2023 has proven to be a very important year for the Call of Duty franchise. Long-winded court battles, Nicki Minaj “skins” and Activision Blizzard King joining the Xbox family are just some of the highlights for this year. Oh, and the series turned 20! So, needless to say, a lot more eyes were on the latest installment of the franchise than usual.
With last year’s well-received Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II still going strong, it may cause players to wonder just why Modern Warfare III is out so soon. Allegedly, it may have something to do with a proposed expansion to the game being converted to a sequel at the last minute. While top brass at Activision and Sledgehammer have denied these claims, noted journalist Jason Schreier has advised that the decision to make MWIII was relatively last minute, leaving the development team with half the time they’d normally be allotted to make a CoD. With all of this in mind, is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III a glorified expansion, or is it a worthy third installment in the rebooted trilogy? The answer is: it’s complicated.
To begin with an overview of the game, Modern Warfare III consists of three key modes: the classic multiplayer suite, a brand-new campaign and a new spin on the classic Zombies formula called Operation Deadbolt. These modes, unfortunately, differ widely in quality, so I’d like to try and save the best for last, so I’m going to briefly give my thoughts on each of these, in terms of my overall enjoyment.
I’d like to begin, unfortunately, with Operation Deadbolt. As a horror fan, I am always thrilled to see Call of Duty dip their toes into the world of Zombies. Unfortunately, this mode failed to scratch the itch I was looking for. To give a brief synopsis of what players can expect from this mode, it is effectively DMZ from Warzone, if you replaced the Z with Zombie. Up to 24 Players (8 squads of 3) are dropped into the new Urzikstan Warzone map to loot buildings, take on challenges, slay zombies and ultimately extract before a toxic gas envelops the map.
On the surface, shaking up the Zombies formula so vastly to the point of even dropping the round-based structure entirely, is a promising idea. In execution, this mode reminded me significantly of Redfall, and not exactly in a positive way. Inconsistent enemy spawns, large empty swathes of nothingness and lacking AI coupled with a poor difficulty curve made this a mode I had to make myself engage with. I feel there is a significant group of people who will enjoy this mode, but for me, it left me hungry.
Moving on to the campaign, this year’s single-player experience is very much a mixed bag. The story picks up right where MWII ended, with Makarov’s forces preparing to break him out of prison. With Makarov on the loose again, it’s up to Captain Price and co. to put a stop to his dastardly plans, hopefully once and for all. The story of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III is solid, if not entirely the most memorable. Farah and her friends make a return, evoking some of MW’s more interesting story beats, but attempts to play on classic CoD levels like No Russian fall dangerously close to tasteless territory.
In terms of the gameplay, the big new feature of MWIII’s campaign are “Open Combat Missions”. These open-world missions often take place on parts of the Warzone map, and on paper allow players the flexibility to tackle objectives at their own leisure. In theory, opening up Call of Duty’s campaign to allow for greater freedom is a rock-solid idea. In execution, these levels can be very hit or miss, with inconsistent AI, and sometimes overly simplistic objectives. I still believe this idea holds great promise, and with refinement and a bit less of them per campaign (Open Combat Missions make up around half of this campaign’s playtime), I could see this working well in future installments.
The linear missions, in contrast, fare much better. Tense, shocking, action-packed and timely, these are the finest linear missions I’ve played in a Call of Duty title in a while. The only issue, of course, is the overall lack of them. MWIII’s campaign only lasted some three and a half hours, around half what MWII’s did, which plays into the bigger issue this campaign has. What is here is not bad. At worst, it’s inconsistent and at best it’s splendid, but the overall slider-sized package sold at full fat prices makes it a hard recommendation for campaign only players. Still, I derived a decent bit of enjoyment from what is on offer here.
However, with all of this being said, if there was one area Modern Warfare III needed to excel in, it’s the multiplayer suite. This is, let’s be honest here, the star of the show for most of the players of this game, and thankfully, this mode delivers and then some. MWIII brings back a litany of classic maps from the original Modern Warfare 2 (the one from 2009), gives them a significant glow up, and lets players loose with modern controls and traversal. The end result is an absolute blast to play. Whether you are nostalgic for these maps or not, they have aged beautifully. Sprawling and open, they are a delight to fight on.
Old modes and new are also abound in this game. From old favourites like my beloved “Kill Confirmed”, to hidden gems making their long-awaited returns like War, to the brand new 3v3v3 Cutthroat mode, there is plenty on offer in the multiplayer suite. Warzone also will be getting some significant updates in the next few months, so that’s well worth a look as well, if not technically part of this package.
Now, controversially for some, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III also boasts a longer TTK than many of its predecessors, and is notable for its use of SBMM. In a way, this is a much “sweatier” multiplayer suite than we’ve seen in a while. I am firmly of the opinion that this is a good thing. The moment-to-moment fun brought back memories of playing some of my favourite arena shooters and frankly, I was having a blast inside and out.
Operators, weapons, progression and more also carry over from MWII. While this may be a holdover from when this game was an expansion (if that was indeed the case), I was still delighted to see some of my investments last year continue to bear fruit this year. It’s a nice touch I certainly wouldn’t say no to seeing continue in future MW installments.
As always, let’s talk performance and value. Call of Duty Modern Warfare III ran largely without a hitch for me. Smooth, stable and all at 60fps with some killer aesthetic fidelity. The only exceptions came with some bugs in zombies, and a match of Ground War which was running at a heavily reduced framerate. The gunplay, controls and accessibility options are as strong as ever, and while this can be taken for granted, it deserves praise all the same. As for value, the £70 price tag is certainly a mixed bag. If you are coming to this package solely or primarily for campaign or zombies, I would heavily advise waiting. However, if you are here primarily for the multiplayer, I think this is a decent value, if certainly not up to the franchise’s usual standards. Hopefully, with Sony’s marketing deal ending with this title, we can start to see Call of Duty games hit Game Pass on Day One.
Finally, just to briefly touch upon recent reports regarding this game, if this title was indeed made in 18 months, it is all the more impressive for it. However, this further outlines the current unsustainability of the annualized release model. While this is the first CoD to be released under Microsoft, the big M was only calling the shots well after the discs had been printed. My sincere hope is that Microsoft can begin to pivot away from the annual Call of Duty cycle. The teams deserve the time, resources and respect to make the games the community will love and frankly, absence makes the heart grow fonder. There has been a CoD every year for 20 years. When a publisher is scrambling their teams, requiring long hours and shelving promising projects more and more just to hit a cadence, it symbolizes that something needs to change.
All in all, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III is a bit of a mixed bag, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with. “DMZombie” is not quite for me, and the campaign’s short length and varying quality are worth noting. However, the linear campaign levels left me quite satisfied and most importantly, the multiplayer suite has been an absolute blast to play. The £70 price tag is a bit much though, so unless you are here for the multiplayer first and foremost, I’d advise waiting for a price drop.