Console players have been drip fed Modern Warfare 3 Collection 1’s four maps and two co-op levels for the past few months, but it’s only just been deployed on the PC. Is it too little, too late, or a vast improvement to the shooty franchise?
DLC is often a chance for developers to really experiment with new features and ideas. As it's small and cheap, people don't get too annoyed if it's a bit hit or miss. Look at Fallout 3 and New Vegas' DLC – it ranged from zombie island massacres to (literally) brainless adventures. Even if some of it was sub-par, you could still admire its intentions.
Would Activision and Infinity Ward ever take a similar risk with their stupendous Call of Duty shooter franchise? Of course not. That would just be silly. Collection 1, the first DLC pack for Modern Warfare 3, sticks to a path so well-trodden it's become a trench. Which isn't to say it’s not inventive, it's just inventive in that quaint, Call of Duty kind of way.
The multiplayer maps are definitely the best of the bunch. Three take place on American soil, from the east to west coast, and one's set in the sunny European climes Call of Duty is so fond of blowing to bits. All feel a lot brighter and more cheery than Modern Warfare 3's drab, depressing settings.
Piazza's environ is a small Italian town, and it feels authentic enough. The level itself is sloped, with staircases leading to vantage points. It's tight and frantic and you'll be constantly watching your back, to the point at which you'll wonder if you're going to suffer from virtual whiplash. The Mediterranean vistas make it feel like a particularly violent Club 18-30 holiday.
Liberation takes place in a war-torn version of New York's central park. Despite all the chaotic shooting going on, it's nice that someone's remembered to leave the fountains in the lake going. It feels like a more open map than Piazza, but it's still tighter than Modern Warfare 3's original levels. The underground bunkers provide brief respite if you're injured, and a scattering of pinch points keeps you on your toes the rest of the time.
Those with vertigo should stay away from Overwatch, a rehash of Modern Warfare 2's Highrise. For some reason, terrorists and soldiers have decided to have a fight on the top of an incomplete skyscraper. The worse thing about the map isn't the constant fear of falling to a painful death, it's the sheer number of camping points. An unfinished bar provides the perfect place to hide and then jump out and slash your opponent's jugular, and the right-angled corridor-laden layout makes hiding not just a possibility, but a necessity. We can imagine entire non-battles taking place here with people just staying put.
Thankfully, Black Box makes up for Overwatch's flaws. It seems Air Force One has crashed in suburban California, and a battle has broken out. It's one of the entire franchise's best maps, juxtaposing the orderly world of upper-class America with the fiery chaos of a downed jumbo. The airliner – split into three by the force of the crash – creates some of the maps best moments. It serves as both a shelter and a voyeuristic vantage point, peeping into the windows of the now-abandoned residencies.
With all these diverse and interesting maps, it's a shame that the Spec Ops missions are so rote and feeble. Black Ice consists of a typically Bondian snowmobile chase to plant a bomb in an enemy mine. It's painfully short, and its only purpose seems to have been to make Collection 1's advertisements appear more dramatic.
Negotiator is slightly more interesting, pitching the second player as a hostage who needs to be freed by the first. From here it’s a standard don’t-kill-the-hostages shooting range, and as with Black Ice it feels like it’s over before it even begins. Both make you wonder why Modern Warfare 3 is so insistent on making its co-op as dumb as possible - just a smidgen of Portal 2’s intelligent, co-ordinated puzzles would go a long way here. But no, we can’t have players actually thinking!
The very best thing about Content Pack 1 is that, at the time of writing, not that many people seem to have it. There are enough players to populate multiplayer games, but they’re not screaming expletives at each other all the way through a game. If you missed out on Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer the first time round the pack feels like a good place to get started.
At the same time, it’s still very much a Modern Warfare 3 product. The maps have been released on consoles on a monthly basis starting in February. In the time between then and its PC release we’ve seen the trailer for Black Ops, which at least looks like it’s taking the franchise into more inventive territory. We may have been playing Collection 1, but we were thinking of something else.