Starting with a better story and good characters

The good starting point for Modern Warfare 3 is that it has a much better plot to keep the game focused. In any Call of Duty game, the goal is to give the gamers a wide array of experience fighting in multiple types of terrain in various combat situations.

That has meant in the past that you jump from character to character and the plot sometimes doesn’t hold together as a cohesive whole. Battlefield 3 kept a consistent main character and didn’t stray too much, but its characters and story weren’t as compelling. If Battlefield 3 was lined up against Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, it would have looked just fine in that way.

The plot of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 started plausibly enough, with two great nations being tricked into war by terrorists. But then it veered off into unbelievably ridiculous terrain. By the end of that game, you as the gamer had to shoot at terrorists, Russians, and American soldiers commanded by a rogue general — all in the same battle. It was horribly implausible, and I really didn’t enjoy shooting at American soldiers.

This game is much simpler. It focuses on the major characters Capt. John “Soap” MacTavish, a member of the secret anti-terrorist group Task Force 141 (now disavowed) and former SAS Capt. John Price. As the war wages around them, their mission is to find and kill Vladimir Makarov, the ultranationalist Russian terrorist leader who tricked Russia and the United States into World War III during the previous game. Modern Warfare 3 is a story about revenge, enacted by soldiers who have earned our respect over time as saviors of the modern world. Makarov has new diabolical plans to get his hands on Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

Both Soap and Price have been together since the very first title. While the player jumps from one character to the next, Soap and Price are never out of the picture for long. In that sense, the characters are familiar and iconic. Soap is voiced by actor Kevin McKidd and Price is voice by Billy Murray. While the dialogue isn’t brilliant as it is in Uncharted 3, it also isn’t stupid, which is often the case in video games. Soap and Price are buddies, but not jokers. They are merciless killers in pursuit of a prize. These now-iconic characters are bound by a common lack of respect for the rules and a hatred for Makarov and his fellow terrorists. The plot advances as they find ways to track down Makarov and thwart his plans to interrupt the peace process and keep the war going.

Price and Soap are joined by Russian informant Nikolai and by new characters such as Yuri, a member of Task Force 141 who may or may not be trustworthy. Another new character is Derek “Frost” Westbrook, an American elite Delta Force soldier who fights along a Delta Force officer named Sandman. The story is plausible, though it happens in an incredibly short period of time. And the plot has unexpected twists and serious moments that make it seem like a Bourne Identity thriller movie.

A good beginning

The new game starts in the middle of World War III. As mentioned, Modern Warfare 2 brought the conflict between the U.S. and Russia to a head, with the Russians taking Washington D.C., only to be pushed back at the last minute. Now the fighting has moved to New York, London and Paris.

You start out as Frost, who has to fight his way into the New York Stock Exchange and disrupt Russia’s technology for interrupting allied communications. From the very outset, the combat is fierce. The player as Frost has to take out a bunch of Russian troops and sweep through a bunch of enemies in rubble in order to get into the building.

One of the battles takes place inside a jewelry shop full of glass displays. That scene reminded me of the scene in the original Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare game where a shootout takes place in a TV station full of glass monitors. The sound of gunfire and shattered glass is cacaphonous. Then you move on from one difficult firefight to the next. Once you get to the top of the building, you have to blow up an antenna and then take out a bunch of Russians on rooftops. Then you board a helicopter and have to deal with Russian Hind helicopter gunships chasing you through the skyscrapers. Then things really get hairy when your helicopter spins out of control.

The action is short, sharp, and polished for maximum drama and tension. The first scene is an example of the kind of nonstop action that the game delivers to you over and over again. Jaded veteran players might very well be bored with this kind of over-the-top game play — something that isn’t likely to happen in real life — but the experience of playing through it will leave you with that adrenaline rush. That first scene is enough combat for a movie like Saving Private Ryan, but that’s just the start for Modern Warfare 3. Altogether, the single-player campaign game has 17 missions across three Acts.

Flawless execution of familiar game play

The game play is familiar in that you point and shoot. You can auto-aim by pulling the left trigger, which focuses your gun sites on a target. Then you pull the right trigger to fire. Rinse and repeat. You do this over and over again to clear lots of enemies before they can get a bead on you.

You can switch weapons, toss a grenade, take someone out silently with a knife stroke, and use special weapons or ride in a vehicle. For the most part, you can participate in tank or aerial combat, as the game continues to focus on the individual soldier’s experience of war.

Each battle space is unique in some way. Flaming embers fall at your feet. Chemical warfare gas can force you to wear a mask and lose your full vision. Sandstorms can whip up even worse visibility problems. You can choose to take out enemies silently or go in with guns blazing.

Usually, you can’t go wrong if you seek out one of the flanks and try to go around the enemy. The maps are usually big enough where you can find the path to the side. But in one of the maps, you have to stay in between two columns of advancing tanks. The enemies are on foot on both sides. So you have to use the tanks as cover and move ahead at a fast enough speed to stay up with the tanks. But the fighting is tricky because you have to fire in both directions in order to stay alive. The timing is particularly difficult, and I spent a lot of time trying to get through that mission.

That’s one of the reasons that the play time for the relatively short campaign can go upward. It took me about eight to 10 hours to finish the single-player campaign on “hardened,” which is one level above normal difficulty and which is the level that most players should play on if they are veterans of the prior games. It took me about the same amount of time — probably a little longer — to get through the Battlefield 3 single-player campaign. I don’t know the exact times since I was occasionally delirious while playing.

But there are some important differences between Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3. Those include the over-the-top moments that are much more like scenes from Uncharted 3 (with fights aboard planes and moving ships or trains) than Battlefield 3.