Modern Warfare 3 is the latest semi-remake, sort-of-reimagination entry in the chart-topping Call of Duty series. It puts us back in the boots of Task Force 141, hot on the heels of an old enemy, Makarov, as he attempts to take down the West. Again. My MW3 review finds that this familiarity, paired with myriad all-new issues, makes for a boring, unimaginative, and often offensive campaign. Attempting to add semi-open-world missions muddies an already scattershot single-player offering, dragging this year’s CoD into the realm of one of the worst FPS games I’ve ever had the misfortune to play.
The cast of Modern Warfare 3 characters will be familiar to anyone who’s brushed against a CoD game in the past few years; you’ve got mustached hardman Price, masked hardman Ghost, Scottish hardman Soap, etc. The squad has world peace on their mind, and it doesn’t matter how many people they have to murder to achieve it. They hop from location to location in a campaign split between the linear norm of CoD and new Open Combat missions.
The one thing that Call of Duty campaigns do well has always been spectacle. It’s linear, sure, but much like a blockbuster action movie, you’re there to turn your brain off for a few hours and enjoy the ride. MW3 turns that on its head with Open Combat Missions, and by relying so heavily on these bland, open environments, it loses its sense of direction, kills any mounting pace, and – worst of all – is incredibly boring. This isn’t a Just Cause scenario where you can tinker with your surroundings to complete your mission in an interesting way, this is fighting wave after wave of faceless enemies until you’re clear to move to the next area.
These Open Combat missions take up around half of the total runtime of the MW3 brief campaign. They play a lot like a round of Warzone’s DMZ mode, with a semi-open world, AI enemies, and collectible loot. You are given a set of objectives to complete in whichever order you like, with vague question marks guiding your way on the map. Enemies are difficult to avoid and seemingly endless – although if you manage to avoid their sight for a short period they’ll go on with their lives like nothing happened.
You wander from objective to objective, collecting loot along the way, searching for the next question mark on your map. It’s lifted wholesale from DMZ, although any possibility of an interesting interaction or a challenging fight is removed without other human players. The seeming requirement of gathering loot also makes me wonder how prepared our band of gruff soldiers is. I need an ascender for each mission, yet never enter with one – do we have a pile of unused traversal tools sitting at home, waiting for a rainy day?
You can pick up killstreaks along the way, something I thought might add a layer of strategy to matters, but they just sat in my backpack most of the time – the enemy is often spread out and appears seemingly at random, so concentrating your fire on a specific area of the map seemed pointless. You’re encouraged to approach these Open Combat missions with stealth in mind, but the eagle-eyed AI manages to pinpoint you with unerring accuracy, forcing you to throw Plan A out the window almost immediately.
The story is nothing but a series of disconnected conversations and tough-soldier soundbites. The series villain, Mararov, aims to be a world-weary Moriarty figure, constantly stressing the importance of timing, and is most definitely perfecting that wry smile in the mirror while nobody is watching. He’s the only one who can put the terrorist organization, Konni Group, back onto the map, yet his plans seem to be little more than a closed eye and a finger on a globe. Go here, blow that up, make sure everybody witnesses my genius. Oh, I’ve been caught? It was all a part of my dastardly plan.
A lot of the campaign takes place in repurposed areas of Verdansk – the opening sees you enter the Gulag, a flashback sequence takes you to the arena, and an exquisitely dull non-combat portion sees you wander around the airfield. It seems as though the creatives assumed the nostalgia of the original Warzone map would bear a lot of the narrative weight when it only shines a light on the apparent lack of ideas. These areas don’t offer much in terms of spectacle to those who have visited Verdansk before, and their open nature means that newcomers will likely find the ordeal quite dull.
The campaign’s rather thin idea of a story is short, clocking in at around 5 hours, and it manages to undermine nearly every dramatic beat we saw in the previous two games. Characters come back from the dead with a shrug of the shoulders, a quip about always burying your enemies, and then it’s back to the so-called action. CoD is difficult to take seriously at the best of times, but now that I know nothing sticks, it cements the fact that absolutely nothing matters.
Call of Duty isn’t known for its nuanced take on warfare, loss of life, or even how to safely handle a firearm. We know this. Yet Modern Warfare 3 somehow takes this impossibly low bar and ducks right under it. Characters whoop and holler at direct missile strikes, cheer at explosions, and congratulate you for every headshot. Whether bad taste or sheer ignorance, the blasé approach to death, both perceived enemy and civilian alike, left me with a mild sense of disgust.
With the story mostly nonsense, and the missions themselves nothing but filler, I was left both puzzled and deflated when the credits rolled. Nothing was solved, little was learned, and the weaponized nostalgia left a bitter taste in my mouth. It felt like a waste of my time, and anyone who paid for early access to the campaign should feel aggrieved.
Similarly, my experience with MW3’s multiplayer mode has garnered mixed results. The standard 5v5 modes tread old ground, offering newcomers to the series a fairly middle-of-the-road FPS experience, with veterans of the series likely getting a huge feeling of deja vu.
The map pool takes from 2009’s Modern Warfare 2, with tweaks to visuals and the most minor of layout changes. Much like the campaign, it feels like the nostalgia of playing these fan favorites is the only draw here. It doesn’t break new ground, there is nothing to shout about, and the lack of anything fresh will only create disinterest amongst players. There were rumors that this year’s entry in the Call of Duty series would take the form of a DLC pack, and even though it gained a number and costs as much as a full-price game, it would have been much better suited to its original fate.
Things start to feel marginally better once you’re in the flow of a match – the push and pull of competing over objectives, the satisfying gunplay, and the sound design make for a mildly entertaining time, at least initially. The ‘modern’ take on weaponry means that things tend to blur into one. I found that there was very little to differentiate between assault rifles and SMGs, battle rifles and marksman rifles – everything looks and performs similarly, making the choice between one gun and another a coin toss.
The lack of a varied arsenal means that it rarely pays to take a methodical approach. There are sniper rifles, shotguns, and melee weapons you could use, but when an SMG does the job of everything all at once, why would you? You have an eye-watering array of attachments at your disposal to customize these weapons and make them your own, but these attachments all seem to fill similar roles, often leaving only one effective build for a gun that the majority of players will use.
Two other modes come bundled under the multiplayer section of MW3 – Ground War, and the ingeniously named War. The former, again, will be familiar to anyone who has touched a Modern Warfare game in the past few years – a medium-scale battle between two large teams. You fight over objectives on a map using both ground and air vehicles to get an edge over your opponents. It’s needlessly chaotic, and you’ll find yourself dying over and over to tanks and APCs that you have no hope of removing from the battlefield. Teamwork would pay off hugely here, but seeing as there is no squad system, you’ll more than likely find that your compatriots mill around the map aimlessly like a gang of drunk ants.
War mode is a story told in three objectives. You’re tasked with either attacking or defending these objectives, with a light narrative playing in your ear the entire time. For my first War experience, I had to capture a SAM site, escort a tank through narrow streets, and eventually disable a computer console. It adds some much-needed structure to the usual mayhem but it still boils down to each team running headlong into a small area with the hopes they’ll win the war of attrition. There is very little room for finesse, with teams being funneled through what is essentially a long corridor, and inevitably devolves into what makes the standard multiplayer such a grind.
Fan-favorite game mode Zombies makes a return this year, although it appears in a form that may have many scratching their heads. Zombies is Modern Warfare 3’s version of DMZ, only with added undead. You’ll be dropped on the rather large, upcoming Warzone map, Urzikstan, and are tasked with clearing out the hostile AI, acquiring better gear, and ultimately traipsing to the center of the map in the hopes of securing a successful exfil.
Gone are the claustrophobic, white-knuckle encounters that the previous Zombies iterations offered. The pressure of wave counters and increasing hordes have been replaced with wide open areas and roving bands of enemies. The difficulty of the enemies you face is denoted by ‘threat’ areas on the map, with higher-threat enemies requiring upgraded weaponry to successfully take them on.
You’ll loot, complete missions, and exfil just like you would in DMZ mode, which again adds to the feeling of re-use that plagues Modern Warfare 3. There is no threat from zombies on the map that you can’t run away from whenever you like, the missions become repetitive very quickly, and by the time you feel like you’re geared enough to take on the next set of challenges, it’s time to exfil.
There are other players present when you play Zombies, but they’re off doing their own missions and fighting their own enemies. These other players cannot be damaged and are therefore non-hostile, which takes away the most exciting part of DMZ. There were a few occasions when I’d jump in to help another squad if they were being swamped, but that was the only real interaction I had with anyone outside of my team.
You can squad fill, or, of course, party up with your friends to take on the zombie horde, but it all feels strangely sterile and quite flat. The only real excitement came from when we were funneled into an encounter we couldn’t realistically escape. Having to wait for our escape helicopter while being swarmed by a horde was genuinely engaging, adding a level of risk that just wasn’t present anywhere else.
Zombies mode always used to be a tense race against the inevitable. How long would your squad be able to last against a seemingly endless enemy? Every encounter in MW3’s Zombies, however, is on your terms, and you’re gated from the high-tier fun until the busy work is done, by which time it’s usually too late in the match to realistically accomplish anything. It’s all a bit boring, sadly, much like everything else MW3 has to offer.
Modern Warfare 3, as a package, is underwhelming, uninspired, and uninteresting. It smacks of DLC, only this year you’ll have to pay full price for the privilege. Pulling on players’ nostalgia may draw in long-time lovers of the series, but for anyone not committed to Call of Duty, I’d recommend you skip 2023’s iteration.
Modern Warfare 3 is an uninspiring trip down memory lane, hacking together old ideas in an attempt to create something new. With a campaign that even the most die-hard fans would struggle to enjoy, and a multiplayer mode that offers nothing fresh, it’s best to steer clear of this full-price travesty.