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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2023)

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2023)

Written by Jason Dailey on 11/16/2023 for PC   PS4   PS5   XBO   XBSX  
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I’ve been playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 for a couple of weeks now – at first the story campaign in early access, but in recent days the multiplayer suite and Zombies mode in earnest. Which is to say that this is a review of the game as an entire package in its current state, not any singular mode or modes. To be honest, Modern Warfare 3 has been a tough cookie to crack, mostly because of its Jekyll & Hyde nature. On one hand is its lackluster story campaign, while on the other its surprisingly fun Zombies offering and solid multiplayer suite. Like many of you, no doubt, I have seen the review scores from other outlets popping-up in my social media feeds in recent days, but I’ve also seen a lot of people in the replies that are clearly enjoying their time with the game despite its shortcomings. It’s not always the case with Call of Duty, but this time around, I happen to be one of those folks in the replies enjoying himself.

So, is it just a $70 DLC? Well, it’s complicated. Modern Warfare 3 is clearly an extension of last year’s Modern Warfare 2, sitting somewhere between an expansion and a standalone game – an expand-alone, if you will. Whether or not it’s worth the asking price is ultimately a personal choice, and there is certainly a case to be made against it, especially if you are one of the rare campaign-only players. Still, I see myself playing the multiplayer and Zombies for many hours, and that’s with plenty of first-person shooters in my game library to choose from. At the very least, it’s worth picking up on a sale. Before you rage-quit my review, allow me to dive deeper on my thoughts regarding each component of the game, and then you can draw your own conclusions.

The story campaign was the world’s quite dreadful first impression of Modern Warfare 3 and, yes, it is an albatross around the neck of the overall game, but the truth is that I am not as down on it as others. That doesn’t mean I think it is good – I just don’t think it’s the worst FPS campaign I’ve ever played, as it does have some bright spots in my book. For instance, there are still some of those signature Call of Duty set piece moments that make you feel like you’re in the middle of a Tom Clancy film, complete with impressive cinematics and performance capture that the series has really turned up the heat on in recent years.

Modern Warfare 3’s story is another globe-trotting affair that puts you in the shoes of the special operators of Task Force 141 and their pals. Makarov is back as the villain, and for some reason is wearing a corny formal suit for most of it. I kind of dug the overarching narrative of Makarov acquiring chemical weapons that he planned to use to draw world powers into another World War. The main problem with the campaign is its structure and execution, which is an absolute mess.

Around half of the campaign missions are what Activision is calling “Weapons Free” missions, which is an open mission structure that lets you roam around maps and approach objectives however you see fit. I won’t mince words – the Weapons Free missions suck. They feel like a pivot mid-development to bloat up the experience to give players a bit more to do. The result is what feels like playing DMZ matches from last year’s game, with you needing to scavenge weapons and equipment (even killstreaks like sentry guns) from around the map as you work towards completing objectives. This mission structure is the complete antithesis of why people play the Call of Duty campaigns – full stop. I strongly prefer the more linear campaigns with big blockbuster moments littered throughout. Not to mention, oftentimes the open missions quickly devolve into chaos the moment you are detected by the enemy. So, yes, they did extend my time with the campaign, but only because I kept restarting missions to remain stealthy. I think I speak for most players when I say that we didn’t sign up for a DMZ or Warzone-esque story campaign.

With that said, there are glimmers of life in the campaign, including the far more palatable linear missions, which get back to the formula the franchise is known for. In those instances, you can see the soul of Call of Duty, and it’s those moments that make you feel like a Spec Ops badass. It’s just unfortunate that only around half of the campaign is comprised of those more traditional romps. I play Call of Duty campaigns to enjoy a storyline that feels like I’m in the middle of a “save the world” military action thriller and those moments are fleeting in this year’s game. Modern Warfare 3’s story also concludes rather anti-climactically for a Call of Duty game, which I feel adds to the notion that the mode was an after-the-fact inclusion. In fact, I remember thinking, “Was that the end?”. At the end of the day, if you are someone who buys the game every year just to experience the campaign, I can wholeheartedly advise you to sit this one out.

Moving over to the multiplayer suite is a far better experience, with most of the usual modes on offer such as team deathmatch, domination, kill confirmed, and so on. Adding fuel to the DLC fire is the fact that all of your unlocks from Modern Warfare 2, including weapons and skins, carry over to Modern Warfare 3. I’m of the mind that this is a welcome feature considering that some of that stuff is bought and paid for with real cash, so why should it be left behind if it doesn’t have to be? I would say that the bones of Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer remain intact for the most part as well, with notable key changes including movement speed, slide and reload cancel, as well as time-to-kill. The changes do feel good, though.

It's not all the same, as there is a new batch of weapons and, of course, the maps from 2009’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 have been remastered for this year’s game. The classic maps are a lot of fun to play on with the accoutrements of modern gameplay, tapping into that nostalgia that so many of us have for this lovely bunch of boards. However, time has not been kind to all of them, with a couple feeling outdated for current first-person shooter trends from a size and layout standpoint. The novelty of the old maps does wear off after a few rounds on each, which is the same way I feel about most multiplayer shooters after several hours of play. A couple of other welcome returnees are map voting (thank you, sweet baby Jesus) and operator perks. Perks are now tied to equipment your operator wears like vests, gloves, and shoes, but work essentially the same as in the past. For example, EOD Padding reduces the non-killstreak damage you take from explosives, while the Covert Sneakers eliminate the sound of your footsteps. Each custom class can be equipped with four such pieces of perk gear, allowing you to tailor to your personal playstyle.

There is one annoying caveat regarding progression within the multiplayer suite – some weapons, equipment, and perks are locked behind what are called “Armory Unlocks”. The Armory does not become available until you reach level 25, meaning that you cannot access these items until then. But it gets better – not only do you have to reach level 25, but you also must complete three daily challenges to unlock each of these items. You also have to go into the challenges sub menu to activate each item’s challenge for it to register towards unlocking that item. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s certainly a head scratcher, and I feel like I am jumping through extra hoops for no good reason – I don’t want to unlock my unlocks, thank you very much.

What keeps me coming back to the multiplayer is the superb gunplay, which is superior to most other first-person shooters on the market. I really fell in love with Modern Warfare 2019’s gunplay, which got a major overhaul for that game and is the foundation for the gunplay we have today. It still feels great in Modern Warfare 3, and is arguably the best it has ever felt, especially on PS5’s DualSense with adaptive trigger and haptic feedback support. I understand that the feel of combat from game to game is a largely subjective matter, so know that I prefer the current Modern Warfare sub-series gunplay to all the games that have released in between those titles since 2019, if that gives you an idea of my personal preferences.

Along the lines of gunplay, I want to take a moment to point out that the weapon and reload animations are top notch, and they have been really since Modern Warfare 2019. It’s obvious that they are made by artists at the absolute top of their game who love their craft. The way you rack the slide on each weapon, how reloading empty versus partial clips is animated differently – it’s amazing attention to detail. Saving a partial clip has its own animation for each weapon, as does the straight ejection of an empty mag. Reloading an empty shotgun chambers a shell directly into the barrel so you can fire immediately without racking it. These are things most players will never notice, so long as the guns shoot, but I see you Call of Duty weapon reload animators, and I appreciate you.

The final mode included in this year’s package is Modern Warfare Zombies, or Zombies for short, and it marks the first time that the popular Zombies mode has graced the Modern Warfare sub-universe. It also features the largest Zombies map yet and pulls at a new thread in the overarching Zombies lore. This time, known threat Victor Zakhaev has unleashed Aetherium on what is known as the Exclusion Zone, which, naturally, spawns hordes of undead on the open-world map where the mode takes place.

You can play solo or with up to two friends as a trio in open-world PvE combat that is very reminiscent of last year’s DMZ mode. That’s not a knock, as I think the DMZ framework has translated well to create a fun Zombies experience that caught me by surprise. Before dropping in, you first select up to three operators to have at the ready on your strike team, as well as customize your gear loadout. Its systems are familiar, including contraband weapons that are permanently lost if you die or drop them while deployed. Insured weapons can be selected from what’s available in your armory, and those do persist if you succumb to the Zombie scourge. While out in the field, you explore the open world in search of valuable schematics and acquisitions to extract with. Acquisitions are powerful single use items that do things such as grant boosts or upgrade weapon tiers when consumed. Schematics allow you to permanently craft those acquisitions, but with a cooldown period after use much like insured weapons. The map for Zombies is huge, full of points of interest to explore and things to do. Of course, it’s also loaded with enemies, both living and dead, as well as other human players going about their business. It was cool being able to come across another squad and assist them with whatever they had gotten themselves into. On one occasion, myself and a friend ran into a group trying to extract but were overwhelmed by zombies – we jumped in the action to help and ended up extracting alongside them.

In Zombies, contracts act as your missions and are picked up out in the world. They can task you with things such as eliminating a zombie monstrosity, or deactivating Aetherium extractors. There is plenty to keep you busy across the map, even while on route to your next contract. During one deployment, while playing with that same friend, I heard him let out a startled gasp after venturing inside a building, followed by a lot of nervous exclamations of “Oh no!”. What I didn’t know until coming to his rescue is that he had stumbled into a room with a hulking zombie that he was trying to escape from. It was moments like that when I really grew to appreciate Zombies’ emergent gameplay, which is an experience I did not know I wanted from a Call of Duty game.

It has never been more apparent that Call of Duty is made by people who are siloed off to work on each individual game mode. While the campaign leaves a lot to be desired, I think the multiplayer suite and new take on Zombies are genuinely fun. The question of whether it is $70 DLC is a valid one, but honestly, if the campaign were up to snuff this might be one of my favorite Call of Duty games. Of course, that is not the case, and since I am evaluating Modern Warfare 3 as a total package, my review must reflect that.

This year’s campaign is out of character for Call of Duty, to say the least, with major “look how they massacred my boy” energy that should be a hard pass for campaign-only players. On the other hand, if multiplayer or Zombies are more your speed, I would recommend the game dependent upon your playing habits. I don’t know that I’d splurge $70 just to play one of those modes for a few hours, but ultimately it comes down to your own judgement of the value proposition. Personally, I’ll be playing for dozens of hours over the coming months, so for me it adds up. If you need me, I’ll be the guy enjoying himself in the social media replies.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was a tough game to review. The campaign almost completely lost its way with respect to the soul of Call of Duty campaigns. Meanwhile, the multiplayer and new iteration on Zombies are fun, with Zombies in particular being a real surprise. As a total package, it is deeply flawed, but taken as disparate parts there is a lot to like, depending on your personal tastes.

Rating: 7.5 Above Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Jason has been writing for Gaming Nexus since 2022. Some of his favorite genres of games are strategy, management, city-builders, sports, RPGs, shooters, and simulators. His favorite game of all-time is Red Dead Redemption 2, logging nearly 1,000 hours in Rockstar's Wild West epic. Jason's first video game system was the NES, but the original PlayStation is his first true video game love affair. Once upon a time, he was the co-host of a PlayStation news podcast, as well as a basketball podcast.

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