Modern Warfare 3 shows that war really never does change. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve never been a huge fan of Call of Duty Multiplayer. I appreciate what it brings to the table, and why millions upon millions flock to it. But its not my cup of tea. The single player campaigns on the other hand I find are a great sub-10 hour popcorn romp through set piece after set piece of destruction and mayhem. They are a palette cleanser – and have served their purpose rather well to date. I play them, love them at the time, and then more often than not forget about them. And that’s the way I like it.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was, and still is, a revelation in first person shooter campaigns. Lucius wasn’t a big fan, but I found it to be an almost perfect blend of fast-paced action and portrayal of the human spirit over adversity and sorrow that warranted the praise that was lumped on it at launch. The overly violent hollywood style kill-box action sequences were punctuated by nigh-on perfectly choreographed dramatic storytelling moments, bringing a certain emotional and human element to what is clearly a pop-culture influenced conflict. Hundreds of guys can be taken out by a chosen few, but it is the plight of the protagonists, the good guys, that resonates with the player’s heartstrings. COD4 is basically the ultimate post-post-modern war story and to this day it is the sort of game I still think about replaying during the slower winter months.
And the studios responsible for the COD series have successfully replicated the very same formula that brought Activision millions and millions of dollars with each subsequent game. The same action and the same dramatic set pieces have been recreated time and time again, upping the ante with every sequel. What begun as basically a regional conflict, turned into an invasion of US home soil, and ended with World War III in Modern Warfare 3. The stakes were higher but Modern Warfare 3 was, for all intents and purposes, cut from the same cloth as COD4.
Which is why I’m a bit confused as to why this didn’t feel as special as those that preceded it. It was a great game that ultimately felt like a bit of a slog.
The moment to moment action in Modern Warfare 3 is still first class. The weapons have a weight to them, the shooting itself feels snappy and movement is fast and furious. Shooting dudes as they run from cover to cover, or pop their head out from behind a barrier to take a pot shot feels as fantastic as it did five years ago. The enemies themselves aren’t the brightest bunch, but they’re definitely not stupid either, meaning that while most areas can be traversed with a bit of run and gun attitude, there are still rare stalemates leading to tense moments. Although the intensity of these moments is largely fleeting because of the genre-staple regenerating health, those moments where you are a bullet away from death and under siege from multiple enemy positions are still exciting. This should make for a stellar, number one experience, just like those Modern Warfares before. So where does it go wrong?
It’s turning the dial up to 11. Explosions are everywhere in Modern Warfare 3. Watching terrorism in the UK, or the fall of the Eiffel Tower in France are just part and parcel of the whole Call of Duty schtick. What should be dramatic moments, watching our world crumble at the hands of ourselves, are nothing more than spectacles that bring with them a whole lot more shooting. The same goes for the more gut wrenching moments of experiencing death through the eyes of the dying or watching scores of innocents slaughtered at the hands of a madman’s minions, like seen in “Shock and Awe” in Call of Duty 4 or “No Russian” in Modern Warfare 2. Those moments were special, memorable moments, and in trying to repeat them in this game, Infinity Ward has turned them into crutches to drag the story along and in some ways break up the action. For every one of those moments in the first game, there seems to be four or five resulting in a very thinly veiled attempt at recreating those special moments. The result is that those very human moments have absolutely no impact – which is sad because it was those moments from the first games that stuck with me.
Don’t get me wrong Modern Warfare 3 is a bloody good action game. It ticks all the boxes around its combat, its level design is functional but not outstanding, it has spectacular set pieces and most of all has more explosions than Fantavision. But I expect more from Call of Duty campaigns. I expect tales of the human spirit and sorrow in the face of adversity. Sure you have some deaths here and there of characters that have been with us since the beginning, but the problem is Modern Warfare was always built on the very threadbare but implied relationships between the characters, not between the player and the characters, meaning there’s a bit of dissonance between how you think you should feel and how you actually do when the game kills off a member of its cast. So while Modern Warfare has the bombast of its predecessors, it is missing some of its heart, leaving me more than a little disappointed with what I’ve come to expect from these campaigns. It’s a good action game let down by poor ‘everything else’.