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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Score: 88%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Infinity Ward
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4; 2 - 18 (Online)
Genre: Action/ First Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
At this point, I'm completely convinced that Activision could slap the Call of Duty moniker on absolutely anything and open with record-breaking launch day sales. Not that they would, but they could. Is this a good thing? After playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3... I don't have an answer to that question. Don't get me wrong; it's a quality product that features a well-produced campaign and a expertly-balanced multiplayer component. However, it isn't a vastly different game from 2007's watershed moment in first-person shooting history. Depending on what kind of gamer you are, this might be exactly what you're looking for. If you're okay with the idea of shelling out another sixty dollars for more of the same quality stuff, then by all means, pick up a copy. However, if you're expecting Modern Warfare 3 to revitalize the first person shooter genre like its granddaddy did, you need to rethink and dial back those expectations.

I've got no problem with the way Modern Warfare 3 looks, though the game engine is most certainly starting to show its age. This franchise may have been king of the hill in the visual department in its heyday, and 60 frames per second is still something worth touting. But I'd be flat out lying if I said there weren't better-looking shooters out there. This game is still safely among the best-looking FPS games, but by merely playing it safe, it has allowed other games to surpass it in terms of visual fidelity. I can tell you one thing, though: Modern Warfare 3 has the whole "battlefield chaos" thing down pat, almost to the point where the entire experience borders on sheer sensory overload. It is in your face from the very beginning to the very end. If your brain operates on the same wavelength as Michael Bay's, you're going to eat this up. If not, you won't be able to go long stretches without taking a break -- if only to briefly remember that the real world is, in fact, not like it is presented in the game. And speaking of the real world, Modern Warfare 3 takes you on a massive globetrotting killventure; you'll see a lot of the world, and you'll see a lot of carnage erupting in recognizable locations.

Speaking of sensory overload, that classic Call of Duty cacophony returns in Modern Warfare 3. It's become such a familiar and predictable staple of the franchise that I'd almost bet on this mutilated white noise eventually becoming a preset for a sleep sound machine. I don't know what war sounds like, but the aural assault is so relentless and nerve-rattling that it's almost physically draining. Make no mistake: this is part of Call of Duty's appeal, and it certainly belongs in this game. The voice work is also solid and features a few A-listers, though the bland story and stock room characters don't give the actors much to work with. Finally, the soundtrack is completely worthy of the brand.

I've spoken to a great many people about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and the majority of them shared the same key wish regarding the game. To my surprise, that mutual desire had to do with the story. Specifically, these gamers wanted to see some closure to the chain of events that began in the blood-soaked terminals of Zakhaev Airport. Ask, and ye shall receive.

Modern Warfare 3 is less about the actual war this time around and more about the manhunt for one truly evil human being. Of course, I'm referring to the ultranationalist scumbag known to the gaming world as Vladimir Makarov. The man responsible for starting World War III is still very much at large, and needs to be put down for good. Of course, given the legions of followers who would (and often do) die for the benefit of his horrible cause, it's hard to believe that killing this one man would end the international conflict. But Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3's story doesn't ask you to think about things. It merely wants you to sit back and hang on tight.

And what a ride it is; you're constantly shuttled from insane set piece moment to insane set piece moment. It's definitely par for the course, though it's more apparent in this new game exactly how much -- or to be more accurate, how little control you have over much of what goes on over the course of the campaign. This doesn't matter during the first playthrough; whether you're battling it out in a zero-gravity gunfight that rivals a similar scene from Inception or driving a high-speed boat through the now-flammable waters of the Hudson River, there are lots of great first-time surprises. And all of this culminates in a satisfying ending that ties up far more loose ends than most final acts of, well, anything.

Special Ops returns in Modern Warfare 3, and it's still an engaging timesink to fool around with once you've completed the campaign. This time, however, the mode has been split into two key components: Missions and Survival. The former is classic Spec Ops fare that encourages speed and precision, while the latter is all new (despite not being innovative at all). Survival is your standard "waves of enemies" mode that has been around a lot more since Gears of War 2 popularized it. All of this may feel like padding, but it's great fun with friends.

Modern Warfare 3's multiplayer component is currently the undisputed king of the PlayStation Network in terms of active competitors, and it will likely stay that way until its successor launches a year from now. Most of the franchise's detractors fail to recognize that it's popular for a reason: it's twitch-based arcade shooting at its best, and despite what many gamers are saying this year, it's in a league of its own and nearly the sole occupant of the space it fills. It's brought forth its share of imitators, but it's still the best destination for fast-paced arena gunfighting. Two new modes make an appearance this year, but Kill Confirmed is the one that deserves the most attention, as it is Call of Duty at its most strategic. In this mode, kills do not add points to anyone's score; collecting the dog tags from fallen enemies, however, do. It's a bizarrely gratifying kind of risk/reward shooting that you don't often see from this franchise.

Let's go ahead and address the elephant in the room, since shooter fans everywhere seem to be doing it these days. The only multiplayer-focused military shooter that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as this one is EA's Battlefield 3. However, these two games are so fundamentally different that I can't help but think that this is the most ill-conceived "rivalry" since Team Edward vs. Team Jacob. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 largely values kills over objectives (more people still play Team Deathmatch than any of the other great modes) and rewards skilled lone wolves who have complete mastery over their thumbs. Battlefield 3 lacks the breakneck pace of Call of Duty, but instead offers a more thoughtful and cerebral brand of warfare that emphasizes good teamwork over personal twitch skills. Is it really weird of me to imply that these two games can indeed co-exist?

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 isn't without its frustrating moments, but the variable difficulty level ensures that you won't stay stuck for too long unless you crank it up to Hardened or Veteran. A playthrough on the default setting should take most shooter fans about six hours to complete, and the number of deaths should be minimal as well.

The battlefield events that unfold during the campaign are extremely exciting to behold, but after a while (and especially if you've played your share of Call of Duty games), it becomes apparent that the degree of control you're given is really quite small. Most of the time, there's only one way to complete an objective. Only one direction in which you can proceed. This means the difficulty is only proportionate to your level of twitch skill. One day, I'd like to see a Call of Duty game that leaves the corridors behind and allows players to complete their objectives however they want to. For the time being, however, we'll have to settle for playing the game the way the developers want us to.

Game Mechanics:
The number one question that should be on the minds of prospective buyers (if they still exist) is "What's new or different about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3?" Outside of the story events that transpire as part of the single player campaign, the answer is "very little." As they say, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Well, the Call of Duty formula for shooter success is still a finely-tuned engine of explosive goodness, but at this point, it could certainly do with some new bells and whistles. There are a couple of new features to take note of this year, but most of the improvements and changes are so easy to miss (by all but the most hardcore of fans) that it's starting to look like Activision and Infinity Ward are deathly afraid to leave their comfort zone.

Running, sprinting, shooting, aiming down the sights. The core shooting has not been tampered with in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and for good reason: it doesn't need to be tampered with. If you want that headshot, you need to work for it. If you want to call down a Predator Missile, it's all up to your shooting skills. And last but certainly not least, we have the persistent ranking character building system that the original Modern Warfare turned into a nearly-universal gaming phenomenon. Class customization is as robust and rewarding as it's ever been, and the allure of new unlocks is more than enough to keep any gamer's attention for a good while.

I usually get my share of kills in an average online match, but I rarely get an impressive Killstreak. Furthermore, I think that the established Killstreak system ultimately gives an unfair and unrealistic advantage to players whose thumbs are in complete lockstep with their minds. That's why I really dig Modern Warfare 3's most notable improvement to the online game. Meet the Pointstreak system: there are three primary components to this system, and they are your Strike Packages. Assault Strike Packages are essentially the streak-enabled powers that drove previous Call of Duty online games. Your average Predator Missile Strike, Helicopter, and what have you. These streaks, as with earlier games, reset each time you bite the dust. Support Strike Packages are a bit different; they aren't offensive in nature, but they allow players to give a helping hand even if they can't stay alive for as long as everyone else. The Specialist Strike Package is for the best of the best; it allows players who complete their Strike Chains to activate additional perks in their repertoire. This new system feels like an answer to a criticism I've leveled at the franchise since Call of Duty 4, and a good one at that.

I've been with the Call of Duty franchise literally since day one. I've been through the ups (Call of Duty 4) and the downs (Call of Duty: Finest Hour). Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is absolutely worthy of the name, but it plays it so safe that it runs the risk of alienating the franchise's more fickle (read: jaded) fans. It's getting close to the point where if you've played one Call of Duty game, you've played them all. I really hope it never gets to that point, but even if it does, we can at least rest assured that the games will continue to entertain us.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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