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Sheppard’s Video Game Pie

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

"Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" is the conclusion to the trilogy of first person war shooters, and possesses neither the faults nor any of the virtues of the two games that came before it.
January 19, 2012, 3:25pm

Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Publisher: Activision

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is Infinity Ward's conclusion to its trilogy of modern-setting first person war shooters, and possesses neither the worst faults nor almost any of the virtues of the two games that came before it.

We're at the end of the trilogy now, so I can't evaluate Modern Warfare 3 except in comparison to its predecessors. You wouldn't ask a movie critic in 1983 to evaluate Return of the Jedi as a stand-alone film, to be considered for audiences who haven't seen Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back and might never. I will talk incessantly about the whole Modern Warfare series in this review.


I will not review the multiplayer, because the Modern Warfare online community has been playing a variant of the same game for five years now—I'm no more qualified to review playing Modern Warfare 3's multiplayer than I'm qualified to review playing baseball.


The first Modern Warfare had largely average gameplay from what I could see, following the standard Call of Duty model of a single path filled with enemy spawnpoints that continue to spit out an infinite number of enemies as long as they're ahead of you. I do not like this gameplay model; for FPS games I much prefer entering an arena with finite enemies and being asked to clear it. Where it shined was the story and presentation, actually providing something resembling "modern warfare"—covert, deniable ops around the world and open warfare in the Middle East. It also presented, in an intelligent fashion, some genuinely shocking narrative twists, like the level where you get nuked.

Modern Warfare 2's strengths lay in an entirely different direction. Its story was ludicrous, and it presented a lot of overdramatic "shocking" moments that were either retreads of narrative devices used in the first game (the level where your character dies at the end), sensationalist excess (the level where you shoot up a civilian airport while disguised as a terrorist, and then your character dies at the end), or ludicrous (Russian paratroopers invade suburbia! Call predator strikes at enemies hiding in a fast food restaurant!). For all that, it had an impressive graphics engine and an excellent sense of visual design—suburbia did not look like the arctic did not look like the Russian gulag did not look like etc. etc.. A technically impressive graphics engine that is well-used artistically goes a long way to providing a game with merit in my eyes. Moreover Modern Warfare 2 had entertainingly varied gameplay, and while it felt like a slog sometimes (gulag), the first level impressed the hell out of me—ice climbing, stealth, shooting, then a snowmobile chase. The game often felt like anything but a single path filled with enemy spawnpoints that continue to spit out an infinite number of enemies as long as they're ahead of you.

So, if the first Modern Warfare was a much classier, more tasteful take on its subject matter than expected, and the second was a ludicrous mess of setpiece fights and incoherent story that nevertheless sported excellent visual design and gameplay, what's Modern Warfare 3's unique strength?

It doesn't have one.


In terms of narrative, it can't win—this is a game that starts out with Russia already having invaded and almost conquered the US, and then, during play, they still have enough soldiers and armor to invade and almost conquer all of continental Europe. It's basically unsalvageable. The situation does not feel real and, as a result, no narrative twist it attempts resonate. In terms of gameplay, we are once again in the land of linear path full of spawnpoints etc. etc.. The gameplay is not varied. Guns all feel the same, enemies all behave the same. Sometimes you'll be asked to mount a turret. I didn't find it engaging at all.

How does it look? Well, the engine is still technically impressive, but the art design is not. Everything uses the same color palette and the same "ruined buildings" aesthetic. I keep writing this review and then I keep deleting it because every time I try, I end up with a massive multi-paragraph essay on the first two games, and then an appendix on the third—ostensibly the game I'm supposed to be talking about. I try to fix it and look, now I'm writing about writing. The game hasn't given me anything to write about; there's nothing interesting here. In the end, all I have to say about Modern Warfare 3 is the following:

I have played this game before. It was much better last time.

This review is based on a PC copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 provided by Activision through Steam for promotional purposes.

Previously – Saints Row: The Third