Video Game Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Is it really just Modern Warfare 2 DLC?
After seeing a three-year gap between the remakes of 2019’s Modern Warfare and last year’s Modern Warfare 2, it seemed like we’d be getting either an entirely new entry or perhaps something from the Ghosts timeline in 2023. Instead, we got Modern Warfare 3, a continuation of the rebooted series. The move also interrupted Call of Duty‘s long-running developmental cycle of having three years between releases — Sledgehammer Games made 2021’s Vanguard. As such, perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that the end product feels a bit rushed.
One thing Call of Duty gets right every year is the controls, and that is absolutely the case once again. Guns provide different feedback based on their size and firepower, aiming feels precise, and firing feels weighty. Movement has been tweaked a bit, at least for the multiplayer side, with the introduction of “Tac Stance,” which splits the difference between aiming down sight (ADS) and hip firing, slide cancelling, and faster mounting. It takes a little getting used to, but once it clicks it does create a more frenetic pace to online combat.
Presentation continues to be a high point for the series as well with strong visuals and excellent and impactful sound design. Voice actors aren’t given a ton to work with in the semi-incoherent plot (more on that in a minute), but they do what they can to breathe life into the characters. The cut scenes are suitably impressive, even if the actual gameplay comes up a little short of being a true showcase for the hardware.
As was the case with last year’s MW2, Modern Warfare 3 utilizes elements from the original version and reshuffles them into something new(ish). Things begin with familiar antagonist Vladimir Makarov being sprung from prison in the fictional country of Kastovia. Makarov plans to terrorize various locations across the globe, while the usual suspects of Task Force 141 (Captain Price, Soap, Ghost, et all) attempt to track him down and stop him.
While Call of Duty has never been known for the depth of its storytelling, what’s on offer here is paper thin and feels like the developers just had a checklist for which recognizable characters they needed to throw in (Farah, Laswell, Graves, Shepherd…). Nobody is given much to do, and even Makarov, who was a pretty nuanced character by CoD standards, is reduced to “some people just want to watch the world burn” status.
Some of the storytelling shortcomings would’ve been more forgivable had they come attached to the usual allotment of compelling missions and set pieces. Unfortunately, MW3 comes up short there as well. That’s due in large to the introduction of “open combat missions,” which is code for “Warzone with A.I. players,” ditching a focused structure for a sandbox approach that allows you to complete objectives as you see fit. It may not sound like a negative, but it doesn’t work for Call of Duty, which has done a nice job over the years with its linear missions and at least the illusion of squad-based combat.
There are some positive standouts, including one level that’s reminiscent of The Raid, where you have to ascend an apartment complex to hunt a target, but it’s not enough to rank MW3‘s campaign anywhere but at or near the bottom compared to those that have come before. It’s also short (about four hours) and ends both abruptly and unsatisfyingly.
Familiarity is the name of the game on the multiplayer side, where you’re essentially getting a continuation of MW2, down to the fact that weapon progression from last year’s game actually carries over. That’s a nice feature, but it speaks to how similar things are that Activision is even willing/able to do it. Guns and accessories you haven’t unlocked are kept behind an archaic system that makes you fulfill daily challenges, ensuring a snail’s pace.
Adding to the overall sense of deja vu are the maps as 16 maps were brought over from the 2009 version of Modern Warfare 2, which definitely feels like a “your mileage may vary” situation. For us, we’d spent so many hours with them back then that it created a healthy amount of nostalgia while also helping us acclimate since we were already familiar with the layout. For others, they might prefer something entirely new in the map department, especially given how similar the multiplayer experience is in other areas.
For all of its shortcomings, including a lack of originality, MW3‘s multiplayer… is fun. The tweaks to movement work well once you get the hang of it, and they do breathe a little life into those old maps. That Activision drew from arguably the highwater mark of the series doesn’t hurt, either, as most of the maps are well designed and still hold up extremely well — a couple do feel too large for 6v6 action.
There’s also a new Zombies mode for those that enjoy it, though substantial changes have been made in that department, with the traditionally wave-based mode now feeling a lot more like Warzone, which itself will be added to MW3 in December to round out a healthy amount of content. We were never huge fans of Zombies in previous games, but it wouldn’t be surprising if long-time enthusiasts found the changes unwelcome.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a hard game to score. It has problems. The campaign is lackluster. The multiplayer feels more like a continuation of MW2 than something new. The maps are ripped wholesale from a previous game. Those are all true. Despite that, we find ourselves neck deep in the “just one more match” cycle because the multiplayer action is fun, and that obscures a lot of flaws.