Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 shows how tradition can (and should) be broken in some cases.
I haven’t been as mixed on a Call of Duty game in a long time since Black Ops 4; another game with a problematic release given its lack of a campaign. On the one hand, this game features some of the best foundational gameplay since my favorite era of Call of Duty. But then, on the other hand, it lacks substance and relies too heavily on nostalgia best left in 2009.
Playing through the 15-mission single-player campaign in Modern Warfare 3 often had me wondering if this game was better off not having a campaign at all. To Sledgehammer Games’ credit, it seemingly developed this game in a fraction of the time of most annual releases, especially since it just released Vanguard two years prior.
But, at the same time, this approach shows how unsustainable and unhealthy this development cycle is, with the messiest and worst campaign in the franchise to date. The 15 missions it has are deceptive, as players can finish them in a matter of three to five hours; much shorter than previous games.
Worse still, it eschews the jokes about the campaign being a tutorial for multiplayer in favor of being a glorified tutorial for the upcoming Warzone Urzikstan map. Many of the missions take place in larger map areas with a few objectives for players to accomplish and some freedom of choice in how to go about tackling them.
This sounds fine and dandy as an idea, but in practice, it falls flat. Unwanted elements of DMZ and Warzone exist, such as the armor plates, looting supply crates, and parachuting around. There is almost no story hook throughout these missions and they pretty much act as a bridge to the next actual cutscene.
Unfortunately, those cutscenes don’t offer much to reward players for completing the campaign’s bland tasks, either. The plot feels like a slightly expanded and redone version of 2022’s MW2 with the same villain and little resolution. In fact, it even ends on a frustrating and weird cliffhanger. That said, there are the occasional “traditional” cinematic, action-packed linear campaign missions here and there.
But even those aren’t perfect. For instance, the opening mission “Operation 627” plays like a wild and fun prison break adventure, but even it doesn’t last long enough. Worse still, the campaign’s “No Russian” sequel “Passenger” is unnecessarily controversial and egregious in its context. If there’s any game where you can safely skip the campaign and not miss out, this is the one.
Playing without rose-tinted glasses
Multiplayer remains king in Modern Warfare 3 and is where most people will likely spend their time. Another odd choice from Sledgehammer, but understandable given the harsh development timeline: remastering all 16 of the launch maps from the original 2009 Modern Warfare 2.
As someone who came into the series just after that with Black Ops, this was pretty much my first time checking out the likes of Rundown, Karachi, and more. I will admit most of these maps haven’t aged the best, especially with the current fast-paced movement systems.
Last year’s MW2 didn’t have solid maps and, unfortunately, that trend continues this year with the latest game. A few of them are fantastic, such as Terminal, Invasion, and Skidrow, while most of the others were better left stuck in 2009. I’m torn because some game modes like Search & Destroy feel better than ever in this title.
However, a tried-and-true mode like Hardpoint doesn’t work well on almost any of the maps due to them not being made with it in mind. This led to me being even pickier than usual with what maps I play in multiplayer and less overall enjoyment.
Moving with grace
My negative experience with most of the maps in MW3 feels even more painful because this year’s model has the best movement and gameplay of any Call of Duty game not from the jetpack era. New additions like Tac Stance complement the smooth and improved returning mechanics like slide canceling and dolphin diving.
There isn’t a second of downtime in this game, which I love. As an SMG player who likes to always be in people’s faces, I could zip across most maps in a few seconds and start blasting away at some unsuspecting opposing player. The speed of this game feels incredible and just right when paired with the higher-than-average player health.
This results in a smart balance of swiftness and heft. While you can find enemies in no time, you need skill with the varied and impressive weapons to succeed. The crossover of all MW2 weapons and most cosmetics also means this game has a fantastic and familiar foundation for existing fans as well. This results in thrilling gameplay, which mismatches with many of the maps.
Players looking for the best parts of MW3 should honestly look outside the usual trappings of campaign and multiplayer. Instead, game modes like Ground War offer some of the finest and most thrilling moments in this adventure. Ground War gave me the high-quality, Battlefield 3-like experience I’ve been sorely missing for a while now. This is because of its massive maps, large player counts, and onslaught of vehicles across land and sky. Pair this with the best-in-class movement and gunplay, and you have a grand time.
At the same time, Treyarch cooked up a unique but welcome take on Zombies with the open-world Operation Deadbolt. This feels like the true successor to TranZit, my favorite Zombies iteration. It lacks some direction with the open-world maps and many objectives, but the horror aesthetic and countless undead forces give it a special sense of freedom.
It could use some tweaks when it comes to content, missions, and challenges, but this Zombies experience is off to a solid start. Overall, Zombies feels like the best part of 2022’s DMZ but with a more compelling enemy threat.
In the end, Modern Warfare 3 begs the question of whether this annual cycle should continue or not. Almost half the game feels shoehorned in, such as the forgettable campaign. Meanwhile, the other half has mixed results in the case of the multiplayer maps. But if players engage with the truly special parts of MW3, such as its exceptional improvements to gameplay and spectacular alternative modes like Zombies and Ground War, they’ll find there is a worthy experience in there somewhere.