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We get a look at a newly revealed level from the campaign and go hands-on with Survival mode...
If it were a book, Dan Brown would be writing it; if it were a film, Michael Bay would be directing it and there'd be Transformers all over the show; if it were an album, Coldplay would have their grandeur deluded faces on the cover. Regardless of whether or not you like those three purveyors of entertainment, they all have one thing in common: the ability to shovel sales like hotcakes laced with heroin and the market share to do it repeatedly through numerous iterations that are bound by PR campaigns which, if redirected, could probably convince you that Afghanistan is a nice place to holiday. Modern Warfare 3 is the video game equivalent of this – its two predecessors in the Call of Duty series both managed to break the day-one sales record for any entertainment product in history and this hotly anticipated conclusion to the Modern Warfare trilogy is a dead cert to break that record again. If it were the 1960s and Modern Warfare 3 was a rock 'n roll luminary rather than a game, it would be claiming that it's “more popular than Jesus now”.
No pressure then. But it's pressure that collaborative developers, Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games seem to be spinning to their advantage. As the pressure of expectation has built up, so has the scale of the game's story, from deep black covert ops in the original Modern Warfare to an invasion of America's capital in the sequel, and finally a full-scale World War across the West's most recognisable cities in this third instalment (New York, London, Paris, Berlin). Last week we were lucky enough to see the first demo of a level from the Paris invasion – previously, Activision had only demoed levels in New York and London. By far and away the most exciting news to report from our latest demo is that – wait for it... the AC-130 is back! That's right, you're going to be firing those 25mm, 40mm, and 105mm cannons again (just as you did when rescuing Nikolai in the original Modern Warfare), only this time you'll be doing it right in the centre of Paris.
Entitled 'The Iron Lady', this Paris level sees special forces on the ground attempting to locate an HVT (high value target) as the AC-130 provides aerial support. It's a similar gameplay blueprint to the first AC-130 level too – firstly you play as a member of a special forces team on the ground (in this case pinned down under the fire of more enemy troops, tanks, and choppers than a Soviet military parade), and then the gameplay pans to the gunner's view on the AC-130. The team you're defending are highlighted in green; enemies are in red. It's as much a shooting gallery as anything else, as the AC-130's cannons dispose of all the Russian military hardware like a squeezy bottle of bleach cleansing your toilet. Now able to move out of cover, the spec ops team proceeds away from the 'hot' city square and into some winding Parisian back streets en-route to the HVT. Unbeknownst to the squad, they're wandering into a nest of enemy soldiers hiding out on the balconies overlooking these streets, and they've got RPGs...
Again, it's an easy job for the AC-130. Short work is made of any ground troops using the 25mm cannons, while our demo person switched to 40mms in order to take out the embedded RPGs. The first volley levelled a building on the corner of two streets, leaving it collapsed across all four stories and throwing up a dense cloud of dust in its wake. We're pretty sure the destruction was scripted, but it was an impressive example of the added attention to environmental destruction that Sledgehammer and Infinity Ward are giving Modern Warfare 3's campaign. Given the dense, urban settings and sheer level of carnage, it would seem a little drab if the destruction remained at the more static levels seen in its predecessors. Nonetheless, as our demo left the AC-130 and returned to the ground forces' perspective, there were a few more positive examples of this kind of destructibility: Concrete terraces that chip away under bullet fire and tall, Napoleonic window panes that smash in a hailstorm of glass shards. This kind of destruction certainly wasn't scripted, and it was the kind of improvements we noticed in the Wall Street level earlier this year too, so evidently it's a focus for MW3 even if Activision hasn't been heavily plugging it in the PR blurb.
So that's Activision's latest demo. On a personal note, this writer preferred it when Modern Warfare wasn't quite so Team America; when it wasn't quite so much about capital cities falling alongside their featured monuments. The slide towards this was kind of inevitable given the popcorn scoffing action in Modern Warfare 2, but there's something about the clandestine events in the original game that I find more appealing. It's that Tom Clancy or Andy McNabb style of retold events that you wouldn't have read about in the papers, or that are so classified that the official documentation will never reach the light of day. In this regard, it kind of feels like a shame that the scale of action in the Modern Warfare series has been gradually dialled-up to suit the game's scale of hype. All of that said, when the time comes around for reviews and the story gets dished out in full, there's still plenty of scope for me to be proven well and truly wrong. It's just a slight inkling that can't be shaken at this stage.
Of course, that's just the single-player and so much of what makes Modern Warfare great is its multiplayer. In our recent preview, Activision were also kind enough to offer us a hands-on opportunity with the new Survival mode (it's basically the Zombies co-op mode of Black Ops, only without Zombies). Ditching the zombies has allowed Infinity Ward a touch more freedom in the gameplay – instead of focusing on lurching undead, the studio has instead been able to focus on ramping-up the action with waves of enemy choppers, heavily armoured ground forces, attack dogs, suicide bombers, and even chemical agent attacks. You're also afforded more freedom in how you approach the combat by calling in airstrikes, directing Predator drones, and requesting support from Delta Squad or a team of riot shield-cladded soldiers as examples (you'll also get access to perks, equipment, weapons, and explosives as the waves unfold and you earn more cash). It all adds more variation and scope to the kind of action seen in Zombies co-op, which in turn makes it quite a bit more fun to play. We couldn't even best wave 11 during our hands-on and Activision assures us that the the waves are infinite, so expect to get a massive heap of longevity out of this one in addition to the uber-popular adversarial multiplayer.
Having seen as much of Modern Warfare 3 as we're going to get before reviews roll around, we can happily pass it with a clean bill of health. Given the huge popularity of the series and the expectations that come with that, this is no mean feat. The campaign levels we've seen so far are very impressive – action doesn't get much more spectacular in a video game – and the new Survival mode is a big hunk of fun.