The (Un)Realism of COD: MW3

I know, I know

It's not supposed to be completely realistic. Trust me, I'm well aware of that fact. But I am currently taking a college course that has my class evaluate Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (MW3) as a possible military simulator. Let me tell you up front, it does not make the cut.

Simulations are basically judged on two key factors: validity and fidelity. Validity is the simulation's ability to carry out its intended purpose. If a simulation was built to train pilots how to fly through a thunderstorm, it would only be a valid simulation if the pilots get done using it and actually know how to fly through a thunderstorm. Fidelity is defined as accuracy or exactness. The Army uses the word fidelity to describe how closely a simulation mimics the real world. The more realistic the simulation, the better the fidelity.

Since we did not know what MW3's specific intended purpose would be as a military simulation, we had no way of testing validity. So we stuck to testing fidelity, and here's some highlights of what happened.

Visual Inconsistancies From One Player to the Next

I noticed this when I was doing bullet penetration testing. The photos below are screenshots of the exact same character taken at the exact same time with the game paused in theater mode. One was just taken in 1st person view and the other from the side using the free camera. As you'll notice in 1st person, the gun is pointed directly at the car window with the soldier aiming down his sights. But in 3rd person, he is aiming at the ground well below the car. The same thing happened in the second set of screenshots, only this time he seems to be looking up. This is strange and somewhat disturbing to say the least. But I suppose it might explain all of those aggravating multiplayer deaths with people shouting, "but he wasn't even aiming at me!"

^First person view looking through car side window
^First person view looking through car side window
3rd person view at the exact same time
3rd person view at the exact same time
I see me aiming directly at the tree...
I see me aiming directly at the tree...
you see me star gazing
you see me star gazing

Defying All Logic. And Physics.

Would it really have been so difficult to place hit tests on the knees? Really, would it? How about both feet? It seems that a lot of blatant bugs were left in the game because leaving it the way it is was easier than actually improving it a bit.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
elbows hit the curb, body comes off the groundsame goes for the stairsdon't even get me started on going down the stairswell at least his leg knows what "concealment" meanstalk about balance
elbows hit the curb, body comes off the ground
elbows hit the curb, body comes off the ground
same goes for the stairs
same goes for the stairs
don't even get me started on going down the stairs
don't even get me started on going down the stairs
well at least his leg knows what "concealment" means
well at least his leg knows what "concealment" means
talk about balance
talk about balance

Bullet Penetration

Next was the bullet penetration test. Some pieces of this artificial environment actually matched the bullet penetration of their real-life counterparts. Others just made me face palm.

So here's how I did the test. I put player health on minimum, turned off health regeneration, got out my M4, and shot the other player straight in the chest at point blank range. Bam. One shot, he's dead. Then I shot at him through different objects in the environment to see if they would have any effects on the number of bullets it takes to kill the enemy.

As I myself have never fired an M4, I don't have firsthand experience in knowing what the bullets will or will not penetrate. My knowledge on the subject is pooled from hours of online research and spending several days of this class with the military science professors. If you believe me to be incorrect on any of these tests, feel free to prove me wrong!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
point blank range with no cover: 1 ROUND ~ realistictwo bricks thick wall: 2 ROUNDS ~ debatable, somewhat realisticmagazine stand door: 1 ROUND ~ debatable, but somewhat realisticconcrete wall: NO PENETRATION just visual damage ~ realisticvan door: NO PENETRATION ~ realistic (although bullet should enter the vehicle, it would not exit the other side)sheet metal: 1 ROUND ~ realisticback of couch: 1 ROUND ~ realisticthrough back of cabinet and cabinet door: 7 ROUNDS ~ unrealistic (The visual damaged appeared as though the cabinets were made from concrete. Wtf?)interior wall: 2 ROUNDS ~ debatable, depending on construction materials (The visual damage appeared as poured concrete. Should appear as wood/plaster)exterior wall: 1 ROUND ~ debatable (in any case the exterior walls should provide more cover than the interior walls)bookcase full of books: NO PENETRATION ~ realisticpoured concrete fountain: NO PENETRATION ~ realistictrashcan: 1 ROUND ~ realisticcar side windows: 3 ROUNDS ~ debatable (idk, I've never shot up a car)two recycle bins: NO PENETRATION ~ unrealistic (must be made out of recycled superman)wooden chair: 1 ROUND ~ realisticone layer of sandbags: NO PENETRATION ~ realisticI shot the concrete, dirt filled, tree root infested planter....you will never guess what happened...3 ROUNDS ~ unrealistic (I face palmed so hard I gave myself two black eyes)
point blank range with no cover: 1 ROUND ~ realistic
point blank range with no cover: 1 ROUND ~ realistic
two bricks thick wall: 2 ROUNDS ~ debatable, somewhat realistic
two bricks thick wall: 2 ROUNDS ~ debatable, somewhat realistic
magazine stand door: 1 ROUND ~ debatable, but somewhat realistic
magazine stand door: 1 ROUND ~ debatable, but somewhat realistic
concrete wall: NO PENETRATION just visual damage ~ realistic
concrete wall: NO PENETRATION just visual damage ~ realistic
van door: NO PENETRATION ~ realistic (although bullet should enter the vehicle, it would not exit the other side)
van door: NO PENETRATION ~ realistic (although bullet should enter the vehicle, it would not exit the other side)
sheet metal: 1 ROUND ~ realistic
sheet metal: 1 ROUND ~ realistic
back of couch: 1 ROUND ~ realistic
back of couch: 1 ROUND ~ realistic
through back of cabinet and cabinet door: 7 ROUNDS ~ unrealistic (The visual damaged appeared as though the cabinets were made from concrete. Wtf?)
through back of cabinet and cabinet door: 7 ROUNDS ~ unrealistic (The visual damaged appeared as though the cabinets were made from concrete. Wtf?)
interior wall: 2 ROUNDS ~ debatable, depending on construction materials (The visual damage appeared as poured concrete. Should appear as wood/plaster)
interior wall: 2 ROUNDS ~ debatable, depending on construction materials (The visual damage appeared as poured concrete. Should appear as wood/plaster)
exterior wall: 1 ROUND ~ debatable (in any case the exterior walls should provide more cover than the interior walls)
exterior wall: 1 ROUND ~ debatable (in any case the exterior walls should provide more cover than the interior walls)
bookcase full of books: NO PENETRATION ~ realistic
bookcase full of books: NO PENETRATION ~ realistic
poured concrete fountain: NO PENETRATION ~ realistic
poured concrete fountain: NO PENETRATION ~ realistic
trashcan: 1 ROUND ~ realistic
trashcan: 1 ROUND ~ realistic
car side windows: 3 ROUNDS ~ debatable (idk, I've never shot up a car)
car side windows: 3 ROUNDS ~ debatable (idk, I've never shot up a car)
two recycle bins: NO PENETRATION ~ unrealistic (must be made out of recycled superman)
two recycle bins: NO PENETRATION ~ unrealistic (must be made out of recycled superman)
wooden chair: 1 ROUND ~ realistic
wooden chair: 1 ROUND ~ realistic
one layer of sandbags: NO PENETRATION ~ realistic
one layer of sandbags: NO PENETRATION ~ realistic
I shot the concrete, dirt filled, tree root infested planter....
I shot the concrete, dirt filled, tree root infested planter....
you will never guess what happened...
you will never guess what happened...
3 ROUNDS ~ unrealistic (I face palmed so hard I gave myself two black eyes)
3 ROUNDS ~ unrealistic (I face palmed so hard I gave myself two black eyes)

Environmental Interactions

Sometimes the visuals just don't add up. Fire does no damage to the player and also does not consume flammable objects around it. Dishes don't break when you shoot them and they appear to be made out of concrete. Guns and soldiers' bodies tend to pass through objects that appear to be solid. The list is endless.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Yes, he is fireproof. No, I don't know why.dead soldier with gun stuck in couchI shot the dishes. They didn't break. Apparently the dishes are made of concrete :/Yup. That really just happened.the concrete building is eating the gun...and the soldieri see nothing wrong with this... oh wait...a door on Resistance that was apparently shot up and then kicked in...The same door after I shot it. Apparently it changed materials from the first time it got shot until I shot it.When I die, I want it to rain money. Make it happen.
Yes, he is fireproof. No, I don't know why.
Yes, he is fireproof. No, I don't know why.
dead soldier with gun stuck in couch
dead soldier with gun stuck in couch
I shot the dishes. They didn't break. Apparently the dishes are made of concrete :/
I shot the dishes. They didn't break. Apparently the dishes are made of concrete :/
Yup. That really just happened.
Yup. That really just happened.
the concrete building is eating the gun...
the concrete building is eating the gun...
and the soldier
and the soldier
i see nothing wrong with this... oh wait...
i see nothing wrong with this... oh wait...
a door on Resistance that was apparently shot up and then kicked in...
a door on Resistance that was apparently shot up and then kicked in...
The same door after I shot it. Apparently it changed materials from the first time it got shot until I shot it.
The same door after I shot it. Apparently it changed materials from the first time it got shot until I shot it.
When I die, I want it to rain money. Make it happen.
When I die, I want it to rain money. Make it happen.

Soldier Hitboxes and Health

I think it is quite obvious for anyone who has ever played MW3 that the bullet damage is extremely unrealistic. In the standard multiplayer modes, the soldiers have a phenomenal amount of health and barely even flinch when hit by a bullet. Not only is bullet damage minimized, health automatically regenerates after a short period of time. One might think these problems would be rectified by playing in the hardcore modes, yet the hardcore settings present problems of its own. Although bullet damage is minimized with the normal settings, the hitboxes are more accurate than with hardcore settings. In normal mode, it takes more bullets to the foot to kill a player than bullets to the head. This reflects real life in a sense. But in hardcore mode, it takes one bullet to kill a player. It does not matter if the bullet hits them in the head, arm, or foot, the player is dead (at point blank range). In real life if you shoot someone in the foot at point blank range, they won't immediately die. They might scream, curse at you with every word in the dictionary, and have to be taken to the hospital, but they won't die right there.

Unfortunately, the only "hitboxes" on a player are the one on the head and a separate one covering the rest of the body. There is no damage difference between shooting a soldier in the chest to shooting him in the foot. Programming-wise this is much easier than making different hitboxes for each area of the body, but this tends makes the game quite unrealistic.

Putting the damage setting on "half" is closer to real life than either "normal" or "minimal" (health is auto set to minimal in hardcore mode). Even though it is still not 100% accurate, it's the closest you're going to come to real life bullet damage within the game.

I shot a player at point blank range with an M4 and recorded how many bullets it takes to kill him. Here are the results:

Click thumbnail to view full-size
minimal: 1 ROUND ~ half: 1 ROUND ~ normal: 2 ROUNDSminimal: 1 ROUND ~ half: 2 ROUNDS ~ normal: 3 ROUNDSminimal: 1 ROUND ~ half: 2 ROUNDS ~ normal: 3 ROUNDSminimal: 1 ROUND ~ half: 2 ROUNDS ~ normal: 3 ROUNDSminimal: 1 ROUND ~ half: 2 ROUNDS ~ normal: 3 ROUNDS
minimal: 1 ROUND ~ half: 1 ROUND ~ normal: 2 ROUNDS
minimal: 1 ROUND ~ half: 1 ROUND ~ normal: 2 ROUNDS
minimal: 1 ROUND ~ half: 2 ROUNDS ~ normal: 3 ROUNDS
minimal: 1 ROUND ~ half: 2 ROUNDS ~ normal: 3 ROUNDS
minimal: 1 ROUND ~ half: 2 ROUNDS ~ normal: 3 ROUNDS
minimal: 1 ROUND ~ half: 2 ROUNDS ~ normal: 3 ROUNDS
minimal: 1 ROUND ~ half: 2 ROUNDS ~ normal: 3 ROUNDS
minimal: 1 ROUND ~ half: 2 ROUNDS ~ normal: 3 ROUNDS
minimal: 1 ROUND ~ half: 2 ROUNDS ~ normal: 3 ROUNDS
minimal: 1 ROUND ~ half: 2 ROUNDS ~ normal: 3 ROUNDS

Soldier Endurance

Have you ever ran at a full on sprint and then come to a screeching halt? How about doing that over and over? It's pretty exhausting isn't it? Now put on full combat armor and carry around a weapon that weighs several pounds. You'd be lucky if you could run at all. Although soldiers are conditioned to wear all of their gear, they're still human. There's no way that any soldier could sprint like the soldiers do in MW3. Absolutely no way. I had a chance to try on full combat armor and a rucksack in my class, and let me tell you, that sh*t is HEAVY.

In MW3, soldiers also perform feats such as climbing over cars and jumping out of the second story of buildings. In real life situations, this would never be done because it HURTS. There is barely any fall damage present in MW3. It may sound like the soldier brakes an ankle when he falls, but he doesn't even get damaged. This is ridiculous. The soldier should drop and roll or at least fall down for a couple of seconds. Or just give the soldier some fall damage. It's as simple as that.

As a game though...

Clearly MW3, or any other video game for that matter, cannot perfectly replicate the real world. If any video game could manage to be entirely realistic, then it would just end up being boring. So there is a good reason for a lot of the unrealistic qualities of MW3. If the soldiers in the game tired out too quickly or were easily killed by just a single shot, it would not be as exciting to play. That being said, I would still like some changes to be made so that the more blatant bugs, like bodies and weapons falling through walls and visual inconsistencies between 1st and 3rd person, are eliminated. I don't want a game that's 100% realistic, but it would be nice not to have so many silly things happen when I'm trying to enjoy pwning noobs.

If you have any questions, have anything to add, or just want to prove me wrong on certain points, feel free to ask, inform, or rant away!

Would you like to see more realism in Call of Duty?

  • I like it the way it is.
  • I would like some more realism.
  • I want the game to be totally realistic.
See results without voting

Comments 10 comments

Johnrr631992 profile image

Johnrr631992 4 years ago from Tampa, Florida

I understand what you are doing, proving Call Of Duty wrong showing the flaws of proving its unrealistic. Now I also understand you cannot have the game being 100% realistic. I mean of all the time the creators spend putting $$$ into the details, there are just some things that are so minor that cannot be fixed. I would like to say, that if you are using this as simulation, you will not be taking a soldier, running him down a straight line, then stopping, running, stopping running. You would take a 6 person unit, send them into a room and have them clear it. Or have them play 6 vs. 6 but on strategic situations similar to how current units train in real life. The only difference is after you will be cirtisized not on your gaming ability, but on how you operated as a team clearing rooms. In the end the real deal still works better, but depending on what you are doing, it is clearly cheaper to use the COD method. Keep in mind the COD method may cost 1000 dollars at the most for the system, controllers, tv, and game. But to do real simulations each time. You have to buy equipment, weapons, ammo (bullets are not cheap), space to perform operations, objects for the space, plus all the video equipment to be able to replay the efforts. Either way the citizen would pay this through taxes, so would you rather keep it cheap and be able to test hundreds of different strategies on maps, or throw thousands, if not hundreds of thousands into real training simulations.

Either way great guide, and I did enjoy viewing all the photos, and I could go either way, but I do think that for basic strategies you could use the game, but cannot never expect a game to be 100% realistic. But then again, as we move further, we may see games that are 100% realistic.

Hopefully we never get to the point similar to the movie "The Gamer" because I think that would be pushing it, but who knows ;).


ifeedmyfriends11 profile image

ifeedmyfriends11 4 years ago Author

Yes, I do agree that simulations are an important part of military training and are a much more cost effective and time saving means than actually going out and doing hands on training all of the time. But after several sessions with the military science professors for this course, I'd have to say MW3 would be essentially useless as a training tool. It is so unrealistic that even just using it for demonstrative purposes would not be worth it. There are many more realistic simulations available for the military to use.

What I failed to mention in this article (or intentionally neglected to add, more like) was that the class as a whole spent several weeks attempting to use this as a training tool along with the military tactics we learned in the military science portion of the course. We set up a private team deathmatch and put the settings as close to real life as possible. Then we tried to set up several different scenarios like eliminating the enemy or having a small group of soldiers hold a defensive position against a larger attacking force. We all tried to use the actual military tactics we were learning about, but the maps are basically set up to entice quick paced combat, and there's really no getting around that. Even though we managed a few productive and semi-realistic matches, it still did not have a "military training" feel to it.


JohnGreasyGamer profile image

JohnGreasyGamer 4 years ago from South Yorkshire, England

Wow, a very detailed Hub (I say that hoping not to insult you, due to its obviousness) and really stands out amongst the rest. More of a report than a review, I read from point A to B with a smile on my face. I haven't seen your other Hubs, but you should do something like this for Ghost Recon and definitely Rainbow Six, the dominant tactical shooters of today. I know this was a project, so I'm sure you won't put my request to paper, but that's OK. I'm following for more!

Voted up, Awesome and Interesting ^^


ifeedmyfriends11 profile image

ifeedmyfriends11 4 years ago Author

I've actually considered doing something similar with a few of the other first person shooters out there, but I'll have to wait until I get some more free time on my hands. This took up an absolute ton of time, but I enjoyed it a lot. I'm glad you liked my article!


joel chong 4 years ago

not to offend you or anything, but for god sake you cant take a GAME and try to compare it to real life, its a game for crying out loud, the only way that you are able to use it as a military simulator is to teach you soldiers tactics or something like that


JohnGreasyGamer profile image

JohnGreasyGamer 4 years ago from South Yorkshire, England

You're right Joel Chong, but this was for A) A project, and B) Attempting to move people closer to real warfare. Years ago I would've called this propaganda.

I'd recommend doing this project on Battlefield, which attempts to be a military Sim, or Operation: Flashpoint.


joel chong 4 years ago

yes, i totally agree with you JohnGreasyGamer, i would recommend that you do this project on a game like battlefield 3( by the way, that game ROCKS)


JohnGreasyGamer profile image

JohnGreasyGamer 4 years ago from South Yorkshire, England

In terms of campaign (3 hour length and crap AI), it's barely a pebble, but the multiplayer is near perfect, very realistic from what I know. If you were to do a project on any modern war title, do it on that ^^


GazSaneDog 4 years ago

It is pretty unrealistic but I want a game that allows me to believe that I'm super human and not a overweight kid (which I am not) well kid anyway lol I am joining the french foreign legion so doubt that this type of game will help me in generally, apart from if an enemy pops up on me I wont hesitate to bust a cap in his chest, so in that way it has helped.


Nice 3 years ago

eeeeee

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