Also available on: PS3, PC
Developer: Infinity Ward / Sledgehammer Games
Genre: First-person shooter
While there's been much talk about the battle between Call of Duty and Battlefield this year, it's now clear that they have two very different approaches to the same genre. At this point, Activision's success story really is its own thing, a game that's so fast, sharp and over the top that at times it has more in common with arcade shooters than military ones.
Modern Warfare 3 continues to do what Call of Duty does best, adding yet another impressive layer of new features to its monstrously successful multiplayer empire, and yet another impressive rollercoaster single-player campaign - one that's so ridiculous at times it's difficult to keep up.
There's also added anticipation, since it's the concluding part of the trilogy that pushed the series into the limelight. The story continues pretty much where Modern Warfare 2 left off, one where the United States is in tatters after a powerful Russian force invades its borders, leaving the world on the brink of a global conflict.
The game sees a spectacular opening in Manhattan, with players pushing back enemy forces using helicopters and submarines as they're surrounded by battered skyscrapers and sandbagged streets, before taking to London, Berlin and Paris as the Russians extend their reach across Europe.
Structurally it's very similar to Modern Warfare 2, jumping back and forth between American soldiers on the front line and returning British task force agents Price and Soap, who continue to pursue Russian renegade and all-round bad guy Makarov. The opening act features arguably some of Call of Duty's best missions to date, mixing jaw-dropping set pieces with some clever gameplay conceits. It takes the ridiculous tone of Modern Warfare 2 and runs with it, and you're more than happy to go along for the ride.
However, once the conflict envelops Europe in the game's second half, it quickly becomes a prolonged whirl of rubble and explosions. Objectives here consist of pushing forward through countless streets, corridors and plazas, jumping between cover points and taking down countless enemy numbers, and engaging in a few limp set pieces to push the story forward. It's not until the game's climatic final few missions - where Soap and Price once again take the reins, tightening up the pace with some enjoyable stealth sections and adding a much-needed dose of personality - that the campaign picks up again, leaving the trilogy in a satisfying way.
Multiplayer, meanwhile, teases the most radical changes to the series since the seminal Call of Duty 4, a game that set the standard for multiplayer carrot and stick over the past few years. While the fundamentals remains the same, Kill Streaks have now been swapped out for a new Point Streak system, which now allow objectives to also contribute to Kill Streak rewards.
Meanwhile, these rewards are now split into offensive and defensive branches. Offensive is the usual array of powerful attacks, with your running total of kills resetting upon each death, while the defensive option offers less of a dramatic impact on the match, but actually lets you continue your streak through multiple spawns.
While these changes aren't as game-changing as you'd expect, the main benefit is that supporting players, the sort who don't usually muster up high-ranking Kill Streaks on a regular basis, are rewarded far better for their actions. Supporting Streak rewards include becoming a Juggernaut to soak up enemy bullets, laying down a pack of body armour and sweeping over the map with a toy chopper to highlight enemy positions, allowing players to contribute to their team more effectively and earn small experiences while doing so. It's a class-like system that gives bit part players a much-needed boost, while retaining the extensive load-out customisation that Call of Duty is so well known for.
Meanwhile, Call of Duty Elite gives the franchise its long-awaited social network with an optional membership for discount map packs and exclusive content, and should support both beginners and experienced players throughout the game's inevitable long lifespan. In-game, the accessory system sees another revamp with weapons that level up individually, and its smart system that rewards dedicating your time to a specific loadout.
There are a few new modes, too; Kill Confirmed sees players drop dog tags upon death that must be collected to score points - often seeing tense suicide runs into dangerous territory to gain the advantage for your team - while private matches allow friends to customise popular game types such as Last in the Chamber and Infection.
It's easily Call of Duty's finest multiplayer offering to date, but there are a few missteps along the way. One of the new class-like systems, which swaps Streaks for temporary perks every few kills, doesn't seem nearly as effective or as beneficial as the other types. And while every map is simply superb in its design and layout, each lending themselves well to multiple mode types, thematically most are nothing special. They rely too often on the drab-looking World War 3 vibe - with its masses of destroyed buildings and rubble - rather than anything as visually stand-out like Nuketown or Terminal.
Finally, Spec Ops returns to offer two players the chance to buddy up and take on an array of missions in pairs, this time with clever takes on campaign scenarios, reversing them so they're played from the enemy's perspective, or seeing you don a Juggernaut suit to defuse bombs.
Elsewhere, the new Survival mode has you and a friend tackle waves of enemies, with the help of multiplayer benefits such as Predator Missiles and turrets. It's a terrific addition, but one that's held back thanks to limited player numbers (especially in light of Gears of War's Horde mode and even Call of Duty's very own Zombies) and a lack of customisation, opting for pre-set scenarios rather than any choose-your-own elements.
In summary, Modern Warfare 3's campaign, while complacent in parts, builds upon the dizzy heights of spectacle set by previous entries and often exceeds them, while Spec Ops once again successfully delivers its own brand of tactical co-operative gameplay.
But it's multiplayer where Call of Duty continues to reign supreme. Thanks to some smartly implemented changes, it gives supporting players a long overdue place in the spotlight, and provides everyone else with enough features to easily tide them over until next year's offering. Modern Warfare 3 certainly treads familiar ground, but offers a package that once again proves why Call of Duty remains such a powerhouse in gaming.
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