Posted on June 9, 2011, Phil Hornshaw E3 2011 – Frost vs. Submarine in Modern Warfare 3
Delta Force guys wear a lot of hats, it seems.
We’ve seen them fighting through the New York Stock Exchange and in helicopters, taking out high-value targets in the war against the Russian invasion in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. During Activision and Infinity Ward’s E3 demo Tuesday, though, we saw battling through an entirely different environment: water.
The level was called “Hunter Killer,” and it placed the Delta Force characters we saw from Wall Street — namely, Frost, the player character, and Sandman — in an underwater scuba mission to disrupt and overtake a submarine. The level started with the Delta Force squad swimming through a flooded subway tunnel that led into what appeared to be the New York Harbor, using underwater personal watercraft (you know, those little underwater one-man sleds).
Entering the harbor, the team is careful to dodge underwater mines left by the Russians and a great deal of debris and detritus spread along the seabed. Suddenly, overhead slides the massive Russian submarine, coming through the harbor from behind Frost and the Deltas. They wait for it to pass and Frost guns it for the rudder, catching up to it near the sub’s screws and planting a large mine on the side of the hull.
The Deltas fall back and the mine explodes, churning water and setting off alarms in the sub. It starts to surface, crippled, and the Deltas ditch their PWCs to surface with it. As soon as the sub stops moving and his the top of the water, the team is scaling the hull and pulling out weapons.
Eight or so Deltas hit the top of the sub just as the first few Russian troops are poking their heads out to see what’s happening. They’re dropped in a flash, and while one team secures the hatch, Frost and Sandman jack open another and toss down a grenade. The way clear, the two men enter quickly and proceed to start clearing the way to the sub’s CIC. Now it’s becoming clear — the mission objective wasn’t just to kill the sub, it was to hijack it.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see much of the nuts-and-bolts gameplay of what MW3 will be like, as the demo skips most of the sub sequence for the level. Instead, with a title card reading “In the Interest of Time…”, the demo cuts to Frost and Sandman killing the last few guys outside the CIC. Using a shaped charge, they blow the hatch leading in, and in a slow-motion breach sequence common to the last two Call of Duty titles, Frost proceeds to put a bullet in each officer’s head.
With the CIC clear, Sandman quickly finds the sub’s missile launch keys. He tosses one to Frost and then enters coordinates the two men receive by radio from their HQ. They reprogram the missiles, turn the keys in tandem and launch.
Time to go. The two men double-back out of the CIC and find a hatch to the top. Climbing out, we suddenly have a minute to witness a New York ruined, and the harbor turned into a full-on warzone: it’s teeming with ships, both Russian and American, trading body blows as Russian boats launch missiles at Manhattan skyscrapers. Frost and Sandman slide down into a waiting inflatable dinghy, with Frost taking the rudder and Sandman sitting up front. The dinghy takes off, riding alongside the sub as its missile doors open and start launching.
What follows is a fast-action sequence. Frost steers the boat around the harbor, gunning the engine and trying to avoid a small fishing boat loaded down with Russian soldiers that is trying to take the Delta unit out. Meanwhile, in every direction there’s chaos: sinking ships, exploding ordinance, and Frost and Sandman’s sub missiles, pounding into Russian battleships even as the team attempts to escape.
Sandman uses his weapon to try to create some breathing room as Frost fights to keep up with the rest of the Deltas. He angles the dinghy through a pair of battleships Indiana Jones-style, dodges more wreckage as huge ships go down all around him, and cuts under a destroyed, twisted wharf to gain a little relief from his pursuers. Finally, with extraction choppers in sight, Frost takes the dinghy over a ramp created by broken, sunken concrete — slipping the Russians, who can’t follow — and driving the little boat straight up the cargo ramp of the waiting helicopter. Delta extracts with messages of “mission accomplished” filling their helmets, the flaming city and metal-strewn harbor flashing by below.
Modern Warfare 3 is going to be an explosion of a game, for better or worse. Intensity and set-piece action has been ratcheted to an extreme we’ve likely never seen before in video games, period — and in that way, all the demo footage we’ve seen of the game has been great fun. In Hunter Killer, the escape sequence on the dinghy was especially thrilling just because of the scope of the battle going on all around.
But no game can subsist on the things that are going on around the player, and we’ve yet to really see compelling evidence that what the player takes part in during the game is much different than the CoD offerings of the past. The fact that Hunter Killer actually blew past the portions that would be the meat of the level for the player — the entire sub-clearing exploit — suggests that Infinity Ward isn’t looking to show us too much of that kind of stuff because, perhaps, we’ve already seen it. Previous levels we’ve seen were more combat-intensive and didn’t suggest too much variety game-to-game, and one has to wonder what exactly the differences in gameplay are in the single-player campaign, outside of a new batch of guns with which to kill the same batch of bad guys.
Infinity Ward is clearly focusing hard on the scope of the war in MW3, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact, from what we’ve seen, it’s a great thing. But it’s troubling that we’re not being sold as much on the things we can do as the things we can watch.