Originally Released: 2007; 2009; 2011
Developer: Infinity Ward/Sledgehammer Games
Also Available For: Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
This may shock and surprise and annoy a lot of people but…I do not care for the Call of Duty franchise (Various, 2003 to present). Activision’s long-running first-person shooter (FPS) series has seen many releases, spin-offs, and other related media over the years and has, collectively, sold over 250 million copies. Yet…it’s not really for me. As a general rule, I’m not much of a fan of FPS games and my love for them died out around about the same time as the release of Perfect Dark (Rare, 2000). This is simply a personal bias for me; I sometimes struggle with the maze-like nature of FPS games, the restrictive view (I can never seem to see anything and don’t like being attacked from behind), and how many FPS games make the controls needlessly complicated and convoluted. However, when I bought my Xbox 360, it came with a few Call of Duty titles, most prominently the Modern Warfare Trilogy. Therefore, January is going to be “CoD Month” and I’ll be spending the next few Wednesdays going through the Call of Duty games I played to see if my bias against the series was justified and to obtain a bunch of sweet, sweet, Achievements.
In a change for Call of Duty’s traditional World War Two settings, the Modern Warfare trilogy takes place between 2011 and 2016 and is initially centred around a civil war in Russia which eventually (through a series of complex betrayals and double-turns) escalates into a full-on world war between the United States and Russia.
The Modern Warfare titles are first-person shooters that primarily place players in the role of either British Special Air Service (S.A.S.) Captain (originally Segerent) John “Soap” MacTavish and Captain John Price. While these two are the primary characters of the trilogy, you’ll also take on other roles (such as Sergeant Gary “Roach” Sanderson and Private First Class Joseph Allen in Modern Warfare 2 and Staff Sergeant Derek “Frost” Westbrook and ex-Spetsnaz operative Yuri in Modern Warfare 3). No matter who you’re playing as, the controls and heads-up display (HUD) are exactly the same and very little changes between each title in terms of your abilities and controls.
By pressing B, players can assume one of three stances: standing, crouching, and “prone” (where they lie down on the floor), each of which affects your speed, aim, and level of stealth. Standing up makes you an open target, for example, but going prone can render you almost completely undetectable. You can jump with the A button but there’s very little call for this; you don’t have to do that much jumping and this is mainly used in specific areas to vault over low walls and other areas of cover. Holding in the left analogue stick will see you break into a run (you can’t do this indefinitely, though, and there’s no stamina meter to let you know how long you have between sprints so you’ll just have to guess) while pressing in the right analogue stick allows you to melee attack enemies. You can also reload with X, toss grenades or flashbangs with either the Left and Right Buttons, respectively, switch between your weapons with the Y button (you can only hold two at a time but you can hold X to pick up new weapons as-and-when you come across them), and aim and shoot your primary weapon with the Left and Right Triggers. Shooting comes in two forms: down the sights and from the hip and, by tapping the Left Trigger, you’ll automatically snap on to the nearest enemy in a form of auto-aiming.
Generally speaking, the game encourages you to switch weapons rather than reloading as this is faster but, in my experience, this results in you having two weapons that are low on ammo and need reloading rather than just one and considering how long and complex the reloading animations can be (I swear there’s one rifle that takes a good twenty seconds to reload) so either tactic has its pros and cons. One thing that is helpful is the ability to grab and throw enemy grenades back at them; you’ll need to be quick, though, as grenades have a horrible and annoying tendency to simply explode and kill you in one hit if you’re not fast enough. As in a lot of FPS games, you can recover your health by avoiding damage for a few seconds; while you can do this by taking cover, you need to be careful as the Modern Warfare games utilise a bullet penetration system where certain bullets and munitions are capable of penetrating certain surfaces (dry wall, concrete, etc) plus vehicles have a habit of catching fire and exploding when you’re too close to them. Luckily, each game is peppered with checkpoints so you can return to the fight quite quickly after being randomly shot in the middle of whatever you were doing.
A mini map sits in the HUD to help show enemy placements and works in conjunction with a small compass that directs you towards your next objective; this system is refined and far more intuitive and user-friendly in the second and third games but you’ll never really have to worry about getting lost despite how grey and brown and uniform a lot of the game’s locations are as each title is very linear in its layout and objectives. Gameplay is further broken up throughout the trilogy by allowing you to pilot and drive a variety of military vehicles; you’ll be driving trucks, tanks, boats, snow-skis, and helicopters. When high in the sky, you’ll switch between different thermal visions and have access to machine guns, bombs, and other explosive rounds to provide air support but, in a lot of cases, these are mainly prolonged gameplay sections that abruptly end in a disorientating in-game cutscene for your character. And make no mistake, the Modern Warfare games love to pull this trick on you. If you’re running through a warzone, you can guarantee that you’ll be falling through a crumbling floor or floored by a sense-jarring explosion, and if you’re driving or flying you’re most likely going to get derailed by a sudden explosion.
Gameplay is further broken up by tasking you with some specific missions: in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, for example, you’ll have to man a Barrett M82 sniper rifle and take into account wind resistance (indicated by a fluttering flag) and the “Coriolis effect” in order to get a good shot on your target. In Modern Warfare 2, you can choose to take part in a highly controversial mission that sees you going undercover and taking part in a mass shooting at a Russian airport and Modern Warfare 3 sees you manning both a mortar cannon and a small remote control tank to clear out opposing forces. Each game also features stealth missions, generally when working with Captain Price, that see you having to sneak past guards to take them out silently with your melee attacks or sniper rifles. Sometimes, you’ll also be planting explosives or sabotaging controls panels and such and, though tense and annoying at times, these can be some of the best sections in the game as you’re not inundated with enemies you can hardly see. You’ll also have to take part in a handful of quick-time events (QTEs), generally at the conclusion of each game that sees you grievously hurt or otherwise incapacitated and forced to struggle through the sluggish controls and skewed vision to take a shot at an enemy or rapidly tap a button at the right time to win.
Graphics and Sound:
Generally speaking, the three Modern Warfare titles still all hold up pretty well despite the fact that a lot of their loading times are hidden behind doors and gates you cannot open or pass without someone else breaking them open for you. Locations are varied and take place across the globe, placing you in desolate, uninspiring environments such as the desert but also crumbling cities under a massive assault, on the steps of the White House while it’s under siege, and in the frozen Siberian wastes. You’ll also navigate through claustrophobic submarines, the streets and underground of London, and even a diamond mine. The trilogy does a great job of recreating iconic landmarks, making seeing the White House in flames or the Eiffel Tower collapsing quite a powerful spectacle, but a lot of their environments are still very bland and generic. Luckily for me, the trilogy is very linear but it can still be difficult to spot enemies when they seem to blend into their surroundings and I found myself firing on my own team mates more often than I’d like to admit as a result.
The game’s various weapons and vehicles are all extremely realistic and detailed as well, almost to a fault because, as mentioned, reloading some weapons can take a significant amount of time which, while realistic, can be annoying when you’re under heavy fire. Unlike some FPS games, the character models don’t suffer either and actually look quite decent rather than appearing as little more than action figures; it helps that the majority of the game’s story is told using the in-game engine and voiceovers rather than using full-on CGI cutscenes so there’s a lot less of the weird juxtaposition between in-game graphics and pre-rendered graphics. Each game is punctuated by fittingly rousing military music but, for the most part, I found the trilogy’s soundtracks quite underwhelming and mostly supplanted by the in-game sounds of the dead, dying, and maimed. The trilogy features some strong vocal performances (helped by actors such as Troy Baker, Keith David, Lance Henriksen, William Fichtner, Idris Elba, and Timothy Olyphant) but it’s difficult for me to really praise it all that much as it’s absolutely swamped with military slang and expressions that, again, I’m sure are extremely realistic and accurate but end up grating after a while.
Enemies and Bosses:
Primarily, you’ll be blowing holes through innumerable Russian soldiers and various terrorist forces who, while amounting to little more than cannon fodder to your superior weaponry and skills, can still kill you in an instant thanks to their commendable artificial intelligence. Enemies will dash behind cover, shoot over walls, move to flank you, and won’t hesitate to one-shot you with a melee attack of their own or a well-thrown grenade. When entering new areas, it’s best to take cover and scope out the area, picking enemies off from a distance as you’ll also come up against snipers and enemies who are packing rocket launchers. These, like a lot of the enemies you’ll encounter, like to take positions high above you and, while they mostly go down after one or two shots, have a nasty tendency to take pot shots at you while downed, recover and riddle you with bullets from behind, or even explode in your face if you’re not careful.
You won’t really come up against boss battles in the traditional sense but you will have to contend with more formidable enemy weaponry, such as tanks and Mi-24 Hind helicopters. Usually, you’re equipped with a rocket launcher or similar weapon to take these down but, other times, you’ll engage them in a similar vehicle of your own and be tasked with clearing the area for your ground-based team mates.
At the end of each game, you’ll end up in a confrontation with the game’s principal antagonist; in Call of Duty 4, it’s Victor Zakhaev, in Modern Warfare 2, it’s renegade turncoat Lieutenant General Shepherd, and in Modern Warfare 3 it’s Vladimir Makarov. No matter how good your skills are at moving, evading, and shooting, these final battles amount to little more than an interactive cutscene as your character is incapacitated and you simply limp towards a gun to make the kill shot or hit the right buttons at the right time to put them down once and for all.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Given that the Modern Warfare trilogy is going more for realism over anything else, there’s not really much on offer here besides a bevy of weaponry and military-grade hardware to aid in your mission (such as night vision goggles). You’ll get access to a variety of handguns, shotguns, rifles, heavy weapons like rocket launchers and the like and even riot shields but you can only ever carry two weapons at any one time.
While ammo is quite plentiful, it might be wise to switch to another weapon when one becomes available (personally, I quite like a good sniper rifle as it helps to thin out enemies from a safe distance) and some of them are more useful than others; the M200 Intervention rifle comes equipped with a heartbeat sensor, for example, which looks and functions exactly like the motion sensor from Aliens (Cameron, 1987) and is very helpful for detecting nearby enemies, while the FGM-148 Javelin is perfect for taking out tanks and choppers (if a little unwieldy due to its size) and you can even duel wield some weapons.
Each game comes with a bunch of Achievements for you to earn; many of these are story based, which is helpful, but others will require you to beat the game on higher difficulty settings or perform certain tasks in certain missions. Some even carry over from game to game, such as the “Purple Heart” Achievement, stealthily offing enemies, finding all the Intel hidden through the missions, or killing multiple enemies with one bullet or explosion, while others are slightly more specific to each game. Either way, they’re a great excuse to replay prior missions and increase your Gamer Score but a lot of them are also tied to the trilogy’s multiplayer element. As with any FPS title worth its salt, the Call of Duty series is well-renowned for its multiplayer component. Unfortunately, my Xbox Gold isn’t active right now so I couldn’t really get the most out of this initially but, luckily, Modern Warfare 2 and 3 feature a “Spec Ops” multiplier mode that allows for split-screen, couch co-op and a variety of solo options that see you surviving against waves of increasingly-difficult enemies or performing certain missions across a variety of the game’s maps. As you play these modes, you earn in-game currency to buy better weapons and upgrades, earn points to upgrade your ranking, and also unlock new maps, modes, and missions.
I went into the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Trilogy with low expectations; I simply wanted to blast through and earn as many Achievements as I could and then put the game away forever and, largely, I succeeded in that goal. While I found some elements of each game enjoyable (the stealth and vehicle-based missions, for examples), I mostly found myself complete underwhelmed with each game’s mechanics, plot, and presentation. Don’t get me wrong; I see the appeal, especially for those who enjoy FPS games (and, specifically, military FPS titles) but, for me, none of the titles are really that innovative or do much to stand out from the many similar FPS titles out there. The games get bigger and more involved as they progress, adding more vehicles and more open locations, but add very little beyond a few bells and whistles. In the end, I find myself wondering why the series is held in such regard when it looks and plays almost exactly like any other FPS title but at least the Achievements were easy enough to get.
Could Be Better
What did you think of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare trilogy? Which of the three is your favourite and where do they stand in your ranking of the Call of Duty titles? Do you think I have committed the ultimate sacrilege by besmirching the good name of the Call of Duty franchise or do you agree that the series is somewhat over-rated and stagnated? Whatever you think, feel free to leave a comment below and check back in next Wednesday for another Call of Duty review.