people leave after the whole firing fiasco and I wouldn’t bet against Respawn Entertainment being the next big FPS studio. After all, Infinity Ward was started by many of the people who worked on Electronic Art’s original Medal of Honor: Allied Assault after leaving 2015, Inc. which produced the title for EA. Call of Duty went on to smash the living shit out of the MoH series and I wouldn’t be surprised to see whatever Respawn comes up with doing the same to Call of Duty. Treyarch is probably CoD’s best hope for staying on top and they did a phenomenal job with Black Ops, but it took them three games to get there. It’ll be interesting to see if they can step up to the challenge.