Thursday, 30 August 2012

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Just so we don’t get off on the wrong foot and no-one leaves this review with a worsened opinion of me, I didn’t actually buy this game. I rented it for my brother and it’s been there for a few months and I’ve now paid good money for it so I might as well get some use out of it to numb the pain of even marginally supporting this horrible franchise. Also, I know it’s Modern Warfare 3 I’m discussing but they’re all basically the same so you could apply most of these points to the other MW games, Black Ops, Battlefield, Medal of Honour or and of the other 20,000,000 “realistic” first person shooters out there. So it’s basically like I’m doing 20,000,000 reviews in one go. I bet God couldn’t even do that.

You may have detected a slightly negative tone to that opening paragraph. It’s true that I’m not the biggest fan of Call of Duty, especially not this game; the strange thing is though, from a purely mechanical standpoint, the game is actually flawless. There are absolutely zero noticeable glitches or bugs, the controls are extremely intuitive and easy for anyone to pick up and master and all of the guns and weapons work reliably 100% of the time. Similarly, the graphics are extremely impressive. The water effects and lighting and explosions all look visually perfect, and MW3 actually does a lot to dispel the usual association between modern shooters and exclusively brown colour schemes with its beautiful views of skylines and monuments, adding some desperately need variety into the still plentiful murky brown visuals closely linked to Modern Warfare games.

So it is technically sound, but that probably has something to do with the fact that this is the 8th Call of Duty game in less than 10 years and there has been very little variety between them. See, most developers have to work on new gameplay elements, mission types, visual styles and unique storylines, and the fact that all of these are simply copied from game to game means that most of the development time, I imagine, is spent just cleaning up the graphics and removing gameplay bugs. I mean, fair play, they’ve been polished to a mirror sheen but you should expect no less at this point. There’s also a case for the fact that impressive graphics are no longer a distinguishing feature in videogames, seeing as any game with even a moderately high development budget can achieve decent HD graphics these days, and especially with a gigantic company like Activision behind it why should you expect anything other than perfection?

So why do I have such a negative opinion of Modern Warfare, then? Well, for starters, the game is short. I started it at 10 in the morning and I was finished by 5, and that’s with multiple breaks for chicken sandwiches and steak and violent masturbation, so you’re not exactly getting your £40’s worth with the single player campaign. Secondly, although the gameplay is technically and visually impressive it’s about as exciting as watching a documentary on the making of a documentary about Sponge Cake. The developers of Modern Warfare don’t seem to have much of a grasp of pacing; the gameplay is all shooting and explosions, all of the time. There is absolutely no subtlety in anything that this game does. Hell, your partners often announce, “I don’t have a shot!” suggesting that even the AI is confused when you’re not murdering someone. Nothing is done calmly that can’t be done with a huge explosion. For example, in one section you’re required to capture an enemy to extract intel, and you’re told 1000 times to take him alive. So what does your team do? Shoot his tyres, flip his car 9 times through the air and smash him into the side of a shipping container. That’s definitely how I’d make the sure the only lead to a dangerous international terrorist was certain to be taken alive!

There was potential for some calmer moments such as the short time spent on board the Russian president’s plane but after maybe 3 minutes terrorists invade and we’re back to gun porn square one. I’m sure the developers think that doing nothing but killing increases the sense of excitement and exhilaration but it achieves the exact opposite. I’d compare Modern Warfare to something like “Panzer Division Marduk,” an album which is all blast beats and speed throughout, whereas a more paced game like Half-Life 2 would be Cradle of Filth’s “Cruelty and the Beast,” an album which mixes in moments of calm and beauty along with the brutality. Both are fine albums but I prefer the 2nd because the quieter sections juxtapose with the more violent sections and as such their impact is dramatically higher than if the album had just been heavy all of the way through, and it’s the same in Call of Duty, monstrous violent rampages just stop being fun when it’s all you’re allowed to do.

Another problem I have with the gameplay is the seemingly non-existent difficulty curve. This may have something to do with the fact that the Wikipedia page lists more developers than I thought existed in the World but very often the levels jump from piss-drinkingly difficult to a My First Adorable Kitten-Petting Simulator. For example, one section set in the London Underground and another in the Paris catacombs seemed specifically designed to test how much defeat one human being can stand without ripping out a major organ with a corkscrew instead of genuine gaming skill, and yet both of these sections were immediately followed by scripted vehicle sections in which the only way to fail would be to turn off the controller and eat a Snickers bar instead of playing. The inclusion of mandatory sections in which you remotely control plane mounted missiles or guns from cover is particularly irritating as it is actually impossible to fail most of them, and if you must insist on having a game that features violent murder and only violent murder then at least let me do it myself, if I wanted to lead other people to acts of violence I’d play real time strategy and stop speaking to women. Modern Warfare’s actual concessions to difficulty curve include minor details like making some of the later mounted death machines overheat when the earlier ones didn’t and giving every enemy a different type of gun so you have slightly less ammo so thanks for the challenge, guys!

There are also several stealth sections in which you and a buddy or two must weasel your way past some evil foreigners and only murder some of them instead of all of them. Now, you may be thinking, “Ah, see! There’s some pacing for ya’!” That would be true if the stealth sections offered any more challenge than biting into a Custard Cream would to a grizzly bear, as in each of these sections you’re given explicit instructions by one of the partner AIs, so as long as you follow their instructions it’s impossible to be caught, and even if you decide to go off-script you can still sort everything out with, yes, you guessed it, more shooting, removing all of the thrill found in Splinter Cell, for example, where you’re doing everything yourself and even the slightest mistake can get you caught and killer in seconds. It’s indicative of the “lead you by the hand in case you cock everything up” nature of the gameplay that you’re not even allowed to do a few sections of the game without explicit guidance.

So the gameplay is a mixed bag at best, so what about the story. Holy fuck, where do I start with the story!? Well, you could probably learn all you need to know about the kind of story we’re dealing with here from its main premise: Russia invades Europe. Not just one or two bits of Europe but every country in Europe all at once, after invading the entirety of America just one identical series entry ago. Russia, a country whose population is dwarfed by both America and Europe, very nearly takes over the world. Just… no. This is not okay. I’m guessing this stems from the airport massacre mission in the last game, judging by the way no-one shuts the fuck up about it ever, so maybe it’s a subtle commentary on how one small event can spiral into something huge but I’m almost certainly giving the developers, who also thought Price’s facial hair was fitting to a modern day soldier, far too much credit on this one. This all just feels like such an overblown American power fantasy, the game essentially overemphasises the threat of a foreign country, presumably picked by throwing a dart at a globe, and then says, “Dem foreigners are pretty fucking evil but we can take ‘em because we’re fuckin’ America! Apple pie, Uncle Sam, guns are awesum etc,” and feels more like a military propaganda advertisement than a piece of legitimate entertainment.

The thing is, some of the storytelling is fairly effective. I mean, the actual tasks that the various player characters undertake are standard war game fare, they’re mostly either “Get to a place,” “Kill everyone in a place” or “Protect something in a place by killing everything in a place,” but the use of perspective shifts is fairly effective; a memorable section in which the player alternates between playing as a ground soldier and one in a helicopter covering them seamlessly is very commendable but this all means nothing when a story’s basis renders the rest of it entirely retarded. I mean, there are more plot holes than in a giant game of Whack a Mole built in a cemetery. For example, one of the squads you control spend the entirety of the game hunting a man named Makarov, under the impression that catching him will stop the war, but then the war ends before he’s caught and killing him becomes a “personal revenge” quest, so was he really that important? Why does the war end as soon as the Russian president is freed? I mean, it’s showed earlier on that all of his advisers wanted to continue the war so did they all just feel a bit sorry for him and give him his own way in the same way you let your brother play the Playstation a bit more after he’s been in hospital? Why are all his advisers in Moscow to welcome him back instead of running for their lives after they disobeyed his wishes and not only continued but escalated a war he was desperate to stop instead of rescuing him and his daughter from captivity, torture and almost certain death? Eh, maybe I’m putting too much thought into this. Call of Duty’s stories have always just been a framing device, or more accurately an excuse, for copious amounts of violence but I just find it kind of hard to enjoy a game when the script is most likely a Republican recruitment leaflet that a monkey has stuck its cock through.

The setpieces are as similarly filled with shooting and explosions as the gameplay and as such the player feels a similar lack of engagement and genuine pacing. Hell, by the time the Eiffel Tower was being destroyed by general warfare the whole thing had gone from mildly entertaining to laughably overblown, and that was only about 2/3’s of the way into the game. The final mission is a particularly over the top piece of nonsense. The two playable characters who haven’t yet suffered heroic and entirely forgettable deaths stride up, in great fucking spacesuits to the tune of the most sickeningly patriotic American music I think I’ve ever heard, to a building filled with 50+ enemies and succeed in killing all of them. I mean, I thought Die Hard was a bit much but this is just next level. Oh, and the final boss fight is a quicktime event. Not some kind of epic battle or heroic showdown, just a quicktime event. I guess they realised at the last minute that the game wasn’t quite generic enough.

I suppose I’d better mention the big shocking moment. At this point, it feels like the shocking moment is just there because MW games are supposed to have shocking moments, in the same way that COD games have stories because games are supposed to have stories. So yeah, a family dies. An American family, note. Up until this point, the mass slaughter of Russians, British, Africans and God knows how many other nationalities had been presented in ways ranging from acceptable to worthy of massive praise, and yet suddenly we’re supposed to feel all mournful and sad as soon as some Americans die? Just no. Your lives are no more valuable than anyone else’s, America, and you should be ashamed of yourselves for suggesting such a thing. In fairness, the way that the shocking moment is presented is fairly effective, switching to the perspective of an anonymous family was certainly a unique way to present what is ostensibly a massive explosion in a game populated exclusively by massive explosions, but the token nature of a scene that is designed to offend the viewer, coupled with the inherently hypocritical nature of the scene, makes it impossible to give any credit too.

I suppose most people would say that the multiplayer makes up for all of the shortcomings of the single player campaign. Now, there are only a few things I hate in videogames: retro gaming, EA and playing multiplayer with anyone that I can’t throw a heavy glass object at for acting like a dick. And EA. The few times I have played COD online I spent a few minutes at a time dying instantly and being called a cocksucker by some 12 year olds so please excuse me for not indulging in this particular mode too often.

So overall, I heartily would not recommend this game but of course it has already sold well, as will the next identical sequel and the next one until Activision has enough money to buy the World and put everyone who doesn’t dream of replacing their penis with an AK47 into a concentration camp long before I’ve lost faith in humanity and jumped into an industrial meat grinder.

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