AU First look - Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Preview

We play with some new military toys and battle across the globe in our first look at Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

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By now, you've probably devoured the rumours, pawed over the leaks, and explored the official teaser trailer frame by frame in search of juicy hidden tidbits. We were at the recent US Activision event where the company took the wraps off the game and showed it running for the first time. But, since this game continues the themes of occupied America by an opposing force, Americans are a little biased at having their turf trashed. So we present you with our Aussie view on MW3. Note: potential spoilers ahead.

The game picks up on the heels of Modern Warfare 2, where the escalating conflict between North America and Russia has tipped past flashpoint and spilled violently onto American soil. This third instalment in the series adds some new location stamps on the Call of Duty passport and will see the battle rage in Germany, England, France, and New York.

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Our demo was split into two levels. The first took place on US ground, where Russian ultranationalists were looking to assert their authority on the Big Apple. Though the exact setup remains a mystery at this point, we joined the action when the helicopter we had been riding in had been shot out of the sky, forcing us to bail out after hitting the ground. The precarious balancing act of the bird and its final resting place meant that we needed to push the doors up and over at the fold to get them open as we clambered out. After some brief dialogue with new character Sandman, we were back on terra firma, taking cover and reaching for a magazine of ammo.

Enemy combatants lined the streets ahead, and we zigzagged our way through the rubble of burnt cars and collapsed roads, taking refuge and returning fire at anyone blocking our way. At a few points during the demo, enemy helicopters would slink down the narrow cement gauntlet formed by the buildings. In doing so, the frame gave us a look at tattered American flags billowing in the breeze, accompanied by point-of-view camera angles with eerie similarities to the September 11 terror attack footage that you've seen a million times before.

Bank steps turned to battlegrounds; burned buses became barricades to deflect the incoming rounds of our attackers; and we slowly inched our way along the path. Combat was a mixture of short- and long-range gunfire, so we were pleased to see that while the Call of Duty battle experience felt familiar, the toys in the field have improved to help make things easier. Our assault rifle was fitted with a new type of hinged scope. Once it was clicked into place, we looked through an ACOG, but with the flick of a wrist it could be rolled sideways, still attached to the Picatinny rail but giving us access to red-dot sights for closer targets. Flashbangs have long been a part of any good soldier's tactical insertion kit, but as anyone who has lobbed one into a room knows, one big boom isn't always the best approach. The new nine-bang grenade helps disperse the effect, splitting a single nonlethal grenade into multiple smaller explosions and bright lights, disorienting a room full of bad dudes in one fell swoop.

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The other new piece of arsenal on display was MW3's version of the XM25: an airburst grenade weapon that looks and handles like a sniper rifle, but fires an explosive round. Rather than attempt to flank heavily dug-in enemies, the rounds can be used to hit foes hiding behind cover or to do splash damage to groups of huddled targets. This became particularly useful when we turned the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange into a killing floor. Not all rounds seemed to explode uniformly when fired, with some going up with a spark and others hitting the surface and fizzling out. That's experimental weapons for you…

With word coming that the Russians had deployed jamming towers on the top of key buildings in the area, we scrambled up scaffolding inside the Stock Exchange, stalked our way through back alleys and condemned war-ravaged buildings, and made our way to the rooftop. It was these more sedate moments, when the sound of gunfire was distant and the squad moved in unison, that little touches like loose paper swirling in an updraft and realistic lighting really impressed us.

Once on top of the building, standing in the shade of the looming jamming towers and their satellite dishes, we walked up, planted a C4 charge, and blew the sucker up. We called for evac, but the surrounding buildings were covered with adversaries, making the area far too dangerous to bug out straight away. With armed soldiers too far away to shoot at accurately with our assault rifle, we went to ground behind some crates, whipped out our ruggedised laptop, and called in predator drone strikes, guiding the missiles to ground and obliterating the faceless red icons. Backup arrived, and we jumped onboard to man a mounted minigun, playing cat and mouse with a pursuing Russian chopper before eventually destroying it with pot shots through a disintegrated building.

Call of Duty has built a reputation for close-quarters combat and big set pieces, but that doesn't mean that it has to be cranked to 11 all the time. Like a guy trying to chat up a woman in a pub by displaying his softer side (no, that's not a euphemism), the second mission of our demo brought the tone right down and relied on finesse. From the air above a London industrial estate, we watched as a truck was loaded with what our intel suggested were weapons. The only way to be sure was to see for ourselves, and our perspective dropped from the air to troops on the ground where we took the role of an SAS squad. We moved through the night, picking off patrolling guards in alleyways and dropping armed lookouts with our silenced weapons without detection.

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Once we had secured the area, we made our approach to the truck, positive that opening it would either yield the weapons we thought were inside or put us in the middle of a cunning trap. Seems as though it was the latter, and after finding it empty, we were quickly set on, needing to ditch our hushed rifles and going loud with whatever type of guns we could get our hands on. After thinning their ranks in a heated firefight, we located one target that we wanted to take down alive. He had other ideas, and we gave chase, piling into the back of a truck and driving into a subway station and returning fire as they commandeered a commuter train. As we raced parallel to them, we weaved through tunnels, dodging pillars and oncoming railway vehicles. As anyone who has ever seen one of those late-night "World's Wildest Police Chases" TV shows should know, more often than not, they end violently. That was certainly the case here, and as the train lurched off the tracks, it launched into the air, tumbled, and forced us to try to outrun it as it barrelled through reinforced cement pylons. Cue fade to black.

Bear with us on this. We're definitely not saying that we're unimpressed with what we've seen of Modern Warfare 3 so far, but for a franchise that has become the poster child for the success of the games industry--and indeed for entertainment as a whole--MW3's first outing felt a little too safe for our tastes. The booming of the New York action sequences were frantic and typical of the franchise, but while well juxtaposed with the subtlety of London's covert infiltration, they both felt strangely reminiscent of the way Call of Duty: Black Ops was introduced with its Arctic incursion and Vietnam slaughterhouse demo just a year ago. Perhaps Activision believes that it has nailed the action formula, but if that's the case, our biggest concern then becomes battle fatigue by the audience.

Call of Duty has become a brand of two parts--single- and multiplayer--and while our first look gave us a taste of what's to come, we're also hoping to see a little more innovation in its subsequent outings. Stay tuned for more details ahead of the game's release on November 8 this year.

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