Another year, another Call of Duty. When a series releases annually, you generally get a good idea of what to expect, with some small variations and improvements along the way. Modern Warfare 3, on the other hand, feels like the result of a mad rush to release a full game and needing to cut corners because of it. All three modes are bound together by a common thread, and that thread has become worn and frayed.
The reimagining of the original Modern Warfare trilogy’s story continues in the campaign, as we’re now back to fighting Makarov and his army of ultranationalists as they try to trigger a war between the West and Russia. There’s some of what you’d expect here, with heavily scripted mission, great-looking cutscenes, bombastic set pieces and all that. These are mostly great, but they’re not the whole story.
You can read more about the campaign here, but the main issue is that most missions this time are “open combat missions,” giving you have a chunk of the Warzone map with a few objectives on it and letting you loose to do things however you like. Initially, it seems like a nice change, but thanks to poor checkpointing, AI issues, and a strange equipment system, they quickly become frustrating.
Worse is that they’re the antithesis of what Call of Duty has been for the last 20 years. The campaign is meant to be military operations with a squad, with scripted cinematic moments and a legion of enemies to take down as you progress through a series of objectives. An open combat mission is the opposite of that. It’s like a lesser imitation of Far Cry and the over reliance on them feels more like a cost cutting measure than it does an attempt to create something new and different, especially since it is neither of these things. A piece of a map that already exists with one person feeding intel on the radio and some dumb AI has to be a lot cheaper to produce than a standard Call of Duty campaign level. This along with an unsatisfying story that doesn’t really have an ending, narratively speaking, as it’s been held back to allow for this Modern Warfare series to continue for at least a few more entries.
There’s a similar tone to the new Zombies mode, though the core concept has some promise. It’s an extraction mode where your squad is dropped onto a map full of zombies. There’s no PvP here – unlike with the previous zombies modes for Warzone – which some may be disappointed by, but I appreciate the break from being killed by someone 200 meters behind me in favour of a PvE experience. As you go, you can find weapons, then upgrade those weapons and then head toward the middle of the map, where you’ll find tougher zombies and even better loot. You’ll need to exfiltrate if you want to hang onto any of it, so be prepared for a zombie horde whilst you wait for the helicopter.
It’s generally a good idea, but again it feels like it’s rehashing existing and shared content. It features a lot of the familiar elements from Treyarch’s long-running Zombies mode, like Pack-a-Punch machines and temporary power ups, and then it also shares the new Urzikstan map that is coming to Warzone 2.0, while the story woven into it depends on you completing a checklist of objectives. These must be completed in order, so if you’ve opened 50 loot containers already it won’t matter for the “open 25 loot containers” unless you’ve reached that stage already, which is a bit of an annoyance that’s surely only in place to stretch the narrative out through its three acts. As you progress through the tasks you’ll get access to missions in unique locales, but other than this it seems there was very little new content made for this version of Zombies.
Multiplayer has for a long time been the most important portion of a Call of Duty game, and Modern Warfare 3 comes with sixteen maps, all of which are remade from the 2009 Modern Warfare 2. These maps aren’t bad, and in fact I’ve been having a lot of fun with them, but it feels like I’m having fun more due to the solid Call of Duty foundations and throwback to one of the series’ most popular games, rather than the Modern Warfare 3 that was built on top of it. The core foundation of COD are all here – tight and responsive controls, fast and snappy combat, lots of explosions – there’s been some notable gameplay tweaks to add red dots back to the minimap and more, and you’re playing on classic maps, which are still good even if they’re not new.
It’s not without its issues, though. Some of those maps were pulled from playlists to fix some bad spawns that somehow weren’t caught in testing, and while they seem to be back now, you’ll still occasionally spawn directly in front of an enemy who has no choice but to kill you immediately. I rarely experience lag, but when I do, it’s like trying to shoot the Flash and even the camera jerks around for some reason in the little spawning cutscene as you start a match. Then there is, of course, the ever present problem of people camping in little nooks and just sniping people who run through one specific door for a whole match, with the constant killstreaks they get able to make the end of a match miserable if you’re not doing well yourself. I often find myself in uneven games as well, where one team has one or even two players missing, usually resulting in a loss because of this big disadvantage.
But these are all the usual issues with multiplayer Call of Duty, really. I’ve literally never played a Call of Duty that doesn’t have problematic spawns, and despite the issues, it’s often still a lot of fun. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth every time I finish a match and the first thing I see after the results, before I see any XP gains on my weapons, is my progress in the Battle Pass that I don’t have. The upsell here is huge, given that this is a £70 AAA game that’s predominantly built on existing assets from Warzone and remastered maps rather than new ones, and yet has a nagging battle pass, tonnes of “micro” transactions for over-the-top skins, and a £100 Vault edition.
Whether or not reports of a 16 month development cycle are accurate, the whole game feels like it was narrowed in scope to meet a tight deadline, and you can practically feel the hands of Activision’s execs wringing every dollar they can out of this franchise.