HomePC GAMESForza Horizon 5Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 campaign review: the Price is wrong

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 campaign review: the Price is wrong

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For Vladimir Makarov, the babyfaced villain of Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, trust and morale are irrelevant concepts. As he makes clear to his army of Russian ultranationalists, he is interested only in their quiet, unwavering loyalty. Evidently, Activision expects much the same from its army of COD fans. This latest Modern Warfare campaign follows disconcertedly close on the heels of 2022’s entry because, as per Bloomberg, it began life as a mere expansion. Rather than allow a fallow year, Activision has upgraded that expansion’s status to a premium release, and charged $69.99 for pre-orders – granting early access to the single-player campaign as an enticement.


Instead of Modern Warfare’s usual lead studio, Infinity Ward, development duties have fallen to Sledgehammer, the outfit most recently responsible for 2021’s unloved Vanguard. And in an industry where AAA FPS games now regularly take half a decade to make, this campaign has reportedly come together in less than two years. Reader: it shows.


Aiming a thermal sight at an enemy in snowy conditions in MW3.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Activision


Traditionally, solo COD has taken a very different shape to its multiplayer counterpart – leaning into tightly scripted first-person cinema. But this year, that gulf has closed almost completely. Of the 14 missions that comprise Modern Warfare 3, many are solo riffs on Warzone 2 – down to the parachutes, driveable vehicles and ranked loot. One even takes a chunk of Gora Dam, made familiar by pandemic vacations to Verdansk, as the entirety of its map.

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In interviews, Sledgehammer has spun this approach as Open Combat, a new format that offers an “incredible” level of choice. In actuality, it’s a canny way to lean on the assets and player toolkit of a game that’s already been approved by millions. Expect to drop into a given mission with an unhelpfully loud weapon and a handful of scattered objectives – bomb defusal sites, plane debris, bunkers – and be left to seek out better gear. Perhaps in a rooftop cache you’ll find a silenced shotgun and a killstreak imported from deathmatch mode: a mortar strike to drop on a distant patrol, or UAV designed to pick out enemy positions.


It’s a cheap and somewhat cynical way to fill out a campaign, but the results aren’t hateful. During the infiltration of an oligarch’s island hideaway, I pilfered night goggles from a cabana on the beach and crept through dark caves to get closer to my target. In a nuclear power plant, I shot through a skylight at an explosive barrel, blowing open a locked door from the inside.


Skulking in the grass with a sniper in MW3.


A plane is taken hostage in MW3.


Aiming at an oncoming truck in MW3.


Operators engage in a scuba mission in MW3.

Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Activision


Yet bespoke problem-solving exercises like these are few and far between. A couple of square kilometres and a mandate to have-at-it do not Dishonored make. More than once, I fell foul of COD’s habit of painting false doors onto buildings, or a ledge deemed arbitrarily unfit for mantling, and couldn’t take the route I’d planned. If I recognised a vehicle from Warzone, it was probably enterable; if not, it was simply scenery.


Often, Modern Warfare 3 put me in mind of 2004’s Far Cry. Like Crytek’s first ever FPS, this campaign is by default a harsh stealth shooter – one that gives you geographical latitude but few true choices in approach. Besides the odd throwable bottle, you’re offered no reliable tools to distract your opponents or throw them off your scent, which means you’re destined for pockets of violence however slowly you take things. Thankfully, though, news only travels so far when you’re spotted, and enemy attention can be lost almost as easily as it’s gained, which restores tension. I had fun barrelling messily around these maps, sticking C4 to the front of buggies and driving them into helicopters.

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Nothing Battlefield didn’t do a decade ago, of course. But much more fun than some of Modern Warfare 3’s attempts to recapture old glories. In Call of Duty: WWII, Sledgehammer’s finest campaign to date, you explored a Parisian fortress in disguise as a Nazi – engaging in sweaty conversation with officers who scrutinised your papers, and performing Hitman-lite feats of espionage. That proved to be a foundation that other COD developers could build on, first in the Kremlin setpiece of Black Ops: Cold War, and then in last year’s narco mansion break-in. These levels have allowed developers to flash Activision’s cash in meaningful ways, with lavish performance capture sequences and gently diverging outcomes.


Enemies assess plans under the watch of a scope in MW3.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Activision


Modern Warfare 3’s equivalent is an embarrassing downgrade, in which the returning Kate Laswell – now inexplicably a field agent as well as a high-level CIA handler – waltzes into a Russian military base to meet an informant. Everything feels off, from your own inappropriately fast movement speed, to the opaque detection abilities of the soldiers passing by, who open fire instantly once your cover’s blown.


This uncharacteristic clumsiness extends elsewhere – from the subtitles that fire too early in cutscenes, ruining character reveals, to the interstitial dialogue that sometimes overlaps with subsequent shootouts. There’s a sense that less time has been spent honing the pacing and polish of these levels than in previous years. And in a series all about slick, curated movie moments, those details matter enormously.


After three Modern Warfare games in five years, not to mention the ubiquity of Warzone, it’s tough to distinguish yet more missile silos and shipping-container mazes from the ones that have come before. I found myself missing the invention of Black Ops: Cold War’s Spetsnaz invasion training facility, with its all-American mannequins and small-town cinema. And I yearned for the ambition of Infinity Ward’s 2022 convoy chase, which had you leaping between flatbeds on the highway.

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The player readies themselves to zipline in MW3.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Activision


Even Sledgehammer’s take on No Russian, the audacious and infamous terrorist attack of 2009’s Modern Warfare 2, fails to stick in the memory. While forefronted with shocking imagery, it’s barely interactive, and thus much less morally challenging than its predecessor. The whole thing is over in a couple of minutes, and leaves no lasting impact on the plot. Then again, perhaps that’s for the best.


There’s a common narrative that Call of Duty campaigns were at their peak in the late ‘00s. That may be true in pop cultural terms, multiplayer having long since overshadowed solo modes for the typical COD fan. But this Modern Warfare reboot began with Infinity Ward firing on all cylinders, embracing brave themes and experimental designs in single-player that excused its occasional stumbles. It’s a shame to see the engine it built sputter and fail, betrayed by a stopgap schedule-filler with nothing to say.

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