So, yeah, this came out today. You may have heard of it.
The short of it is: what makes the “Modern Warfare” franchise incredibly popular, the multiplayer, has gotten a serious overhaul and it’s frankly a great one. The key thing is that it’s no longer centered around killstreaks, or at least not specifically how many kills you rack up before dying. Now it’s centered more around assists, completing various objectives it hands you, and other tasks that reward players who, let’s face it, have day jobs and can’t spend all day learning how to cook grenades. There’s an option for what I have no doubt will be called the “real” game, based on usual killstreaks, but honestly I doubt that’ll be that popular.
I will say that the central flaw in the multiplayer is that Activision has a dream, and that dream is that you pay them $160 a year to play the FPS version of Madden. That’s pretty obvious; Activision has grander ambitions of making COD a televised sport, but realistically speaking, they want you to buy the game, hop on Elite, and start racking up those stats. Get hooked so you’ll pay, pay, pay.
That said, the multiplayer is probably the best you’ll get out of this franchise, and it’s been made way more accessible, even if you avoid Elite like I did. I hate multiplayer and I actually found this mode workable, which is a minor miracle.
And that’s all most people need to read. If that’s what you want out of “Modern Warfare 3″, quite honestly, Activision loves you and wants you to enjoy every moment of the game. And it’d be great to end the review there, but unfortunately, we can’t, because there’s also a single player mode. And if that’s what you want to play, Activision hates you.
Let’s start with the story. “Modern Warfare 3″ has never been a model of storytelling, but at this point, it’s really starting to get insulting. How does a game that prides itself on realism wind up with a plotline Tom Clancy would find embarrassing? Not helping is the fact that the single player mode assumes you’ve played the last two games, so the already flat characters get zero development. And I bring it up first because it’s really what defines the game.
Then there’s the enemy AI. What’s baffling is that this is a criticism that’s followed the games for, what, two console generations now? And the enemies are still morons. It’s especially glaring because quite honestly, in a lot of other respects this game is incredibly accomplished. Infinity Ward is more than capable of designing good, or at least better, AI. Even worse is how they try to cover it with sheer numbers: expect lots of infinite respawns. I found myself wondering: why should I be concerned? I’ve killed the entire Russian Army by sitting on my butt and aiming at the same location. Problem solved! No need to continue the plot!
Finally, there’s the level design. It’s not bad, per se, for what it is, but what MW3 is trying to do is essentially pace a game like an action movie, and it’s reflected in the level design. Especially at this point in gaming, where a big selling point is the gamer driving the experience, the levels felt a bit constricted and scripted, especially as it tries to hurry you into the next big setpiece. I get that I need to shoot the enemy in the face, but I wanted to be able to, say, find my own way to the firefight, or even dodge the firefight altogether. By nature, I’m a backshooting dirtbag in FPS games: I love finding a good location with a sniper rifle and selectively terrorizing mobs with headshots, or just coming up behind an enemy position and tossing a grenade in. I just had no freedom to even try that most of the time.
Oh, and of course, it’s incredibly short. I plowed through it in less than a day.
The overall effect is basically one of arrogance and contempt. You want a single player mode? Fine, but you’ll pay, PAY, for defying the will of Activision! How dare you not want to spend time with your fellow gamers over in our little walled garden inside XBox Live! Take this glorified tutorial, peasant, and be happy with it!
So, it’s like this: for multiplayer, “Modern Warfare 3″ is the best game of the year. But if you don’t care about multiplayer, it’s a lesson in how little a company cares about a market it can’t exploit for more money.