A household name with a treasure chest in its name. Call of Duty has been a source of entertainment for the masses, with plenty of powerful statement pieces released every year since the 2000s. Recently, the franchise has worked on rebooting the showstopping Modern Warfare trilogy, with the third entry, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III, marking the end of a stunning first edition, followed by an “okay” second edition.
It begs the question, does the third entry skyrocket the sub-series from “okay” to “superb?” Or would you rather spend your time kicking your feet up to watch an actual blockbuster action movie, play another FPS contender, or, better still, find something better to do with your time? Let’s find out in our Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III review.
Well-established franchises are a little tricky to innovate. Not to mention a sub-series trilogy within the franchise. For Call of Duty, they’ve already mastered a tried-and-tested gameplay system. It has held fast to the end of the deal over the years. The developing team needs only to tweak tiny whiny features here and there. Perhaps add a game-changing new feature, and COD's booming fanbase will still find the entry well worth the time. The problem comes when they try to overhaul the norm. Perhaps take a new stride and see if it sticks. Chances are, it won’t.
Take the overly familiar linear campaign structure we’re used to by now. Players take on mission-structured objectives that are dire and urgent in every sense of the word. Remember the “Rescuing Laswell” mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II? Any chance you got close to her, she’d slip away. It led to a steaming car chase after her convoy for miles upon miles. Hijack from one vehicle to the other, all the while avoiding land mines and shooting out the bad guys. You had some sense of freedom in what might have been the most thrilling long-running car chase added to the series. But even so, an urgent goal awaited your speedy rescue at the end of the mission.
Enter Modern Warfare III, where freedom lies at the heart of the campaign. The missions are structured in such a way that you’re free to roam around a wide-open arena with invisible boundaries. Open-world style. Engage in shoot-outs with plenty of infinitely spawning enemies before moving on to the next. Sure, you have objectives to complete. But more often than not, they’d take the form of retrieving this thing or rescuing this person, which, might I add, barely holds a torch for the predecessors' campaign.
See, despite deploying into wide-open locations, you instantly recognize familiar set pieces, most notably, fan-favorite Verdansk. They lack ingenuity, with too few events that catch your eye. That, plus uninteresting level designs and generally dull environs, from the spawn points to the locations themselves. Very few vehicles spawn as well. And more often than not, you’ll spot a wild similarity to Warzone’s greatest assets. Just as you would in the battle royale, you kick off with a set loadout. Thereafter, you'll find plenty more equipment, including weapons and gear – supply boxes, vests, armor plates, and the like – scattered all across the environment.
Described as “open combat missions,” how you choose to approach missions is entirely up to you. You can go in guns blazing, which missions would almost always transcend, take the stealth route, or use ambush tactics. Indeed, I wouldn’t be stretching it too far to say Modern Warfare III is Warzone with a fresh coat of paint. And consequently, Warzone’s beauty will trickle down to it. It begs the question of whether giving credit to Modern Warfare III will be where it’s truly due.
There’s no question that Modern Warfare III is a rushed project. Again, a problem with annual releases is that studios believe they always have to put out a new entry every year, even when there isn’t much that has changed. Because as much as slapping the tried and true formula from previous entries will still suffice, it simply should never be enough to keep going. Also, transforming Warzone into a campaign mode for Modern Warfare III just doesn’t sit right with the usual flow we’ve come to expect from COD’s single-player runs.
Why You Do What You Do
As far as the story itself is concerned, it picks up where the predecessors left off. Good old Task Force 141 returns on yet another mission to save the world. They track down fictitious Vladimir Makarov, a charismatic Russian ultranationalist and terrorist who wants to trigger World War III. Newcomers are out of luck here, as the story jumps straight to the first level. It forces players to complete a series of objectives to mitigate Makarov’s diabolical plans.
While previous games would advance the story via character interactions, Modern Warfare III, instead, sends you out solo to the battlefield with nothing but radio chatter to keep you company. I suspect it’s the thorn in my side as well, with solely opening and closing cutscenes to remind you why you do what you do. Not to mention a lingering problem that hasn’t always stood out among the usually stellar COD entries, the fact that neither character progresses in personality or skill from start to finish. Sure, we love the Gus, Ghost, Price, Soap, etc., roster. But they’re, at this point, stuck in their ways, with outsmart one-liners to their interactions.
But, anyway, back to the main course. Without giving spoilers, the terrorism plotline lacks any sense of build-up, seemingly cracking at the seams and lacking any memorable events to push you to do multiple playthroughs. It also wraps up in under four hours, maybe slightly more, marking the shortest run-through ever, and painfully dull at that. At least the visuals and character models do hold up their end of the deal quite nicely. Just as detailed and stunning as the visuals have always been, so do they appear in Modern Warfare III, a factor owing to the franchise’s engine prowess rather than Modern Warfare III itself.
Combatants in Boots
There’s no COD without the shootouts, and thankfully, the gunplay is as responsive and satisfying as you expect. They pack a punch and deliver accurate headshots, even from a mile away. You can sprint, slide, and leap across scenery while quickly respawning upon inevitable deaths. But as slick and fast-paced as combat is, enemy AI is simply too easy to kill. They flail around aimlessly or run toward you, begging for that shot in the head. Meanwhile, they respawn limitlessly all around the arena, leading to needless debunking.
The campaign trudges on to a predictable end, which you can tell is coming, but once it does, it feels wasted and rushed. It leads up to a bitter end but leaves so many loose ends. You expect to see more of its timely run, but credits roll, and you’re thrust back into the other modes. Perhaps the goal was to leave a cliffhanger for a potential sequel. But with the ending and overall campaign feeling unpolished, I doubt there’d be any chance for it. Plus, it may very well follow the original trilogy’s three-game format.
Multiplayer is nowhere near its saving grace, either, with often half-baked, lackluster experiences. Still, multiplayer is always as good as the company. And so, the blast through mindless zombies may turn out to be extra fun. All things considered, might this be a new low for the franchise?
With just 16 months to package and send out Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III, it’s unsurprising that the end result came out half-baked. Simply imagining that the staff over at Sledgehammer Games had to work nights and weekends, maybe, makes it slightly easier to accept the problems the game presents. It’s as though they repurposed Warzone maps and ushered in the illusion of free will in a franchise that has at its forefront mastered the art of bombastic, relentless forward linear campaigns.
Open combat missions just aren’t Call of Duty, at least for the campaign run. And if so, it needs to craft the masterful stealth and ambush tactics franchises skilled on that front have mastered. That way, you wouldn’t feel at arm’s length of a story you’re supposed to feel a part of. Neither will you put up with disjointed missions that only build up its campaign through boring opening and closing cutscenes. While the visuals and combat maintain Call of Duty’s snappy, fast-paced, and responsive gunplay, its lazy run-through leading up to a rushed cliffhanger leaves a lot to be desired.
Many loose ends remain toward the end, but the chances for a sequel are looking rather slim. So, for now, you may want to buckle up for death matches, competing in three squads of three on one map against each other, if you’re looking to get a taste of Modern Warfare III. At least then, you can ignore the dreadful campaign. Otherwise, Sledgehammer Games has a lot of work cut out for them to win over the single-player audience back.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III Review (PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, & PC)
The Modern Warfare sub-series has always been a tough act to follow. Consequently, over the course of rebooting it for modern consoles, Call of Duty has struggled to capture lightning in a bottle once again. But none of the games in the sub-series, or the franchise as a whole, have ever hit the low Modern Warfare III has. To that effect, you should focus your attention on the multiplayer deathmatches. At least then, you can ignore the dreadful campaign that awaits.