The annual military first-person shooter blockbuster that is Call of Duty is back once again with Modern Warfare 3. This is the last remake sequel we’ll see for at least another ten years, as the original Modern Warfare series ended to mixed receptions all the way back in 2011. Fast forward to 2019, Infinity Ward came back with a darker, grittier and more grounded version of Modern Warfare, completely changing our perception of where Call of Duty could go.
This time around, however, Sledgehammer Games are at the helm of Modern Warfare 3, with other studios under the Call of Duty umbrella assisting on the other modes. Treyarch are dealing with Zombies, whilst Infinity Ward’s original DNA of the multiplayer as well as the game running on the IW 9.0 engine has been the standard for the past couple of years.
The bigger picture – for those interested – is to create a succinct package with Call of Duty HQ, where all the recent campaigns, Warzone, Zombies will be in one place – if you have the console storage to withstand this behemoth. In theory, this is a utopic hub for everything CoD. In execution, it’s a hodge podge of ads for other modes, operator packs, battle passes and some players just wanting to find the latest campaign. The usual three year studio rotation for Call of Duty releases had a hiccup making this year’s title an unexpected entry, so with that in mind let’s get into how Modern Warfare 3 fares overall.
Bravo-1 How Copy? Just Don’t Make It Obvious
I’ll assume you’ve played through Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2022) as there are major story implications for this instalment. Makarov is back, you know the one in Modern Warfare 2 (2009) who commits an act of terror at an airport then starts World War 3 by pitting countries against each other, pulling all the strings the whole time. Safe to say, he is the most memorable and formidable antagonist Call of Duty has ever seen.
He’s playing a similar role up to this point in the remade Modern Warfare timeline, as he’s once again using terrorist espionage to make countries other than his own look like the big bad. He’s broken out of the gulag that we all know and love (from playing Warzone), and once again plotting evil by stopping the recent peace in Urzikstan in the hopes of starting a world war.
Captain Price and the rest of Task Force 141 catch wind quickly on his escape and are on Makarov’s heels to end things once and for all. What transpires is the most underwritten, uninspired and curt story Call of Duty has put out to date. If Modern Warfare was Zero Dark Thirty, Modern Warfare 2 would be Expendables, making Modern Warfare 3 Battleship. Yes, the one with Rihanna in it. This is not the triumphant comeback of Makarov; it’s the first time I’ve ever thought Task Force 141 were not capable and the ending will leave fans so cheated that it may be the last straw.
The ultimate sin isn’t the lacklustre plot though, rather the shameless reuse of maps/levels we’ve played for years now at this point. At least half of the levels in the campaign are chopped up and repurposed chunks of Warzone’s map, Verdansk. It feels lazily put together, rushed to make an annual release and honestly deflating to play through. The campaign this time around has taken a new approach to level design with the Open Combat Missions.
Think of the co-op levels from last year’s Modern Warfare 2, where you parachute onto the map to tackle the objective any way you like. About 1/3 of the game uses this formula and whilst on paper it sounds like an evolution for the franchise, there are some glaring teething pains. Firstly, the objectives are in the same place every time, meaning the only difference in completion is to go loud and kill everyone or try and do it stealthily.
To save your sanity, just go loud, as the enemy AI is horrendous. Their detection range is laser-focused and the level design doesn’t do a good enough job to facilitate sneaky methods, or even for good combat scenarios fullstop. Enemies can, and will, come from anywhere to flank, sometimes even spawning in front of you and completely dusting any nuance during the missions.
Previous campaigns felt bespoke, with memorable action-packed set pieces and an engaging flow to combat. However, this open-ended approach misses all of that, bar one mission – High Rise – where it’s almost like Raid 3. You see yourself climbing a building block in tight decrepit spaces, with multiple ways to scale. Taking out corridors of enemy operatives, picking up guns from the floor to survive, ending with a shootout on the rooftop. There are some set pieces that are genuine highlights and the more focused gameplay is fun, but they’re few and far between and pale by comparison.
A Shotgun Blast To The Past – Multiplayer Review
When I wrote about my Beta impressions of Modern Warfare 3, I mentioned this is the most iterative the franchise has felt. Now that I’ve had my fill of what the multiplayer has to offer, my opinions are about the same as how this entry is. The frenetic and chaotic gunplay is just as impressive as it has been with the remake of the Modern Warfare series. This time around even sees a more fluid slide-cancel system and some weapon strafing during your character’s animation à la John Wick’s tilted aim, it all makes it feel very tactile whilst not changing the gameplay fundamentally.
The time-to-kill is a bit higher than last year as opponents have 150 health. It does only mean a couple more bullets spent for those using assault rifles, but marksman rifles and other 1 or 2-hit killers are a little less viable this year. One big change-up, which I think is ingenious on Sledgehammer’s part is the melding of equipment being pseudo-perks. In your loadout, you have three equipment slots: one for gloves, one for body armour and another for boots. Gloves for example have either ‘quick-grip’, ‘scavenger’ or ‘commando’. It’s a nice way of integrating the tried and true method of perks, whilst keeping them grounded in a combat setting.
One of the exciting aspects of trying out a new Call of Duty entry is getting to grips with the new guns. There is a handful for each subclass to choose from, be it assault rifles, SMGs, sniper rifles etc. Joining them is also the full list from last year’s game and by that Warzone too. This means that you can use the new guns, but the chances are your opponent has one they paid for last year that’ll make mince meat of you.
Full Metal Can’t Hack It
It’s a confusing concept, one I know that ties back to this synchronicity for the franchise in the launcher, but it does half suck if you’re a new player against people who’ve never left the game and can decimate you. I’ve already said my piece on the launcher, but it’s a potentially horrifying look into what’s to come of the franchise going forward. Weapon Tuning is gone from this title, an aspect that few probably cared much about, but it was like going under the hood of your weapon and tweaking its various outputs. This does create guns being more succinct despite the almost endless customizability, but at least it’s more tangible and doesn’t require a twenty-minute YouTube tutorial.
All OG Modern Warfare II (2009) maps are in this title – once they fix the respawn and reinstate – with a couple extra from the DLC packs. The nostalgia is real, but I can’t help but feel we’ve moved on from the level designs since these maps. Objectives are better placed if you’re playing say, Headquarters or Domination, but the pitfalls of spawn kills, camping spots and choke points being exploitable due to the increased movement ability, all make the maps feel dated.
Outside of the Beta maps during my impressions, seemingly all the other maps are exactly how they used to be, which is unfortunate. Enemy visibility since the beta has been addressed and they’re more noticeable now, but I honestly can’t commend the game for being a rehash of old classic maps, with the same standard of gameplay and a progression system that only helps you with a battle pass if you care for it.
Progress feels meaningless and it’s not because I can’t have a prestige badge anymore, but it’s all inconsequential if I can just buy a good gun. Your weapon progress does carry over to the Zombies mode, so if you have the ultimate killer weapon then you’re off to a good start. This time around the mode is very different as it plays closer to the DMZ mode we saw last year, and like the campaign we saw this year.
With a squad of four, you drop at one end of the open-world map alongside other squads in other parts. There aren’t any waves of zombies here, instead, you have endlessly respawning piles of zombies coming up from the ground nearby. There is a “campaign” where you take on contracts to continue the narrative, as well as receive rewards consisting of new weapons, perks or different types of ammunition. You don’t have an obvious direction to proceed with the narrative in this mode, and it even gets quite tough the longer you stick around.
As you get closer to the centre of the map, the more treacherous the game becomes. Zombies turn up in much bigger hordes, some even with armour, that present a real challenge if you’ve not sorted a loadout properly. With the increased level of danger comes greater rewards and it’s this choice of pace that you decide that makes the mode feel refreshing. On top of that, there are new enemy types to deal with like the Mimics (like Dark Souls), Disciples that summons hordes whilst gaining health by taking yours, and Manglers – heavily armoured zombies with high damage output.
Mission Failed, We’ll Get Them Next Time
With the openness of the new Zombies mode and lack of direction, it can feel quite dull until the ball gets rolling. However, I commend the different direction being a starting point that I can see ending up potentially as satisfying as the original Zombies was. There will be some that’ll love this off the bat, and if you and your friends fancy a gruesome PvE experience then look no further, but the surrounding package this mode sits within is undeniably flawed.
This is the weakest entry the franchise has ever been. I miss when the developers were able to take risks in their direction, genre or narrative to create a Call of Duty that stands out. Modern Warfare 3 feels like the exact opposite, the antithesis of blending in and hoping no one will notice that players have bought a full retail price game and getting a glorified DLC. There has been some recent news of the studios behind this only having 16 months to put this out as opposed to the de rigueur 3 years and it shows. This wasn’t worth the weekends and nights of crunch and Activision are the only ones to blame.
Hopefully, this becomes a turning point, shifting outside of this homogenised effort to be one big ouroboros of Operator Packs, Battle Passes and Seasons that get in the way of you just finding the mode you want to play. There is still the same kind of gameplay we’ve experienced and it’s some of the best AAA first-person shooting on the market, but the current market has never looked so grim.
The best frag grenades are cooked and as such, Modern Warfare 3 needed a lot more time in the oven to create something explosive. This is the series at its lowest point with uninspired missions on repurposed maps and a story that feels moot after the conclusion. Not to mention an online mode that feels closer to a DLC pack and a Zombies mode that whilst in theory was promising, overall feels incohesive and lacking a stable direction. There’s no bad luck, only bad plans and this one was operating without a blueprint.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is available now for PlayStation 5 (review platform), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC via Steam.
Developers: Sledgehammer Games, Treyarch, Infinity Ward
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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