REVIEW – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s campaign picks up where last year’s Modern Warfare 2 left off. Captain Price’s iconic Task Force 141 is back in action, and as hinted at in the final cutscenes of Modern Warfare 2, the new threat is Vladimir Makarov, a major antagonist from the original Modern Warfare franchise. Modern Warfare 3 kicks off with a tough and memorable opening mission to rescue the boss with Makarov’s more cool-headed men, but the introduction of new open combat missions still disrupts the pace of the story, and the ending of the campaign is particularly annoying.
Modern Warfare 3 reunites Price’s team with several familiar faces from the rebooted series, including Kate Laswell, Farah Karim, and Alex Keller. General Shepherd and Commander Phillip Graves of Shadow Company will also return, despite their betrayal of Soap, Ghost and Los Vaqueros in Modern Warfare 2. With Makarov in the picture, everything goes hand in hand.
A strong start with the escape from the Gulag, but then the game falters quickly
The campaign begins with Operation 627, a mission in which you sneak into a gulag. In this linear map, you descend into the gulag with night vision goggles, taking out guards level by level as you go. Visually this level looks great and the gameplay is one of the most fun and traditional missions you can play in Modern Warfare 3. The gameplay and walkthroughs are of the bombastic quality you’ve come to expect from Call of Duty, and the threat of Makarov is immediately apparent. We’re treated to a thrilling prison break sequence, with Makarov emerging from captivity ready to wreak havoc and tragedy for “the glory of Russia” (as if we’re hearing Putin.) Modern Warfare 3 falters immediately after this hyped-up opening mission, however, as we’re forced to play through two new open combat missions in the game, one after the other.
Open-ended combat missions are designed to give the player more freedom by expanding the playable area and thus offering more choices to complete the objective. These missions still give you a fixed objective, but there are plenty of supply crates full of different killstreaks, equipment, weapon types, and armor to choose from. I was optimistic about these new mission types because I’m not a very patient player and I like to shoot, so I was excited to have this choice as opposed to always following the prescribed, more linear path of the usual Call of Duty campaign levels. I didn’t think I’d miss the forced stealth objectives of Call of Duty, but now that they’re gone from Modern Warfare 3, I have more respect for those parts of the game. Unfortunately, the freedom these open missions provide comes at the expense of the atmosphere and cinematic tension that would be present in a more traditional mission.
Sacrificing atmosphere for open gameplay
The negative effects of these new mission types are first felt at the beginning of the second mission, Precious Cargo. The cinematic introduction is an emotional scene with Farah and a close companion, followed by an open combat mission in which you run around as Farah and loot gear, and the process feels like a very loose DMZ or Spec Ops multiplayer romp. Farah had just witnessed the death of someone important to him, and the impact of that scene could have been better expressed in the context of a classic, scripted Call of Duty mission. Sure, there was still someone whispering in my ear to remind me of my purpose, but the real emotion or epic, dramatic effect associated with the task was completely lost in the format of an open combat mission.
While it’s nice to see an attempt at innovation within the tried-and-true CoD campaign formula, Open Combat missions offer too much freedom, taking away all the momentum that these military stories would normally build with spectacular cutscenes and traditional gameplay. Modern Warfare 2 has done a much better job of balancing choices while maintaining story dynamics, with missions that offer more freedom of movement but never lose sight of the mission’s importance through exciting linear gameplay. A good example of this is MW2’s Violence and Timing vehicle chase mission, which I liked back in the day because it preserved the dramatic nature of the game by changing the usual linear feel of missions to offer variety and player choice. It allowed for more mobility and felt less constrained than previous Call of Duty chase sequences. I was free to jump from vehicle to vehicle during the chase, but it never let me slow down or forget what was at stake.
Missing the Michael Bay Vibes
While MW2’s missions still feel memorable a year later, Modern Warfare 3 lacks many of the unforgettable scenes we’ve come to expect from the franchise. Call of Duty campaigns tend to follow a familiar formula, featuring missions such as high-speed car chases, a stealthy sniper hunt, or heart-stopping hostage rescues. None of this is present in Modern Warfare 3’s campaign – a shift in gameplay that disrupts the repetitive nature of Call of Duty, but then fails to provide a fresh and exciting moment-to-moment experience. You can choose to approach missions differently, even taking the stealth approach, but the map design is geared towards open firefights, which means other play styles are not fulfilled. For example, almost all of the open combat missions allow you to take a stealthy approach, but none of them offer the feel of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’s iconic All Ghillied Up mission or even the sniping action of last year’s Recon By Fire. Towards the end of the campaign, there’s a player-controlled AC-130 gunship sequence that shakes things up a bit, but this one classic moment isn’t enough to make it worthwhile.
Tragedies and disappointments
But Modern Warfare 3 isn’t afraid to present another massacre on an even larger scale, forcing you to fight your way through Makarov’s thugs in a shootout at Verdansk Stadium. This mission is filled with chaos and panic as civilians spill out of the stands and run for their lives, crossing your path as you try to take out the terrorists without hitting the civilians. You’ll fail the mission if you accidentally kill an innocent person, so aiming accurately and only shooting when it won’t cost innocent lives is important here. This mission serves to further emphasize what Makarov is capable of, but the equally shocking mission unfortunately fails to support the story as a whole, if only in terms of its dramatic and exciting tone. And when it comes to the end of the game, Modern Warfare 3’s weak ending is just one final annoyance.
Task Force 141’s efforts to stop Makarov end with an unsatisfying story resolution. The early story-building to showcase Makarov’s ruthless terrorism quickly fizzles out as overt combat missions derail any narrative momentum, culminating in an abruptly cut-off ending. This campaign sets up a narrative that goes beyond the original series and hints at a fourth Modern Warfare game that will likely follow, but the path to get there is largely forgettable.
The best moments of the campaign were more nostalgia-based, taking advantage of the return to the Verdansk Warzone map. However, the campaign’s highlights – such as a sneaky infiltration of a military base as Kate Laswell or a bomb disposal mission on a bridge as Ghost – rely too heavily on fans being immersed in a flashback to the golden age of Call of Duty multiplayer, as the missions themselves are otherwise not particularly enjoyable.
Aside from all the terrible free-roaming moments in the campaign, the traditional parts still showcase the stunning graphics and exuberant action of Modern Warfare 3, and the weapons still aim and hit as perfectly as you’d expect in a traditional Call of Duty game. There just aren’t enough of these moments to make the game feel truly meaningful.
Gap between Singleplayer and Multiplayer
In addition to the disappointing single player missions, MW3’s campaign does not serve as the usual introduction to multiplayer. Many of the available weapons are taken from MW2, despite the fact that MW3’s multiplayer mode is said to include a number of new weapons. And since MW3’s core multiplayer mode only starts with redesigned maps, you won’t be revisiting campaign locations as usual. While it remains to be seen how the multiplayer component will develop in the long run, it seems that the gap between the campaign and multiplayer mode will be wider than ever. It feels strange that we’re getting the most direct narrative continuation of Call of Duty to date, yet the game is still so disconnected from the rest of the series in terms of execution.
There are 14 campaign missions in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and the campaign can take as little as 4-5 hours to complete, which is shorter than usual. Unless you really take the time to explore the wide open combat mission areas, the story won’t take up much of your time. Unfortunately, Open Combat’s intention to offer freedom makes it feel like filler used to introduce Makarov’s arrival, leaving little motivation to stay any longer than necessary – and only further interrupting the narrative. Modern Warfare 3 runs perfectly on the PlayStation 5, and the cutscenes look stunning, but these two elements further highlight how unremarkable the gameplay is.
While the narrative structure is enjoyable, Modern Warfare 3 can’t get out of its own way, with nearly half of the missions taking place in the tedious and repetitive open combat style. The jerky pacing and abrupt ending certainly make Makarov’s big comeback a disappointment, making Modern Warfare 3 the weakest entry in an otherwise strong reboot series.
-Gergely Herpai (BadSector)-
+ The re-introduction of the Makarov evokes nostalgia
+ Good to see Warzone Verdanskját again
+ Percussive shooting
– The dynamic of the story is destroyed by the many open combat missions
– It starts well, but the story quickly settles down and becomes chaotic
– Extremely disappointing ending
Release: November 10, 2023.