PREVIEW: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

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How do you follow up one of, if not the most successful first person shooter of all time? If the sequel in question is the one to follow Modern Warfare 2, then the answer is to “blow lots of really big sh*t up”. And not just any old “sh*t”, but some of the most instantly recognisable cities and landmarks in the world. We were treated to a two mission, hands-off Xbox 360 preview of Modern Warfare 3 at an Activision pre-E3 press event earlier this week. Read on to find out what war on consoles and PCs in 2011 is going to look like.

Our first look at Modern Warfare 3 is a single-player mission set amidst the destruction of a very-near-future New York City. A level very early on in the main campaign, it quickly becomes clear that this sequel follows closely after where Modern Warfare 2 left off. The Russians are still giving the US a lot of grief, to put it lightly; Manhattan is now a warzone, with tanks and troops tramping across rubble, gunfights on every block and gunships swooping low to the ground between the skyscrapers.

Combat remains largely unchanged; from block to block our US marine took cover behind concrete roadblocks, popping the odd well-placed shot off as wave after wave of enemy soldiers attacked. We spotted something like a cross between a machine gun and a sniper rifle in use, as well as a mortar-like grenade launcher, which was particularly handy for quickly taking out huddled groups of enemies, but this is more or less a standard urban shoot-out, that is if developer Infinity Ward’s penchant for knocking massive chunks out of skyscrapers and hunting you down with a low-flying Hind chopper can ever be described as “standard”.

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The aim of the mission here was to get to the top of a nearby roof to take out a Russian communications tower. The journey took us through a hotel, department store and even the world-famous Stock Exchange, with each area meticulously covered in broken objects, charred papers and smashed glass. A particularly cool moment saw our marine cross from one exposed wall of a building through to the adjacent structure, with the gap filled by a precariously situated, downed chopper. As we said earlier, Infinity Ward love blowing stuff up, but they know how to do it with style.

That was best illustrated with the next sequence. After taking down a further wave of soldiers on the aforementioned rooftop, our trooper placed explosives on a dish-supporting scaffold structure, which caused it to mangle and creak very realistically, with power cables snapping ferociously as it fell. Looking to make a quick getaway, our soldier leapt onto a hovering chopper waiting to whisk them away, and it’s then onto a mounted machine gun for an on-rails blasting sessions, flying over the tops of New York’s many towers. Many windows will smash, many dumb soldiers will get blown to smithereens.

The mission culminates with a showdown with the Russian chopper that plagued you at street level earlier, with both copters weaving around a towering construction site, littering each other with bullets. Like much of the proceeding level, this climax is littered with heavily scripted sequences, adding a cinematic flair; you down the opposing chopper but your own vehicle is wrecked, smashing into the surrounding buildings. Just as your plummeting fate seems sealed, the chopper coughs back into life and zooms off away from the chaos.

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For the next level our demo jumps halfway across the globe to our very own London, where an SAS team are on a covert stealth mission amidst the shadows of the Dockland’s Canary Wharf tower. The level begins in some sort of shipping dock yard near a body of water we assume is the Thames, though London’s geography has been played with liberally here.

We pop through a few house-like buildings, with our AI teammates’ red laser sights silently taking out the odd foe blocking our way, while another computer-controlled pal wrestles with a guard.

That’s about as stealthy as it gets here. As we all know, the Modern Warfare series is no Metal Gear, and after quickly uncovering an object of some unknown-importance in the back of a van that spooks your commanding officer, all hell breaks loose and a massive gang of terrorists begin spray gunfire onto the SAS team.

A group splinters off which (for some reason we couldn’t identify) were the SAS team’s main targets, who then pursue the bad-guys in a couple of trucks. Not on the road mind you; no, it appears the terrorists have packed their Oyster Cards into their utility belts as we’re then quickly bombing it down a tube tunnel in the cars in pursuit of a hijacked train. Dodging oncoming trains and firing at the enemies taking pop-shots from the speeding carriage, the level climaxes with the mother-of-all-train-wrecks, with sparks, rubble, fire and dust breaking out all over the place as the train derails.

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Across both missions, the series’ signature level of polish was already evident, despite still being roughly 6 months away from launching. We’re told that the game runs at a solid 60 frames per second throughout, and we wouldn’t argue with that from the demo we saw. Visually it wont be a massive jump from what was made between the first two instalments in the series, but it’s sure to be a sensory feast nonetheless.

Though our preview also included a very interesting addition to the series that we’re not allowed to reveal until next week, that was pretty much all she wrote. Though the single player mode is a sizeable chunk of the Modern Warfare pie, everyone knows that multiplayer is where the real addiction lies. We’ll have to wait till a later date to see what’s been planned for that side of the game, but the Activision reps on hand did reveal that the Special Ops co-operative missions would return in Modern Warfare 3, perhaps even in a more extended way than in the last game.

Our one concern right now is that everything looks very familiar indeed, if admittedly ramping the action all the way up to “11”. There’s no denying that Infinity Ward can still piece together suitably bombastic, epic set-pieces, but the run-and-gun gameplay inbetween seems mostly unchanged from even the first, ageing Modern Warfare game. Sure, there are still plenty of levels we’ve yet to see, let alone play, but we worry that the “shooting gallery” mechanics on show here may now be getting a little tired.

Having said that, Activision would be in their right place to play the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” card, as the series’ sales figures speak for themselves. If gazillions of people are still lapping up the tried and tested formula (with last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops grossing well over $1 billion), then turning the series into “World War Half Life” would likely turn the game into a commercial failure, even if it did win the approval of more snobby critics.

To steal a line from the Fallout series; “War. War never changes.”

And perhaps that’s no bad thing.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 will be released on 8/11/2011. It will be available on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

Gerald Lynch
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