Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Games - Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 review


Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non- Functional. 

Format: PC (version reviewed), PS3, 360, Wii
Developer: Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games, Treyarch (Wii)
Publisher: Activision
Players: 1-4, plus online multiplayer

My Wii-specific review of Modern Warfare 3 will be going up at 11pm (GMT) tonight over at Destructoid, so check in there if that is the version you are interested in. It comes as no great surprise that Activision have been keeping that version of the game quiet, though: Call Of Duty has long been a series which places spectacle front and centre, so the graphically weakest version of the latest title was never likely to feature prominently.

It has only been a year since Treyarch's disappointing Black Ops, whose storytelling successes were undermined by gameplay that felt like business as usual. The original Modern Warfare's success was built on its superbly staged action sequences, finding a well-balanced blend of the realistic and ridiculous in its blockbuster set-pieces. While the bulk of the gameplay remained based around the usual high-intensity gun battles, the change in setting, from the battlefields of World War II to modern Middle Eastern cities and crumbling Soviet wastelands, was as refreshing as the inclusion of sequences bringing suspense and patience to a game more renowned for its visceral pleasures. Modern Warfare 2 tried too hard to recapture its predecessors glories without the same nuance, but its escalation of the story from pseudo-realism to unashamed cartoon brought greater opportunities for global-scale spectacle.
Modern Warfare 3 offers a continuation of its predecessor's outlandish tone. The problem is that the only place for it to go is back on itself: MW2 took the idea of grandstanding to such extremes that it made up in awe what was lost in emotional impact. MW3 attempts to pull the same trick again, but what once inspired 'I can't believe they went there' laughter is now dulled by familiarity. Having destroyed Washington DC in the last game, any shock value is lost when attempting to pull the same trick several times over again. The game's attempt at a 'No Russian' moment is embarrassing in its pandering to controversy - no surprise that nobody has taken any notice of it this time around.

The game jumps between international locations, taking blink-and-you'll-miss-it tours of major Western cities, with deviations through India and Sierra Leone for good measure. The problem is that, once transformed into battlefields, the identities of these cities are redacted to a slideshow of familiar landmarks (the NY Stock Exchange, the Houses Of Parliament, the Eiffel Tower) thrown into the background as a shorthand reminder of each mission's location. The Sierra Leone and Indian excursions offer visual variety, but their sand-blasted aesthetic is not distinct enough from the Middle Eastern missions of games past to feel fresh, while an invasion of a Soviet submarine seems to be using the same assets as Modern Warfare's cargo ship assault. At least the game assumes the player has sufficient familiarity by now to leave out the customary training mission. A shame that it leans on the past so heavily everywhere else.

Set-pieces which were surprising and tense in Modern Warfare are tedious through overuse two games down the line. Only a zero-gravity shoot-out in a plummeting aircraft threatens to inject the game with a shot of originality, but the effect barely lasts a minute. There are two extensive stealth missions where a significant amount of time is spent gazing down a superior officer's lovingly rendered crotch, waiting for enemies to look away before crawling unnoticed beneath them, but every beat is recycled from the original Modern Warfare's celebrated Pripyat mission. Their heavily guided nature now tests endurance rather than the nerves: do anything of your own accord and the game will slap you on the wrist and make you start again, feeling more schoolboy than soldier.

A positive development is the opening up of the series' trademark battle sequences, offering a degree of freedom in where to take up position across conflict zones littered with debris and secret passageways. Previous games in the series offered many of the same choices, but while the path forward remains unwaveringly linear, it at least feels a little taller and wider. On-rails vehicle sections are passable diversions, barely asking players to interact with the game at all in order to progress, but at least keeping to the series' strengths of fast-paced, explosive action.

The campaign, though, represents only six hours of a game where most will spend days, courtesy of the online multiplayer. Anyone who has tried a Modern Warfare deathmatch will know what to expect from this latest iteration, but a handful of small refinements help further balance a game of an already superlatively high standard.

The most notable change comes through killstreaks being delineated into three packages: Assault, consisting of the familiar care packages and helicopters; Support, providing team-based awards and a kill counter that does not reset following death; plus Specialist, providing additional perks with each fresh batch of kills. Support is particularly useful in the early stages of the game when equipment is limited, allowing such defensive advantages as ballistic vests and advanced UAVs to be conferred even whilst dying frequently at the hands of more heavily-armed opponents. Later on, matching your strike package to your play style and environment becomes a decision of increasing tactical importance.

The return to a Modern Warfare method of acquiring new weapons and equipment through levelling rather Black Ops' purchasing system is less positive. Treyarch's game found a satisfying middle ground between working for your upgrades and having a degree of control over how to apply them, so reverting to the older model feels like a slog, asking players to continually use the same weapon to acquire its perks and attachments, rather than being able to tailor them to your needs.

Regardless, with a fresh set of maps that balance different play styles better than Black Ops, with every sniper-friendly stretch levelled out by a plethora of hiding places and underground routes for close-range combatants, and a greater sense of location than their single-player alternatives, the good news is that while Call Of Duty's campaigns remain trapped in the past, its multiplayer continues to set the standard in the present. [ 6 ]

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