Still fighting terrorists in your PJs

Modern Warfare 3 is more of the same in a good way

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Activision; PS3 Wii Windows X360; rated mature)

There are a lot of vehicles crashing in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 . Cars and trucks careen and helicopters plummet. Often you are in the vehicles when they crash. Okay it isn’t really you but the character you’ve become in the game. It’s just as unnerving though.

In the Tube you aren’t on the train when it comes off the tracks but the pickup you’re in — firing at terrorists from the back — pirouettes into a support column as a result. And you’re forced to fight your way through a 747 — again battling terrorists are you sensing a theme? — as it screams toward the ground.

Your character always survives these crashes but in Modern Warfare 3 as in the two previous Call of Duty games developed by Infinity Ward (Sledgehammer helped on this one) the characters you become don’t always survive. Sometimes it’s because you’ve made a mistake in playing the game but sometimes it’s because Call of Duty is like that. Often a character you’re playing will be killed as part of the story and there’s nothing you can do about it.

In Modern Warfare 2 one of the doomed was a U.S. Army Ranger undercover as a Russian terrorist who was forced to kill civilians at Moscow’s international airport in order to maintain his cover. That sequence generated lots of conversation about the game when it was released in 2009.

There’s nothing so overtly provocative in Modern Warfare 3 but there are a couple of scenes — the death of a young girl in London and the destruction of a major landmark in Paris — that seem like they were included in an attempt to curry controversy.

They don’t diminish the impact of the game though. Playing Modern Warfare 3 is often exhilarating and frequently fraught with tension.

The plot of the single player campaign written by Canadian screenwriter Paul Haggis picks up mere hours after the events of Modern Warfare 2 . Russia and the United States are involved in a full-out war and the conflict quickly spreads as terrorists hit major European cities with chemical attacks and Russian forces move east.

The ultranationalist Russian Vladimir Makarov the protagonist of Modern Warfare 2 is seemingly behind the plan to create the Third World War. It gives players the opportunity to experience firefights in the middle of places like New York (after fighting your way down Wall Street you have to recapture the New York Stock Exchange) London (including that chase through the Tube) Hamburg Paris and Prague.

The missions are structured like chapters of a book or episodes of a television show. Each is self-contained and tells part of a larger story.

You can have up to two weapons equipped at a time in addition to standard fragmentation grenades and a special grenade type. The game tries to encourage exploration by scattering enemy intelligence folders around the levels but the pace of the action is so furious you aren’t likely taking the time to look around for the pickup.

For those of you playing Modern Warfare 3 with friends there’s even more for you to enjoy. Two players can challenge missions in spec ops or take on endless waves of increasingly more dangerous enemies in survival mode.

And multiplayer has been almost completely reworked. There’s a new ranking system and killstreaks have been replaced with pointstreaks to better reward players who don’t play only to optimize their kill-death ratio. Pointstreaks are classified as assault support or specialist offering a variety of different options in battle.

The release of Modern Warfare 3 also heralds the launch of Call of Duty : Elite which integrates social networking features into the multiplayer modes. The basic features of Elite are available to all players for free. A subscription ($49.99 US per year) gives you access to regular competitions and downloadable content. What most Call of Duty fans will appreciate though is that your avatar in Elite is persistent. You can level up join clans and work to make your soldier the most badass of them all. Even if the plane they’re in crashes.