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Call of Duty MW3 review: great action that pays the Price

In our Modern Warfare 3 review, we find that Sledgehammer's efforts to create fun multiplayer gameplay are marred by a poor campaign, bugs, and reused assets.

Call of Duty MW3 review: Soap in front of an armed soldier in a gas mask and a zombie in Modern Warfare 3

Our Verdict

Modern Warfare 3 completely drops the ball with its campaign, but some redemption is found in its multiplayer action and Zombies experience. While these are the two most enjoyable modes in MW3, technical issues will often frustrate you. There is also an inescapable sense that this was a rushed game, due to its overreliance on reused assets and a lack of fresh ideas.

I’ve always valiantly defended Call of Duty from those who say ‘all COD games are basically the same’ – while the core experience often remains consistent, there are always new mechanics, settings, characters, weapons, and more that differentiate and diversify it. Unfortunately, the latest Call of Duty will undoubtedly give more ammunition to those that I so often argue against. While I’ve mostly enjoyed the multiplayer and Zombies action during my MW3 review, I’ve encountered surprisingly few fresh ideas – even by COD’s usual standards.

First up, let’s talk about the campaign – by far and away the weakest of MW3’s three core modes. Call of Duty rarely delivers profound stories, but that’s never stopped it from creating enjoyable, blockbuster campaigns in the past – action romps filled with explosions, adrenaline-pumping scenes, great visuals, and over-dramatic plot moments. But MW3 feels like it’s the opening scenes of an 80s movie, with a lot of buildup and pointless missions that conclude abruptly. As I was playing, I came to what felt like a natural end to a ‘first act’ of the MW3 campaign – as it turns out, it was actually the end of the entire experience. My total runtime was just under five hours.

Modern Warfare 3’s narrative was always billed to be a continuation of Modern Warfare 2’s from last year, and I was prepared for that. But the extent to which it feels like just ‘a few more hours of MW2’ rather than its own, distinctive story is disappointing. As a DLC or piece of seasonal content for last year’s game, it would certainly have been an interesting new chapter to what was there before, but for a standalone game, it feels lacking. In fact, the most important narrative beats are the ending and the post-credits scene, with the rest feeling like drawn-out filler episodes as you wait for the finale.

Modern Warfare 3 review: Ghost in his iconic balaclava stares down at a woman in a seat, with Soap in the background

Plot-wise, it’s basically Modern Warfare 2.5. The MW3 cast does an excellent job all around, with Price and Farah stealing the show, while Makarov’s introduction into the reboot series is captivating and psychopathic. However, the short runtime means other characters feel missing and underutilized.

The big innovation in the latest campaign is Open Combat Missions, which take up a fair few spaces on the Call of Duty MW3 missions list. For me, these larger and slightly less linear missions are the best part of the campaign, offering a variety of secret weapons to find and use against your enemies, with a decent amount of player agency when it comes to how you complete your objectives. They’re an interesting addition to the series, but they feel a lot more limited than I would like them to be, with surprisingly small maps and a lack of variety in engagements. However, while some are already calling for them to never return, I hope these missions stick around and are expanded and improved in future entries.

Call of Duty MW3 review: Soldier holding a gun in first-person POV in a mission set in a snowy location in Call of Duty MW3 campaign

There’s also a sore lack of new MW3 guns in the campaign, with most of the arsenal being taken up by last year’s MW2 weapons (an issue that also extends to multiplayer). The gunplay still feels solid, and becoming a one-man military in the middle of an Open Combat Mission was exhilarating, but I’ve experienced most of these guns before, so it didn’t feel very fresh at all. That’s not helped by the enemy AI, which was pretty dreadful. At one point, six armed ‘professional’ soldiers ran out one at a time in front of my point-blank range shotgun, becoming minced meat within seconds. Moments like this lack any immersion, and while hilariously satisfying, take out of the realism that the MW series usually offers.

Overall, my experience with the campaign was very lackluster – it’s one of the worst in the series’ history. This is one to power through in an evening, acknowledge what happens, and begin the wait for the inevitable Modern Warfare 4.

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Of course, the main reason people return each and every year to the long-running series is not the campaign, but rather the multiplayer. I’m happy to say that, despite a fair amount of bugs and glitches, Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer is the best it’s been since Black Ops Cold War, and before that, Black Ops 3 for myself. The faster-paced action and higher health make for a much more enjoyable experience than last year’s Call of Duty, so much so that I’ve already got Gilded camo on five guns, and aim to do more in the coming months as I wait for the MW3 Season 1 release date.

Testing out all of the best MW3 guns and wreaking havoc is absolutely enjoyable, and I’ve found myself putting almost 45 hours into the game in total since release, despite having limited time as a dad. I’ve been absolutely addicted to winning matches, and while I dislike the forced extra progression they’ve added thanks to the Armory Unlock system, which requires you to do daily challenges to unlock gear, weapons, and attachments, I find it has been useful at making me test out different loadouts.

Unfortunately, many of the technical issues that made Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer so frustrating are still kicking around in MW3 – packet loss and mid-match game crashes occur at a far too regular rate. But the biggest issue is that some of the MW3 maps, which are all remastered maps from the original Modern Warfare 2, can feel outdated and unenjoyable to play in contemporary CoD games. Maps like Derail, which were classics back in the day, are now slogs to get through, and reaching the score cap to win can be tedious and, usually, doesn’t happen. It undoubtedly slows down the whole experience, making me look at the timer every death and hoping it ends soon so we can get back to Rust or Terminal.

Call of Duty MW3: POV of a player holding the MCW in Gilded camo in MW3 2023

I have no doubt that, as Sledgehammer Games brings more of last year’s maps to MW3 alongside some actually original new maps too, things will feel a lot faster and better. A recent playlist called Modern Warfare 2 Mosh Pit has already brought four MW2 (2022) maps, and they feel better than many of the current maps. With the improvements Sledgehammer has made to movement and gunplay, they’re noticeably more fun than they were in last year’s CoD game too. I cannot wait for more maps to join the roster and hope they’re added to the standard rotation over time.

Finally, we go to MW3 Zombies. CoD Zombies has always been my go-to mode in Call of Duty games, and while it’s a lot different here, I actually quite like the unique twist on the beloved game mode. It feels a bit rushed – it’s almost a carbon copy of Warzone’s DMZ mode and uses the upcoming Urzikstan map that will soon hit Warzone too – but the feeling of killing hordes of the undead and taking on the dangers of the Extraction Zone is blood-pumping, adrenaline-rushing fun. The risk-reward of Modern Warfare Zombies makes for a challenging experience that differs from traditional round-based Zombies.

However, the technical issues that taint multiplayer can also ruin things in Zombies too. Since the gear you bring in and out of the Zombies mode sticks with your character, crashing before even entering the match and losing all your hard-earned work is devastating, to say the least. Every time it happens, it completely turns me off from playing the mode and makes me jump over to multiplayer. I’m really not sure why MW3 suffers from this so much, given how frequent these same issues were in MW2, but it really does bring the enjoyment of Zombies and multiplayer down a peg.

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That being said, entering MWZ with absolutely nothing and coming out bruised and battered, but with plenty of great gear for the next run is exhilarating. It’s not quite as good as hitting higher rounds of traditional Zombies experiences in the past, where you’d find yourself running circles around hordes of spongy enemies as you slowly whittle away at their numbers. But it’s definitely exciting and challenging in its own way. Even though it’s built on assets and concepts built for other game modes, in a weird way, Zombies is MW3’s biggest iteration and does genuinely feel like a breath of fresh air.

Modern Warfare 3’s campaign is undoubtedly a sour moment for the subseries, offering something that is completely lacking and boring to experience. Admittedly, the multiplayer and Zombies portions of MW3 keep the game from dropping into Vanguard levels of disappointment by being some of the most fun I’ve had with the series in years. However, a wide array of bugs and glitches, like packet loss issues, losing Zombies gear when crashing, and other connection-related problems bring down even these two experiences.