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Modern Warfare 3 stands tall amongst its peers. But rather than its story, visuals or energy, this is a game that stands out for a finely tuned interactive experience that even Apple would be proud of.
If you played the previous game, and can remember the story, Modern Warfare picks up where that left off. America is winning ground against the invaders, while the Russian president tries to depose the usurper, Makarov. To this end Delta Force and SAS squads are knee deep in the major land offensives. MacTavish and Price of, the now infamous, Task Force 141 are hunting Makarov in something of a personal vendetta. They are helped by a Russian spec-ops soldier, Yuri.
While the ins and outs of all this don't change the game itself a huge deal -- regardless of the story we know what will be happening scene to scene -- Modern Warfare 3 works harder than ever to connect emotional resonance with its military Ops. At times this lands its punches well. I found myself something of a gibbering wreck as John Price's shaky road to redemption finds some genuinely human ups and downs.
But it's the big, rather than small, moments that really impress. From the jaw-dropping opening in Manhattan, to scenes in Paris with paratroopers raining down to boarding a doomed jumbo jet, this is a blockbuster of blockbuster movies. To get the most out of it you really need to turn your sensitivities off and enjoy the ride -- worry about the violence later.
It being my bent, I soon headed to the multiplayer mode and wasn't disappointed. New weapon upgrades, customisable guns alongside other Role Play elements lend Modern Warfare a greater sense of progression than previous games. I really enjoyed being able to tweak my favourite weapons (increasing range, adding stability and diminishing recoil) not least because it made a tangible difference to my online performance.
This brings me to something of a secret. I was never keen on the (admittedly popular) perks system in Modern Warfare 2. Happily (for me at least) this has now been replaced with Strike Package system. Rather than just stringing together kills without dying for the upgrades and special attacks, you are now rewarded for more tactical play too -- completing objectives and assisting other players for instance.
I would have preferred to be able to play through the campaign itself in full co-op.
Also, these are no longer curtailed when you die so you can work tactically through a game safe in the knowledge that you will be rewarded for inching towards your goal. It's one of a number of ways that Modern Warfare 3 lets you play the multiplayer the way you want to play it -- and this will be different for each person.
What is more familiar are the maps themselves: 16 tightly packed arenas littered with choke-points and hard to spot sight lines. One of my favourites so far (more time will tell if this holds) is Arkaden, a map set in a German shopping mall. It offers a very different space to play in with its crisscrossing complex of shops and alleys. I found myself having to really adjust my play style to take advantage of this unfamiliar territory.
Other maps challenged me in different ways. Downtown for instance, drops you in a war torn Manhattan, and calls for less running and gunning and more long distance play. Dome is another much tighter map with cargo containers offering plenty of spots for campers. Throughout, this plays to Modern Warfare's strengths -- of fast frantic action -- as opposed to Battlefields more strategic gameplay.
The icing on the cake is Call of Duty: Elite, Modern Warfare 3's social networking addition. This not only means you can track your progress in minute detail, but it also offers all sorts of new ways to interact with other players -- and potential players with its Facebook integration.
A testament to the moments of joyous victory and agonising defeat that only videogames can create.
Alongside the main campaign there are 16 co-op missions that inject a slightly slower and more tactical pace to proceedings. Although I would have preferred to be able to play through the single player campaign itself in full co-operative fashion, the stand alone co-op modes are a welcome addition.
While some will try and defend Modern Warfare as a guilty pleasure that they keep secret from their more grownup life, worrying about the relenting cacophony of violence and lurid death, I'm quite happy to turn that part of my brain off and enjoy what is a finely tuned team experience.
Although it's not all bad, I don't feel the need to justify this by pointing to Modern Warfare 3's grand narrative, or tackling of difficult themes. It does all that, with varying success, sure. But the game itself is a testament to the moments of joyous victory and agonising defeat that only videogames can create.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: