It’s the most magical time of the year again. Yes! It’s Call of Duty season. This week, the eighteenth title in the multi-billion dollar franchise – Vanguard – hit the shelves. It’s a time of over-the-top reactions and declarations that this is indeed, the worst Call of Duty ever made. So what better time to turn the clock back to the golden age of Call of Duty? Modern Warfare 3 turns ten years old today, so let’s take a deep dive back to 2011 and revisit the final installment of Infinity Ward’s much loved trilogy. 

Upon release, Modern Warfare 3 was hailed by the critics. They raved that it exceeded the hype, met all expectations and was one of the best first-person shooters going. It appeared Call of Duty was still king of the castle and it had the sales to back the claim up too. By Activision’s own count, Modern Warfare 3 made $1 billion in just 16 days. 

And yet, player reception was remarkably muted. On Metacritic, the game sits at a paltry 2.9 user rating. Not exactly the 9s and 10s that were thrown at it by the professionals…

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But why is that? 

Perhaps the most obvious answer is the fact that it appeared nothing had changed from that which went before. To many people, it seemed that they had paid $60 for a title update. People were expecting more, not a cheap imitation of a critically acclaimed game. It also didn’t help that Battlefield 3 – arguably the best game in that series and genre-defining in its own right – had released a few weeks prior to rave reviews. 

It’s a fair assessment. Put an image of the two games next to each other, and it’s remarkably difficult to differentiate them. Modern Warfare 3 does look suspiciously similar to its predecessor. The UI is the same, the guns and their reload animations are the same and most of the killstreaks and perks from the previous game make an appearance too. The deathstreaks are back – even after the-then community manager vowed they wouldn’t be. And the emblem maker and COD points – welcome additions to Black Ops – are absent too, in favour of the old system. 

In fact, in many ways Modern Warfare 3 was arguably worse than Modern Warfare 2. It doesn’t look as good for one, with the game looking greyer and more washed out. Map design is mediocre too. Most are ultimately forgettable and don’t stack up to the selection offered in the previous games in the series. And the spawns on some modes are absolutely terrible too. 

But it would be unfair to say that the game didn’t make some important strides with its multiplayer. Support and Specialist scorestreaks introduced new ways of playing and allowed people to focus on objectives rather than simple kill-death ratios. There were new game modes like Kill Confirmed, Infected and Drop Zone and 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3 matches that were extremely fun to play. 

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And it’s also a much more balanced game. The game-ending tactical nukes were gone. The One Man Army, Danger Close and Commando perks were gone. Stopping Power was absent. As too were Shotgun Secondaries. At the time, these were significant changes, and they arguably made the game less entertaining to play. With hindsight though, these were the right changes to make and they’ve allowed the game to age better than its predecessor. 

The campaign – like the multiplayer – is more of the same. Carrying on immediately from the events of Modern Warfare 2, we follow Soap, Price and newcomer Yuri as they attempt to put an end to Makarov’s reign of terror and stop the war that is unfolding across the world. That means visiting a whole range of interesting locations, including the New York Stock Exchange, a nuclear submarine and the London Underground.  

It’s a solid outing, and is enjoyable to play through. There’s all the usual Michael Bay-esque over-the-topness that you’ve come to expect from Call of Duty. But it doesn’t really have any stand-out moments like Modern Warfare 2. The Eiffel Tower collapsing is an epic set-piece for sure, but doesn’t really have the staying power that the Airport massacre or the assault on the White House have.  

The only area that Modern Warfare 3 consistently improves on 2 is Spec Ops. The reason? Survival mode. Here, you’ll be dropped into a multiplayer map with a starting pistol and have to survive wave upon wave of enemies for as long as possible. There’ll be dogs strapped with C4, riot squads, attack helicopters and those dreaded juggernauts to deal with. 

Killing enemies and surviving waves will earn you money and XP which can be used to unlock new guns, killstreaks, perks and equipment. And this is the reason the mode is so fun, and so replayable. Because there is so much stuff at your fingertips, you can develop your strategies in a way you see fit. If you want to camp in one building and hold out, you can – simply buy some sentry guns, claymores and a riot shield and hunker down. If you want to keep on the move, you can – buy extreme conditioning, stalker and a submachine gun and you’re on your way. 

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There are also the standard Spec Ops missions to play through too, either alone or with a friend. And whilst I preferred the missions from Modern Warfare 2, there’s still a great selection here, and they are all pretty fun to play.  

Modern Warfare 3 follows that perpetual trend of most modern Call of Duty games, where it spends most of its life-cycle actively hated by its playerbase, before it’s reputation eventually recovers a few years down the line after people have had time to look back objectively (and have a new Call of Duty to rag on.) I won’t say Modern Warfare 3 is on the same level of the four games immediately preceding it, or the game that followed it. It’s certainly the weakest entry in Call of Duty’s golden age.  But it’s a lot better than people give it credit for, and is a solid entry in an extremely popular franchise. 

Let us know if you agree. The comments are below. And if you fancy heading into Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 right now, you can do so on Xbox – the Xbox Store link will sort you out with a download which is playable on both Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. 

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