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World War III comes to town as we get our first look at Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games' Modern Warfare 3...
There's action, and then there's ACTION! Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is most definitely the latter. As this week's reveal trailer has already illustrated, the game depicts a New York City left in ruins by a Russian invasion force sporting nuclear subs in Hudson Bay, Hind attack choppers flying between crumbling skyscrapers like frenzied wasps, and rubble falling from the sky in deluges as missiles pepper the most potent symbols of American culture. Not happy with the fall of one major city though, Modern Warfare 3 goes global with simultaneous conflicts set in London, Paris, and Berlin. It's all come a long way since the moody, covert ops that formed the tight-knit focus of the original Modern Warfare back in 2007.
Modern Warfare 2 was undeniably the popcorn-scoffing blockbuster to its predecessor's slightly more cerebral approach; the Michael Bay to its Tony Scott. Whichever style you prefer though, there's no denying the fact that Infinity Ward did both particularly well. But if the sequel was a popcorn-scoffing blockbuster, then this trilogy bookender goes off the scale; it pins you to your seat, blows back your eyelids, and makes you momentarily forget to take a breath. Or, at least, those were our lasting impressions of Modern Warfare 3 following a sizeable demonstration earlier this week where Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games revealed two levels set during the New York City and London attacks.
Take New York, for example: Infinity Ward's trademark level design style is as consistent as ever, slaloming from fire-fight to set-piece at breakneck pace while varying up the action with an occasional vehicle section. It's just the scale of the action and its relative placement that's new. The level opens with your character stuck in an overturned Humvee, which you have to crawl out of only to be left staring up at a missile hitting the side of a skyscraper, sending room-sized chunks of building showering down on your vicinity. No sooner have you dodged the boulders, though, than are you fighting off swathes of Russian troops across the streets of Manhattan in a classic Modern Warfare fire-fight where you're frenetically popping in-and-out of cover, flashing down the barrel to 'feather' targets, and pushing forward to stem the flow of enemies.
A primary objective flashes up on-screen: regroup at the Stock Exchange. As far as symbolism goes, certain Team America parodies do come to mind but I suppose that's not really the point. The point is that you move from the fire-fight into an office where TV screens show newsreels of worldwide attacks and, as you scale the floors, you come across a helicopter lodged in the side of the building - if you hadn't already got the point that this is World War III and the West is very much on the back foot, then you have now. Having moved through the office building and back onto the streets where more fire-fights await punctuated by the odd machine gunner from a heavily armoured transport vehicle, the Stock Exchange eventually comes into sight but offers little respite.
Through the windows of the stock exchange, the oversized American flag of Wall Street now rests in tatters (again, it's winning no prizes for subtle symbolism, but at least everyone's got the point). It's the stock exchange fire-fights here that really set themselves apart though: the multitude of computer terminals and stock ticker screens hang from the ceiling like digital chandeliers and, as both sides open fire, the more impressive end of Modern Warfare's limited destructible environments are used to great effect. Glass falls like rain as you desperately attempt to headshot enemies through the mist of debris and, while destructible cover doesn't appear to have made the cut into MW3, it's at least reassuring that Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer are making ample use of destruction in scripted places at least.
As a case in point, upon reaching the roof of the stock exchange, you're tasked with eliminating a hive of Russian communication antennas, firstly with a planted explosive and then with a Reaper UAV drone. While the antennas can be blasted to smithereens, the rest of the environment remains solidly planted, indicating that Modern Warfare still languishes quite a way behind Battlefield in the destruction stakes. But Infinity Ward's expertise has always been in heavily scripted gameplay, which is plainly evident from the closing section of the level. A US chopper hovers down next to the edge of the roof, prompting you to make an action hero jump for it. After reaching the mini-gun inside, a flock of Russian Hind's make their presence known. Chopper dogfights played out through the tight, street-sized gaps between a metropolis' skyscrapers appear in-game about as ludicrously unrealistic as they sound, but it's action that counts and that there is plenty of.
The London level starts off a touch more covertly, firstly from the camera of an unmanned reconnaissance plane recording suspicious activity around Canary Wharf (men loading boxes into trucks marked with a charity logo), and then on the ground as a team of SAS soldiers prepare to secure a building. Sergeant Wallcraft and Privates Miller and Dowd make up the squad as you scour the dilapidated office, stealthily executing patrolling soldiers as you move through the building and onto the trucks. A fully blown fire-fight breaks out as you reach the vehicles, culminating in a getaway attempt by the enemy fighters. Your squad checks the trucks and finds nothing inside, so the SAS team board the trucks and follow their targets that have managed to commandeer a tube.
Yes, you heard right, they've hijacked a tube. The ensuing chase (captured in the reveal trailer) is quite possibly the most overwrought action sequence we've seen in a Modern Warfare game to-date. It includes near head-on collisions with another tube train, machine gunning the carriage to smithereens in an attempt to halt the getaways, and skilled driving as both trucks skid wildly to avoid the rapidly derailing tube that smashes through load-bearing underground columns as it careers out of control. Intense is one way of putting it; completely off-the-rails is another.
Sledgehammer Games' Vice-President and General Manager, Glen Schofield and Infinity Ward's Creative Strategist, Robert Bowling were both on hand to annotate the demos and provide some snippets of info from the rest of the game. It seems that, as well as the four capital cities mentioned at the top of this article, Modern Warfare 3 will also journey to locations in Russia, Africa, and the Himalayas throughout its campaign. Although they weren't featured during our two level demos, Captain Price and Sergeant 'Soap' McTavish will make a return in the story and, finally, Spec Ops has also been confirmed as a returning feature for the game. Roll on November 8th...
If you thought Modern Warfare 2 was an action-packed blockbuster; a game that was rewarding for its mile-a-minute pacing and set-pieces of cinematic glory, then Modern Warfare 3 is primed to set that benchmark all over again. Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games are building to one hell of a climax with Modern Warfare 3, making the series' two predecessors look like pussy cats in comparison.