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Formulaic ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3′ still a critical hit

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Another year, another Call of Duty. In what's become an annual whirlwind of marketing blitzes, midnight launches and millions of sudden sick days, a new entry in Activision's best-selling shooter franchise has arrived.

This time it's Modern Warfare 3, the follow-up to the critically-acclaimed Modern Warfare 2, which set all sorts of sales records when it was released in 2009. Most of those were broken last year by Call of Duty: Black Ops, and it's a pretty safe bet that Modern Warfare 3 will in turn shatter those.

Really only a handful of events could stop that from happening. A rival game could steal away sales (Battlefield 3 is great, but not that great), technical glitches could mar its launch (so far, so good), or, you know, the game could just outright stink.

According to critics, that's not the case, either.

Averaging a healthy 90 at Metacritic, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 delivers another sumptuous, globetrotting rollercoaster ride while polishing its legendary multiplayer to a high sheen. Just don't expect it to reinvent the machine gun.

"Modern Warfare 3 is a shining example of refinement and improvement," gushes The Telegraph in a perfect 5/5 review. "It's familiar, sure, but here familiarity doesn't breed contempt, just respect and reward for those who've dedicated so much time to the series."

To many, however, that familiarity is a bit of a double-edged sword. The game boasts a tight single-player campaign that picks up right where Modern Warfare 2 left off, hurtling players to hotspots around the world as they try to stop a terrorist organization from doing lousy things to good people. Massive, exploding set-pieces, fiercely linear missions — yeah, it's pretty much what you did in the last game, too.

"Modern Warfare 3 doesn't stray from the oft-emulated Call of Duty 4 formula," points out Game Informer. "This large-scale, linear, global, and sometimes controversial campaign can be finished in less than six hours." They go on to note that while the core gameplay has remained "fundamentally unchanged," it still "serves as a great example of how many subtle tweaks can add up to an improved overall product." The score? A 9/10.

That's the same score awarded by IGN, who marvel at its scope while bemoaning the game's single-player déjà vu.

"While Call of Duty games have become formulaic at this point, as evidenced by Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3's muddled narrative and at times frustrating design, Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games have refined and polished the Modern Warfare experience to produce the best of the series with the third installment."

Of course, most players are going to jump right past the solo play and hop directly into Modern Warfare 3's multiplayer warzones. And if indeed that's your plan, you're in for a treat. Boasting a new point system (killstreaks have been replaced with the much friendlier "pointstreaks") that rewards different play styles, it's packed to the gills with new modes and refined features -- though again, it's not exactly new.

"Rather than risk a reinvention — or even a major evolution — of the most popular competitive gaming of the current generation, Modern Warfare 3 wisely stays with what's working, then adds and adds and adds," says Games Radar, which doles out another 9/10.

The folks at Giant Bomb, however, are a little fed up with the subtle tweaks.

"The whole thing feels old at this point," says reviewer Jeff Gerstmann. "The new tricks feel more like a distraction designed to make you forget how revolutionary Call of Duty 4 was… It makes you wonder if the franchise's best days are truly behind it." An 8/10 is the call, though he also considers it "still one of the best first-person shooters of the year."

So should you get it? With pre-orders through the roof (Amazon claims that Modern Warfare 3 is their best-selling video game pre-order of all time), you probably already did. Fence sitters, however, should feel safe to hop off and hop in. It might not change the battlefield, but it looks destined to win the war.

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