Despite reports that no mainline Call of Duty game would be coming in 2023, Activision subverted these expectations with the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, the third installment in the Modern Warfare reboot series. To call it Modern Warfare 3 is practically a misnomer, as the game hardly passes for a complete Call of Duty experience. With an egregiously short campaign, repetitive multiplayer features, and serviceable zombies mode, the latest entry leaves massive room for improvement and is easily the weakest in the franchise thus far.
Before diving into the game, players must first contend with Modern Warfare 3’s massive file size, which comes in at well over 200 GB on console. Part of why the reboot requires so much storage space is because it forces you to install both Modern Warfare 2 and Warzone alongside Modern Warfare 3 as part of the "carry forward" process. Although games can be removed from the in-game file manager after the fact, it doesn’t help make sense of having to install multiple games to play just one of them. What should have been a straightforward installation became an immediate source of frustration, as I also had to contend with the added joy of having to reinstall the whole game over again thanks to an Xbox update that interrupted my download. The whole debacle was enough to make me want to give up on the game outright, and I likely would have if not for having to review it.
Now it’s a ghost town
Once I finally overcame my installation woes, I was able to delve into the campaign of Modern Warfare 3, which picks up with the return of Captain Price and the rest of Task Force 141 as they attempt to apprehend the elusive Ultranationalist leader, Vladimir Makarov. The third installment in the reboot series brings back most of the familiar faces from the previous games, including a few that may come as a surprise for some. One character threw me for a loop when I discovered they had been inelegantly retconned back into the story. It wasn’t necessarily the character being brought back, but how the information was revealed that rubbed me the wrong way, as the explanation for bringing back said character was done via a brief snippet of dialogue in a trailer for Modern Warfare 2 seasonal content. As a result, what was likely intended to be a shocking plot twist during the campaign instead comes off as a confusing narrative oversight thanks to important details being revealed externally.
Modern Warfare 3 marks the debut of Open Combat Missions, which depart from the linear layout of Call of Duty campaign missions by giving players the freedom to pursue objectives however they wish. These free-form missions take the structure of Warzone 2.0’s DMZ mode and apply it to the campaign, with basic objectives like finding cell phones and planting trackers. While I can get behind the idea of incorporating more outside-the-box gameplay mechanics, the Open Combat Missions in MW3 are tedious, uninspired, and ultimately interrupt the pacing and storytelling of the campaign.
Call of Duty campaigns are known for their action-packed sequences and explosive set-pieces, mixed with cinematic quality gameplay that immerses the player through engaging first-person combat. The original Modern Warfare series is the epitome of this, which is why its missions are still fondly remembered by fans to this day. The reboot seems to have forgotten its roots, as Modern Warfare 3’s campaign leaves important narrative beats to be told through cutscenes rather than having players experience them firsthand. The story is mostly conveyed via exposition and dialogue, which makes for a disjointed narrative that falls flat on various levels.
Familiar elements from the original Modern Warfare campaign, such as the recycled AC-130 mission, feel stale and tacked-on. The underwhelming campaign is further marred by technical glitches, including laggy cutscenes and a bugged options menu that made the experience that much more frustrating. Adding to its list of shortcomings, the campaign is the shortest of the franchise, clocking in at a measly four hours. At least it is brief enough to not overstay its welcome.
Multiplayer mixed bag
Multiplayer returns with the usual 6v6 Core and Hardcore game modes alongside Ground War and Invasion. The playlist selection has expanded to include Cutthroat, which pits three teams of three against each other, and War Mode, which returns from Call of Duty: WW2 to add another objective-based mode to the lineup. Maps from the original Modern Warfare 2 were remastered for the reboot, bringing back fan-favorites like Terminal, Highrise, and Rust with sharper visuals. While playing these recycled maps made for a good dose of nostalgia, it did not take long for the repetitive nature of multiplayer to cause them to lose their luster.
Most of the content available in multiplayer has been carried over from Modern Warfare 2, from Operators to weapons. The first season of Modern Warfare 3 hasn’t started yet and may not begin until weeks after launch, meaning players won’t get to Prestige, join Ranked Play, or unlock Battle Pass content for MW3 until then. The current multiplayer experience is merely a drab continuation of MW2 content with a different logo, despite minor gameplay adjustments to stay in the good graces of players. For example, tedious weapon fine-tuning has been removed from the Gunsmith, and classic red-dot indicators on the mini-map have returned alongside map voting during matchmaking. While such efforts are appreciated, they ultimately don’t help make multiplayer feel any more complete.
Operators and weapons are not the only features to be carried over to MW3 multiplayer, as a variety of frustrating issues like spawn-trapping, poor hit registration, and inconsistent time-to-kill continue to plague the gameplay experience. One particularly obtrusive bug causes every match to conclude with a laggy kill-cam, no scoreboard, and an ear-numbing audio glitch. This bug has apparently been affecting players across platforms since Modern Warfare 2, with no official solution in sight. The fact that such glaring issues were not ironed out or acknowledged with the launch of an entirely new game does not bode well for future updates.
Saved by the Hellhound
Modern Warfare 3 marks the debut of Modern Warfare Zombies, the first Zombies mode in a modern Call of Duty game. The mode replaces the traditional round-based survival format with open-world extraction gameplay. It is effectively DMZ mode with zombies, taking inspiration from Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s Outbreak mode and incorporating traditional features like Pack-a-Punch machines, mystery boxes, and wall-buys for an experience that is both fresh and familiar.
In MWZ, players are dropped into the Urzikstan Exclusion Zone for Operation Deadbolt, a series of missions strung together with a storyline involving Viktor Zakhaev and the mysterious element known as Aetherium. Although you can play solo, the missions are geared toward cooperative play. Forming a full team of six is usually the way to go when tackling the Exclusion Zone’s tougher threats, and merging squads is done easily enough with the exchange of a few requests. The mode leaves room for players to make their own fun and is a much more elegant application of DMZ gameplay mechanics compared to the campaign.
MWZ did not sound particularly appealing at first, given how uninspired the Open Combat Missions are in the campaign. However, open-world zombies surprisingly works, and although it could use some tweaks, MWZ is easily one of the strongest aspects of the reboot.
Press F to pay respects
Despite one-third of the game getting a passing grade, the rest falls short of meeting even the lowest of expectations. Clinging to the coattails of its predecessor, the reboot fails to capture the essence of what made the original Modern Warfare games so iconic. From its lame excuse for a campaign to its redundant multiplayer, finding redeeming qualities in Modern Warfare 3 has been nothing short of challenging. The game amounts to little more than half-baked expansion disguised as a full-fledged title, and the whole thing feels like a slap in the face to consumers. The most disappointing part is that it doesn’t even matter how much we can see through the ruse, because profits will always speak louder in the end. While there still may be new MM3 content on the horizon, it will likely arrive too late to make a difference.
This review is based on an Xbox digital code provided by the publisher. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2023) released on November 10, 2023 for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2023)
- Remastered MW2 maps look good
- Gunsmith is somewhat more user friendly
- Open-world Zombies mode is decent
- Stupidly large game file size
- Short, uninspired campaign
- Repetitive multiplayer needs improvement
- Various technical problems
- Game feels incomplete