I'll admit it; I'm a Call of Duty multiplayer addict. I racked up over ten days worth of playtime on the first Modern Warfare; almost twelve on its sequel; and the number continues to grow on Black Ops. I've
wasted spent a considerable amount of my life rattling clips into virtual strangers and reaping the rewards. I've laughed, I've often thought of crying, and I've loved it all the way. But that said, I still hate the damn game, and Activision's refusal to budge from its annualized release schedule, therefore stifling the series of any meaningful change or creativity.
But Modern Warfare 3 was supposed to be different. With Sledgehammer Games joining a now reformed Infinity Ward and boasting of all manner of changes set to hit the third Modern Warfare game, I was all smiles. Finally, the game I so loved was about to get so much better. They spoke of balance, of a return to the gun-on-gun system of old. Farewell killstreaks, long live pointstreaks and all that.
But has Modern Warfare 3 lived up to the hype of its creators? Or have we all been duped, once more, into contributing to the industry's most creatively bankrupt and yet financially successful title ever?
If you're an avid follower of Call of Duty, you'll no doubt be aware that Infinity Ward, the original developers in charge of the Modern Warfare line, suffered something of a personal crisis this past year. Co-founders Jason West and Vince Zampella's very public fallout with publisher Activision led to a massive exodus, wrenching a large portion of their workforce away from Modern Warfare 3's development, resulting in upstart studio Sledgehammer Games coming in to share the load.
With this in mind, it's interesting to see how Modern Warfare 3 stacks up to its predecessors when you consider an important part of the creative talent behind the game has been lost. The Call of Duty formula has ostensibly been perfected now, what with Treyarch capably stepping up the plate with Black Ops and emulating step-sibling Infinity Ward to a tee.
But something about Modern Warfare 3 doesn't feel quite... right. A number of factors have led me to this belief - which I'll detail in full later - but the overall realization I'm left with when, a week following Modern Warfare 3's release, I've only played it for a handful of hours. While this might seem like an excuse - how could I possibly judge a game I've not properly tested yet? - past CoD titles have had me so engrossed I've barely had time to come up for air.
Say what you will of Call of Duty, it's simple to master, quick to reward, easily exploited system, but it has always featured great maps. Infinity Ward, in particular, have offered up a handful of classics, from Modern Warfare's Crash and Overgrown, to MW2's own Favela and Highrise. The elegant design, stitching recognizable landmarks with a carefully balanced maze of corridors, escape routes and choke-points, has served their million-strong fanbase very well over the past three years.
But when I came to firing up Modern Warfare 3's multiplayer, my heart all aflutter, I found myself less than impressed. Stumbling around maps like Hardhat and Village, I was immediately confused by the layout. This is, of course, to be expected, but Infinity Ward's map design has often been so intuitive, even newcomers quickly adapt to their surroundings, logging vital areas and choke-points in mind for later use.
But Modern Warfare 3 hasn't done this for me. With a lot of maps, it's simply a mess. Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer were vocal in the months before release that MW3 would cut down on the verticality of its predecessors and level the playing field, so to speak. As such, MW3's maps have grown, but now in size, but sheer clutter. For the most part, it's a mess. Map design is a studio's one and only chance to direct the ultimately organic online encounters, and MW3's do nothing but present a random array of directions.
A Pointstreak To Prove
I could forgive the poor map design if Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer could live up to their very vocal promise of toning down the aerial support options in MW3. Its predecessor, Modern Warfare 2, quickly became an experience dominated by choppers, AC-130s and scuttling for cover like frightened crabs. With the inclusion of the pointstreak system - where you're rewarded over the course of the game for not just kills, but team and objective-based tasks - and ostensibly a dialing back of air support, MW3's multiplayer looked all set to be a far more balanced affair.
Until it was released, that is. Sadly, choppers, AC-130s and the like still rule the proverbial roost. Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer have in fact done nothing to combat this problem. You have a number of helicopters you can unlock on the conventional killstreak system; you can even call on a flock of choppers to streak across the map twice, firing at your enemies. All well and good if you're just looking to have fun, but as far as balance and fair design goes, MW3 comes up a little short.
The pointstreak system is the closest MW3 comes to some form of balance, however. Removing the need to chain kills together without deaths - a system that encourages camping and exploiting choke-points - pointstreaks reward helpful team players in objective modes, and also ensure newcomers are rewarded quickly. However, it ruins Hardcore matches, as UAVs and the like are so easy to obtain, the whole point of not having a HUD or radar is instantly whisked away.
Falling On Deaf Ears
In the end, I doubt my concerns will matter much to the general CoD public, nor Activision, Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer, either. MW3 has once again shattered sales records, and that's because of the strength of its multiplayer. However, that said, it'll be interesting to see if I'm not the only one finding myself put off by MW3's design choices rather than simply annoyed but continuing to play.
I had wondered if this would be the year Call of Duty's success began to wane, even ever so slightly. I was wrong. However, with the series' success relying solely on its multiplayer's appeal, and the likes of Battlefield and even Homefront offering new ventures for players, Activision must ensure the next CoD title lives up not only to the hype, but its promises.