Posted on May 26, 2011, Phil Hornshaw War Comes to Wall Street in Modern Warfare 3 Campaign Preview
At first, there’s only darkness. Explosions rumble in the distance — and some are close. Frighteningly close. The ground shakes and the darkness is pushed away by New York City appearing out the windows of the Humvee. Everywhere, there is rubble and destruction, smoke and fires, and the cracks of ordinance ripping the air.
The Russians have occupied Manhattan. Your Delta Force squad is fighting them back, but it’s hard-going: the enemy meets you on every corner and in every building. Everywhere, air strikes, rockets, missiles and bullets are slamming into skyscrapers, and then suddenly the vehicle is under attack and you’re out, on foot, bringing the fight to the enemy.
Such is the opening of one of two levels of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 we saw during a single-player campaign video demo at Activision’s pre-E3 press event. The level, Black Friday (marked as Day 2, so potentially the second level of the game), brings players right back into the thick of the ongoing Russian-American conflict that began in Modern Warfare 2.
From a gameplay standpoint, much of what we saw was similar to the kind of Call of Duty we’ve come to expect from Infinity Ward’s editions to the series. With Modern Warfare 3, the developer has teamed up with Sledgehammer Games, and the first noticeable thing about the game is how much more massive it seems to be compared to other Call of Duty titles, and basically all first-person shooters in general.
Before the video kicked on, Infinity Ward Community Director Robert Bowling and Sledgehammer General Manager Glen Schofield said the scope of the game is something that the two companies are really trying to amp up in MW3.
“In Modern Warfare 3, we’re taking scale to an entirely new level,” Bowling said. “We’re taking players from the outskirts into the heart of major cities around the world, delivering urban combat in places like Manhattan, London — both of which you’ll see here tonight. We’re also going all over Europe: parts of Africa, Russia, the Himalayas. It’s a conflict that really covers the entire globe.”
Battle for New York
The scale of the game definitely carried in the video. The player, who was controlling a “>character called Frost, quickly took cover near some vehicles among other Delta Force soldiers, then popped up and put a few rounds in some Russian troops up ahead. The M4 IW5 assault rifle he carried had a scope saddled to the side that could be flipped up into position and back down again, giving the weapon both mid-range and long-range capabilities. Frost also had what seemed like a scoped grenade launcher (which we think was the H&K M320) that was pretty effective against groups of soldiers.
At first, the objectives placed before Frost and his team were just to fight through the Russians, but orders to help out troops pinned down on Wall Street quickly got spread through the soldiers as the player pressed on and rounded a corner up ahead. The fighting on Wall Street was intense, with neither side making real headway. Frost’s team eventually was dispatched to flank the Russian forces by heading into a building lining the street. Heading inside, the fighters ran into a lot of the close-range interior combat we’ve seen in Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2. Before long, they pass the carcass of a crashed helicopter and find a position from which to shoot down on the Russians, clearing them from the street below.
The whole thing clips along beautifully and is constantly shaking and rumbling with the impacts of battle occurring everywhere. There’s a lot going on, which really conveys the gravity of the situation: big set piece events are a mainstay of the Call of Duty franchise, but it seems that Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer have really taken that idea to heart in MW3.
“The campaign is all about intensity,” Bowling said. “We’re locked at 60 frames per second. It’s a huge philosophy at Infinity and Sledgehammer. Nothing goes into the game that breaks that principle.”
Next, the player and his squad are tasked with disabling a Russian signal jammer, placed on the roof of — where else — the New York Stock Exchange. Before long the player is pounding through the lower floors of the building and nearby storefronts, one of which appeared to be a jewelry store, before regrouping in the NYSE lobby and heading up to the trading floor.
Beautifully recreated and lovingly destroyed, the NYSE trading floor was the scene of some intense fighting. Enemies and Delta Force troops alike used the monitor banks scattered throughout as cover, and papers and electronics exploded, flew and sizzled in a very satisfying way. It took a while, but eventually the Delta Force squad pushed their way through and hit a staircase, climbing to the roof and taking out the last of the Russian defenders with a grenade, before planting Thermite on the transmitter.
Destroying the jammer allowed American troops below to receive new intel and orders, as well as call in air strikes, and the players got to test their effectiveness immediately. An evac helicopter was on its way to lift the Delta Force troops off the rooftop, but it was chased off by Russian RPG teams on the rooftops across the street. With the skies clear, Frost was assigned Predator drone duty, opening up the control laptop and firing missiles at the buildings that housed Russian troops. Once they were cleared, a Russian HIND helicopter showed up, and as his squad took cover, Frost dispatched it with another well-placed missile, triggering suitably enormous and incredible explosions.
The air was clear for the evac helicopter, and Frost’s squad boarded it quickly as it hovered near the edge of the Stock Exchange’s roof. Seamlessly, the level transitioned from ground fighting to allowing the player to man the helicopter’s mounted machine gun — and with good reason, as more Russian HINDs appeared, challenging the rescue chopper while darting behind a nearby skyscraper construction site. On the run and taking fire, Frost’s steady aim eventually dropped three or four pursuing war birds, which careened into the streets and buildings below. The evac chopper lost control toward the end as one of the HINDs actually collided with it, with Frost holding on to the railing as his body trailed outside the spinning chopper, but the pilot got control, leveling off and evacuating the squad to end the level.
The entire Manhattan level was suitably intense and, beautifully, there was never a lull in the action during it’s 10-or-so-minute runtime. The environments, New York in war-torn ruins, were pretty stunning; the detailed setting was definitely the most interesting part of the whole level, and that includes the intense near-crash of the chopper.
Under London Fog
Next, we were transported to London, where the player took over a new character in a new stage: Mind the Gap. Gameplay started with a bird’s eye view of a shipping yard, where an air support team is using infrared to dispatch intel to a covert ops team on the ground, moving in under cover of darkness with the player controlling a Sgt. Burns. After a quick intro, gameplay shifted to the ground team, which had to quickly clear out some outlying buildings of patrolling enemies around the shipping yard.
The task at hand wasn’t exactly clear to us. It appeared that enemy forces were using commercial trucks to hide weapons (possibly nuclear ordinance), and the covert ops team needed to get in close and get eyes on the target, as Schofield explained. It started out routinely enough, with the player moving up with the squad, checking windows and staying in shadow carefully, before coordinating strikes against enemies. Before long, the buildings were cleared and the squad approached the central section of the shipping yard, where one of the trucks was still idling.
Suddenly, their cover was blown and the covert ops team had to go into open fighting. The battle progressed in the standard Call of Duty way, with the player taking cover, knocking out a few guys, and working to flank remaining enemies. Before long, the docks were cleared out — but the truck the team had been sent to recover for intel was empty. Confounded, the squad started to search around, when they saw an enemy soldier take off running in the distance. They fell in to pursue, chasing the enemies and hopping into a pickup truck along the way, with the player standing in the flat bed to open fire on bad guys.
Before long, the player’s truck found itself pursuing the enemy troops into the subway — that is, driving the truck through the subway tunnels. Enemy soldiers had gotten aboard one of the trains and the scene was an intermingling of terrifying high-speed pursuit and deadly near-misses as the pickup dodged oncoming trains. All the while, Burns was fighting off troops entrenched in the train and firing back at him, with the truck running alongside it.
With the intensity level at a peak as the truck narrowly missed another incredibly close collision, disaster struck: the train ahead, embroiled in fighting and under fire, derailed, sending it bouncing and skittering through the tunnels with the truck caught up in the unstoppable crash. Train cars bucked and thrashed, crashing through columns and slamming back and forth, narrowly missing Burns’ truck but taking out one of the others his squad was occupying. The momentum of the whole scene was insane, with explosions rocking the tunnel and debris flying everywhere, and ending abruptly with what was probably a deadly collision between dying train and speeding truck.
Bringing the Intensity
Bowling and Schofield spoke about intensity as they introduced the Modern Warfare 3 video, and they weren’t kidding. If the single-player campaign carries the sort of huge set pieces we saw in just these two levels, it’ll be enjoyable sheerly for the blockbuster spectacle of it regardless of the gameplay.
Of course, there’s gameplay to be considered, too. We didn’t get a chance to mess with that just yet, but there did seem to be more of what Call of Duty players have signed up for in the past. That really wasn’t what captured the attention during the preview, though — it was the settings, the speed, the explosions and the sheer size of it all. Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer put together something that looked like it could easily stand as a big-budget summer movie as well as a video game, and Modern Warfare 3 is shaping up to be easily the biggest and most explosive entry into the series yet.
You’ve got all the facts, now find out what Game Fronters Mark Burnham and Phil Hornshaw thought about the MW3 video in our Preview Impressions post.