Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 review

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 has arrived. With two primary developers at the helm, does the franchise evolve or has the recipe for success been followed for another year? Read the Shacknews review.

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At its core, the Call of Duty franchise follows a distinct formula while maintaining its hold as the de facto representative of shooters within popular culture. Modern Warfare 3 follows a new path, with development split between multiple studios: series vets Infinity Ward with key members of its team gone, and newly-formed developer Slegehammer Games. As I grabbed the controller, the question at the front of my mind was whether the two studios could find a way to tap into the magic that separates Call of Duty from the ever crowded field of shooters vying for my time. It didn't take long for me to start formulating my answer. Starting off with the campaign, I immediately found myself back in the thick of the fight, trying frantically to recall what the hell happened in the last two games. For dramatic effect, Modern Warfare 3 presumes I've committed the story to memory, and picks up seamlessly from the end of the prior game. That's a lot to ask after the frankly convoluted mess Modern Warfare 2's story spiraled into. Modern Warfare 3 does include a credit sequence that flashes sound clips and imagery from previous games in the series, but my primary recollection from Modern Warfare 2 was shooting my way to the end of the game without worrying about what was going on around me. Modern Warfare 3 definitely learned from that experience. The story this time around is far more logical, and is more engaging as a result. The game similarly unleashes mayhem in New York, Paris, and Berlin along the way. Modern Warfare 3 is still steeped in action-movie flair, which may be part of the franchise's appeal. This approach seems to go against the grain of the games being realistic, but that's more of a surface veneer. I never found myself just a number among the many in the midst of large-scale warfare. Modern Warfare 3 is a heroic fantasy.

Multiplayer continues to be the draw for Call of Duty fans.

Besides its brevity (I completed the story in a couple minutes over five hours), the solo game focuses on cinematic experiences over the challenge of surviving a firefight. Whether by intent, the game's 'moving shooting gallery' invited me to play around with the different weapons, giving me a good idea of the arsenal I preferred for situations in Spec Ops and multiplayer modes. Spec Ops was one of the highlights of Modern Warfare 2, where it debuted, and comes through strong again. Its two-man missions can be played solo, but the real action came when partnered up with a real player. Perhaps being fresh missions partly contributed, but the best of the co-op missions in Modern Warfare 3 felt better than those found in the last game. For instance, in one of my favorites I was perched on a high rooftop supporting my partner at ground level tasked with defusing bombs in the roadway. I had to juggle sniper support with using a UAV to spot the bombs and take out harder targets like tanks and choppers. The real thrill, though, was how I naturally got into a rhythm of calling out instructions for him of where to hide to avoid enemies and when to run so I could provide cover. Modern Warfare 3 also introduces a survival mode. Like similar offerings in many recent shooters, it put me, and a partner if I wanted one, on a map to face wave after wave of enemies. Though the novelty of this mode is gone, it plays particularly well to the strengths of Modern Warfare 3. The variety of enemies in the game provided a good workout for my weapon handling skills. As it ramped up I needed to start thinking about which gun to use against which opponent, and how best to use my support tools. By the time I could last several waves I felt more confident about venturing onto the multiplayer battlefield. And that's really what all of Modern Warfare 3 is leading up to. The true test of multiplayer will come over time but here's what I took away from an extended, intense first session with it. The maps continue to be a core strength for the game. Their combination of ample structures to get lost in and use for firing positions, environments filled with vegetation and objects to provide cover, and plenty of elevation changes to keep me guessing exactly where the last shot came from drives the fast-paced cat-and-mouse fights for which the series is known. The new packages for kill streak rewards get more players engaged with playing for the team. By choosing to go with a support setup, kill streaks now carry over through death, making them a little easier to achieve. In practice I saw this translate into much heavier use of the UAV to spot enemies--one of the first tier support bonuses--and more team play as a result. And for those who want to go assault, there are still heavy attack packages that come at the risk of the kill streak being reset with each death. As I set the controller down I realized that my initial impression moments after starting the campaign held true throughout the game with one minor adjustment. It wasn't so much that Modern Warfare 3 expected me to remember previous games in the series, but it was an extension of those titles. It's a formula that works. Call of Duty is the Duncan Hines cake mix of shooters, and though Modern Warfare 3 features a new set of cooks, they have no trouble following the recipe for success.
[The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 review is based on the Xbox 360 version, played by the reviewer during a local, three-day, press-only review event.]
From The Chatty
  • reply
    November 8, 2011 12:01 AM

    Garnett Lee posted a new article, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 review.

    Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 has arrived. With two primary developers at the helm, does the franchise evolve or has the recipe for success been followed for another year? Read the Shacknews review.

    • reply
      November 8, 2011 12:14 AM

      Sad that this was based on a 360 version but I appreciate the review, nonetheless Mr. Lee.

      I'm diving into the PC version shortly...wish me luck my PC gaming brethren.

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        November 8, 2011 1:02 AM

        No bro slap for you.

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        November 8, 2011 4:52 AM

        That seems to be the version that all the publishers send out for review these days.

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          November 8, 2011 9:13 AM

          Activation DRM prevents PC versions from being reviewed unless a journalist is sent a temporary press-special Steam ID or something similar. Too much hassle, therefore the PC version never gets reviewed before the embargo expires.

          Jeff Gerstmann mentioned the Battlefield 3 situation by reading an email he received from EA: "Here is your key for Battlefield 3 on Origin; this key will unlock at midnight. The embargo for reviews expires at 12:01."

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            November 8, 2011 9:18 AM

            The too much hassle-part is not exactly true. Review copies of the PC version of Battlefield 3 went out to lots of outlets a week before the actual game was released.

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              November 8, 2011 10:02 AM

              Yeah, it was the first game in a while that was reviewed on PC by most of the major sites.

              Usually they just review the 360 version and label it as PC/PS3 too.

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              November 8, 2011 3:19 PM

              It didn't make it on time to Giant Bomb; Jeff talks about it in the 10/25/2011 Bombcast, and labels it "in my worst five review experiences".

              The list of video game journalist sites who care about PC games is pretty damn short: PC Gamer, Giant Bomb, Shacknews, Rock Paper Shotgun, Ars Technica. Give those guys codes FIRST.

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        November 8, 2011 10:47 AM

        This was a simple case of the only option for having a review ready at launch was to play the 360 version at their special event.

        BF3 was mentioned below. We tried to get the PC version prior to release for review but were unable to. Hence the reason our review from Xav only went live yesterday--but played on the PC version.

        I'm always going to keep us true to Shack and go PC format first whenever possible.

        And we plan to take a close look at MW3 on PC now that it's available to us.

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      November 8, 2011 1:45 AM

      Are Spec Ops missions couch co-op only or online co-op, as well? Don't remember how it was in MW2.

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        November 8, 2011 2:25 AM

        Split screen or online invite/matchmaking.

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        November 8, 2011 3:10 PM

        Just finished it, short but a very fun ride. Definitely gonna attempt a Veteran playthrough.

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      November 8, 2011 2:35 AM

      I can't decide if IGN's 9.0 is a lame score or not. If it was a 9 out of 10 then that makes more sense. But they can have decimal points but what is the point if they don't use them? Was the game really not good enough for a 9.1 or too good for an 8.9? It feels like they just give it a 9 because it's good but they know anything less and people are upset and anything more and people are upset that they are saying it is better than other great games. It is a very calculated 9.0....

      I am not relaly commenting on the quality of the game, I have not played it. I just think the score is interesting within their system.

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        November 8, 2011 3:28 AM

        So wait a minute...bf3 got a higher score on ign than mw3? Has hell frozen over?

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        November 8, 2011 3:58 AM

        The guys at IGN haven't reached decimal points in school yet.

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        November 8, 2011 4:03 AM

        I thought this extract from the Eurogamer review was a nice summary of why CoD games are difficult to score:

        But 2007's Modern Warfare turned Call of Duty into a legitimate media phenomenon: a superbrand that generates the same enormous numbers as a Tom Cruise, a U2 or a Manchester United. And like those entertainment colossi, it's as divisive as it is popular.

        For every player who loves the games for their razzle-dazzle and online ubiquity, there's another who would gladly see the latest entry slapped with a mediocre score just to cut it down to size. Is it unfair to mark a game down just for giving millions of fans exactly what they want? Or do games that generate this much attention and income have an obligation to stretch the boundaries of their genres?

        Either way, Modern Warfare 3 is exactly the game you expect. It's conservative in every sense of the word, a paean to military superiority which never ventures far beyond gameplay parameters that were set in stone in 2007.

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        November 8, 2011 4:57 AM

        it's crazy, but we really have to read into reviews like you did Lucy, as everything blockbuster seems to get at least a 9 no matter what. I too think you pretty much nailed it. Not good enough for a 9.1 to a 9.5, but can't go below 9.0 in fear of losing their access.

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        November 8, 2011 9:35 AM

        That just highlights why having such a granular review scale is stupid. With IGN, or PC Gamer's 100% scale, you just have too many numbers to choose from. I mean, what brings a game up from say an 8.7 to an 8.8? Or does the game deserve an 8.9? Too arbitrary and pointless in the end. Why does it matter if game A gets 9.1 but game B gets 9.2. It doesn't mean one is better than the other, they are both very high on the scale.

        I wish everyone just used the Giant Bomb 5 star system or even 4 stars like the movie industry. It's all you need.

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          November 8, 2011 9:58 AM

          I am going to start reviewing games on a scale of 4.5 to 9.5 with 9.5 being a perfect score and 4.5 meaning you shipped the game.

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      November 8, 2011 3:07 AM

      Have we had a bf3 review yet?

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        November 8, 2011 3:08 AM

        Ugh now I see it, please nuke this, silly ipad

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      November 8, 2011 4:52 AM

      I wonder why the PC versions weren't released to any reviewers prior to launch today. This initially seems like a bad sign. Also, the COD Elite was delayed on PC, curious as to why there is very little info. Over at PC Gamer, they had to buy their own review copy, seems rather crazy, even though PC Gamer Mag has lost some of its relevance over the past years, they should have had an early review copy.

      Since BF3 turned out so damn well, I'm not nearly as anxious to spend 60 bones on this title.

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        November 8, 2011 5:32 AM

        The PC age is dying it seems :(

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          November 8, 2011 9:15 AM

          Living or dying, megapublishers are stomping all over the body.

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        November 8, 2011 6:04 AM

        Maybe they couldn't activate the Steamworks title.

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      November 8, 2011 5:12 AM

      [deleted]

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        November 8, 2011 5:32 AM

        BF3 Review: Awesome, buy it

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        November 8, 2011 8:18 AM

        I think it has more to do with their editorial direction, not necessarily with Gamefly dictating anything.

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          November 8, 2011 3:21 PM

          Yeah, they've said this before. I don't like it though. The reviews just aren't that useful to me when they're that short.

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            November 8, 2011 3:45 PM

            Oh, I agree with you, MTP. I don't like it either and, to be honest, most people from the front page (or whatever is called right now) seem to like it, so... I end up reading reviews from Eurogamer, RPS and Giantbomb.

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              November 10, 2011 7:58 AM

              I consider myself a front pager and I think these reviews suck. I like that they dont give a useless rating number, but there just isnt enough information.

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      November 8, 2011 5:35 AM

      So the single player story isn't insultingly pants on head stupid this time? MW1's story was action movie-ish but at least made some sort of sense. MW2's story was like a really bad Michael Bay movie (Bayformers 2), lots of big explosions and loud sounds but you realize how stupid and illogical it is while you watch it. An Army Ranger is taken straight from Afghanistan and put under cover in Russia? Said Ranger then willingly participates in the massacre of civilians when he should have tried to stop it? Then a couple days later the Russians are able to mount a full scale *surprise* invasion of the US east coast involving tens of thousands of troops and supporting equipment? And just what was the Russian goal in performing a "boots on the ground" invasion of the US? If they wanted to punish us why not just carpet bomb the place? Then a character who clearly died at the end of MW1 is brought back and then, after being imprisoned and tortured in a gulag for several years, is somehow able to single handedly infiltrates a Russian nuclear sub and launch an ICBM? I was facepalming all the way through the story and trying to convince myself that IW was trying to parody summer action movies and "shocking plot twist every few minutes" shows like 24.

      Yeah BF3's story was very bland but it was still better than MW2's.

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        November 8, 2011 10:57 AM

        from what i've read in other reviews, story sounds very much on par with MW2.

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      November 8, 2011 5:50 AM

      GT says the campaign is 5 hours. This is why fps gaming is going down the toilet. Developers are making movies over game-play, but I guess that sells. Sheep. Even BF3's campaign suffered because they copied the COD style.

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        November 8, 2011 6:48 AM

        Maybe people just care about the multi player. It's the same as it has always been, but developers have caught on.

        It depends on the person, but i sort of like this direction. As long as the multi player is good, a more cinematic single player doesn't bother me.

        Now if the game is supposed to be single player focused, this would obviously be a problem

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          November 8, 2011 11:17 AM

          I don't have an insane amount of time to dump into single player games. I love games like Demon's Souls but they are tough to find enough time for. I feel like to get a good play I have to spend a few hours on it. Games like MW are quick enough that I can finish them in a few sittings and have a ton of reply value in the MP.

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      November 8, 2011 6:47 AM

      Want a multiplayer where it's all about camping and waiting for someone to run by?? Get MW3
      Want a multiplayer where teammowork is necessary to win? Get BF3

      MW3= Rambo/Non-realistic tactics
      BF3 = Teamwork/All have a common goal where teamwork really makes a difference(like a real warfare scenario would require)

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        November 8, 2011 6:50 AM

        I agree with you, but I worry about how well the team work focus will really work in a game with random people. I've only really seen this approach work well when you have teams that know each other and always play together.

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          November 8, 2011 8:38 AM

          interesting question indeed. from my experience teamplay sometimes works in random squads - but most of the time it doesn't .

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        November 8, 2011 10:02 AM

        Fanboy much?

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          November 8, 2011 3:07 PM

          Preferring anything over anything = fanboy.

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            November 8, 2011 3:11 PM

            Having a preference/opinion is fine. Making sweeping generalizations that obviously have a condescending tone tend to fall into "fanboy".

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        November 8, 2011 11:26 AM

        And without a reliable team how much more frustrating is that loss in BF3? They both have their pros and cons. NEITHER has very realistic tactics I would argue and including "like a real warfare scenario" is laughable, these are video games, neither compare to a "real warfare scenario" at all.

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        November 8, 2011 3:16 PM

        Tribes > *, so fuck all y'all

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      November 8, 2011 9:11 AM

      I’ve been playing Modern Warfare 3′s multiplayer a little bit this morning. First impression? If you sat me down in front of it and told me it was Modern Warfare 2, I wouldn’t know you were lying.

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      November 8, 2011 9:22 AM

      "Call of Duty will be remembered in years to come as the the point in which videogames gave up all hope of ever being considered worthy of artistic intent, of being taken seriously or of being innovative. With each new release the series gets more and more mundane, the faults get more frequent, the graphics slip further past the curve of 'current gen' and the gameplay becomes more and more linear."

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        November 8, 2011 10:04 AM

        That's ridiculous. There is no way we are all going to look back and go well, COD is when games gave up all hope of being taken seriously! COD ruined it for everybody forever!

        Come on now. It is just a bunch of jealous people who don't like to see their hobby get popular, don't like to see outsiders take an interest in their hobby, and are upset that whatever money was spent on COD games in theory could be spent on some sort of really expensive Super Meatboy game or something that is unpolished pixelated but retro in some way.

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          November 8, 2011 10:05 AM

          I really wanted to agree with you until you insulted Super Meat Boy. For shame :(

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            November 8, 2011 10:59 AM

            reading comprehension? There was no insult directed at SMB...

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        November 8, 2011 10:04 AM

        Overly dramatic much?

        Movies, books and other mediums have their mainstream big-sellers as well. Think of this as another Star Wars movie or Harry Potter book. There will still be plenty of smaller, more artistic and niche games out there along with the big blockbusters. I'd even go as far as to say there are way MORE indie devs doing interesting things now than there has been in a long time.

        In other words, RELAX SPAZ.

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        November 8, 2011 10:05 AM

        usually if you're going to quote something, you state where the quote came from

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          November 8, 2011 10:16 AM

          also if film can be considered art and transformers movies still exist I don't see the problem

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            November 8, 2011 10:32 AM

            But Transformers movies get low review scores.

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              November 8, 2011 10:48 AM

              Video game journalists.

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              November 8, 2011 10:49 AM

              then you're problem should be with the reviewers, not with the games or the people who play them

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        November 8, 2011 3:41 PM

        Just like how books are art because of Twilight. NOT BULLSHIT AT ALL.

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      November 8, 2011 11:19 AM

      My biggest (and it's a little complaint) is the Multiplayer UI. I really liked the customization of the UI or emblems and the look/feel of how Black Ops was. MW3 seems to be a step backward in that aesthetic.

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      November 8, 2011 8:35 PM

      5 hours for the SP campaign? WTF. On the plus side I'll have no problems finishing it before Skyrim.

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      November 9, 2011 4:23 AM

      TLDR (the non bullshit review) : MW3 is more of the same shit from MW2. Its Hollywood style war shooter with unrealistic scenarios where the single player campaign is too short and the well designed multiplayer maps are the only reason to really play it. (couldn't you have just written that in the last paragraph? )


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      November 9, 2011 10:08 AM

      I'm thinking about never visiting this website again after this review.

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        November 9, 2011 11:21 AM

        this review sounds more like an advertisement than honest review, you've fallen so far shacknews

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      November 9, 2011 2:32 PM

      From a PC player's perspective...
      *No ranked dedicated servers.
      *Ranked games limited to 18 players max.
      *5 hour long Michael "Derp" Bay single player campaign.
      *Reused assets.
      *There will be over 9000 $15 map packs.
      *Said map packs will become irrelevant next year when they release Call of Duty: Gimme' All Your Money. (It will have a cops and robbers theme).
      *Bobby Kotick.

      No thanks.

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