Thursday, April 5, 2012

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 [video game review]

Released in November 2011
I've never done a video game review on MediaboyMusings, but Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (available for all gaming consoles and PCs) is certainly as good a place as any to start. The first-person shooter is the eighth installment in the Call Of Duty franchise, with the previous two outings (Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Call Of Duty: Black Ops) attaining record-setting sales numbers. Modern Warfare 3 is no exception - upon its release last November, it sold a staggering 6.5 million copies within 24 hours in just the UK and America. At around $60 a pop, you do the math. Within 16 days, it had grossed over a billion dollars worldwide, making it the biggest launch of an entertainment product ever (the third year in a row a Call Of Duty game has broken that record).
Such commercial success allows for one of the games' most notable attributes: top of the line production values. Like its predecessors, Modern Warfare 3 just looks staggering, taking full advantage of the powerful hardware currently available (I played it on a PlayStation 3). The game developers' attention to visual detail proved to be a perpetual source of amazement for me - the stunning graphics, including painstaking dedication to ensuring aspects like shadows and lighting look realistic, make the environments you explore truly feel immersive. The opening level of the game finds you navigating through the streets of an under-attack New York City and I found myself repeatedly just looking up in the sky and marvelling at the site of seemingly millions of pieces of paper and debris blowing between skyscrapers. The second half of the "Return To Sender" level is another visual impresser, as the player has to fight through a nasty Somalian sandstorm. There's so much happening onscreen at times throughout this game that I was surprised I didn't run into frame rate issues more than a couple of times over its course. Normally, a video game's storyline is at the bottom of a list of things I look for in a good game, meaning I almost always skip the non-participatory cutscenes between levels, but the plot-revealing cinematics were so impressive here I ended up watching every second.
Modern Warfare 3's plot, should you care, revolves around a U.S. war with Russia - essentially, it's World War 3. Not unlike the other Call Of Duty entries, the story is overstuffed to the point where it's difficult to follow, although the globe-trotting locales the story delivers you to does contribute to an admirable epic quality that is now a hallmark of the series' games.
The game's audio is almost equally extraordinary: the talented voice cast includes Hollywood actors like Timothy Olyphant, Tobey Maguire, Idris Elba, Bruce Greenwood, and William Fichtner, while the rich sound effects add significantly to the playing experience, amping up the sense of urgency and realism. On a couple of levels, I got an immense amount of satisfaction calling in air strikes that hit the ground with so much force that it truly feels like the rumble emanates throughout your whole body. Brian Tyler's expansive score also impressed so much that I even kept the music at the same volume as the rest of the game's audio while playing - that's something else I usually never do while playing a video game.
On a gameplay level, Modern Warfare 3 allows for a seamless transition from the game controller scheme employed in previous editions from the series, making for a "hit the ground running" entry to the game for most, without the learning curve annoyance of figuring out what controller button does what. The action-packed levels are well laid out, with enemy artificial intelligence set at a decent level, and the harder difficulty settings are highly challenging and provide the most realistic war zone experience (it usually takes just a couple of enemy bullets to kill you on the hardest "Veteran" setting). The single player campaign, traditionally a bit of a punching bag in the game series for its tendency to be too short, provided a good 14 or 15 hours of fun for me. Gamers bragging and whining that they got through the campaign in a mere 4 hours clearly aren't playing on its more challenging levels, labouring over the collection of "trophies" (awarded for specific accomplishments), or taking the time to appreciate the game's aesthetic virtues. "Special Ops" mode, the best thing about Modern Warfare 2 for me, makes a welcome return after taking a hiatus on Black Ops and being replaced with the half-assed "Zombies" mode (Black Ops was released between Modern Warfare 2 and Modern Warfare 3). "Special Ops" has been expanded, adding the excellent "Survival" mode (where endless waves of enemies come after you) to the "Missions" mode that gives you 16 different mini-missions to complete; both can be played solo or with another player online. The bulk of the almost 90 hours I spent playing Modern Warfare 3 came in "Special Ops" - in my opinion, it's the best thing about these games and the replay value is immense. Speaking of replay value, probably the biggest draw to these games for a majority of gamers is the hugely popular online multiplayer component. It's not remotely my thing, though - the few times I tried it with this game only reinforced my dislike of the mode's hyper-paced speed and the rampant unpredictability of other "live" players, most of whom take to multiplayer novices like me with a predatory fervour (and immature, annoying trash talk). I will say that if multiplayer is to your liking then there's plenty of depth to this mode to keep you busy for an unhealthy amount of time. I'd consider myself a fairly solid Modern Warfare 3 player in terms of skill demonstrated in both "Special Ops" and campaign modes - I completed the campaign on the hardest level and collected 85% the game's trophies, which felt like fairly respectable accomplishments. None of that seemed to carry much currency in multiplayer, however, where I took an absolute pounding time and time again. One sequence of games played on a team with my sister and niece was a particularly head-slapping lesson in humility.
I'm far from what you'd call a "hard core gamer", but I have been playing video games fairly steadily for a good 30+ years now and Modern Warfare 3 is unquestionably the best gaming experience I've ever participated in, trumping my previously best experience with Modern Warfare 2. It's an extremely strong comeback for the franchise after the disappointing Black Ops, so here's hoping the mountains of cash that Modern Warfare 3's software publisher, Activision, is sitting on translates into an equally stellar effort with the assumed next biggest entertainment product ever.
Rating: A+

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