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In a console generation of trilogy conclusions, we find out whether Modern Warfare 3 is the high point...
And so, what started off with a mission in the Bering Sea to investigate suspicious freight aboard a cargo ship has ultimately culminated in World War III. This is how far we've come from the start of the original Modern Warfare to the preface of this third instalment. There have been two nuclear explosions, the deaths/killings of all four of the game's 'Horsemen of the Apocalypse', one particularly memorable jaunt in an AC-130 gunship, ballistic missiles fired upon the continental United States, a full-scale air and land invasion of Washington DC, and more air miles racked-up by Task Force 141's jet-setting lifestyle than Judith Chalmers managed in her entire career on Wish You Were Here. Truly, it's been one hell of a ride and it's not about to stop now – Modern Warfare 3 takes all of that as its launchpad really, from which it delves into Russian invasions across the world's major capital cities.
New York, London, Paris, Berlin – all of them get the apocalyptic treatment complete with toppled skyscrapers, Russian hunter-killer subs in their rivers, stock exchanges in bits, and at least one iconic monument collapsing in a manner all too reminiscent of Team America. It's off-the-hook action that segues from one memorable set-piece to another with seamless, breakneck speed. Underneath all of this, though, the surviving members of Task Force 141 (now a disavowed group of mercenaries), Soap MacTavish and Captain Price (+1 FNG, Yuri), return to their under-the-radar operations that sway the balance of global power through microcosmic incisions as sharp as a Katana sword and effective as nerve gas. This is the kind of stuff we'd been looking forward to – not the ludicrous notion of a Russian invasion force actually managing to travel across continental Europe and reach its major capitals relatively unopposed, but the much more conceivable prospect of clandestine special ops putting a well placed spanner in the works and neutering the bad guys. Thankfully, MW3 has plenty of this, which is made all the more of a relief following MW2's relatively sparse offerings in this area.
Price and MacTavish et al. flick-flack across the globe once again from locations as far afield as Sierra Leone and the Czech Republic, no doubt costing their few remaining benefactors a small fortune in expenses. They're still incredible characters too – it may be the most popular game series in the world that's inevitably reached annoying levels of ubiquitousness as a result but, standing aside from this, Soap and Price are among the most memorable videogame characters in any first-person shooter, ever. Outside the iconic silent protagonists like Gordon Freeman and the Master Chief, FPS characters don't get any better than these former SAS soldiers and Modern Warfare 3 arguably depicts them in as flattering a light as either of the two games in the trilogy. And without dropping any spoilers, a trilogy is precisely what it is. That's not to say that Modern Warfare's characters won't return, but just to say that all of the series' various plot threads are tied up to the point that you'd have to start a whole new story arc in any further sequels.
Anybody expecting something extra special for this trilogy book-ender may well come away slightly disappointed though. Aside from the steroid-injected WWIII action, Modern Warfare 3's gameplay blueprint adheres to the rigidity of its predecessors. Through sniper sections, set-pieces, vehicle missions, and overclocked fire-fights to which any Modern Warfare veteran could set their clock by now, and the traditional campaign length of 6-7 hours, it all pangs of the tried-and-tested Modern Warfare formula that's become so entrenched since 2007. Infinity Ward's long-enduring game engine – which some commentators have accused of being outdated in the Frostbite 2 era – remains as rock-solid as ever though, and even boasts evidence of improved destructibility at times (although admittedly that evidence is fleeting and often scripted). Almost like an old friend, the studio clearly knows the strengths and limitations of its engine down to a tee. Blocky, low-res textures can be found on the periphery of any MW environment, but it's the way that Infinity Ward consistently manages to cast your eye away from this by lavishing all its processing power on the centre-pieces that's so impressive. Bringing Sledgehammer Games on-board to help with the single-player component post-West/Zampellagate clearly hasn't diluted the overall vision either – without the Sledgehammer names on the credits, you'd just as easily assume that it was business as usual.