For what it’s worth, I tend to enjoy the yearly Call of Duty, even if it’s just for a few months. The breakneck pace and punchy gameplay are generally enough, while some of the recent Modern Warfare entries have pretty much kept me around throughout the entire year.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 looks great and plays well, but is clearly focused on repackaging both previously used assets and the concept of nostalgia to get by. I’m all for the return of various classic maps and characters, but given the ridiculously short single-player campaign and slower unlock system in Multiplayer and Zombies modes, it’s hard to give this one a pass.
As you would expect, Modern Warfare 3 picks up soon after the events of Modern Warfare 2. Makarov was indeed teased and is now out on the loose, set on using nuclear weapons for his own nefarious purposes. While the original Modern Warfare 2 told a version of this story that was both suspenseful and dense, this version left me scratching my head.
Aside from the short 4-5 hour runtime, Modern Warfare 3’s campaign simply loses steam throughout, replacing the breakneck pace of its consistent setpieces with ‘open combat’ zones, which see players navigate an open hub world to complete various objectives. Unfortunately, they’re never that interesting.
While the maps themselves are ripped straight from Warzone and DMZ, you’ll be bombing areas and stealing intel with no real reason other than that it will hinder Makarov’s progress. As a result, the story builds most of its context and depth through cutscenes, which look pretty, before they devolve into conversations told via a computer screen, that highlights the characters’ names and photos while they’re talking.
I wouldn’t dare spoil the story for those who wish to play this, but I must say, I cannot believe how inconsequential this feels at times. The story wraps up quicker than you would expect, with no real endgame in sight, further hinting that this may have indeed started as a larger expansion to the admittedly great Modern Warfare 2.
Who are we kidding? We all know this is where we’re going to spend most of our time with Modern Warfare 3. And for good reason. It’s clearly the highlight of the package and plays just as well as it ever has. Time to kill feels pretty much on par with Modern Warfare 2 and the list of returning maps from the original Modern Warfare 2 feels nostalgic in all the right ways, if a little overdue. Highrise, Terminal, Rust, Afghan, welcome back old friends.
Now it’s no real secret that developer Sledgehammer only had a year to work on this game, but it shows. Through the same assets and weapon designs, you’ve pretty much played this before. The same operators even carry over. While you can access weapons from Modern Warfare 2, along with their overall progression, much of this experience is banking on either how much you love the existing IW gameplay engine, or how nostalgic you are for 2009’s Modern Warfare 2. I must admit, I’m a sucker for both and am happy with the new maps alone. But given this was dished out as a full release, raises some questions.
Progression is, however, one of the few things that has experienced a change of sorts. Once you hit level 25, you’ll unlock the Armoury Unlock Challenge, which can help you unlock new guns and perks later in the experience.
You’ll need to complete a number of daily challenges, which can range from a number of kills with a certain weapon, to a number of kills with a certain perk activated. They can be queued so that you can simply roll through a number of them in a single play session, but this system simply feels like it’s trying its best to get you to interact with its gameplay, modes and maps in new ways to make up for its lack of new content. It’s mostly harmless, but I still miss the old days.
The Zombies mode makes an appearance here, which is now known as Operation Deadbolt. That being said, it feels more like a DMZ crossover event than a brand-new mode. I can’t complain too much here, as it does provide a large open world to explore and navigate through, as you team up in groups of up to three players to undertake various objectives.
Pack-a-Punch and perks return, along with the scavenging and gear organisation that has since been introduced via Warzone. But unlike DMZ and Warzone, it lacks that player vs. player element, making most of your 30-minute sessions feel bland and lifeless. The map is divided into danger zones that increase the further you head inwards, complete with newer, tougher and faster enemies.
It can get pretty intense, but it’s also never forced upon you. Unlike the original Zombies modes, where survival objectives naturally increased their difficulty via the larger waves of enemies, you sort of accepted that there was never really a way to avoid it, encouraging you to go out guns blazing. But here, you can simply stay in the quieter areas.
Keep in mind, that the open-ended nature of Operation Deadbolt can lead to some fun moments. As up to 24 players can litter a map, it’s fun to break into a building for supplies, only to run into a new and deadly zombie that immediately changes the tide, sending you out in a flash to readjust your approach. While other players can’t really be interacted with in any way, I can appreciate the opportunities it brings.
But at the same time, the general structure doesn’t really encourage you to take on the next area until you’ve buffed your weapons or found some worthwhile gear. In turn, you’ll spend most of your time focusing on the grind instead. I haven’t even mentioned the loose narrative that ties this all together. It’s unfortunately a slog to get through, requiring you to find and collect special items and perks, that are only seemingly given by completing random activities.
At the heart of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, lies a competent experience. It’s just as fun to play as it ever has been. But it’s simply so focused on rehashing the nostalgia most of us have for 2009’s original Modern Warfare 2, that it thinks it can get away with failing to present fans with anything new.
The story is way too short and inconsequential for its own good, and while the new Operation Deadbolt mode does its best to shake up the Zombies formula, it too struggles with odd pacing and sluggish progression. While I’m still going to dive back into Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer offerings for the nostalgia alone, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t left with more questions than answers.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Fantastic gameplay returns; Operation Deadbolt mode can be fun at times; Classic Modern Warfare 2 maps return
Lowlights: Shallow and inconsequential campaign mode; Rough progression systems
Developer: Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Windows PC
Review conducted on PlayStation 5 with a code provided by the publisher.