Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
November 10, 2023
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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III (2023) marks another annual release in the iconic franchise but this time it struggles to capture the essence that made the series a legend. Developed by Sledgehammer Games, this edition attempts to reignite the exhilarating storytelling and breathtaking action that the Call of Duty series is known for but simply doesn’t, besides the remarkable online multiplayer.
Emotional sparks, tactical misfire
Modern Warfare III’s narrative follows in the footsteps of its predecessors, centering on Captain Price and his team Task Force 141 striving to thwart terrorist Vladimir Makarov. The story has built up Makarov as a formidable villain, and it attempts to bring familiar faces from the rebooted series back into play. However, it’s a disjointed narrative filled with unsatisfying pacing.
The game begins with an engaging mission that involves a stealthy prison break, showcasing promise. Yet, this momentum is swiftly quashed as the campaign transitions into Open Combat missions, presenting you with more freedom but sacrificing the series’ signature cinematic tension. Hidden supply crates in these missions have powerful gear and weapons, but once these crates are found, there’s little incentive to replay. The attempt at gameplay variety instead disrupts the storytelling, rendering it somewhat hollow. The absence of modern innovations, such as destruction physics, is a missed opportunity that could have greatly enhanced the overall experience.
“…a disjointed narrative filled with unsatisfying pacing.”
A few emotionally charged and shocking moments reminiscent of “No Russian” are present, but their effectiveness in the storyline is questionable. Reaching the final mission playing on Veteran after six hours, the campaign ends on an abrupt cliffhanger which ultimately leaves you disappointingly wondering what happened.
The pacing of the gameplay is always high-octane but feels disconnected to the drama and meaningful story it fails to tell. As you are forced to transition from emotionally charged scenes to casual, almost DMZ-like missions, this disparity significantly impacts the narrative’s flow. The absence of classic Call of Duty mission types, like high-speed vehicle chases in Modern Warfare II’s (2009) “Down the Rabbit Hole” or a slower-paced Call of Duty 4 (2007) “All Ghillied Up” stealthy sniper session, is sorely missed. One mission in the campaign stands out as a bright spot – a player-controlled AC-130 gunship sequence that shakes up the gameplay. Still, it’s not enough to rescue the campaign.
Modern Warfare III’s campaign tries to fire new elements but fails to deliver the fresh, exciting story it needs to be.
True triumph of multiplayer
Where the campaign stumbles, the multiplayer soars to new heights. Despite the misleading name, Sledgehammer Games manages to resurrect the praise of its predecessor by drawing upon 16 core maps from Modern Warfare II (2009).
The gameplay adheres to the traditional Call of Duty formula, featuring responsive controls and intense gunfights. If you’ve played Modern Warfare II (2022), you’ll find solace in the continuity of progression and unlocks, including the use of older weapon blueprints. The one notable drawback is the power imbalance created by the significantly stronger weapons introduced in Modern Warfare III. Despite a plethora of available weapons and customisation options, most are carried over from previous titles, which is somewhat disappointing but doesn’t ruin the fun.
“The multiplayer is genuinely great…. with dynamic combat and a constant serotonin hit from every level up.”
Loadouts have undergone significant changes, waving goodbye to perks and welcoming tangible replacements with vests, gloves, boots, and gear. They function essentially the same but now they make sense within the world… not that anyone was asking for a realistic loadout when you just vaporised Nicki Minaj with your glowing red submachine gun – but here it is anyway!
A new multiplayer playlist injects fresh excitement with Cutthroat, a mode featuring three teams of three in intense online competition. Classic modes like Team Deathmatch and Domination continue to hold their ground, offering solid matches. However, the Ground War mode fails to impress, attempting to cater to larger player matches but lacking the chaotic variety and the new maps designed specifically for Ground War are unfortunately the weakest.
One shining aspect is the timeless excellence of 2009’s Modern Warfare II maps. Estate, Scrapyard, Highrise, Sub Base – these maps retain their quality, focusing on firefights at all ranges and diverse movement patterns and layouts. While the 2020 era Call of Duty has faster gameplay with sliding and diving, these maps remain well-balanced. As they always have, these battlegrounds excel in the tactical gameplay of Search and Destroy where spawn points are dedicated and team strategy is everything.
The multiplayer is genuinely great (as long as you mute the lobby voice chat), with dynamic combat and a constant serotonin hit from every level up. The inclusion of original Modern Warfare II maps, satisfying gunplay, seamless transfers of previous purchases, and the absence of tuning issues contribute to an overall tight online mode.
This year’s package launches Modern Warfare Zombies with Operation Deadbolt. Unfortunately, it falls short of maintaining the excitement seen in multiplayer and the magic of Call of Duty’s iconic zombies from World at War through to Black Ops III.
Reskinning Warzone into Urzikstan, Modern Warfare Zombies lacks the expected claustrophobic intensity of the zombies mode. The tiered mission structure attempts to provide a narrative framework, encouraging you to explore the mysteries of the Exclusion Zone. Yet, the tedious unlocking of missions and rewards in an unimaginative setting makes the mode surprisingly dull, despite its otherworldly twist.
“Modern Warfare Zombies is shamelessly a lazy reskin of DMZ and Warzone to cash in on fans’ nostalgia for traditional zombies.”
Recruiting from a pool of Operators, each with unique on-soldier gear, opens the field for tailored playstyles in each run. The customisable equipment slots feature killstreaks, armour, gas masks, and medical items for diverse possibilities but are no different from the tools you get in multiplayer. While Zombies has access to your available weapon arsenal, other equipment is accessed differently, and the zombies-only ordnance isn’t impressive.
On a positive note, field upgrades bring a fresh twist to zombie combat. From the explosive Energy Mine to the tactical Aether Shroud, each upgrade poses a distinct advantage, contributing to what little excitement there is. The acquisitions and schematics system are where you’ll be able to uncover familiar wonder weapons for pure fan service and not much more, encouraging exploration and crafting but with such shallow intentions. As does the integration of Aetherium and the Perk-a-Cola system, making a return exactly as you’d expect it and nothing more.
Modern Warfare Zombies is shamelessly a lazy reskin of DMZ and Warzone to cash in on fans’ nostalgia for traditional zombies. The vast, lifeless landscape undermines the essence of the undead, making it one of the franchise’s weakest offerings in its 15-year history.
Ordinary score in an extraordinary battlefield
A significant leap forward from the beta is the markedly improved graphics, eliminating the previously blurred and washed-out environments. Even the older maps are given a new lease on life with revitalised textures, lighting, and environment additions that add character. Modern Warfare III is visually stunning and coupled with outstanding performances from the cast, transforming the FPS game into what could have been a gripping political drama without its narrative flaws. Cinematic linear stages, meticulously crafted around the plot, showcase realistic character models and solid writing that wouldn’t be so bad without the confused pacing diminishing its quality.
Even with this visual enhancement, the UI design oddly retains a dated feel, reminiscent of its predecessor. While minor adjustments have been made, the absence of a fresh visual presentation doesn’t make the game feel like a real sequel, but rather a full-priced update like Overwatch 2 or Counter-Strike 2 (at least they went free to play).
The transition to a unified launcher for all Call of Duty titles introduces cumbersome menus and constantly shifting playlists, which can be a source of frustration. The aggressive promotion of the battle pass, infiltrating post-match reports and pop-ups, feels intrusive and detracts from the user experience.
On the auditory front, the game excels. The sound of guns is not only authentic but also visceral, providing immersive gameplay. Explosions possess a deep, room-shaking quality, particularly when combined with a high-quality sound system and the occasional use of the PlayStation DualSense speaker in the campaign for radio calls adds a nice touch. Still, the audio takes a hit with an ordinary score overly typical of military FPS games. An interesting option to purchase and use the original Modern Warfare II (2009) menu music adds a nostalgic temptation, yet we must remain vigilant.
- Multiplayer is fast and fun
- Weapons and unlocks carry over
- Excellent visuals and voice acting
- Campaign ruined by pacing and ending
- Lazy zombie mode
- More of an overhaul than a sequel
- Cumbersome menus
- Everything good about this game came out in MW2 2009
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III attempts to rekindle the fire but falls short, particularly in its disjointed campaign. The multiplayer, drawing on iconic maps from series history, excels with responsive controls, intense gunfights, and revamped loadouts. Yet, the biggest letdown is the lazy reskin of DMZ into a zombies mode, undermining the essence of what fans loved about it. Modern Warfare III shines in multiplayer but offends with its campaign, zombies, and blatant money-hungry tactics, leaving fans still yearning for the franchise’s former glory.