Kill the terrorist who started World War III.
PC Release: November 8, 2011
By Ian Coppock
Welp, it’s that time of the year again. Each November, Activision rears its ugly head like some dark god of consumerism and unleashes another Call of Duty title into the wild. Objective truth almost never exists outside of hard science, but here’s an objective truth about video gaming: Call of Duty is an unstoppable machine and nothing can impede its progress. Because of this, it can be hard to justify looking at older Call of Duty games, but the best way to see where a franchise is headed is to examine where it came from. With that in mind, it’s time to look at Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a first-person shooter and the last CoD developed with the involvement of Infinity Ward’s original team. In a series of events that remain murky to this day, Infinity Ward founders Jason West and Vince Zampella were suddenly fired by Activision in 2010. Activision alleged that West and Zampella were secretly trying to sell the Call of Duty property to EA, but they maintained their innocence. After the firing, most of Infinity Ward’s staff followed the duo to Respawn Entertainment, their new company and the studio behind Titanfall.
Unfortunately for Modern Warfare 3, this dispute went down while the game was in mid-development. Following West and Zampella’s departures, Infinity Ward called in Raven Software and the then-fledgling Sledgehammer Games to help finish the title. Even though most video games that suffer these development woes are rarely smash hits, Modern Warfare 3 released on time and without most of the bugs and glitches one would expect such a turbulent series of events to inflict on a game.
Modern Warfare 3 was also a hit with fans simply because it’s an installment of the insanely popular Modern Warfare saga. Even though it’s been in the ground for six years, the Modern Warfare trilogy is arguably the most popular CoD sub-series ever developed. Like other CoD sub-series, the three games share a single timeline as well as similarities in level design, multiplayer, and general functionality. Get to the chopper!
For those players new to Modern Warfare or fellow MW vets looking to reminisce, Modern Warfare 3 takes place in 2011’s idea of 2016, in which a false flag attack on Russian soil prompts the Kremlin to declare war on NATO. Modern Warfare 3 opens in the midst of this conflict and follows a wide cadre of soldiers fighting all over the world. Most of the action, though, focuses on series Special Air Service heroes John Price and “Soap” MacTavish. The other characters aren’t worth mentioning because they’re little more than a silent pair of eyes and a gun.
Right away, Modern Warfare 3‘s premise requires suspending a lot of disbelief. Even though American forces manage to repel Russian invaders at the very beginning of the game, the Russians decide to invade all of Western Europe at once. Russia gets boogeyman’d a lot in the media these days, but not even it has the manpower to simultaneously invade… what, like two dozen countries? Players who grew up during the Cold War might smell a whiff of red scare hysteria in how many well-armed Russians are walking the streets of Europe. It’s… amusing.
Even though the game follows many soldiers across many battlefields, its main goal is for players to take out the Russian terrorist who started it all. This dude has succeeded in pitting the east against the west and only his death will put a stop to the carnage. Even though series regulars Price and Soap are at the heart of the narrative, players spend most of the game as Yuri, a Russian ex-soldier who has his own reasons for wanting to kill the bad guy. Yuri also serves as a tacit disclaimer from CoD that not all Russians are America-hating psychos.
It’s hard to describe Modern Warfare 3‘s gameplay differently from the other CoD reviews on this page… because they all have the exact same gameplay. Players start out with a predetermined pair of weapons that they can swap out for the guns of fallen foes. Most times, players also come to the party equipped with grenades. Occasionally, Modern Warfare 3 lets players take control of a fun mega-weapon like a drone or gunship, but these segments only last a short time before it’s back to boots on the ground. Nothing says “five seconds of carefully scripted fun” like Call of Duty.
Players can also expect a samey round of gunfighting in each of the campaign’s levels. Sure, some missions start players out with a stealth advantage, but things always go loud sooner or later. It can be fun to sneak behind enemies and between buildings for a time, but these segments are so strictly micro-choreographed that they feel scripted, not organic. The only truly organic experiences players can find are staring down linear corridors to shoot columns of bad guys. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of shooting, but the gameplay in the first level is identical to that of the last.
Modern Warfare 3 doesn’t shake up the minutiae of shooting bad guys and regenerating behind walls nearly enough through gameplay; instead, the title tries to keep things fresh with frequent location shifts. Even more than the previous Modern Warfare titles, Modern Warfare 3 isn’t afraid to suddenly whisk players to hot spots all over the world. Players can expect to duke it out everywhere from the streets of Manhattan to the Somali coast, with just enough time to stop in Paris for a baguette.
While Modern Warfare 3‘s visuals have aged well and its environments still look good, there’s something to be said for how dysfunctional the game’s pacing is in relation to its levels. Players barely have time to notice each level’s scenery before jetting off to the other side of the globe, which dampens the game’s visual variety. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 looks great for a six-year-old game, but the title seems adverse to being stared at for long.
There are a lot of gamers who claim that Infinity Ward has lost its touch (and they’re right), but neither Treyarch nor Sledgehammer can hold a candle to IW’s sound design. Players might not have time to appreciate CoD‘s environments, but the levels come roaring to life through visceral sounds. Bombs and missiles go off with terrifying force, and everything from the sound of gunfire to players’ boots crunching through rubble is crisp and satisfying. Sound design can be a great way to make a game feel alive, and for anything else that can be said about Modern Warfare 3, it has some great sounds.
Indeed, Modern Warfare 3 does well in other sound departments. The voice acting is pretty decent, even if it is either gruff American commanders or slimey-sounding Russian operatives. The game’s soundtrack is everything a gamer would expect of an action movie: quick strings and deep horns written at a tempo that threatens to break the sound barrier.
Know what else is written at a tempo that threatens to break the sound barrier? The story. It only makes sense that a game that transports players elsewhere every 10 minutes has a similarly rapid tale to tell. Modern Warfare 3‘s story is chock full of explosions and ‘murica, but has little in the way of meaningful character development or interesting dialogue. Even Captain Price’s cheesy monologues about freedom and humanity don’t rear their heads in this title.
If Modern Warfare 3 brings the trilogy to a successful close, it’s only because its predecessor was similarly quick to pen the narrative. The original Modern Warfare had a sense of nuance, but Modern Warfare 3 seems intent on wrapping things up quickly. As a result, the tale is mediocre, belonging more in the bargain bin of action films than alongside something as subversive as, say, Spec Ops: The Line. Even with these pacing issues, Modern Warfare 3‘s story is still better than anything IW puts out these days.
It’s time to be honest, though; few gamers play a Call of Duty title for the story, and the series has never made a point of emphasizing the single-player narrative over the promise of multiplayer glory. Modern Warfare 3‘s multiplayer isn’t really worth talking about, though… because it’s long dead. Stone cold. Whatever novelty the mode might’ve packed back in the day is long irrelevant in 2017. The demise of CoD‘s multiplayer could be attributed to most shooters’ short half-life on PC, but the real culprit is Activision’s insistence on churning out new CoD games every year.
Activision’s method of killing games only a year after release is a curious one, but the publisher deserves credit; it’s convinced millions of gamers that this ritualistic behavior is both perfectly acceptable and worth paying money for. It’s tempting to spend paragraphs railing against the evils of this system, but as long as players are happy to spend sixty bucks for the same round of shooting each year… there’s really no point. That dynamic doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.
Activision does get credit for one thing: the publisher managed to salvage a video game even as Infinity Ward’s creative team was heading for the door. It’s worth repeating that Modern Warfare 3 suffers none of the bugs and glitches that so often plague games that had woeful developments. It should go without saying that Modern Warfare 3, a six-year-old game, runs just fine on almost any system. Additionally, its extensive options menu can help players take care of problems that do arise.
As for the game itself, Modern Warfare 3 gets a solid “meh.” It’s a perfectly adequate bout of shooting that, like most CoD games, does absolutely nothing to blaze new trails on the well-worn road of first-person shooters. It’s also not quite as good as previous Modern Warfare games in terms of narrative or gunplay, and its multiplayer ground to dust years ago. Gamers who enjoyed the first two Modern Warfare games or military shooters in general can probably get some fun out of it, but only on a sale. The game’s still listed at forty bucks even though it came out six years ago. Good one, Activision.
You can buy Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.