Latest Call of Duty fails innovation test
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Xbox360, PlayStation 3, PC) Infinity Ward, $109.
Not only is Call of Duty the biggest-selling video game franchise of all time, it is well on its way to toppling the likes of Star Wars and Harry Potter as the hottest property in entertainment.
Within five days of its launch, COD: Modern Warfare 3 had already surpassed $1 billion in global sales. To put that in context, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, the most successful movie opening of the year (and all time), raked in $519 million over the same period. Lady Gaga's latest album generated a paltry $11 million in comparison.
What exactly is it about this first-person combat game that prompts hysterical fans to join queues eager to get their hands on a copy at specially arranged midnight launch events? Why does each successive sequel outsell its record-breaking predecessor, despite only introducing the most minor of incremental improvements? Well, in short, it takes a simple concept that has appealed to audiences for generations and does it bigger, better and louder than anyone else.
Kids have been running around playgrounds pretending to shoot each other since the invention of the gunpowder musket. Call of Duty developers cleverly capitalise on our innate obsession with war games, throw in some Hollywood-style pyrotechnics and laugh all the way to the bank. It is simple, straightforward and shallow, but you could probably say the same about most blockbuster movies, bestselling books or chart-topping albums.
If you've played any of the previous games in the series, you'll know exactly what to expect here: big guns, even bigger explosions, a wafer-thin World War III plot and an emphasis on online multiplayer shootouts. The single player campaign mode again puts you in the shoes of various soldiers and special forces agents as you attempt to save the world from nuclear apocalypse and take down the terrorist mastermind behind it all.
As a visual spectacle it is incredibly impressive. Graphics are sharper than any COD game to date, with the environments richly detailed and realistic. A feeling of worldwide conflict and international meltdown is heightened as the globetrotting campaign takes you from urban battles in London and New York to the jungles and shantytowns of North Africa. It's a cinematic experience from start to finish, with breathless pacing and camera angles that borrow heavily from the Michael Bay crash, bang, wallop school of action flicks.
Barely a minute goes by without something blowing up, bursting into flames or being shot to smithereens. While the set pieces and intense action are initially impressive, the impact reduces through repetition, and after an hour or so, the jaw-dropping bangs and booms become part of the background noise.
The multiplayer side of things is again a key feature of the game, with a variety of team-based and individual game types putting a spin on the familiar shoot and hide gameplay. Each kill, win and game completed earns you experience points, which can be spent on various perks and upgrades. It's probably worth honing your skills for a while before taking the plunge though, as the online COD community are a fairly unforgiving bunch and will mercilessly gun down any player guilty of the heinous crime of being a "noob".
Voice chat should be used with caution too – as much fun as it can be arranging tactical plans and calling for support and cover from team-mates, there's a noisy but nasty minority of trolls who use racist, sexist and homophobic abuse to provoke a reaction or gain an advantage.
Modern Warfare 3 serves up exactly what you'd expect, and does it with more polish and panache than ever before, but there are very few original touches or attempts at innovation to be found. It would be refreshing to see such a huge franchise try something new at some point, but when it continues to sell in such mind-boggling quantities, there's little motivation for the developers to mess with a winning formula.
Lee Henaghan reviews games fortnightly in Leisure. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Game provided by United Video, Nelson.
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