Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 smashed sales records when it came out, lauded by all as the perfect blend of suspenseful storytelling and accessible, high-octane fun. You may recall a couple of complaints: the story mode was too short. The multiplayer seemed a bit stale. It felt formulaic — but, oh, what a wonderful formula it was.
Modern Warfare 3 follows an identical trajectory. After saying a collective "screw it" to the recession, gamers have broken sales records yet again by buying MW3 in droves. And the same complaints have been leveled: the story mode is short (eight hours — or more like five if you're an experienced Call of Duty player). The multiplayer bears striking similarity to the first Modern Warfare game. And to the second Modern Warfare game. And . . . every other Call of Duty game.
That's not to say the game is bad; every aspect of it is solid. The multiplayer continues to be the best of the shooter genre, but if you played MW2's multiplayer, you already knew that. A few key improvements help streamline the experience. Most notable is the change to the Killstreak system; instead of getting rewards for several kills in a row, you can choose to be rewarded for other abilities, like capturing flags or assisting other players. It's a beneficial arrangement for those of us who are team players (read: terrible at getting headshots).
Saying you play Call of Duty for the story mode sounds as ridiculous as saying you read Playboy for the articles. But some of us actually do prefer the campaign mode, and since this game's multiplayer doesn't reinvent the wheel, you may as well sit back and enjoy the gripping conclusion to this story's trilogy, because that seems to be where the developers invested their energy. The narration wastes no time recapping or reintroducing you to the characters, instead plunging you right back into the action. Remember at the end of MW2 when Soap and Captain Price nearly died after Captain Shepherd betrayed them? MW3 begins right after that moment, with Soap bleeding out in a safe house and Price desperate to save him.
The next several hours of gut-wrenching, unstoppable action will elevate your heart rate — and turn your stomach. Not because of the violence (though there is that, of course), but because MW3's developers must think the best way to raise stakes is to give you vertigo. You might want to pop a Dramamine before braving the airplane level and the beginning of the subway level, which both include a lot of high-speed, dizzying camera angles. These sections are impressive, to be sure, but the game's more fun to play when you're on solid ground.
MW3's developers must prefer solid ground too, since this title's motto seems to be, "They bought it once, they'll buy it again." And I have to admit that even if Activision hadn't sent me a review copy, I would have bought it again too. Shooter fans may complain about how formulaic these games are, and we may wonder how long these same multiplayer modes are going to hold up, but it seems we answer our own question with our empty wallets. Although the Call of Duty formula hasn't reached its expiration date yet, that day is on the horizon, and one can only hope Infinity Ward figures out a new way to innovate this multiplayer experience before we finally get bored and stop buying. For the moment, though, this works.