Activision officially pulls the curtain back on what will almost inevitably be the biggest game of the year. New screens, gameplay details.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Out November 8 worldwide.
Joint development between Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games.
Follow-up to Modern Warfare 2, UK’s best-selling game of all time.
Kept closely under wraps since West and Zampella’s controversial sacking from Infinity Ward
Rather than waiting for E3, which by the looks of it is hardly going to be short on fucking HUGE announcements, Activision has decided to show the next instalment in the unstoppable Call of Duty franchise a few weeks ahead of time. In a North London studio on Monday, Infinity Ward’s Robert Bowling and Sledgehammer Games’ Glen Schofield took to the stage together to demonstrate
Of course, Modern Warfare is particularly interesting this year because of the ex-Infinity Ward execs versus Activision wrangling that’s been plastered all over this and every other website since the middle of last year. Then there’s the collaboration with Sledgehammer Games, which also raises an eyebrow. What direction will these two studios take the series in? Are we going further down the setpiece-heavy action movie Modern Warfare 2 route, or will this new title reclaim the tension and relative seriousness of the original Modern Warfare?
On the evidence of this reveal demonstration, we’re definitely looking at the former. What we saw was heavily, heavily scripted, all-action setpiecing – but good lord, these are some impressive setpieces. As the latest trailer shows, Modern Warfare takes place in cities all over the world, from Paris to New York, London and, from the looks of it, Berlin. We saw what looks to be the opening level, set in the Big Apple, before being transported to Canary Wharf for a second mission.
Modern Warfare 3 picks up immediately after the end of MW2, with the world in a state of all-out war. The level opens as the player pulls himself out of a crashed helicopter on a New York street amid the familiar, cacophonous noise of gunfire and explosions, as a nearby sergeant screams at him to get out of the wreckage. Our first glimpse of the city is a vertical view up to the sky, the sun blooming between skyscrapers as the helicopter door is forced open – then we’re chucked some ammunition and told to make our way to the stock exchange.
Modern Warfare 3 picks up immediately after the end of MW2, with the world in a state of all-out war.
As our demonstrator fights his way through the streets and buildings of New York, recognisable landmarks like the Crown building and the stock exchange itself stand out a mile. Enemies take cover behind boardroom couches, jewelery store counters shatter under gunfire as he sprints out into the street from a department store, and a copter, broken blades still spinning, is lodged in the side of a skyscraper.
This, along with the dirtied American flags drooping over the wreckage and the blown-out cop cars littering the streets, is powerful imagery, designed (rather like Homefront’s) to get right at the heart of America’s power complex. It’s all narrow street combat, as befits New York’s close, vertiginous streets and grid-like layout.
On the roof of the stock exchange, our demonstrator uses a Reaper drone to clear the rooftops around of enemies before leaping onto a fast-departing extraction helicopter. What follows is a ridiculously high-octane air battle, with the player holding onto the mounted machine gun as the pilot waves around towering skyscrapers, evading the missiles of pursuers.
We couldn’t help but notice at this juncture that the actual buildings, despite being hit with missile after missile from this airborne firefight, displayed no progressive damage – not so much as a bullet-hole. At one point in particular, when the fight centered around a skyscraper still under construction, the plastic netting, steel constructs and random materials seemed entirely unbothered by the constant stream of bullets, until a helicopter crashed into it and everything promptly ignited.
Eventually, our own copter was hit, sending it spinning downwards and bashing into buildings whilst our demonstrator hung out of the door by his fingertips. It’s worth mentioning at this point that MW3 is as good-looking as you’d expect, the lack of dynamic destruction notwithstanding. Schofield mentions that it’s running at a constant 60fps, which is not difficult to believe.
The next mission is set in London’s Canary Wharf, and starts out as a covert operation before exploding into a full-on assault on the docks. This being London, it’s rainy, dark and atmospheric – the tall buildings of Canary Wharf’s skyline tower blearily in the background, their lights blurred through the damp.
There’s support from helicopters, whose sweeping searchlights cut through the gloom to illuminate enemies (who don’t seem to have much of an instinct for cover or self-preservation, incidentally, but in this series, they never have.) Sniper lasers, too, penetrate the darkness – this is hardly a one-man war.
It’s the conclusion of this section that provides the demo’s most impressive set-piece of all, a chase after tube train full of enemies down the sprawling tunnels of the London Underground. Manning the mounted machine gun on a truck, you’re in hot pursuit, veering wildly out of the way of oncoming trains and trying to avoid mowing down the fleeing passengers as you zoom past a platform.
You can catch a glimpse of what happens next in the trailer – the tube train explodes, flies off the rails, and proceeds to demolish what looks like half of the structural support of the Underground. It really is a hell of a spectacle.
It’s interesting to see FPS developers moving en masse towards urban combat as opposed to the dusty desert-style battlefields that have been obsessing them for the past few years. There’s an undeniable black thrill to seeing such iconic symbols of modernity torn apart by war, to fighting in a setting that’s familiar.
The battle ahead
Here’s the question we’re all thinking about, though: is it as good as Battlefield 3? DICE’s shooter definitely had the more jaw-dropping reveal demonstration, showing astonishing destructibility, tense pacing and serious graphical grunt that the Modern Warfare 3 demo did not match – but then it was running on a PC the size of a Shetland pony. What Modern Warfare 3 shows us is gameplay running on a console, locked at 60fps – Battlefield 3 isn’t possibly going to be able to do that.
This MW3 demo also had the edge in terms of sheer full-on sensory assault – stuff never stopped happening for a second. (Given that Modern Warfare 2 knew how to change the pace up at least a little, though, we can assume that the finished game will give us a little more time to catch our breath.)
This is the first year in a long time where we’ve had real, tooth-and-nail competition at the top of the shooter ladder. Activision has a lot more to worry about here than they did with Medal of Honor last year. When Infinity Ward/Sledgehammer and DICE start putting their multiplayer cards on the table, this is going to escalate into an all-out war for the shooter-fan dollar.
And let’s remember, that’s extremely good for us. It will drive creativity and change in a genre that, let’s be honest, hasn’t really been known for either of those things in a while. It’s going to be an interesting year.
Modern Warfare 3 ships for PC, PS3 and 360 on November 8.