Modern Warfare 3's multiplayer mode is undoubtedly the main reason why most people will buy the game, which is just as well considering the drossy tedium of the single-player campaign. The game basically remains much the same here too though, even with a littering of small and mostly cosmetic tweaks.
This isn't wholly bad, of course. Multiplayer expectations are different to those surrounding a solo campaign, and seeing that the majority of the experience remains unchanged from previous iterations therefore isn't so terrible. Rather, it's as slick as ever and you're only ever a few seconds from cosying up inside Modern Warfare's infamous loop of positive reinforcement.
100 XP! 200 XP! Challenge Completed! Rank Up! It's a cynical trickle of incentives made all the more terrible by the fact that it works so well. Even we love grinding for weapon unlocks, damn it.
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There's a flipside to the coin, though; if the core appeal has stayed the same, what reason is there to recommend spending upwards of £34.99 on a copy? There are the new maps and modes but, while many of these are fun, none really stand out as being spectacular compared to the competition. In fact, when the main contender has fully destructible 64-player levels filled with tanks, planes and boats, Modern Warfare 3's tiny maps, ageing engine and P2P servers feel like nought but a middle finger to the consumer.
Still, there are new features and these shouldn't be ignored. There are new killstreak rewards, such as the remote sentry gun, and the killstreak system itself has been changed to accommodate team roles - Assault, Support and Specialist. Assault players will have the killstreak reset upon death but gain access to more offensive rewards, while Support players have a persistent killstreak but mostly defensive boons. Specialists are meanwhile able to choose perks to receive after every second consecutive kill.
Weapons offer further customisation options, with individual perks and levelling available for every firearm, and the option to use 'Prestige Points' to buy bonuses such as extra classes or double XP boosts. New game modes further round out the package, and there's the usual back and forth between specific balancing points, which will be much of a muchness for all but the most obsessed players.
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Again though, the rub is that while some of these changes are fundamental adjustments to how you will interact with Modern Warfare 3, none of them really serve to make it a hugely better or worse game. The fun of Kill Confirmed is balanced out by the frustrating lack of ranked dedicated servers; the co-operative Survival Mode is offset by the fact that there's still no text chat in lobbies.
If frankly compared both to its peers and predecessors, then, it's clear that Modern Warfare 3 is not a terrible game, but its stubborn refusal to improve means that it's been rapidly outpaced even as it retains the moreishness of its multiplayer component. There's no identifiable reason to play Modern Warfare 3 over the earlier titles, and discerning buyers will definitely find cheaper or older games into which they can sink just as much time.
Modern Warfare 3 is ultimately a zero sum game when compared to its predecessors, and the only deciding factor is the disappointing amount of time it's taken to change precisely nothing.