It was clear when Activision took the reins of Guitar Hero from Harmonix, the people who helped create the hit music game, that more than a little soul was lost. A similar shake-up complicated the creation of Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. But the gutting of developer Infinity Ward hasn’t done irreparable harm. The game is as good, if not better, than its predecessors. That means either someone left the formula for Modern Warfare’s special sauce on a Post-It note, or the series never had that much soul to begin with. Arguments for both could be made.
Modern Warfare 3’s campaign follows a handful of military bad-asses as they fight the blowout battles and black operations of World War III. That means booting Russians out of Wall Street, rescuing a kidnapped president from ultranationalists, and fighting to prevent a gas attack on London. The globetrotting plot does little to develop characters. Hyperkinetic animations simulating intel-heavy computer readouts bookend the action. But proximity over three games has created an easy affection for the gruff John Price and faux-hawked Soap. A new Delta Force operator, Truck, is fun to be around simply because he’s voiced by The Wire’s Idris Elba.
There’s an admirable belligerence in Modern Warfare 3’s avoidance of cutscenes and stand-around-and-talk exposition. The campaign is all about propulsive, violent forward motion. It’s an enjoyable current to be swept into, because these story-driven firefights never overstay their welcome.
Multiplayer, on the other hand, is about reward and punishment. Like a divorced parent trying to win the affection of an only child, the game dishes out rewards with every breath. Weapon-unlocks and perks to unleash in the midst of battle make every round of combat feel slightly different. Your growth is palpable even if you aren’t truly getting better at the game. Modern Warfare 3 leaves the punishment up to your fellow gamers, who will reward your every misstep with a bullet in the brain and another ding in your kill/death ratio. Your ability to hack these slings and arrows is what best determines your capacity to enjoy Modern Warfare 3. They say battle hardens men like a blacksmith forges steel. But what kind of swordmaker gets a kick from dishing out such abuse?