Impressions: Modern Warfare 3

It’s been a couple of weeks now since I finished the single player campaign for Modern Warfare 3, but I’ve been slow to write up my thoughts on it.  That’s not because I have any reservations about my experience though.  I loved it.  The formula developed by Infinity Ward in the previous two games has been refined into a consistently enjoyable game play experience that wraps up the trilogy surprisingly well.  The set pieces are spectacular, the plot (as absurd as it is) is a compelling one, and the action of the game itself is intense.  In my eyes, Modern Warfare manages to exceed the potential of action films and pushes games as a whole one small step closer towards becoming a fully realized artistic medium.  I don’t want to downplay the game’s undercurrent theme of “the military is about doing cool shit” or the dudebro culture that often surrounds the FPS culture, but as a piece of entertainment, Modern Warfare 3 is difficult to write off.

As John Walker has pointed out, the player isn’t calling the shots most of time and is taking orders from other characters or the game itself.  You don’t get to be John McClane or Jack Bauer (although the final stage brings you damn close to doing just that.)  You don’t get to live out a fantasy.  That’s not the point.  You are taking part in one.  The player is thrown into an unimaginable (or difficult to imagine) scenario and tasked with responding to it.  This isn’t linearity as it was employed in Final Fantasy XIII, a game so consumed with itself that it ignored the player, it’s a series of challenges that the game lays out in careful anticipation of the player’s actions and reactions that builds into several wild conclusions.  And it’s not a radical departure from its FPS precursors, as highlighted by Jim Sterling, it’s just taking the genre to the next level.

Brendan Keogh really drives the point home in his response to Walker’s post: “You are just one man participating in a conflict much bigger than yourself.”  That is precisely what makes it compelling.  It is how the game crafts the illusion that you are in the middle of something cataclysmic.  This gives Modern Warfare far more depth and texture than any action movie.  Rather than the audience experiencing events vicariously through a protagonist, the player is part of the action itself.  Running into (or out of) a dangerous situation while playing second fiddle to Captain Price or Soap is more intense than experiencing action indirectly through movie icons like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone.  It also allows for greater flexibility to switch among perspectives depending on what’s going to create the most dramatic scenario.  However you feel about the Modern Warfare series, it’s success is worth celebrating.  Games now carry that much more weight in entertainment culture.  And if it serves as a vehicle to drive gaming as a medium, then it’s as worthy of acclaim as the Portals, Braids, and Minecrafts out there.


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