To stand on the shoulders of giants takes neither big shoes nor strong legs. The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 campaign has neither and somehow still falls off those generous shoulders and straight into the ocean. It’s clunky, lacks pacing, and has none of the spectacle we expected.
Tension, Thy Name is Not Modern Warfare 3
One of the hallmarks of the current crop of Modern Warfare games should be the tension their best moments evoke. I’m thinking of the first house-clearing mission in Modern Warfare (2019) or the stealth section in Modern Warfare 2. In MW3, almost every mission starts as a stealth mission. Worse, not only is there almost no incentive to stay quiet, but sometimes, basic game design makes staying under the radar the worst possible choice.
I’m talking about more than one mission in MW3, but one stands out. Here, you’re asked to defuse four bombs, and you don’t know if Makarov put a dead man’s trigger in place. While going in with suppressed weapons would make the most sense, you only have a quiet pistol and an incredibly loud rifle. It’s incongruous with the narrative set before you.
Worse, the campaign missions are divided into two types. The classic setpiece offerings — fighting Juggernauts while dodging fast-moving underground trains — and “open combat missions,” more open-world offerings with multiple paths to success. All of the set piece-style missions are mostly fine. They don’t do anything stellar, but they function, moving from one firefight to the next at a fair clip.
The open combat missions are good in theory, but their implementation leaves a lot to be desired. The best part of a Call of Duty mission is the tight pacing. With a more open-ended design, there’s hardly any pacing at all. Granted, this is more a fault of open-world games as a whole, but in Modern Warfare 3, there are dozens of collectibles in these open maps. While larger, they’re still pretty small. If you take even a couple of minutes to search for these collectibles, your NPC handler will be in your ear — incessantly — until you either complete the objective or mute their audio.
I would care a little less if the collectibles meant anything, but they’re just more weapons you can use in the mission. There’s no carry-over into other missions, and their only use is to play the mission again for…fun? And none of these missions are fun. They’re just kind of there, sets of tasks to complete, groups of enemies to shoot. Even the now-obligatory AC-130 mission seems to understand that it’s in the game because MW3 is a Modern Warfare game.
Gameplay? Yeah, It’s Fine
Actually playing Modern Warfare 3 is fine, if a little boring. Tedium sets in from the downtime even if you aren’t collectible hunting, but shooting your gun feels good, and the movement is satisfying enough. If you choose to follow the game’s lead and go the stealth route (which I don’t recommend), there are a few half-decent experiences in some of the missions. But Modern Warfare 3 often undermines itself, suffering hive-mind-AI syndrome, where alerting one guard alerts everyone.
And speaking of AI, it can be laughably bad. My favorite moment was in the train tunnel mission. You have to fight two heavily armored juggernaut enemies, but you can trivialize the encounter by standing behind a wooden box and unloading the nearby LMG’s magazine into their chests. No, it wasn’t me, the grizzled special operator, that defeated a pair of juggernauts. It was humble plywood.
There are some good ideas on display from time to time. The standout is the game’s level design, though take “standout” with a grain of salt. I like how there are technically multiple ways to get around each open combat mission and that you can engage with Modern Warfare 3 on its terms or your own. Your choices and mistakes are your own rather than the game relegating one or both to an in-engine cutscene.
All the Other Bits and Bobs
I wish there were more good to say about the rest of Modern Warfare 3, but there isn’t. None of it’s bad, but none of it’s very good, either. If you’re looking for a return to the “wow” moments of Call of Duty 4 or Modern Warfare 2 (2009), you won’t find them here. The primarily open-ended design of MW3 precludes it. The villains are just better at their jobs than everyone else (and all of the villains understand this implicitly).
There’s also none of the actually witty dialog on display. My distaste for the banter was made no clearer than one moment in an early mission where a man with an extremely punchable face says, “Mi casa es su casa.” And without missing a beat or with any hint of irony, the character you’re playing says, “You speak Spanish?” I leave that tidbit without further comment.
The characters themselves are the same cardboard cutouts from previous Modern Warfare reboots, and sadly there will be no “done with your shit” Ghost in MW3. Only deadly serious and very unfun Ghost.
The music is actually one of the game’s better aspects. Not because it has the grandeur of a Hans Zimmer soundtrack (a la MW2 from 2009), but because it’s one of the only things that can build tension. The strings come in when you’re spotted and when combat begins in earnest, settling back into ambiance when stealth starts again. I don’t recall anything else about the music, but those moments were nice.
Lastly, the game performs fairly well, though I had somewhat consistent hitching. I left the settings on their recommended preset (mostly high) and ran easily above 100 FPS in almost every situation. Controls were good and responsive, the sound design was pretty good, and getting kills from stealth or in the middle of combat felt fine.
In short, if boring is one word to describe the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 campaign, “fine” would be another, and only if used generously. If you only buy CoD to play the single-player, don’t spend $70 on MW3. You’ll regret it.
Oh, and I remembered the last CoD that bored me. It was Ghosts. And you don’t want to be like Ghosts.
CoD MW3 Campaign Review: The Bottom Line
- Passable level design
- Solid gunplay
- Functional music
- Some of the worst pacing the franchise has ever seen
- Poorly written story, characters, and overall narrative
- Lacks any sort of tension or reason to engage with most of the campaign’s gimmicks
[Note: The writer purchased the copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 used for this review]
CoD MW3 Campaign Review: Well, That Happened
The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 campaign is a thing that exists, and that's perhaps the nicest thing I can say about it.What Our Ratings Mean