Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Review

Welcome back!  To me…really…it’s been a while since I have posted.
But now, I am extremely proud to present to you my review of the biggest (though maybe not the best) video game ever.  Whether you liked it or not, Modern Warfare 3 is the most financially successful video game of all time.  It is the realization of how culturally relevant and significant the video game industry and fanbase have become in our society today, and so it has come under close scrutiny by the entire gaming community.  Did it live up to the incredible hype that it had going or was it the best selling piece of junk since Transformers 3? I will be breaking it down piece by piece to find out, so join me in looking at the end of the beginning of the new age of videogames.

Here’s how this is going to work.  I want to first talk about the Marketing for this game (or perhaps how everything else marketed for it).  Then, I will turn my gaze to the Campaign – both story and gameplay in mind.  After that, I will speak briefly about the new Spec Ops options and the Multiplayer modes new to this installment.  Let’s get started, shall we?

1. Marketing

As I mentioned before, MW3 was the greatest commercial success the gaming industry has ever seen.  In fact, the franchise has been breaking sales records since its first iteration back in 2007, which sold 2 million copies in its first week. The second installment in 2009 did far better than that:  selling 4.7 million units in the first 24 hours, which was biggest release up to that time.

Modern Warfare 3 shattered any and all sales records for any entertainment venture thus far. It sold 6.5 million copies for $400,000,000 in the first 24 hours, $775,000,000 after 5 days, and a mere 16 days after it was released, it hit the $1,000,000,000 mark.
I left in the zero’s to show exactly how big those numbers are. 🙂

MW3 benefited from a great series of unintended marketing gambits, starting with the countdown to and release of “Find Makarov“.  The indie film was a realization of the fans’ growing interest in the conclusion to the franchise (WeCanPretend would go on to make another fantastic promo for MW3: “Operation Kingfish“).  Then, the very public, legal trench-warfare that ensued between creator Infinity Ward and distributor Activision drew plenty of press (good and ill) to the future of the third installment.  

What happened next is something that every game developer fears.  On May 13 2011, just six months prior to release, gaming news site Kotaku published an article which leaked an incredible amount of details about the upcoming game.  Similar leaks had seriously hurt games such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Gears of War 3.  Yet, this turned out to be a great boom for the MW3 marketing team, as they handled it perfectly.  Rather than try to stifle the leak as most companies do, Activision simply released four teaser trailers later that day.  Turning the bad press into good, the gaming world was a-buzz about the upcoming epic title.

And finally, Battlefield 3 launched it’s finally push to topple the FPS king with the slogan “Above and Beyond the Call” (a wonderfully subtle attack on an impossible foe).
MW3’s response:  “Yes, we are still coming out!”
Not even phased by it, Activision continued to promote their game as normal and while Battlefield 3 did sell incredibly well and receive generally good reviews, it still was no match for the juggernaut that is Call of Duty.

Overall, everything went perfectly for Activision and Infinity Ward in marketing this game. The few negative element that usually derail a developer’s strategy actually ended up working for them. Because of the success of the previous two games and the incredible hype built up over the summer, it is no wonder that Modern Warfare 3 has become the best selling video game of all time.

2.  Campaign

Alright!  Let’s look at the game itself and see how it holds up.  First, let me say a few things about the narrative story of the game and then I will talk a bit about the new developments to the gameplay.

Basically, MW3 is a greatest hits compilation of the massive and surprising plot twists that made the franchise famous in the first place.  Everyone loved the crazy plot twists in the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare including an execution from the executed’s Point Of View, a nuclear explosion, and the heart-stopping ending that had us all on the edges of our seats. Then, Modern Warfare 2 kicked it up to the next level, including being in a nuclear explosion, Russian forces invading the US, and the most unexpected ending in gaming that I can remember.  Thus, all eyes were on MW3 to see how it would take what was already an adrenaline-laced action thriller and ramp it up to the nth degree.

And so that is what they did:  every aspect of the story is designed to blow the previous two games out of the water (somewhat literally – see “Battle for New York”)  Every mission is centered around what the industry calls “big action set pieces” – sections designed to highlight the grand epicness of what happens in the environment.  For example, when you shoot down a helicopter and it crashes into a building below you or you wake up from having been knocked out by an explosion – the cinematography and new perspective are the focus of the moment.  And while these set pieces are intense and amazing, they do not a well-thought plot make.

Basically each mission in of itself is very cool and awe-inspiring, seeing innovations in POV storytelling and in how a character’s environment interacts with them.  It is bigger and wackier than ever.  🙂  Some of the crazy stuff you do in this game includes, but is not limited to:

  • Plant C4 on the tail of a submerged submarine
  • Fight in zero G’s as your plane falls out of the sky
  • Command an mini-gun toting UGV (Ummanned Ground Vehicle)
  • Save a President or two
  • Wear a juggernaut suit (finally!)

I don’t want to spoil any of the story because I think you should play through for yourself, but despite the Kick-A missions along the way, I really felt disappointed at the ending of the story.  Again, not trying to give anything away, but it felt very rushed.  All of a sudden you realize that you are at what appears to be the last mission and it just blows right by you.  I didn’t get the emotional catharsis I wanted from what has been a very emotionally riveting storyline.

It started well, calling back everything from games 1 & 2, but from there it just gets muddled and lost in its own craziness.  Overall, the story is just as confusing and undeveloped as most of us feared.  At least it was epic….right?  No. A real disappointment for video game storytelling. 😦

Story:  2//5

Now gameplay is a different matter all together.  While the over-the-top explosions and close-to-death moments aren’t very good for the cohesiveness of the story, they are really fun to play in. 🙂  First, it is very clear that a gap occurred between the making of games 2 and 3, mostly in the different stylistic look (rustic reds/greens to sharp, crisp blues/greys) which enhanced the visual appeal of the very visual game.

The real growth was in perfecting what was already very good.  Infinity Ward and newcomer Sledgehammer Games did a great job of analyzing what made Modern Warfare’s 1 and 2 good and enhancing it to the next level as far as gameplay is concerned.  The actions are tighter and more refined, the levels better mapped for different styles of gameplay.  I, personally, am the “Slow and Steady” player, while others prefer the “Run & Gun” method – and the game panders to both crowds. I was pleased at how slowly I could work my way through the levels and really enjoyed the few times when a timer was put on the mission; it pushed me to develop skills while letting me work in my own way.

The AI are better suited for the more experienced players and the new weapons and strategies really make the game very fun to play and a joy to watch unfold.  And that really is why the game was made in the first place.  People enjoyed the campaign, I am sure, but the true reason 6.5 million gamers bought MW3 is for the next two sections (this is my roommates game and he hasn’t even touched the campaign yet).

Gameplay:  4.5//5

3.  Spec Ops

This is the element that I was most looking forward to, because I really enjoyed the Spec Ops from Modern Warfare 2.  They are great because they require teamwork and cooperative play rather than individual greatness.  My now-roommate and I started tackling MW2’s Spec Ops when we were freshman and only just managed to beat them before the sequel released and I have to say that one of my best memories from college thus far is finally beating “Big Brother” on Vetern.  So, when I heard that the Spec Ops for this game were even better, I had to see for myself.

Infinity Ward truly succeeded in their Specs Ops campaign:  they are very well designed and incredibly fun to play.  Basically, they allow you to play parts of the story in reverse. For example, during the campaign you stop a terrorist group from hijacking your plane – in the Spec Op misison, you act as the hijackers working your way forward.  It is a fascinating way of exploring the story and letting gamers play parts of the it that before they could only imagine.  It also allows us to connect more deeply to what otherwise would be a challenging sidequest of the game.  Really well done on that end.

But the true innovation of MW3’s Spec Ops collection is the new Survival Mode.  An excellent response to the Zombies/Horde mode craze, Infinity Ward created an engaging and spectacular series of co-op survival maps where, as the title says, one and his/her partner must fend off wave after wave of increasingly difficult adversaries.  It is absolutely a blast to hold up somewhere and basically play king of the hill with juggernauts.  My only qualm with it is that one of the enemies that you face as the levels get harder is a group of dogs with C4 strapped to them…which might be a good strategy for the bad guys but really doesn’t jive with me.  Other than that, this has easily become my new favorite way to play Call of Duty now.

Spec Ops:  5//5

4.  Multiplayer

This is REALLY why the game was made.  From everything I hear, everyone loves MW3 for the understanding Infinity Ward has of what worked and what didn’t in the first two games and for using that knowledge to make the best multiplayer experience possible (as I haven’t played Battlefield 3 yet, no comment on that argument).  I really haven’t played a lot of it myself – I am more of a campaign man myself – but the little bit I have played was really good.

What I enjoy about the new multiplayer is the new game types introduced in MW3.  Gun Game is incredibly fun and the Juggernaut “Smear the Queer” game is absolutely awesome too. They allow me to take my infamous “Pistols at Rust” game type and recreate it with the Gun Game mode (much to the chagrin of my roommates).  The maps were clearly well designed to promote many different styles of gameplay and it is very apparent that, in at least this one area of the game, Modern Warfare 3 comes through with shining colors.

Multiplayer:  5//5

Overall, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 isn’t the most well told story or the most brilliant and innovative thing on the market, but it is extremely fun and can we really ask more of it than that?  Yes, the plot doesn’t make sense.  Yes, you will very likely rage quit when you realize that everyone else is better at multiplayer.  Yes, Battlefield 3 has more lens flares.  But really, when you look at what was expected from MW3 and what we all hoped it would be, you realize that it is exactly what we wanted:  an action-packed, edge-of-your-seat, scream at your television rollercoaster ride of intense, jaw-dropping set pieces that are more fun than your schedule has room for.  Modern Warfare 3 delivered exactly what the fans asked for and, again while I am not a fan of the story, it gave us an ending we can be happy with to our favorite soldiers and to a franchise that will go down in the history books as one of the most important and most successful gaming franchises of all time.

Overall:  4//5

BOOM!  Kicking off a year of big video game reviews with easily the biggest video game release of all time feels pretty good!  Let me know what you thought of the Modern Warfare 3 in the comments below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about the campaign story and particularly about how it ended.

As I have hinted at quite a lot during this post, I have several big games I know I am going to get to review over the course of this year.  Coming up next in the VG Review list is a game I had started a while ago and haven’t been able to finish yet.  You might remember that it came up near the start of this blog on a post called “A Ramble Across Worlds” and I look forward to finally answering some of those questions that came up because of that post.  So, be looking forward to my review of 2K’s Bioshock sometime this year.

Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check back occasionally for my next review, here on the Soontobeangel Blog!

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