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E3 2011: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 singleplayer

Call of DutyE3 2011

When it comes to explosions, there’s no game at E3 that had more than Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s singleplayer demo. I took a hands-off look at the game during the final day of the show and something blew up literally every five seconds. The latest entry in one of the most profitable franchises in gaming seems packed with more destruction and chaos than any entry in the series to date, but instead of explosions destroying the developing world, it’s the industrialized nations that are being rocked.

The demo opened with the demo driver taking control of US soldier Derek “Frost” Westbrook. The scene opened up underwater with a group of soldiers in diving equipment on personal submersible vehicles. The soldiers move into a crack in some concrete that turns out to be the flooded Battery Tunnel in New York. Hundreds of souls couldn’t make it out of the tunnel in time, which is eerily illuminated by the lights of the vehicles, left on by occupants long dead at their steering wheels.

The soldiers leave the tunnel and carefully work their way through the mined harbor toward their destination. A massive Russian submarine has taken up residence, presumably to unleash a volley of missiles onto the city. Frost moves in and plants a charge on the rear of the submarine and, as it explodes, our soldiers emerge from the water. The damage forces the submarine to the surface, giving the squad a chance to climb on board and pick off fleeing Russians escaping through the hatch.

The view from the surface is breathtaking. The city is in chaos. Nearly every building has suffered some damage and a number are burning. The surrounding waters are a graveyard of ships. The Statue of Liberty, surrounded by the skeletons of destroyed ships, looks on quietly from the distance. But there’s no time to stop and take in the scene. America is at war, and these soldiers have to win it. They head down into the hatch and engage in some very close quarters combat.


The intricacy of the environments on display here are incredible. We can see individual wires hanging down. Pipes slither along the walls of the submersible. Emergency lighting weakly illuminates dark corridors. The environment feels real, partially because the texturing is so detailed. It’s safe to say that Modern Warfare 3’s graphic engine carries on the series’ legacy of excellent presentation.

The team works through narrow corridors and eventually, they arrive to the sub’s control room. Frost is the first through the door and the game warps to slow-motion. Five officers stand armed and Frost picks them off, one-by-one.

The team escapes the submarine, but they’re not out of the fire. Hopping aboard a motorized raft, they find themselves under fire. The small craft navigates deftly through the husks of fallen ships and the spray of munitions sparks off a new explosion every time I blinked. Waves triggered by the chaos knock the craft around, and one thing is clear: Modern Warfare 3 isn’t afraid to be big.


The New York segment closes and we move across the Atlantic to London. The SAS soldiers, using an aerial drone, are watching the movement of a suspicious package they believe is of interest to some of their targets. The camera then shifts perspective, swooping down from the sky into the skull of a soldier on the ground. As this mission, titled “Mind the Gap” begins with a little more action than the first. They move swiftly through warehouses surrounding the suspicious cargo, quietly taking out armed targets.

This lull in the action doesn’t last long. As they approach the open lot where the package is located, the operatives burst through a second story window, crashing to the ground. Using the momentary confusion to clear the most immediately threatening foes, the team moves to cover. Enemies are swarming from every direction. A few vehicles escape the firefight with little more than their alarms sounding, but most burst into flames and explode. Finally, after clearing the area, the team moves toward the target, only to find that it’s been moved.

There’s no time to stop and deliberate on what to do next. Enemy soldiers soon open fire on the SAS operatives. What I picked up on most during these segments was how open the battlefields were. This wasn’t a firefight taking place in a narrow corridor like the last scene. It was open, with more opportunities for flanking and tactics. It looked almost indistinguishable from the series’ more open multiplayer maps.


The firefight continues, with the SAS chasing down fleeing enemy soldiers through a construction site. Despite how hard the squad is fighting, their opponents are able to board and take control of a subway car. The demo driver hops into the back of a truck commandeered by another member of the squad and they begin a high speed chase through the tunnel.

The subway car is littered with soldiers, all armed with automatic weapons aimed at their pursuers. The vehicle narrowly avoids a pillar by darting onto the opposite track. The screen fills with white light and the truck just barely escapes annihilation. As the train continues down the track, it passes by a stop at blistering speeds. Civilians at the station cower in fear as a brief moment of chaos passes by.

Filled with enemies, the scene seems futile. Fortunately, the train is simply moving too quickly and it eventually derails. Train cars flip casually through the environment with so much momentum that I couldn’t help but think they looked like toys being tossed aside. The vehicles driver darts left and right to avoid smashing into the out of control vehicle, but unfortunately, it too derails, spinning out of control …

… The screen goes dark.

I think the expectation is that a COD release is going to be good, given the reputation that the franchise has at this point. I think it’s fairly safe to say that that trend will continue with the latest entry in the Modern Warfare series. Call of Duty: MW 3’s fight, right in our backyards, should help create a compelling experience and really give players something to fight for. Look out for it this fall, and don’t forget to check out our hands-on preview of a new Spec Ops mode, coming soon.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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