Even before Modern Warfare 3 came out and everyone spent enough time with it to see just how utterly mediocre it is, it was easy to see that the so-called Open Combat Missions were going to be the weakest part of what already looked like a hollow campaign.
Weeks after finishing that campaign, one mission in particular continues to stick in my mind, though – and it’s one that I would love to see expanded upon in future games, or even turned into its own game mode.
For the uninitiated, Open Combat Missions were revealed ahead of the game’s release as a new type of a more open-ended mission. The pitch was that the open nature of them would allow the player to pick their tactics, and decide how to approach each objective/what tools to use or scavenge for.
That all ended up being a bunch of guff, of course. Open Combat Missions were primarily reused areas from Warzone’s Verdansk map, with some basic objectives like bomb defusal or item retrieval thrown in alongside very few (and obnoxiously repeating) lines of dialogue from characters off-screen.
Only a couple of these missions were set in original areas, and only one made the best use of the format: Highrise. The setup for Highrise is quite simple; you are asked to ascend the titular highrise as you chase after the villain’s sidekick. Your path to the top is never clear, and the dangers you could encounter aren’t immediately obvious, either.
This ambiguity is at the core of what makes Highrise Modern Warfare 3’s standout mission. As with most OCMs (that’s Open Combat Missions, if you aren’t following), you don’t start with all the necessary tools that allow you to navigate the map effectively, though you typically don’t have to do a lot of searching to find them. Indeed, you may even choose to ignore them altogether, and you’d still be able to finish those missions without too much trouble.
Highrise, too, does this, starting you off without an Ascender – and you’ll quickly see why you really, really need one. Each floor you rise to hides a lot of unknown variables, both in level and in encounter design. One floor might have the stairs leading to the next one blocked off, forcing you to find an alternate path.
Say, you look out the window and see a rope, but it’s useless if you don’t have an Ascender. ‘There must be another way to get up, then’, you think. That is always true, but the game rarely shows its hand. In certain cases, you might need to drop down a floor to get to a scaffolding that takes you to the floor you actually want to get to.
There’s clearly an efficient path through Highrise, and it’s one you’re going to identify the more times you replay it. But it’s also designed to be finished without finding the crucial tools that can help you navigate.
If you’re combat-minded, you’re going to enjoy clearing these kill rooms slowly as you make your way to the top. A lot of open areas (like balconies or rooms with broken walls) will even expose you to snipers and guards posted up around the inner perimeter. Maybe they’re chilling near some ledge on a floor you skipped, or maybe they’re above you at an angle sharp enough to make it hard for you to easily see, and kill, them.
There’s this constant threat of indoor and outdoor danger, on top of the challenge of traversal. If you get overwhelmed and blindly rush into a room, you might find yourself exposed to the snipers. Or, you might end up dying to a tripwire, which would have been easy to see had you not just barged through the door hanging on for dear life.
As the Ascender does with navigating the building, the Plate Carrier Upgrades allow you to survive gunfights for longer. Someone who did not find the former – or did not bother trying – can just toughen up and take every floor at a time, relying on their extra armour to protect them. While a more stealthy player could instead avoid enemies altogether and make good use of the Ascender to escape and reach the top for the big fight. Or, you could have a mix of both.
As exciting as Highrise is, of course, it remains a scripted mission whose various encounters and items will always be in the same place every time. This is the perfect pitch for a rogue-lite mode that randomises item placement, traps, enemy encounters, and even the objectives themselves.
Imagine a weekly challenge tied to clearing that mission, where you go in expecting something different each week. There’s an even bigger and more ambitious game mode that’s entirely built around delivering different missions that all follow the same format, which could be the evolution the classic Spec Ops mode needs – especially if you add co-op to the mix.
In a game that’s been so roundly disappointing for so many other reasons, Highrise represents great understanding of the OCM format that actually justifies its existence. In this one mission, you can see how the series might, actually, have a new blueprint future games could build upon.