No matter which way you look at it, Call of Duty is the runaway success story of this generation; Activision has created a franchise in which each and every entry will invariably shift 20 million or more units. Some adore the series, some abhor it. Whatever your stance, though, the popularity of the series is mind-blowing and credit must be given where it’s due.
Activision has done a bit of all right with this one.
There’s no secret that the success has come predominantly from the games’ multiplayer components. Recent stats revealed that around half of all players don’t touch the single player at all, instead diving straight into the online arena and working up through those ‘prestige’ ranks as if there’s no tomorrow.
Basic math tells us that the other half of the crowd do play single player. Personally, I’m part of the play-the-campaign-first-crowd but I only play it through once. Why? Because, while somewhat exciting, it’s derivative, predictable and linear to the point that repeated playthroughs are more of a chore than the washing up, the hoovering or the gardening ever could be.
Things are no different in Modern Warfare 3. For what it’s worth, the campaign is entirely functional and provides a finale to the trilogy that is just about satisfactory. It’s not great but it’s not bad either. Those of you who enjoy Call of Duty campaigns will like it, those who don’t, won’t. It really is as simple as that.
All of the usual clichés are present and correct – from the behind enemy lines and against all odds sequences involving a small team penetrating dangerous territory to character-less voices sprouting military jargon over thermal camera images. There’s even a ‘controversial’ scene… isn’t there always?
By now we know what to expect and those expectations have been met. Despite that, there’s no doubting the quality of the dev team when it comes to crafting such an experience. This is as tight and as slick as any of the Call of Duty campaigns and, unlike its imitators, there’s nary a major bug in sight.
Of course, having sold over 25 million copies with the last game in the series Activision would be beyond stupid to change the formula. When you’ve got a winning set-up you run with it as hard and as fast as you can until the life has literally been sucked dry (just ask Nintendo and the Pokemon franchise). That being said, the videogame connoisseur in me is still screaming for at least a slight change in direction and something new to sink my teeth into.
Is it egotistical of me to call myself a connoisseur? Whatever, this is my review. And in my review nothing I say is egotistical.
Much of what I’ve just said about single player can be applied to the multiplayer – it’s as slick and as familiar as ever. Matches are fast and brutal with little time or space to hide and even less to react to flanking enemies or a well-thrown grenade. The manner in which the series has stood by its formula in the face of the extreme level of noise and hype created by its competitors is commendable. This is the finest example that Activision have an in-depth understanding of exactly what it is that makes the games so popular.
Despite the familiarity, though, various multiplayer refinements do make for what I’d consider the best online experience the series has offered to date. Furthermore, they provide more than enough incentive for fans to start ranking up, rage-ing and abandoning prior commitments all over again.
The most obvious improvement is the way in which you progress. As well as the standard ranks, every perk, weapon and modification comes bundled with its own XP system. This provides two advantages, 1) a constant stream of improvements are unlocked that relate to your style of play and 2) no matter how bad you are, you’re also on the path to unlocking something. And don’t worry about running out of new items and abilities to gain as this is as deep an upgrade system as you’re ever likely to see (from an FPS or otherwise).
Game modes have also been expanded (thankfully, most modes now have a ‘Hadcore’ variation). Returning classics such as the flag capturing Domination, objective destroying Sabotage and the shoot ‘em up fest of Team Deathmatch are joined by the likes of Kill Confirmed and Team Defender.
Team Defender is a capture-the-flag style mode in which only the team with the flag can score points for kills, but it’s Kill Confirmed that wins the prize for most interesting new game mode. A variation on Team Deathmatch, the mode forces you to pick up dogtags dropped by dead enemies to score a point. Teammates can pick up tags from dead comrades to prevent the other team scoring and no matter who picks up the tag, both killer and collector will score XP (imagine the arguments that would have sparked had such a system not been in place).
The collecting mechanic creates an intense pace that dwarfs most of the other modes (bar the big team matches in Ground War) and lessens the number of ‘campers’. I’m a bit of a camper myself, so Kill Confirmed is a good way of forcing me out of my comfort zone.
Call of Duty: Elite, the stat-tracking service with an optional subscription element, provides heat maps and other post-match analysis for the spreadsheet fans among you. In a rather nice feature it also provides tips as to which loadout setups will suit your playing style. Elite specific match types, deployed via the Private Match option, afford you the ability to tweak rules and settings as you see fit and (if you’ve got enough friends) are a genuinely viable alternative to public matches.
Kill Streaks have been altered, too; now known as Strike Packages. For starters, many of the helicopters, bombing runs and fighter jets have had their ability to deal damage scaled back. Pavelows, for example, are no longer the all-conquering beast they once were and air strikes seem to have had their blast radius reduced. While still deadly with the correct timing, their reduced effectiveness puts the emphasis on killing enemies on the ground with your own hands and prevents the team on the wrong end of an air-based attack losing all hope and either rage quitting or simply accepting defeat early.
Striks Packages have been separated into three areas, Assault, Support and Specialist. The Assault set of deployables are awarded for kills and designed to further improve your chances of turning men to meat. The Support system takes a slightly different tact, awarding you with perks for completing objectives as well as scoring kills.
Unlike the Assault package, Support strikes do not require you to go on kill streaks to unlock them – i.e. if you die, you don’t lose kills that count towards your streak unlock. The balancing act is that the majority of Support streaks are designed to provide assistance to your team rather than attack the enemy.
Specialist perks are completely different from its two partners. Rather than airstrikes, UAVs and helicopters, players that use the Specialist abilities will gain extra perks as they kill enemies. In the right hands the effectiveness of Specialist players can be devastating, but their more subtle nature means only the experienced players will even attempt to use them.
It’s not all about player versus player competition, though. 16 ‘Spec Ops’ missions are included to play either solo or co-operatively with a friend. Most of these take place on maps tweaked from the single player mission, but some are entirely new. What they all have in common is their addictive nature and the level of skill required to achieve the hallowed ‘three star’ rating on each one.
Then there’s Survival mode, a wave based system that plays out on the multiplayer maps and throws enemies of increasing difficulty at you. Despite the simplicity of the setup, Survival gets incredibly difficult as soon as you progress past wave eight or nine which forces teamwork of the like never seen in Call of Duty before now.
As a whole package Call of Duty is soundly, confidently and expertly put together. While the campaign is ultimately underwhelming it achieves exactly what it sets out to and refuses to comprises its design as a result of external influences – the same cannot be said for Battlefield 3’s campaign.
Multiplayer is expertly designed to an even greater degree. The new elements will make the game feel fresh to returning players for at least a couple of months, while newcomers will find so many avenues to explore that they’ll feel spoilt for choice.
Activision have been careful in their decisions as to what to add, what to change and what to keep the same. It’s that ability to judge player needs and wants that means there’s still no hint that Call of Duty will be relinquishing its console FPS crown anytime soon.
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