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“Modern Warfare 3” is gonna rock your socks off.

Four stars

“Modern Warfare 3”

Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Wii

$49.99-$59.99

If you’ve watched any television at all during the last few weeks, chances are you’ve been bombarded with ads hailing “Modern Warfare 3,” the latest in the Call of Duty franchise, as the “most anticipated game in history.”

That’s something we connoisseurs of the first-person shooter tend to hear a lot, any time a new “Halo,” “Battlefield” or “Gears of War” title is set to launch.

But this time, developer Activision may not be far off in its claims — at least according to the guy behind the counter at Game Stop on Tuesday morning.

Looking a little haggard during the 8 a.m. early opening, he told the line standing out the door — something I’ve only witnesses before at midnight launches — that more than 600 people lined up for the midnight launch.

If that’s not a Red Bull-induced exaggeration, the line speaks volumes about the kind of pent-up demand for the sequel to the best seller “Modern Warfare 2.” And MW3, as it’s affectionately known among gaming circles, delivers on all fronts.

Picking up where the story ends in MW2, you play as a number of characters both familiar and new to the franchise. Without giving up much, suffice it to say you find the world at war. The Russians have invaded New York, Europe is reeling from “the worst terrorist attack in history” and certified madman Makarov is still out to rule — or destroy — the world.

The campaign takes you on a fast-paced roller coaster through the streets of Paris, underwater to attack a submarine and in the air to control a C-130 Hercules gunship. Nods to the previous title are a nice touch, too.

Gameplay is as rich and impressive as one would expect from the best-selling franchise, with the most detailed environments as I’ve ever seen in a first-person shooter. From the tattoos on fingers to the noticeably prominent Oakley-brand tactical gloves, no expense was sparred on the little things.

Enemies are smart enough to seek cover under fire, and while the game pushes you along there’s always the option to explore your own route and tactics. The beautiful rendered video sequences also blend nicely with gameplay. Some of the game is extremely graphic: thus the “M-for-mature” rating that the fellow at Game Stop said disappointed many a 16-year-old who showed up for the midnight launch without the required parent or guardian.

Once again, the online multi-player experience is one of the best reasons to drop $59.99. The 16 stock maps serve up to 18 players at a time and are as rich as the campaign, in most cases.

Killstreak rewards are back, as well as customizable weapons and loadouts. There’s also plenty to shoot for, so to speak, through the new “prestige shop,” where you can trade earned tokens for double experience points, extra custom classes and new gear.

The game also launched with the new “Call of Duty Elite” online service. For $50 per year, you can track statistics across gaming platforms and have unlimited access to all new downloadable content. It remains to be seen how this new system goes over with gamers, but there is talk of more than 20 pieces of downloadable content coming in the first nine months alone.

Depending on the type of content, it might just be worth the price of admission.

While there were reports overnight of sluggish online service for MW3, the Activision servers were holding up well with more than 1.1 million players in game lobbies at noon on launch day. But if the kind of demand seen at one local Game Stop is any indication, the real test of skill and server power will come Saturday night.

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