- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2011

This latest sequel to the chart-breaking Call of Duty first-person shooting franchise returns players to the violent and explosive world of international terrorism melded with modern combat.

You’re already primed by the clever (and I bet expensive) commercial starring Sam Worthington and Jonah Hill, who are seen embedded in the game.

Now pop in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Activision, Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated M for mature, $59.99) and take on the role of various members of the global special operations unit Task Force 141 in a virtual adventure that, according to Activision, is the highest-grossest entertainment property launch ever  for any medium.

Loaded with as much fan anticipation and marketing might to rival Halo: Reach and “Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace” combined, can it possibly live up to the hype?

Of course it can’t, but it combines a very features-rich and familiar multiplayer mode with a solo campaign that delivers in the grandest traditions of a movie blockbuster.

The story picks up from the last game and co-stars scene-munching villain Vladmir Makarov, who has orchestrated and continues fueling a world war between the U.S. and Russia.

Through three acts and 16 chapters (clocking in around eight hours) a player finds himself in a gritty, Hollywood-style war production, firefighting across continents and stuck on a white-knuckle roller-coaster ride, his controller shaking through equal parts forced feedback and tension.

As with pretty much all of the seven previous Call of Duty titles, the eye-popping action will have a player flash back to the history of popcorn-munching cinema.

For example, I’m sure watching the collapse of one of the most popular man-made structures in the world will bring back an “Independence Day” chill. Or how about a pinch of “Die Hard” with a stunning below- and above-ground subway train chase involving pickups and trains?

Now, let’s take a page out of the chaotic “Saving Private Ryan” when tackling a beach assault in Germany and then fighting from building to building in Berlin. And being stuck in a sandstorm on the streets of Bosaso, Somalia, trying to escape from ever-mounting forces, surely will trigger a “Black Hawk Down” night sweat.

You’ll need a popcorn refill for the multiple James Bond moments, such as going underwater to infiltrate a Russian Oscar II submarine, using a minigun atop a tank while driving through city streets, and sliding down a mountain, off a cliff and into a river.

I’ll also mention “Matrix”-style dazzle, such as a steady diet of slow-motion attacks in key scenes or taking on the perspective of a missile striking the target and getting sucked back into the control of a character on the ground, watching just as the ordnance hits.

And the power is not just in the ground attacks. How about wielding the might of an AC-130 to rain fire down on enemy vehicles as potent as any Tom Clancy-inspired flick.

Yes, I was pretty impressed by the visual punch and it kept me riveted throughout the story that concludes with quite the payoff.

For those ready for more, a generous cooperative mode gives one or two players a chance to complete more-detailed missions (collect toxin samples, rescue hostages, etc.) with less flash and arenas to survive against waves of enemies.

But let’s get serious, if I want to hang with partners, I’m jumping into the infinitely more creative and inspired selection of Call of Duty: Zombie maps.

Now let’s touch on multiplayer play. It’s certainly more confining than the grand landscapes of Battlefield 3. Still, it really has set the standard these days for online combat, as up to 18 players fight over 16 maps available for more than a dozen modes (including Kill Confirmed, which requires grabbing dog tags off a fallen enemy) and it never stops entertaining.

Add the ability to build Strike Packages (the evolution of Killstreaks with options to launch surveillance craft and temporarily take control of extra firepower, such as a predator missile, assault drone and V-22 Osprey guns) and a Weapon Proficiency System (arms rank up with use to offer deeper customization), and we are talking months of entertainment — and more as the expected downloadable content begins to flow.

So for a holiday season peppered with games using a first-person shooting combat component, I’m calling it in order of favorites: Rage, Resistance 3, Battlefield 3 and (trumpets, please) the winner by the length of a Remington MSR sniper rifle bullet, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

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