‘Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’ review: sublime multiplayer saves a dull shooter

Excellent deathmatches make it easier to ignore a dreadful campaign and dire Zombies offering

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 loads up on guns, explosives, and déjà vu. In Activision Blizzard‘s third entry in its reimagined Modern Warfare trilogy, the publisher chooses to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its blockbuster first-person shooter (FPS) series with a cast of returning characters and maps pulled straight from 2009. By inviting so many comparisons to the golden era of COD, Modern Warfare 3 has big combat boots to fill. Sadly, it comes up a few sizes too short.

Modern Warfare 3’s first falters in its campaign, which plays like a tacked-on afterthought. Following on from last year’s Modern Warfare 2, the elite soldiers of Task Force 141 are on the tail of Makarov: the Russian ultranationalist who kicked off World War 3 with a gory false-flag terrorist attack in the original trilogy.

Though Modern Warfare 3 aims to be just as dark and gritty as its predecessors, it doesn’t hit the mark. Makarov has been reimagined as a baby-faced baddie whose cutthroat methods are at odds with cheesy speeches and ludicrously over-the-top plots. One level takes place during a visceral mass shooting at an arena, where you have to navigate through crowds of fleeing football fans to eliminate the gunmen mowing them down. Minutes later, you’re awkwardly nudging the attack’s mastermind toward custody, the level’s atmosphere dissipating with every word of a monologue better suited to Marvel levels of villainy.

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2023). Credit: Activision Blizzard.
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2023). Credit: Activision Blizzard.

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The best part of a COD campaign – yes, just shooting things – is hardly any better. In lieu of the blockbuster moments that have defined past Call Of Duty levels, Modern Warfare 3 wastes most of its time in Open Combat Missions – sandbox-style areas where you’re tasked with completing objectives with whatever approach you deem fit.

Without developer Sledgehammer Games‘ guiding hand, these levels are dull and lifeless. Stealth and detection systems are poorly implemented, which means careful planning is usually a waste of time. It’s much simpler to engage enemies head-on, which means it’s possible to complete Modern Warfare 3’s brief campaign in as little as three hours – not that there’s any meaningful resolution to be found at the end of its globe-trotting wild goose chase.

Though Modern Warfare 3 fumbles single-player, its multiplayer is sublime. Despite its name, all 16 core multiplayer maps have been brought directly from the original Modern Warfare 2, which means classics like Terminal, Highrise, and yes, even Rust, are back for more carnage. These arenas are classics for a reason – there’s still nothing quite like blasting your way through the wide-windowed corridor of Terminal, or showboating with a sniper from the cliffs of Afghan.

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2023). Credit: Activision Blizzard.
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2023). Credit: Activision Blizzard.

Though this means Modern Warfare 3 is mostly lacking in new maps and innovation, newer game modes like Kill Confirmed and Control help freshen things up as varying objectives force you to rethink the way you play through these familiar haunts. Cutthroat, Modern Warfare 3’s completely new game mode, is the biggest departure from 2009 – a round-based thrill where three teams of three compete to wipe each other out. Admittedly, these additions have come with some teething pains. Respawning can be frustrating for maps that weren’t designed with certain modes in mind, and some have already been temporarily disabled while Sledgehammer deals with some of the worst offenders.

The momentum of COD’s traditional multiplayer modes doesn’t carry into Treyarch’s open-world Zombies mode, which is a reskin of battle royale Warzone in all but rotting flesh. The goal is to drop into Warzone’s new map, Urzikstan, which has been taken over by shambling undead, and complete contracts before flying out with any loot you find. Doing so is exceedingly dull. The map is broken up into tiers of difficulty – the outer fringes have a smattering of weak zombies, while the centre is guarded by ones capable of soaking up mag-fulls of bullets. Zombies should make players feel claustrophobic and hopelessly outnumbered, but Urzikstan is too big and lifeless a setting to capture that – leaving Modern Warfare 3 with one of the worst Zombies offerings in the mode’s 15-year history.

For most fans, this year’s excellent multiplayer offering will be enough incentive to plunge into this year’s Call Of Duty, thanks to its well-paced matches and on-point weapon balance. Yet when you consider the game’s disappointing campaign, baffling Zombies missteps, and excellent but familiar maps, Modern Warfare 3 is a phoned-in birthday party for a series that should be celebrating its 20th anniversary in style.

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Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is available now on PlayStation, Xbox, and PC. We played on PS5.

Verdict

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a patchwork of series highs and startling lows, but the fact that most people come here for multiplayer is a significant saving grace. The return of Modern Warfare 2’s beloved maps will scratch a nostalgic itch for long-time Call Of Duty fans, but just about everything outside of multiplayer will leave you wondering why this is a full-price game.

Pros

  • One of the best multiplayer offerings in Call Of Duty history
  • A versatile armory of guns to play with
  • Modern Warfare 2’s maps look fantastic with their fresh lick of paint

Cons

  • A brief, soulless campaign
  • Zombies doesn’t survive its Warzone-fication
  • A lack of innovation from last year’s Call Of Duty
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