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Review: Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer is a sweet addiction

Dear reader. I died many times to bring you this review. I endured endless humiliation as my fellow gamers shot me and trampled over my dead body to collect my dog tags. I have suffered the indignity of being the last player shot in a game, which means that everybody gets to see my character die in slow motion. I must be a zombie though, pulled back into the same mindless entertainment, because I keep rising from the dead to play again.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 launched to great fanfare on Tuesday as one of the biggest video games of the year, and we rated the single-player campaign as one of the best games of the year.

After a few days of  combat, I’m happy to say that the multiplayer version of the game isn’t a disappointment, bringing new kinds of variety and freshness for players who have played the prior games to death. This is a major reason why Activision Blizzard generates more than $1 billion in revenue from each Call of Duty game and why many players ignore other games and keep playing for months. It’s like a rollercoaster ride that you keep going back to at the amusement park.

Get used to getting shot

The great thing about the multiplayer is that it builds on a foundation that is already the finest multiplayer combat experience. The game moves at the eye-blink speed of 60 frames per second, with no perceptible lag most of the time. In contrast the slower, more deliberate and more realistic multiplayer for Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3′s combat is fast-paced, wildly unrealistic, and much more intense in terms of the frequency of kills and deaths. It’s also plain better, with touches such as it is much easier to tell who is your enemy and who is your friend, based on the colors of the name tags atop the players.

I played Call of Duty Black Ops multiplayer for much of the past year; the game held my interest for much longer than I played Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, which came out in 2009. After dropping it for a while, I usually rejoined with the launch of a new map pack, which came out four times during the year. By the end of it, I had cycled through the Prestige mode one-and-a-half times, which means I played through about 111 levels. By the standards of the hardcore community, this means I was a lightweight casual player.

It held my interest because of its wide variety and an endless system of rewards and achievements that never ended. Every time I played the game, I got some kind of achievement and the session advanced me toward goals that got closer and closer.

Just one more kill, and you can get a new reward. Of course, you might have to die three times to get that kill. My goals at this point are pretty simple. Get more kills than deaths in a match, and eventually come out on top of a match with the most kills or points. It may take me a while before I can do that, given my dull reflexes in my old age. Call me a masochist. But I keep going back for more.

Can newbies play?

That whole business may sound intimidating to most players. But practice really helps you get better, and Activision Blizzard’s motto for the game is “easy to learn, hard to master.”

As I say that, I have an embarrassing kill/death ratio, which is recorded for the sake of posterity and is visible to me when I log into the Call of Duty Elite social network (when it is working). Fortunately, the online disruption of the Elite service isn’t hampering online multiplayer play at all. You can keep on playing and the servers will continue to store your multiplayer stats, even if you can’t access the Elite service.

I have to say that, even after getting back up to speed on my skills by completing the single-player campaign on the Hardened level, I am starting out pretty poorly. I’m getting killed about three times for every kill I get. That’s a lot worse than I did when I played Black Ops. I don’t know if it means that the hardest of the hardcore players are playing right now. Hopefully some more casual players will come on board and help me get my stats back up. The game does a reasonably good job of putting similar players together. But while ranked at level 13, I played in a match with a level 66 player. It wasn’t pretty.

I got my first hands-on look at multiplayer in September at Activision’s Call of Duty XP event, which was held in a giant aircraft hangar in Los Angeles where Howard Hughes built the Spruce Goose. There, I got lose myself in the excitement of playing with a bunch of other fans, including experiencing a paintball frag match in a life-size replica of the Scrapyard multiplayer map from Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2.

How to stay alive

While there, I learned a few tips from the masters. One was that you shouldn’t run everywhere you possibly can. You always have this fear that someone will sneak up on you if you stay still. But it can pay off quite a bit if you stay still and wait for enemies to come to you. For one thing, you can stay still and get a better aim. And you can keep your aim ready. If you’re sprinting to get to a flag at the beginning of a match, you better figure out when to slow down because you can bet that another enemy is racing to get to the same flag or vantage point first.

Of course, most maps are designed so that you can’t just stay in one spot and have a great vantage point. Almost anywhere you plant yourself, you either have a limited field of view or are exposed to someone sneaking up on you. When you are staying still, move around a little. You don’t want to look out a window, take shot, and then duck and go back to the window. More than likely you’ll be shot if you keep shooting from the same place. In other words, if you camp too long in a good spot, somebody will figure it out. If you get to know the maps well, then you can figure out multiple spots and then rotate between them. If you can find protected high ground, use it.

Sometimes it pays to follow around someone who knows what they’re doing. When your own teammate rounds a corner and gets shot, that’s a pretty good clue for what awaits you around that corner. Reloading takes time and makes you vulnerable. Make sure you’re out of site of the enemy when you reload. Sometimes it’s faster to switch to a secondary weapon than to reload.

It’s always nice to lob a flash bang grenade around a corner or toss a grenade into an area with multiple enemies. But you have to cook them, or hold the timer for a few seconds so the enemy can’t pick up the grenade and throw it back. You may be tempted to spray the battlefield in hopes of getting lucky with a shot, but controlled short bursts are better and more accurate.

The game has a mini-map on the heads-up display. It can show you where enemies and friendlies are relative to your position. It gives you good situational awareness if you glance at it, but don’t become to enthralled with it or someone will take you out while you’re not watching ahead of you.

Once you get advanced enough to tailor your weapons kits, create different kits that match the needs of different maps. Suppressors are good to pick up so that your gunshots aren’t so easy to discern in terms of direction of the sound. And once you get advanced enough to use Claymore mines, plant them so that you can protect your backside while sitting still. The Claymores are best used around doorways or other traffic choke points like flags. Finally, if you need practice, play the single-player Spec Ops mode, where waves of enemies keep attack you until they finally take you down.

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