“What’s the plan?”, barks a man with a gun whose name is Truck moments into our first mission together. “Same as before”, snaps back Sandman, the blustering leader of Delta Company, “burn the jammer, kill the bad guys.” Sandman is referring to Delta Company’s objective at hand but, bar the part about the jammer, he may as well be commenting on Modern Warfare 3 in its entirety.
As finales go they don’t arrive much more cautious than this with Modern Warfare 3 clinging desperately to the nostrum that has powered Call of Duty’s swift and ruthless surge right into the heart of the slavish pop culture beast. At times it feels like a greatest hits anthology of its predecessors. At others a gauche love letter to American military might. One thing it never is, unlike its contemporaries, is an apathetic grind stitched crudely to a multiplayer game.
Events pick up where Modern Warfare 2 left off with Makarov the diabolical Russian at large. Modern Warfare’s perennial tale of derring-do is as pompous as ever; its cadre of American and British soldiers pitted tirelessly against droves of Russians venturing to take over the world on behalf of Makarov. It’s still nonsense but in being so manages to jet you across the world from one buckled and blazing capital city to another.
And boy has the spectacle has been ratcheted up with the Inception inspired mission Turbulence perhaps the best example yet of Infinity Ward’s keen eye for the cinematic. With its zero gravity firefights and real-time plane crash, this ten minute spell proves to be one of the most enthralling and breathless set pieces of the year.
Crucially, and unlike Black Ops, you’re left in full control through most of the thespian set pieces. You’re actually allowed to take part this time! In the same vein, the military playthings doled out across the campaign are only ever at hand once. You’re left to toy with each long enough to fall in love before your attention is diverted to something bigger and better; an AC-130 or a remote controlled miniature tank or a suit that transforms you into The Terminator.
Environments are more expansive and while they’re still indisputably corridors, they’re better disguised here as actual battlefields. There’s an added verticality to Modern Warfare 3’s traumatised world that means you’ll occasionally be able to mount an ambush by taking to the high ground. This is big.
There’s also a greater sense of scale preserved throughout; helicopters skirmish in the sky, ships and submarines lay slaughtered out in the New York Bay, smoke veils the sky as the Eiffel Tower plummets and ash meanders by oblivious to the bullets and death and rigmarole of war. There’s more noise and fireworks than ever before to conceal the fact that you’re still blasting through a series of corridors but, for the most part, the façade is upheld and you buy into it. Call of Duty’s war has never felt so expansive and at times it evokes that same irresistible sense of deathly magnitude that Killzone 2 nailed. The engine isn’t likely to survive another winter but Infinity Ward has wrung an impressive amount out of its gnarled technology.
Sticking so closely to the formula doesn’t always pay off though and many of the Call of Duty foibles from four years back are still lingering on. You’re never without a weapon but there are times where you’d be better served clutching a conductor’s baton. Enemies often respawn until you reach an invisible trigger – yep, in the year 2011 – at which point your otherwise worthless AI comrades roar to life, sweeping through the droves of Russians like they were children armed only with Super Soakers.
And for a game that strives to put you at the helm of some of the most disobliging tools in the quest for peace it does a goddamn great job of making you feel like a four year old in a toyshop at times.
“Don’t do anything stupid lads.” Captain Price commands part way through a covert mission in Africa (that may as well be Chernobyl). We’re watching a rabble of gang members execute captive civilians. It’s all a bit needlessly cruel but we’re AMERICA for fuck sake and at any point prior to this the natural reaction would have been to call in an airstrike on each and everyone one of the ne’er do wells and then nuke the country they were born in for good measure.
We’ve emerged unscathed from skirmishes with entire armies by this point, conquered inconceivable odds and yanked planet earth herself away from the precipice of nuclear annihilation. Here, perched in front of two-dozen poorly trained gangbangers, we’re primed and ready to save the day, to liberate the hostages and ejaculate salty globs of Western justice into the faces of all those who dare kill without our prior permission.
But come to the aid of the luckless civilians and you’re drowning in a pool of your own vital organs and bubbly life juices in a matter of seconds. There are no two ways about this scenario. For a brief spell you’re a tourist, watching from the periphery as the game brazenly parades around holding up a placard with the words ‘WAR IS BAD’ stamped across it.
But is there anything more Call of Duty than that? This from the very same franchise that for an entire decade has, with a face so straight it could make Gordon Freeman seem warm and amiable, embellished its death screens with peace quotes.
Without the slightest inkling of doubt then, Modern Warfare 3 is the bombastic and raucous finale it was destined to be, concluding an odyssey with the flair its genre contemporaries still somehow fail to capture.
Conservative and recognisable, yes, but equally never drab and in being worth a damn makes a mockery of all the vestigial campaigns its suitors have tacked on to multiplayer games since Infinity Ward transformed its semi-popular World War Two shooter into a slobbering, record-eviscerating, pop-culture monstrosity just four years ago.