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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Freebie Review: Modern Warfare 3 Multiplayer

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Call of Duty. I've got a complicated relationship with this one.

My first introduction to the series was Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007 (I like to pretend Call of Duty 3 for the Wii never happened). CoD 4 was and still is one of the best multiplayer FPS games I've ever played. Gunplay was tight, maps were balanced and not overly-complex, and it was pretty damn fun to play. Given that it's right up there on the all-time list of highest-rated PC games on Metacritic, it's clear that I'm not alone in this opinion.

Unfortunately, CoD 4 was when the Call of Duty franchise peaked. I enjoyed Treyarch's World at War, but it didn't have the same draw of CoD 4 - though it did have zombies. Modern Warfare 2 pulled the plug on dedicated servers and brought an end to Infinity Ward as we knew it. 2010's Black Ops did a pretty decent job of saving face but ultimately fell a bit short.

That brings us to Modern Warfare 3, originally released last fall. Last Thursday, Steam announced a 50% off sale coupled with a free play weekend; I took advantage of the offer to reacquaint myself with the series.

More of the Same

I "went positive" (higher kills than deaths) in my first game of MW3 this past weekend. Aside from a few hours during a previous free weekend several months ago, I hadn't played a Call of Duty game in well over a year. Despite my terrible weapons and complete lack of knowledge of the maps I did pretty well.

Apparently no one else knows what they're doing either.

To be honest, not much has changed. The maps are different and the killstreaks are utterly ridiculous - more on that in a moment - but Infinity Ward has basically been re-releasing CoD 4 every two years. The few changes they've made have done more to hurt the game than help it.

Infinity Ward and Treyarch have been using iterative versions of the same basic game engine for 7 years now. The original Call of Duty used the id tech 3 engine, which was originally developed for Quake III Arena in 1999. 2005 saw the initial use of the "IW engine" with CoD 2, and modified versions of the engine were used for CoD 4 and every game since.

System  requirements
  Minimum My System
CPU 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo E6600
2.4 GHz Phenom X3 8750
4.0 GHz i5-2500K
GPU 256 MB DX9.0c 1 GB 560 Ti DX11
HDD 16 GB recommended 14.1 GB actual

Battlefield 3 and MW3 were released within 2 weeks of eachother, and the differences in visuals and performance are laughable.

Beep boop. I'm an unstoppable robot killing machine.

Maps and Killstreaks

My biggest beef with MW3 is the game's absolutely horrendous map design.

Apparently Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games decided to approach map creation with a "more is more" mentality. Every single map that I played has very few straight lines of sight; most are incredibly compact with blind corners everywhere. To make matters worse, there's tons of extraneous crap strewn about the map: plants and foliage, cars, buses, building debris, etc.

When the atrocious maps are combined with the game's aging graphics and flat lighting, MW3 multiplayer becomes more of a game of hide and seek than anything else. There are seemingly hundreds of spots that allow players to get comfortable and lie in wait, and it's actually tough to visually distinguish players from the background some of the time. Deaths tend to be caused by someone that isn't in your immediate line of sight a significant percentage of the time. Playing MW3 made me miss Crash and Crossfire from CoD 4 that much more.

To make matters worse, MW3's killstreak rewards allow someone who's already on a roll to rain down death upon everyone else that much more effectively. I long for the days of UAV/Air Strike/Helicopter rewards for 3, 5, and 7 kills, respectively. Now you've got Predator Missiles randomly picking you out of a crowd and roughly 37 different types of aerial vehicles that cause havoc repeatedly throughout a match. CoD has already turned into a camp-fest; constant aerial threats from killstreaks further encourage players to set up shop in the corner of a building.

Matchmaking and "Dedicated Servers"

Here's the big one.

Modern Warfare 3 continues the tradition of forcing everyone to play on some random guy's connection. The lag isn't horrific or anything, but matchmaking introduces things like the "host advantage" that is usually mentioned with console titles. I noticed a lot of "rubber banding" when running next to a teammate, especially at the beginning of a match.


Dedicated servers exist in MW3, but they're restricted to custom, unranked games. In a game with 80 ranks and 20 levels of Prestige, progression tends to be important. Why waste your time playing in an unranked game?

Call of Duty is basically World of Warcraft with guns.

The method to host a server is pretty ridiculous as shown by this blog post on the Sledgehammer Games site. Even more ridiculous is the fact that you need to delve into the game options to even enable the Server Browser.

It's a good thing we have Infinity Ward to protect us from ourselves and the evils of dedicated servers.

Pricing and DLC

To add insult to injury, this game is friggin expensive. As far as I can tell, MW3 has never dipped below $30 and usually retails for the full 60 bucks. They sure don't care about giving fans a deal on a game that will be succeeded by Black Ops II in about a month. I understand that there are still IW diehards who don't touch Treyarch games, but this still makes me sad.

There are also three DLC packs available for $15 each with a fourth slated to hit the PC next week. Each of these "collections" adds a handful of multiplayer maps and Spec-Ops co-op missions. There aren't any new guns or killstreaks, just more maps that were probably designed by the guys who made the terrible standard ones. I could almost see myself buying a pack for 10 bucks if I was a fan of the game, but $15 seems a little excessive.

At least we can spend the 60 seconds between maps happily chatting. Oh wait, no we can't.

Final Thoughts

I don't think I could ever recommend buying this game for full price, which is unfortunately what you'll be forced to pay for a while. Black Ops, which was released in 2010, still retails for $40. Don't expect any Activision handouts any time soon.

If you're a fan of tired graphics, cluttered maps, and ridiculous perks and killstreaks, this one might be right up your alley. This is still CoD, but it's CoD turned up to 11. Not in a good way, I might add.

It's clear to me that Infinity Ward is now the second-tier Call of Duty developer. Treyarch lived in the shadow of IW for several years, but that's all in the past now. Black Ops 2 looks to be a much more innovative title (relatively speaking) than what we saw with Modern Warfare 3.

I'm glad I skipped this one.

The Good: Same CoD gameplay, large playerbase
The So-so: Aging graphics, good post-release support but not-so-good post-release pricing
The Bad: Maps are awful, killstreaks are ridiculous, Host Migration, "dedicated servers" are pointless and the option is buried

Call  of  Duty:  Modern  Warfare  3
Graphics and Performance 1.2 / 2.0
Maps and Balance 0.8 / 2.0
Gameplay 3.6 / 4.0
Enjoyment Factor 1.5 / 2.0
TOTAL 7.1 / 10


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