In case you hadn't heard the news, there's a new Call of Duty game coming this year in the form of Modern Warfare 3. Picking up immediately after its 2009 predecessor, Modern Warfare 3 will tell the story of US Delta Force operatives and British SAS forces teaming up against the Russian ultranationalists who have made the critical mistake of invading their home turf. Indeed, battles will be waged in both New York and London--among other locales--as you seek to deal with the Russian threat using a little tactic called "any gun you can get your hands on." Activision was kind enough to demo a slice of both the New York and London sections of the game at a recent press event leading up to this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, so let's get into the nitty-gritty of what you can expect from the latest installment in what has become the biggest video game franchise on the market.
Well, speaking of markets, your first goal in the New York demo is to carve your way through war-torn Lower Manhattan in order to make it to the Stock Exchange building. This level paints Manhattan as a city in ruins, with overturned cars filling the streets, massive sections of the road sunk into the ground, and buildings teetering on the edge of collapse. In true Call of Duty fashion, you're moving through a tightly scripted pathway without much opportunity to veer off and explore at your own leisure. In this level alone, you go from outside on Broad Street, up into a neighboring building overlooking the Stock Exchange's familiar oversized American flag, and then down onto the floor of the Exchange with its familiar circular computer pods. Eventually you and your team make it up onto the roof of the Exchange, deal with some bad guys camped across the way on nearby rooftops, and then jump into a helicopter for an on-rails turret sequence that will be well familiar to anyone who has spent much time with the franchise thus far.
There didn't seem to be an awful lot of gameplay additions in this particular demo. The main character was using a gun with a special new attachment that could be swapped from a red dot sight to a magnified ACOG sight with a simple twist of the wrist, which will probably add some welcome flexibility for those who would prefer one gun to deal with both close and distant enemies. Then there was another gun that we couldn't quite make out, but it appeared to have the form factor of a sniper rifle with the ability to lob grenades using a pinpoint, heavily magnified sniper rifle zoom. But aside from that, it was the same combat familiar to anyone who played Modern Warfare 2, right on down to a section where you man a predator drone strike from up in the sky.
In fact, this New York demo was an oddly muted one compared to the direction the series seemed to be heading in with Modern Warfare 2. There was no swelling music until near the end, little communication between squadmates, and no signs of city life to speak of outside of the two sides going about their warring business. Perhaps it's that codevelopers Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer want to stay more true to the surgical Delta Force tactics, or maybe it's that a demolished Manhattan level doesn't carry the same impact coming on the heels of Crysis 2, but all we know is that for a series known for increasing levels of spectacle and "wow" moments, this particular level didn't offer much of either.
Thankfully, the London level shown immediately afterward did offer some of that spectacle that we've come to expect from Call of Duty. This level begins with a pilot cruising above London using the familiar infrared vision of an AC-130 gunship. But quickly enough, you jump into the shoes of an SAS operative down on the ground in what turns out to be a rainy industrial neighborhood of London under a gloomy nighttime sky. The SAS begin by quickly and quietly moving through a dilapidated building, taking out enemies with silenced submachine guns. Eventually the fight spills out into a parking lot, then into a construction yard, and eventually down a large ramp descending into some sort of underground tunnel.
But it's revealed a moment later that this is no regular underground construction site. In fact, you've somehow fought your way down into the tunnel of the London Underground. (Did we mention this level is cheekily titled "Mind the Gap"?) The bad guys you're chasing hop onto one of the trains on the Tube, but your squad is just a few seconds late, so you have to make do with jumping onto a flat-bed truck and driving after them. In a high-speed chase leading through darkened tunnels, you're on the back of the truck shooting the Russians in the train, occasionally veering out of the way of oncoming trains that are little more than a flash of blinding light in these dark tunnels. At one point, you even pass through a crowded station with dozens of civilians waiting on the train platform--more to the point, civilians who must be soiling themselves at the sight of a speeding train being tailed by an equally speeding truck, which are firing shots at one another. Not quite the usual rush-hour Tube ride.
Things soon get worse, as the train you're chasing overturns and starts rolling sideways through the tunnels, knocking down the pillars and support beams as it careens sidelong through the dimly lit underground. It's an impressive sight that you can't help but stare at in awe, right up until the moment that your truck also manages to lose control and send you toppling down onto the ground. And just as that happens, the game logo pops up, and it's demo over.
At the end of the day, this really was a tale of two demos. The London level was a thoroughly entertaining encapsulation of the spectacle and excitement that people play Call of Duty games for, while the New York level was a strangely flat experience that didn't really grab us. Then again, every game needs varied pacing, and the Call of Duty series has practically mastered the art of roller-coaster action, so perhaps this particular slice of the New York campaign is more of a downtime moment designed to complement the dramatic spikes soon to follow. At any rate, it's still early yet, and there's still plenty of Modern Warfare 3 left for us to see. We'll be sure to report back as we find out more leading up to the game's November 8 release.