The 10,000lb gorilla that is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare returns for a third outing this autumn, continuing the legacy of explosive campaigns, behemoth multiplayer modes and billion dollar revenues. Modern Warfare 3 sees Infinity Ward joined by co-developer Sledgehammer Games to create a globe-trotting story that takes players through America, Europe, Russia, parts of Africa and the Himalayas. But things have changed since 2009's Modern Warfare 2 ripped up the first-person shooter rule book, and Activision's flagship franchise will face one of its toughest ever challenges this autumn from EA's Battlefield 3; so will Modern Warfare 3 be able to retain its crown? Digital Spy checked out New York and London-based levels from the game's single player campaign, finding the Call of Duty gorilla in monstrously full effect.
Robert Bowling, creative strategist at Infinity Ward, said that the team came out of Modern Warfare 2 with a "big vision" for the third game, including plans to introduce new elements and take ideas from the hugely active Call of Duty community. Such a development challenge motivated Infinity Ward to bring in some help in the form of Sledgehammer, the studio set up in 2009 by ex-Visceral Games executives Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey. The two firms have worked jointly on the game for the last year, developing the single player and multiplayer, along with the welcome return of co-operative mode Spec Ops.
Schofield, the general manager and chief executive of Sledgehammer Games, promised that Modern Warfare 3 will take the franchise to "a whole new level". He said that the developers are "locked in" to deliver the single-player campaign at 60 frames per second, enabling real "cinematic intensity" in the action. The story picks up at the end of Modern Warfare 2, with Washington DC in flames after the Russian invasion and the whole of the eastern seaboard of the United States a warzone. Once again, the whole planet will act as a theatre for military operations, as presumably World War III breaks out.
The first demonstration level was in downtown Manhattan, taking place on 'Day 2' of the campaign in a company of US Marines. The level was titled 'Black Tuesday', which is possibly a reference to the Black Wednesday air traffic crisis on the eastern seaboard in 1954, and/or the Black Tuesday financial crisis in Britain in 1992. Playing as a US Marine, the Infinity Ward/Sledgehammer demonstrator started off inside a helicopter flying though Manhattan. After the craft got caught in a hail of fire, it crashed out of the sky and landed on the city streets, revealing that downtown New York was an active warzone. Skyscrapers were being torn apart by rocket fire and explosions, as the crack of gun fire echoed everywhere. The Marines regrouped around a commanding officer named Sandman and set out to find their way to the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street.
The demonstrator moved through a tight urban street, taking out the Russian troops with gun sights or hip firing, along with grenades and flashbangs. The recreation of New York doesn't feel quite as jaw dropping as Crysis 2 and also lacks the visual impact of Battlefield 3, but Modern Warfare 3 is by no means a bad looking game. Working through the streets revealed devastation everywhere, with classic yellow taxi cabs and NYPD cop cars in mangled heaps of wrought metal. All around the streets were supply boxes stamped with the Red Star of the Soviet Union, but just exactly how the Russians could invade America still remains a bit of mystery. It seems like quite a stretch to imagine a resurgence of the red menace so long after the Cold War, but hey, this is very much a blockbuster take on modern geopolitics.
The patrol fought their way through a legion of Russian troops, before entering a building, moving between the office floors. While the game does not immediately impress visually, the level of detail is excellent, including flat screen TVs on the walls buzzing with rolling news coverage. The demonstrator clipped off a few more Russians with the assault rifle, before Sandman told him to throw a 9-bang grenade through a door to stun a group of enemies. The 9-bang is a twist on the flashbang grenade, triggering a firework display of phosphorescent flashes that sent the bad guys reeling. The squad then moved into a department store as they attempted to take down a satellite station that was jamming US military communications.
The ensuing firefight was classic Call of Duty, as a flood of enemies stormed in, requiring a constant move-and-fire approach mixed with grenades attacks. After surviving the fight, the demonstrator exited the building, crossed an open square littered with bad guys and entered the Stock Exchange. This triggered another frantic firefight not dissimilar to the battle at the broadcast operations room in Iraq during the first Modern Warfare. This time, the fight unfurled among banks of trader monitors, requiring the player to always watch the flanks and try to weather the storm while taking out as many bad guys as possible.
Moving up to a higher gantry area, the team climbed a ladder to the roof of the building in pursuit of the jamming station. The demonstrator then unleashed the Thumper gun, a targeted grenade launcher that made short work of a satellite dish. Moving further onto the roof the team fought off some more bad guys and then detonated a Thermite charge on the main comms antennae, which collapsed in a heap of twisted metal and sparks. Not dropping the pace for even a moment, the demonstrator was ordered to use the Reaper to take down Russians well dug in on the opposing buildings.
The Reaper is basically a laptop controlled missile system, which tags targets from the air and then allows the user to guide missiles down on them. After killing a few Russians and an enemy attack chopper, the squad jumped from the building into a waiting helicopter, with the demonstrator getting on a mounted chain gun. Flying around the buildings meant tackling an opposing chopper with the gun in an airborne duel, blasting away until the rival craft was taken down, but not without sending the marine's chopper into a tail spin. The pilot eventually managed to right the craft, which was where the demo ended.
The second mission shifted the location to London, as a special ops team was sent into a Dockyard area close to Canary Wharf to "put some eyes on a target". It started off in an air support plane, before shifting to a ground team featuring the return of long-running character Captain John Price and what appeared to be Lieutenant Simon "Ghost" Riley. The demonstrator assumed the role of a soldier called Burns, although his back-story was unclear. The team moved through the dirty alleyways and warehouse rooms in pursuit of a high value target, taking out Russian operatives with silenced weapons. Dancing red lines indicated that there was sniper support from the surrounding buildings.
The squad moved to a nearby lorry where there was supposed to be intelligence, but the vehicle was empty - and then it all kicked off. Enemies flooded into the open area, as the squad shifted from silent infiltration to full on assault, aided by a helicopter gunship. In the background, the glittering skyscrapers of Canary Wharf twinkled away, seemingly unmoved by the war unfurling in their view. After fighting through a horde of goons, the game proudly pronounced 'get the bad guy!' Moving down into a subway area, Burns was ordered to get on the back of a Toyota truck as the team decided, in its wisdom, to chase after the enemy fleeing on a subway train by driving down the tracks behind him.
What ensued was a rather preposterous on-rails chase as Burns stood on the back of the truck firing at the enemies in the escaping subway train. The chase moved further down the tracks, passing through a station packed with travellers screaming for their lives. The chase temporarily moved out into the open air, as London's skyline came into view, before moving back underground. One of the pursuing trucks then flipped under fire and smashed into the train, triggering a massive crash of Die Hard with a Vengeance proportions as the demo reached its conclusion.
In closing, the initial showings of Modern Warfare 3 very much indicate a continuation of the familiar Call of Duty blueprint of blockbuster FPS action. The game's pacing sticks to the 'bigger, harder, faster, and more explosive' school of video games development, which is good or bad depending on your perspective. It seemed a shame that the stealth section in the London mission was so brief, as the game rather rushed into the action, but hopefully this demonstration is just the high octane taster and there will be better pacing in the full campaign. Certainly, Modern Warfare 3 will need to be at the top of its game when it comes up against the stern challenge of Battlefield 3 this autumn.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 will be released on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC on November 8.
> Modern Warfare 3 first details revealed
> Modern Warfare 3 gets worldwide release date
> Modern Warfare 3: Four teaser trailers
> Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer maps leaked?