This looks fake. We are advancing down a road alongside a river. The air is chocolate-milky with dust from gunfire and from the bombing of bridges further downstream. The riverbanks and roads look prefabricated, as though they had been made from plastic like a detailed, glossy toy. The soundtrack layers gunfire on top of gunfire, some sounding slow and explosive, some whiney and long-lasting, stopping suddenly when one of my comrades’ bullets finds its intended head.
My squad and I move with a lifelike fluidity, except that we often seem to be doing those movements a fraction of an inch above the ground. As we run beneath light poles, I see my comrades cast shadows onto the ground. But as I pass the same place, no trace of me blocks the light. As I run across the cracked asphalt of the road, my view floats along evenly, as though I were already dead, stalking across the battlefield like a ghost, untroubled by footsteps and uneven terrain.
Shooting is dreamy. Everything moves with frictionless fluidity. The guns track and aim with the smoothness of glass. All the weapons maintain a steady aim even while I’m walking. Their bullets seem to shoot straight and steadily, unimpeded by obstacles and uninfluenced by wind and rain. A pistol is as reliable as a rifle. The only real differences are the speed at which they fire bullets, and the range that they can reach.
There is nothing fancy about the virtual world or the simulated ballistics of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. This is as straightforward as a shooter can be. And that’s a major reason why the game succeeds so well as a multiplayer shooter. There aren’t too many moving pieces to get in the way of a simple deathmatch. Stalking and shooting are reduced to their bare essentials.
The single-player missions rely on a steady acceleration of action. A breathless minute of sneaking through shadows is followed by two relentless minutes of precision shooting. As the battles intensify, the designers begin to manipulate the virtual reality of the game world. They pick it up and shake it like a snowglobe. They smash every vehicle onscreen in a temper tantrum of explosions. The game escalates — from realistic to hyper-realistic, from fast to frantic.
And suddenly, looking fake looks just right.
THE GOOD: An early level is staged in a hijacked, crashing airplane with so much bravado and excitement that I almost thought I was playing Uncharted. A chase through subway tunnels grows from shooter to theme-park ride. Modern Warfare 3 may have quick-and-dirty shooter mechanics, but the single-player level design and story presentation have well-designed moments.
THE BAD: There was that single bullet of mine that tore through three enemy soldiers. And the time I shot through a telephone pole to headshoot an enemy who was standing about 10 feet behind it. Then there are enemies who don’t seem to know where to shoot, even when they’re facing me. And the fact that I still don’t cast a shadow, even when my comrades do...
THE BOTTOM LINE: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a sturdy, clean, old-school shooter.