By the time you read this, Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 has already sold millions upon millions of copies to a worldwide fanbase and been touted as the biggest entertainment launch of all time. To keep its unprecedented growth up, the franchise has continued to top itself year after year with increasingly elaborate action scenes and refining the same addictive multiplayer formula established in 2007. MW3 stays true to form and continues upping the ante, but whether it advances the template is more up for debate.
Skipping the second act of the Modern Warfare saga altogether on Wii, the final part of the trilogy picks up around the point in its World War III scenario where U.S. forces and its allies begin to push back against the invading Russian force. Or something like that — storytelling is not exactly the game's strong suit, a muddied mess told in really quick briefings between missions that give you a sort-of idea as to what's happening, but the leaps between events are drastic and often ill explained. Wii players going from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Reflex to the events of MW3 will face a huge jump in story that is tough to keep track of all of the conspiracies, character relationships and generally why Russian forces have occupied Manhattan. The real reason, however, is to craft back-to-back white-knuckle missions.
Many a challenger has attempted to one-up the series in the intervening years since Modern Warfare first hit, and Infinity Ward escalates to ridiculous heights the performance that put the franchise on the map. Set-pieces are varied and filled with places to go and Russians to shoot, but outside of one or two in the six-hour campaign there is nothing here that the series hasn't done before. Still, there's a reason nobody has managed to beat Call of Duty at its own game: its depiction of near-future WWIII puts you in some of the most over-the-top and tight action scenarios the genre has seen. It's an absolute beast of a roller coaster, and boy howdy what a ride.
You could make a very persuasive argument that the campaign is too tight, in that there is no room to breathe between shooting things, being shot at and general stuff blowing up — with bombast firmly cranked to 11, that 11 becomes the new normal and much of the emotional impact of seeing the destruction of some of the world's greatest cities and landmarks is lost. MW3 contains possibly the most heavily scripted campaign of the franchise thus far, clearly defining every moment so as to maximise the thrill ride but minimise the sense of player control. There's a clear-cut path that you're discouraged to stray from, turning most of your "objectives" into following AI companions as they bark orders at you or leaping into in one of many turrets. Its path is well tread at this point, hitting many of the same beats as post-Modern Warfare Call of Duty titles that contribute to a heavy sense of deja vu throughout. The formula has done the franchise well so far, and if you've played any of its non-WWII entries then you know exactly what to expect.
The behemoth multiplayer component hasn't changed too much from Modern Warfare 2, and anyone looking for more Call of Duty will do well here. Disappointingly, MW3's multiplayer component has left out all of the interesting new ideas and modes introduced in Treyarch's Black Ops like Gun Game, One in the Chamber or the CoD Points system. It feels like a step back in many regards, especially for those who spent many an hour online in Black Ops' alternatives to Team Deathmatch and hoped to see enough improvement to warrant the +1. But saying that nothing is new would be disingenuous, since what is new is a re-balance of the old — and the 16 new, well-designed maps are nothing to scoff at either. You now level up individual weapons to unlock attachments and their own perks, the HUD is tightened up a bit and smart changes to killstreaks and weapons helps balance things out from the wobble-fest of MW2 — but none of it feels like much of a refresh of the formula that, due to annual entries and intense copy-cat competition, is getting a bit long in the tooth.
New to Wii players is Special Ops mode, although it's not quite the same as its HD brethren. Out are the whiz-bang, bite-sized arcade missions and in their place is score-based Survival, a modern-era evolution of Treyarch's popular Zombies mode. Played either solo or with a partner, but demanding an Internet connection either way, ten waves of enemies come at you in one of 25 stages. You start off with a pistol and quickly arm yourself using cash earned based on your performance that can be spent on new weapons, ammo, explosions and support packages. It's not a wholly different experience from Zombies apart from tongue firmly away from cheek, and having the actual Special Ops mode would be preferable if only for diversity's sake — but the plethora of extra stages over Black Ops' solitary Zombies map provides a satisfying co-op alternative to the typical versus kill-fest. It would be loads more fun with local multiplayer, but unfortunately that is one of many compromises Wii players still have to live with.
Wii players again face a few compromises in features compared to its HD siblings: a few killstreaks are still out as well as killcams, the longer campaign stages have been broken up into smaller chunks, player count hasn't budged over prior games and support for the new Call of Duty Elite subscription service is non-existent. MW3 does retain Headbanger voice chat support as well as patching, the latter of which can only be a good thing considering the shaky, somewhat buggy ground upon which it currently stands. Plagued by hit detection issues, lag and failing to load parts of the HUD from time to time, getting a technically sound game going is more difficult than it should be for the time being.
However, Treyarch's technical proficiency is not to be doubted as MW3 is the prettiest Wii entry the series has yet seen, although it still pales in comparison to on beefier hardware. The frame rate holds up reasonably well during huge set-pieces while maintaining a nice level of detail throughout, although you won't be seeing the 60fps that the series is known for in HD and things can drop well below 30fps in multiplayer. Lighting and shadows see marked improvements over Black Ops to help give the world a more rounded feeling compared to last year's somewhat flat look.
Modern Warfare 3 doesn't blaze much new ground and Call of Duty players will feel instantly at home with the game's heavily scripted machinations, so those wishing to see the series deviate from the norm are in for disappointment — and while there may be a twinge of fatigue setting in to the formula, Infinity Ward still outpaces the competition with a smartly updated, still addictive multiplayer and roller coaster campaign that are both fun while they last, but there's little sense that this isn't just more Call of Duty. Treyarch's technical prowess gained from bringing Call of Duty games on the platform shines through and through for the best-looking one on Wii yet. It's not exactly on par with the HD versions concerning fidelity or features, but considering the difference in horsepower MW3 on Wii is undeniably impressive. MW3 may not make you rethink the Call of Duty series, but it'll certainly satisfy its army of fans.