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Preview: Modern Warfare 3

By Jeff Lugar

If it’s almost November, it must be time for Call of Duty, and the hottest title of the year kicks off November 8, as Activision and Infinity Ward team for the third Modern Warfare installment.

How hot is it? Nielsen’s poll of the most-requested games for Christmas had 27% of active gamers place MW3 in their top 5, the best in the survey (Madden 12 and Gears of War 3 shared #2 at 19%).

Soap, Price, and Nikolai are back in this game that picks up right where Modern Warfare 2 left off. That means Russia is still invading America…and now they (and returning MW2 antagonist Makarov) have designs on the world.

Expect the action to be global and feature the familiar CoD narrative device of shifting between several characters waging warfare of different types on different fronts.

Levels will span locales across the economic spectrum, including amid the crushing poverty of Somalia, the concentrated opulence of Dubai, and the relative middle class of Moscow. Of course, America will be featured heavily in the action, too, along with London and Paris.

You’ll hear plenty of new, yet familiar, voices guiding you through the conflict, including two of television’s best fictional detectives. Christopher Meloni joins the team as Sandman, an NYC-based special ops soldier you’ll get to play as. Joining him is CSI: New York’s Carmine Giovinazzo as Pvt. Martin Raymond. Additionally, Tobey Maguire voices Grinch, a new NPC Delta Force operative.

But when you’re talking about Call of Duty, most people just care about multiplayer. It’s gotten revamped in several areas to help make it more fun and put more emphasis on skill, in part by eliminating several of the perks and kill streaks that created balancing issues and/or lessened the realism.

There’s a host of new weapons, from Dragunov sniper rifles to the Skorpion machine pistol. The claymore mine is now joined by its cousin, the Bouncing Betty. And in non-lethal grenades, an EMP version has been added to flashbangs and concussion.

Perks are still a part of the game, but if you’ve hated getting knifed by a Commando lunge from across a room, your wishes have been answered—the knifing part of Commando has been removed for MW3, though the ‘no falling damage’ aspect lives on as part of a new perk. Last Stand has also been eliminated.

Some perks are unchanged (SitRep, Scavenger), while other new ones combine parts of old ones (Dead Silence combines the silent footsteps of Ninja with the no falling damage of Commando) or mimic what used to be equipment (Blast Shield). Others are entirely new (Recon makes damaged enemies stay visible on radar, even if they’re quiet).

Kill streaks have undergone an overhaul such that they’re not called kill streaks anymore; they’re now strike chains, and objectives like capturing a flag in Domination are now also worth a point toward getting rewards for good play. Additionally, you now have to pick from three Strike Packages to choose those rewards from:

Assault – These are the lethal rewards you’re used to, like sentry guns, helicopter gunships, and air strikes. Sadly, the game-ending nuke is gone.

Support – These, like their name indicates, offer support like UAVs, anti-air turrets, or an airdrop of protective vests for teammates to make themselves hardier. As a bonus, your streak doesn’t reset to zero at death with this package.
Specialist – This package is for those who love the perks, as you gain access to extra perks at your second, fourth, and sixth kill and get them all at eight, making you a true super soldier; getting killed puts you back to square one.

There are also a number of great wholesale additions to MW3, including:

Kill Confirmed mode is a Team variant where kills aren’t registered until picking up dog tags from fallen foes; conversely, you can deny kills by picking up the dog tags from dead teammates before your opponent can do so. Black Ops’ Gun Game and One in the Chamber are also added.
Weapons now level up alongside your character, reducing recoil, increasing range, or letting you take that deep breath to steady your sniper rifle as you use each weapon more.br /Multiple scopes on weapons, so those who like ACOG in some situations and red dot in others can flip between.

Of course, the ability to Prestige is back, telling the world that after you climbed the mountain of character leveling to the top (this time to 80), you had the guts to jump back down and start climbing again. What changed is the addition of a Prestige Shop. You’ll gain tokens from each Prestige and cash them in for things like extra custom classes or extra xp, allowing more choice in what each character reset does for you.

Wrapped around all the multiplayer goodness will be an online portal, Call of Duty Elite. Following a model similar to Halo Waypoint, it will allow for stat tracking, map-by-map performance evaluation, the ability to tinker with your custom classes online, and video sharing across not just MW3, but also Black Ops (and presumably future CoD installments, too).

Sadly, it does feel a bit like a ‘money grab’, though. While the above offerings are free, for $50/year, there’s an extra premium tier that offers all future map packs and other DLC, extra video sharing capability, daily tournaments, clan bonuses, and exclusive guides with the ins-and-outs of maps and weapons. In truth, if you’re someone who will likely be playing this near non-stop, it may end up being a bargain depending how many map packs there are.

Like many recent expected hit games, MW3 comes in two flavors. The standard edition will be priced at $60. A Hardened Edition will retail for $100 and include several goodies: a year’s membership of Elite premium, 100-page Field Journal of game artwork/sketches, avatars/theme for system desktops, and exclusive in-game emblems and camouflage.

But best of all, the game is now less than a month away. So, bosses and teachers, be prepared for attendance to be a little light the second week of November, ‘cause Call of Duty waits for no one!

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is scheduled for release from Activision on November 8 for Xbox 360 and PS3. Rated M for Mature (Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, and Strong Language).

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