Modern Warfare 3 – preview

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is pure 21st century action cinema, a cacophonous opera of destruction and gunfire in intricately recreated cityscapes around the world

Earlier this week, at a studio complex somewhere in Kentish Town, Activision previewed what will certainly be one of the biggest entertainment events of the year. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, the latest in the long-running series of first-person shooters, is likely to make more money than any blockbuster movie release, and through subsequent downloadable content, it will continue to generate millions of dollars throughout 2012.

Last year, the Cold War-based Call of Duty: Black Ops shifted something in the region of 18m copies and became America’s biggest-selling game ever. But fans consider the spin-off Modern Warfare titles – developed by the original Call of Duty studio, Infinity Ward – to be the standard bearers for the series.

Of course, Modern Warfare 3 was always an inevitability, but nothing about its development has been predictable. Last year, several months after the release of the smash hit Modern Warfare 2, Activision sacked Infinity Ward co-founders Jason West and Vince Zampella for, “breaches of contract and insubordination”.

The duo sued Activision, Activision counter-sued and in the meantime dozens more Infinity Ward staff left, many joining their previous bosses at new development start-up, Respawn Entertainment, now working on an undisclosed project for EA. Very quickly, Activision revealed that it had also formed a new studio, Sledgehammer Games, with Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey previously of EA’s Visceral Games at its head, and a remit to work on the Call of Duty brand.

Indeed, the team was already being paired up with a restructured Infinity Ward to start work on Modern Warfare 3. The two companies have shared development duties – an increasingly common set-up in the modern industry, where projects can require teams of up to 200 people.

“We’re taking it to an entirely new level,” says Infinity Ward creative strategist Robert Bowling, displaying the customary games industry hyperbole. “We’re taking players into the heart of major cities all around the world, delivering urban combat in places like Manhattan and London. We’re also going throughout Europe, to Russia, parts of Africa, and the Himalayas – you will travel the world.” Yes you will, and judging by the two missions Activision revealed to us at the press event, you will blow most of it up in the process.

The story, apparently, picks up immediately after the close of Modern Warfare 2, in which Russia launched an invasion of the US, while the elite counter-terrorist squad Task Force 141, attempted to gather evidence against Russian ultranationalist leader Vladimir Makarov. “Washington DC is burning, ” explains Schofield. “Task Force 141 is either dead or on the run and battles rage along the eastern seaboard of the United States. You must now join with your delta team in Manhattan to help turn the tide against the Russians who have occupied New York City…”

Titled Black Tuesday, the first mission we’re shown picks up at the opening of the New York campaign. The player starts aboard a Black Hawk helicopter that’s just crash-landed in the city’s financial district. The objective is to get to the stock exchange, but there is a full-scale battle raging. Missiles cut through the sky, taking out vast chunks of Manhattan real estate. A front line of obliterated roads, burned-out police cars and crawling APCs is populated by groups of soldiers cowering behind great chunks of fallen masonry. It is, in short, what we expect from a Call of Duty set-piece – a cacophonous opera of destruction and gunfire, through which the player is closely guided by a computer-controlled superior (in this case, someone called Sandman).

From here, we burst into an office block riddled with bullet holes. An enemy chopper hovers outside, spraying everything with machine-gun fire. Then we’re out into an alley between tenements and fire escapes, before bursting into a jewellery store and engaging in another gun fight amid dozens of glass display cases exploding into shards.

The key moment is when we finally reach the stock exchange and indulge in a lengthy shoot-out on the trading floor, which has been intricately replicated – and then destroyed. Then we’re up a series of scaffolding platforms onto the roof where a thermite charge takes out a satellite dish, blocking enemy communications. From here, we get the grandstanding conclusion.

A comms link is established with a drone craft, and as in Modern Warfare 2, the player is able to remote-guide Reaper missiles at enemy positions, finally taking out a Hind and watching it spin to fiery oblivion in the streets below. But this isn’t quite the end. There’s still time to leap into a Black Hawk, laying down mini-gun fire, and duelling with another Hind between the skyscrapers – the final audacious moments see the two craft firing at each other through the superstructure of an unfinished building. It is every Michael Bay movie condensed into one roaring aerial showdown.

“The campaign is all about that cinematic intensity,” says Bowling, somewhat needlessly after what we’ve just experienced. “We are locked into delivering 60 frames per second; that’s what allows us to combine the high-speed gameplay and tight gun control. But the single player is just one aspect of a much, much larger experience.” Along with the main campaign, we’re promised the now customary Spec-Ops missions, and a two-player co-op option that will be apparently be massively built upon since its Modern Warfare 2 introduction. As for online multiplayer – well, something big is planned and an announcement is due next week.

To close the event, Bowling and Schofield show us another level, this time following the Bravo Six team on a covert mission in London’s docklands. An enemy weapons shipment is being unloaded, and we’re here to gather valuable intel (guided from the air by a voice actor who sounds uncannily like series regular, Craig Fairbrass).

There’s no indication of how this all links in with the Russian invasion of the US, but the air support is picking up heat signatures in a nearby warehouse and our job is, naturally, to take out the bad guys. The player is in control of a character named Burns who’s using a silenced P90 to pick off soldiers. Then we’re out into the dock and a full-on assault, with car alarms going off everywhere and Canary Wharf towering in the background, just visible through the night-time drizzle.

Whatever was offloaded from the ship has now seemingly been spirited off, and we’re giving chase in a truck, which thunders onto railway tracks and down into the tube system, where enemies fire from a hurtling train. We zig-zag between oncoming trains, taking constant fire. At one point, the whole cavalcade whips through a packed station, and we see commuters running in panic. We’re told to watch our fire – and for a second it looks like the infamous No Russian scene from Modern Warfare 2, where the player has to take part in a terrorist raid on a Russian airport filled with civilians. Eventually, the tube train jumps the track and spins through the tunnel in a fury of debris. And we’re out.

It is, as Call of Duty has always been, breathless stuff – a total sensory assault, this time lent an extra dramatic charge by those intricately detailed representations of familiar cityscapes. I wonder if the developers have considered how the use of such imagery will remind some of real-life atrocities in New York and London – and indeed, the trailer has already evoked the hysterical wrath of the Daily Mail, which has claimed that the tube train sections essentially simulate the July 7 bombings. It is an attention-grabbing connection, but it is also spurious; players will understand that the use of recognisable landmarks ramps up both the intensity and the stakes, and these hugely familiar cities have been destroyed countless times over the years in monster and sci-fi flicks.

With the tumultuous demo over, plenty of intriguing questions remain. We’re not sure if any favourite characters from previous Modern Warfare titles are returning, and there’s much to discover about the reworked multiplayer. In gameplay terms, amid the state-of-the art special effects and sheer graphical detail, the corridor-like structure is hugely familiar, a single route plotted through the chaos.

A question mark looms over whether the Modern Warfare 3 single-player mode can innovate beyond the restrictive formula of its predecessors. But then, do its millions of fans want it to?

This is a series based on bombast and bullets, and while last year’s Black Ops made a few interesting narrative sojourns into the territory of the 1970s conspiracy thriller, it looks like Modern Warfare 3 will be pure 21st century action cinema – a gigantic paean to the art of computer-generated destruction.

• Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 will be released on 8 November for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC






Keith Stuart © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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