A new year brings a new Call of Duty, and whether it’s at the start or closer to the reveal, we always have to ask: Why? It sells, and millions enjoy it, begrudgingly or otherwise, but the necessity of a new entry is always worth pondering. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 takes the question to a whole new level, especially when you peel back the Campaign to judge some of the good bits.
Let’s get this out of the way: The Campaign is a disaster. There are no two ways about it, no way to sugarcoat or soften the blow. Whether you believe the reports about it being a spin-off expansion to Modern Warfare 2 (2022) or how the entire game came together in roughly 16 months, it’s an unmitigated, dreary mess.
"Because from this point on, there isn’t a campaign, but a loosely connected string of missions almost obligated to appear, almost certainly under duress."
It wants you to care about its characters but doesn’t need you to. It wants you to get invested in its Loadouts and play the game the way you want, but can’t be bothered to make things interesting enough to inspire that. It’s everything that we’ve mocked other better Call of Duty campaigns for years – vapid, inconsequential and lazy – but without the schlocky over-the-top action set pieces that the series is renowned for. And once you’ve stripped out those, what’s really left in this annoying globe-trotting exercise?
The first mission sees you infiltrating a Russian gulag to free Vladimir Makarov, the what’s-old-is-new-again antagonist, and it feels like a typical Call of Duty campaign. Fairly linear, with some interesting bits like rappelling down the floors of a prison, slaying guards and using rioting prisoners as a diversion. It ends with the player leaping off a cliff, which is apropos because the Campaign goes right with it.
Because from this point on, there isn’t a campaign, but a loosely connected string of missions almost obligated to appear, almost certainly under duress. These include the new Open Combat missions, where the rage truly begins to build. Your first Open Combat mission sees you controlling Farah, who suffers an assault from Makarov’s forces as they attempt to seize missiles from her side’s shipyard. As such, you must search for manifestos to find said containers and then attach GPS trackers.
Thus, when they’re taken, Farah – and eventually Task Force 141 can track them. Speaking of the plausible deniability squad, they’re told about Makarov’s escape before jumping off a plane for a mission. Captain Price turns the chopper around, aborting the operation because Makarov is seemingly that big of a threat. Remember when the Modern Warfare reboot trilogy was meant to be gritty and realistic?
"There aren’t any interesting objectives, Contracts or events here – just the story signposts. You have no reason to replay these or even think outside the box when trying to complete them."
How can anyone believe something like this would happen, even in Call of Duty? It’s like the original plan was for the player to be in the middle of a mission as Task Force 141 and then receive the news of Makarov’s escape. If so, it would have been way better than this.
Also, if this was meant to sell how much of a threat Makarov is, it fails because he hasn’t done anything yet. Yes, I know the OG Makarov is Thanos reincarnate, but this is not him.
Anyway, back to Farah, who meanders around the map, collecting resources and weapons in loot crates while fighting off Makarov’s infinitely respawning forces. Also, Shadow Company and Graves are still a thing, despite how the previous game ended. While the Open Combat mission design sounds promising, from discovering weapons that to use in future replays of the same scenario, it’s ultimately a bland, boring adaptation of Modern Warfare 2’s DMZ.
There aren’t any interesting objectives, Contracts or events here – just the story signposts. You have no reason to replay these or even think outside the box when trying to complete them. Sneak around, gun everything down, both – it ultimately doesn’t matter one iota for the story or the mission as long as you fulfill these milquetoast objectives.
"If I wanted such a bland mission design, I would time travel somehow to 2014 and play Destiny’s campaign. At least the loot was better."
Such is the thought and care put into the enemy placement and AI that they spawn near your location when the base is alerted and almost always seems to know where to look for you. Until you find a place to lay low, wait out the timer, and everything returns to normal.
While you may encounter enemies with more body armor and helmets when playing aggressively, it’s a far cry from something like Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Guards won’t investigate the area further and keep looking for you, as any base under threat would. Taking down enemies won’t cause a patrol to radio in and find out what happened, sending a squad to investigate. You could argue that Sledgehammer doesn’t want to make things too difficult for those who prefer to run and gun.
Couldn’t it at least have provided some fun objectives? The next Open Combat mission sees Captain Price parachuting into a base with a reactor, and it’s massive. There are vehicles to commandeer, sentry and SAM turrets, and construction sites – and he has to destroy three helicopters. Just find some grenades, chuck them at the landing zone, rinse, and repeat three times. Head inside the reactor and fight off some enemies before the cutscene leading to your extraction. If I wanted such a bland mission design, I would time travel somehow to 2014 and play Destiny’s campaign. At least the loot was better.
Unfortunately, even the linear missions don’t get any better. One mission, Deep Cover, sees Laswell infiltrating a Russian base – thankfully not gathering loot from crates – to garner some information. The entire mission involves walking around but not getting too close to enemy guards so they don’t recognize you, waiting for an officer to emerge, killing him when he’s isolated, stealing his keycard, using it on a door and entering a closet for a cutscene.
"Perhaps the only interesting sequence not involving the main characters is Passenger, where players control a former soldier as she tries to stop Makarov from hijacking a plane."
There’s also an escape sequence since the base is the target of a missile strike, spreading Sarin gas throughout as Laswell makes her escape. I have nothing against short missions, but when nothing remotely interesting happens, why not just have cutscenes? Or remove them entirely and focus on the rest of the game?
Perhaps the only interesting sequence not involving the main characters is Passenger, where players control a former soldier as she tries to stop Makarov from hijacking a plane. Even with how contrived the whole deal is, there’s some urgency and emotion. Of course, the next mission is another Open Combat scenario, and I want to hurl something out the window.
To sum it up, again, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s Campaign is an unmitigated disaster, and if you paid $70 to pre-order and play it in early access, you’re completely justified in getting a refund.
Now the question arises: What about the rest of the game? There’s some good news on that front (and not where you’re expecting), but let’s start with the Multiplayer. It’s fine, sometimes bordering on good but still burdened by all of the idiosyncrasies and flaws that make it Call of Duty.
As you’re probably aware, the core 6v6 maps are lifted from Modern Warfare 2 (2009). Terminal, Rust, Invasion, Strike, Wasteland – they’re all present and accounted for with some revamps and updated graphics. Some hold up better than others, but the overall map design is solid.
"There’s also the continuing issue of “Getting the drop on an enemy, firing several rounds and getting instantly melted” in multiplayer."
There’s still the issue of essentially reselling maps from 14 years ago – which sucks, don’t get me wrong – but they play relatively well. I didn’t try the new War or Ground War maps because the real thrill, at least for me, was in the core playlist.
Now, that being said, there are several high-ground areas which, when controlled, tend to lean more towards slower-paced play and camping. The movement speed and options, especially Tac Sprint and sliding, offer a counter in this respect, and there are plenty of flanking routes to get the drop on enemies. The bump in health for multiplayer is also decent, providing options to escape without severely bogging down the time to kill.
However, there are also atrocious spawns, to the effect that some maps were temporarily pulled from modes like Hardpoint. In one Free-For-All match, I was fortunate enough to spawn and die almost instantly several times. On other occasions in Team Deathmatch, I would spawn remarkably close to the person who killed me before. Perhaps it’s because of the increased movement speed, which makes it harder to find suitable “safe” places to spawn players, but at times it becomes too chaotic to keep track of.
There’s also the continuing issue of “Getting the drop on an enemy, firing several rounds and getting instantly melted.” When you view the Killcam, you’ll notice that your opponent fired before or during the same time as you, which wasn’t the case. Maybe it’s a latency issue, but it goes both ways. On one occasion, spraying mercilessly somehow killed an enemy in front of me when it seemed I was dead to rights and also killed their teammate nearby, even though I was confident that my reticle was nowhere near them.
"Finally, we arrive at the highlight of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 – Zombies, by Treyarch."
Matchmaking also continues to be something special. Sometimes, it opts for one strong player on a team of…not-so-strong players (myself included), and we lose. Even if it isn’t a blowout, the K/Ds show one-sided domination. On the other hand, it’ll throw me into matches where I perform reasonably well, even if I’m not the highest-scoring member of the team, as I get some killstreaks, score some double-kills, etc.
While the gunplay and movement feel crisp, the odd yo-yo-ing of matchmaking with all the other issues makes it difficult to sink in for extended periods, even if there’s some fun to be had. Cue the usual “If they fix these issues, then Multiplayer will be perfect” comments, though it’s much easier said than done.
I won’t comment much on weapon balance since these things are usually in flux, but the Assault Rifles and SMGs felt good, the Battle Rifles somewhat clunky, and the LMGs relatively fine. I didn’t mess around much with After-Market Parts, but the Gunsmith customization is decent if nothing particularly game-changing. The UI could be better, especially when editing Custom Loadouts, but it’s serviceable.
Finally, we arrive at the highlight of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 – Zombies, by Treyarch. Instead of the traditional round-based co-op, which has defined the mode for decades, it’s an extraction shooter. You start with a relatively basic loadout, drop in, loot caches and supply chests, and upon extraction, get to keep whatever “contraband” you bagged.
"Unlike several other extraction shooters, there’s no PvP. You arrive with two other teammates and can link up with other squads in the area to complete objectives."
Perk-A-Colas, Wunderweapons, Rucksacks – you name it, allowing for a significant advantage on the next go-around. Eventually, you can craft Schematics for weapon mods to enable effects like elemental or explosive damage, Aether Tools for upgrading a weapon’s rarity, Perk-A-Colas and more.
Unlike several other extraction shooters, there’s no PvP. You arrive with two other teammates and can link up with other squads in the area to complete objectives. Slaying the undead and completing Contracts can provide currency to purchase weapons, upgrades and items. The Contracts provide unique events like escorting and defending an ATV, deactivating missiles (placing you into conflict with Terminus Outcomes, the PMC that started the outbreak, who are surprisingly deadly), killing targets, raiding weapon stashes, cracking safes and more. You also encounter Strongholds and Infested Strongholds, the latter granting Aetherium.
All of these are a lot of fun, and between looting buildings, selling off valuables, driving around with teammates from one point of interest to another to Pack-A-Punch weapons or fulfilling new Contracts, there is a lot to do. There is a storyline of sorts to Zombies, which you can progress through by fulfilling different objectives.
However, the overall goal is to approach the center of the map. The outskirts are Level 1, which is fairly easy with Rare weapons. Level 2 bumps up the difficulty and undead count significantly, and having vests with more armor slots, higher rarity weapons that have been Pack-A-Punched, Perks and more are necessary for survival.
"On the one end, you have the rushed Campaign with its awful mission design and lame story that struggles to hold your interest when the Open Combat missions aren’t dead set on killing it."
Things can get hectic in the level 2 areas, especially when you encounter more special zombies like Manglers, Mimics and Disciples, but it’s a blast. Also, you can tackle things at your own pace, retreat to easier areas, and get fully kitted out before progressing. I haven’t reached the map’s center, but its horrors sound fun to tackle with other players.
What seemed like it could be a mode uncomfortably bolted onto an extraction shooter feels natural and addictive. Whether it’s dropping in to shoot some stuff and extract to earn XP to progress through the Ranks or fight for your life against overwhelming hordes, Zombies in Modern Warfare 3 is very good.
Perhaps the only negative is that Contracts can get repetitive if you’re continuously farming them, but the sheer range of other activities helps mix things up. Also, even if you have no interest in Zombies, dropping in and extracting weapons makes them available in Multiplayer – a great quality-of-life feature.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a tale of two extremes. On the one end, you have the rushed Campaign with its awful mission design and lame story that struggles to hold your interest when the Open Combat missions aren’t dead set on killing it.
"As the overall package stands, it’s far below the very best that the series has to offer, never mind forget stacking up to this year’s heavy hitters."
On the other end is Zombies, a fun co-op experience that reimagines a beloved mode into something fresh while keeping the tension and over-the-top chaos intact. In the middle, leaning towards the positive is multiplayer, which feels good to play but is beset by numerous fundamental issues that could take time to fix. Nevertheless, it can be fun.
If you’re interested in multiplayer, this review is moot – you already bought the game and decided it’s amazing or terrible. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 isn’t worth picking up for the Campaign, but I’m sure several players never cared about it in the first place (just as others care less about multiplayer or Zombies). You could make a case that Zombies would have been great alone, and while I had fun, it’s still a tough sell for $70.
Modern Warfare 3 can be fun in some areas, but that shouldn’t come with so many caveats and a terrible Campaign. Multiplayer will continue to receive support while the Campaign is likely forgotten, and I can only hope that Zombies isn’t relegated to the side. However, as the overall package stands, it’s far below the very best that the series has to offer, never mind forget stacking up to this year’s heavy hitters.
This game was reviewed on PC.
The gunplay and movement feel good. Core map design in multiplayer is mostly solid, and weapon balance doesn't feel too shabby. Zombies is a fun extraction shooter with plenty of depth.
The campaign is a mess and a half with horrendous objectives and an inconsequential story. Open Combat missions are unimaginative at best and dreary at worst. Multiplayer matchmaking needs an overhaul. Latency issues affect time-to-kill, and spawns are borderline broken. Contracts in Zombies can get a bit repetitive over time.