On November 8, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” released in North America. Within a day it had sold 6.5 million copies, earning its developers $400 million and making it arguably the largest entertainment release of all time.
Returning for its third installment, “Modern Warfare 3” continues the high production values that have been core to the series. Gameplay is much the same as earlier installments, built around the same core “stop ‘n pop” formula that won the series its fame. The visual presentation is sharp and clear in illustrating the long line of shattered cityscapes that compose the game’s missions, while the musical score is serviceable.
Unfortunately, despite the high production values “Modern Warfare 3” sustains throughout, there is a distinct vacuous quality to the game. Virtual blood splatters the screen as virtual enemies are mown down. Terrorists, Russian ultra-nationalists, and African warlords all interchangeably crumple at the end of an assault rifle’s iron sights.
The Third World War the game paints raging across Europe and the American East Coast should evoke pathos, or at the least a knee jerk emotional reaction. Instead, large scale tragedies, such as the gas bombing of London, are rendered perfunctory codas to the latest enemy-crowded maze.
The “Modern Warfare” brand has struggled with this Michael Bayesque quality since its second installment, but in this latest installment it overwhelms the game. The first “Modern Warfare” successfully mined a gritty, militaristic vein; in “Modern Warfare 3” any pretense of seriousness is undercut by the latest explosion or careening train.
The constant, conveyor belt timing of these set pieces is successful in evoking a certain primal excitement, but the developers seem to have failed to grasp the law of diminishing returns. This robs missions of the poignancy that earlier installments were able to achieve, and makes any attempt to widen the game’s emotional palette feel crass and pandering.
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” is a competent game. It’s good fun to mow down virtual enemies and few other games can deliver that experience in such a polished package. It’s unwillingness to trust the player to maintain interest if another overblown action scene isn’t immediately dangled before them keeps it from being a great game.