Working in a video-game store for the better part of my adult life has exposed me to a number of off-kilter statements and bizarre opinions and outlooks on the value of a number of on-the-whole popular yet widely debated titles. While the Call of Duty series continues to evolve into the most profitable game franchise of all time, its true merits are often debated rather heatedly, with its supporters and opponents equally passionate about their stances on the assessment of where the game fits into the cultivated zeitgeist of current digitized, interactive home entertainment and war-can-be-fun POVs in general.
I encountered one such viewpoint in the wake of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s midnight release. I was moments away from locking the store’s front doors and dropping the security gate when I overheard a last-minute MW3 purchaser tell his less-than-enthralled companion, who, by the consistent groans echoing from his personage, had obviously been dragged out to the event by force, “Bro, not liking Modern Warfare is the video-game equivalent of not liking The Hurt Locker. You’re just a douche if you don’t.” Now, if spoken with a laidback cadence and apparent jocularity, I wouldn’t think twice about something like this, but the guy was decidedly serious when he said it, almost to the point of being downright histrionic. Comparing Modern Warfare to The Hurt Locker—really? That’s where I draw the line right before devoted fanboy-ism crosses over into certain absurdity. The two pieces of art (yes, Mr. Ebert, video games are artful) are so different in style, message, tone, and a myriad amount of other aspects that a comparison shouldn’t even be considered. With a dumbed-down, punched-up, self-indulgent script by Paul Haggis, I would have been far more accepting if the unexpectedly provocative late-night game critic had likened Modern Warfare to In the Valley of Elah.
Playing Modern Warfare 3 is, without a doubt, the biggest case of gaming déjà vu I’ve experienced this year. Save a more refined, increasingly addictive multiplayer mode (which I’ll delve into shortly) and the newly introduced Modern Warfare Elite feature which allows for an incredibly detailed summarization of your accumulated stats (including team formatting, thorough PSN/XBL friend-list tracking, Facebook integration, leveling-path suggestions, and arsenal/wardrobe transfiguration), MW3’s central single-player campaign, graphics, and core functions are MW2’s blueprints wearing mink stoles; to say the game isn’t much more than a fancy update wouldn’t be too far off. Any casual frequenter of the series passing by a gameplay session could easily mistake it for a DLC-only map enhancement. To boot, Haggis’s convoluted central storyline carries as much emotional weight as a Transformers movie, and while a Modern Warfare game is hardly the place to go for dramatic flair and sophisticated emotionality, I expect to at least be somewhat drawn into the lives of its characters. For every squadron of random soldiers that were decimated in front of me, a roll of the eyes or a prolonged yawn became the involuntary physical responses.
If there’s a reason to buy MW3, series devotee or not, it’s for its expansive multiplayer scenarios that offer hours upon hours of entrancing, customizable combat. The emotion lacking in the main campaign is assuredly supplemented via online dueling; waging battle or joining forces with fellow freedom fighters around the world typically yields both parts trial-by-error elation and potential control pad-shattering frustration. Three varying loadout packages are the initiation points here, each coming equipped with separate weapon layouts, MOs, pros, cons, and learning curves that do well to cater to both series experts and novices alike.
The Assault unit is the most basic package for balls-to-the-wall offense lovers, using a reward system that builds normally but resets once you’re killed; starting here is essentially mandatory to acquire a stable feel for how to establish yourself as a force to be reckoned with as the meta game’s scope sequentially aggrandizes. The Support package is strictly for meek stronghold campers—just kidding, it’s for those who appreciate a bit more chess-like, behind-the-lines strategy in amassing their killstreaks. Highly defensive tactics like counter UAVs, reconnaissance drones, surface-to-air turrets, bomber planes, and the eventually earned juggernaut suit present a set of tools that aren’t as instantly gratifying as the Assault bundle, but make for some very rewarding tactical development and skill growth as you burrow deeper into MW3’s layered PvP architecture. For the hardest of the hardcore, the Specialist combination is a package that demands the player to meticulously scrutinize their surroundings and make long-term diplomatic predictions on the fly; truthfully, this mode of play is the closest the Modern Warfare series has aesthetically been to an RPG (it’s not quite Mass Effect, but the illusion of choice is indubitably present). Demonstratively, you’ll begin a standard match with whatever variable specialties you had originally been assigned, then, as the Domination periods progress, switching classes to account for your shifting circumstances is a necessity. Stratagems like scavenging assist with annoying ammo depletion; other ploys such as maximized conditioning juices your player character to promptly exhibit Sonic the Hedgehog syndrome, able to rapidly travel from flag to flag for a specified duration.
Despite a single-player campaign that virtually feels like a phoned-in furbished retreading of previous installments’ festival of trigger-happy, run-and-gun explosion-adorned rollercoaster orchestrations, MW3 possesses the mightiest multiplayer mode of the franchise thus far; time simply ceases to exist when fully entrenched within it. For this alone, MW3 is worth the price of admission, and for my money, it’s even slightly superior to the much-improved-over-its-predecessors Battlefield 3. Although it’s becoming gradually more difficult for me to stand by a series that repeatedly sets it primary goal as “Let’s momentarily wipe the foam from the mouths of rabid fans and make a shitload of bank in the process.”