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Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III is the worst COD game at the worst time

Our full review and score for 2023's COD MW3 is here now, and it's an all-round disappointment
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Call of Duty games are explosive setpieces. You rush from cover to cover, experience to experience, missiles and bombs drop in your wake, enemy bases detonate, and you embody the truest power fantasy of being a hyper-masculine soldier, breaking laws and committing the odd war crime all in order to save the world. That’s how it’s always been, and in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III, the stakes have never been more pathetic.

The campaign here is a direct sequel to last year’s Modern Warfare II. Makarov has been captured and imprisoned, but he doesn’t stay there for long. After a breakout courtesy of his PMC, he once again – somehow – manages to wreak havoc on the world and commit terrorist acts that plunge the globe into World War 3.

We’ve seen it all before – this is a reimagining of 2011’s Modern Warfare 3, after all – but the energy has been utterly sucked out of every mission and encounter. The signature linear Call of Duty setpieces are practically absent, all in the name of some of the laziest adaptations of multiplayer maps with solo objectives that we’ve ever seen. Call of Duty’s DMZ mode has you drop into multiplayer maps to complete objectives while – usually – facing off against NPC enemies, and the campaign here basically lifts that idea wholesale without any consideration for whether or not it’s actually good.

Call of Duty ACR screenshot.

Yep, that's a gun alright.

DMZ mode is mid, frankly, barely held up by the fact that you’ll have multiplayer pals to chat with while you blast enemies. But this is the campaign, and you won’t have multiplayer pals by your side, only the idle jargon-laden chatter of the radio comms. These new “Open Combat Missions” allow you to choose which objectives you’d like to prioritize first in an open (and overly familiar) map. It’s a nice enough idea in concept, but in practice, it loses what makes Call of Duty campaigns attractive. What we have here is a glorified multiplayer game with dumb NPC hostiles to gun down.

The game has 14 missions in total, six of which are the DMZ-style Open Combat Missions, and of those that aren’t OCMs, several of them are either short or dull. The opening of Operation 627 feels like a pretty traditional COD intro, if a bit uninspired, but Payload feels like a genuine retread of a mission from last year’s game. Deep Cover is a short infiltration mission that would’ve been a cutscene in earlier games, Passenger is the modern No Russian without any of the shock or impact, and Danger Close is a classic overhead gunner stage but by the time you play it you’ll be entirely burnt out and disillusioned by how few interesting things have actually happened.

Not only that, but while the fantasy thrills of dropping bombs on glowing dots from miles above might’ve been empowering in the post-9/11 era, in the modern digital age, where it’s easier than ever for innocent families to show how war ravages their homes communities, something about false-flag terrorist operations carried out by people speaking Arabic and raining death leaves a sour taste in my mouth. This culminates in the “Your tax dollars at work” trophy, which you’re awarded for using a missile to kill a single enemy, which could’ve been a tongue-in-cheek allusion to the absurdity of modern conflict, if it weren’t for the fact that the game celebrates it at every other opportunity.

Screenshot from 2023's Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3

Inaction Man John Price.

Last year’s Modern Warfare II had a new idea to exploit in each level, and while it could never reach the highs of something like Titanfall 2, it felt more interesting and innovative than so many Call of Duty campaigns – especially the likes of Vanguard. Modern Warfare III feels like the definition of “this exists because it has to.” Activision’s studios have been hard-pressed to deliver this game in a short timeframe, after the last game needed significant post-launch fixes, and several teams have recently unionized. What we’re seeing here is what an annual triple-A launch looks like when publishers aren’t able to easily crunch their staff into oblivion.

What we’re left with feels like a metaphor. Modern Warfare III is literally the product of a demanding and increasingly unrealistic release schedule mandated by financial reports and share prices, a stripped-down and barebones experience created almost solely to justify extracting more money from consumers during one of the most expensive eras the average person has ever experienced. And it’s also, somehow, a tone-death justification of the ongoing and never-ending conflict we see around the globe, again, at a time in the modern era where it has seemingly never been worse. This is the worst possible Call of Duty campaign, launching at the worst possible time.

Modern Warfare III is a monument to humanity’s hubris and ignorance. Also, it’s rubbish.

Final review update, November 10, 2023

Captain Price. A bit useless, honestly.

Captain Price. A bit useless, honestly.

We now finally have access to Modern Warfare III’s brand new multiplayer suite, Zombies mode, and War Mode, on top of the single-player campaign we already looked at. On paper it’s a complete Call of Duty package, but as we learned with the campaign, it’s definitely possible to cut a few corners.

Let’s start with Zombies, which is a fan-favorite mode for Call of Duty fans. A bit like those Open Combat Missions in the campaign, Zombies in MW3 is now a lot closer to Warzone’s DMZ mode. You’ll drop onto the large map Urzikstan, flanked by Zombies on all sides. Your job is to complete Contracts in order to get weapon upgrades that will allow you to move further inland, where the zombie attacks are far more brutal and violent.

There are a few classic Zombies staples, like the Pack-a-Punch machine, but the actual gameplay loop of completing contracts and picking up armor vests is just too much like the DMZ mode. There are even other teams of real players on the map you can fight with, which again, just makes it feel like another Warzone mode.

It still looks nice, at least.

It still looks nice, at least.

The task of moving inland to fight tougher zombies is also frankly disappointing when compared to the frantic round-based gameplay of earlier Zombies mode. Surviving in Sector 3 is definitely an achievement, but it’d frankly feel more satisfying with the ebb and flow of round-based survival.

War Mode – yes, capitalized – is an objective-based 6v6 mode where you’ll be either defending or attacking set points on the map. If the attack is successful, you’ll move onto another task – a tank escort mission which is basically pushing the cart in Team Fortress – and then if that’s successful, you’ll move onto some missile controls which you can commandeer to save the day, or ruin it, depending on the goals of your team. It’s fine, but forgettable, and even with just six players on each team the barrage of explosives and bullets can be overwhelming and hard to read.

Then there’s the actual multiplayer mode with your classic variety of modes, with Team Deathmatch at the helm. It’s, honestly, pretty good. Mantling and climbing over objects seems to have been sped up a bit, which is a nice addition and allows for swifter gameplay.

One of the few original parts of the campaign.

One of the few original parts of the campaign.

Unfortunately, there’s not much to say outside of that. We already knew this would essentially act as an addition to the MW2 multiplayer suite, but that means the list of new weapons is short, and the new maps are actually classic maps brought into the game. They’re great, make no mistake, but we’ve also seen them all before. As nice as it is to revert to classic strategies on these old maps, a lot of players are looking for something new.

There’s fun to be had with friends in the Zombies mode and Team Deathmatch, but this doesn’t feel like a new Call of Duty release in the slightest. Sure, a campaign component is here, but it’s so barebones and inconsequential to the overarching story that it barely matters. Zombies and multiplayer was always what was going to make-or-break purchases for more casual COD fans, and these are still a pretty huge disappointment.

Modern Warfare III feels like a content expansion for Call of Duty: Warzone, and if it were sold as that, at a lower price, it could’ve been justified. But by selling this as a premium experience, and crunching developers to create the game in just 16 months (as reported by Bloomberg, disputed by Sledgehammer), Activision has shown its hand. This game shows that the publisher doesn’t care about its staff, and evidently, doesn’t respect its consumers.

The opening campaign mission.

The opening campaign mission.

Call of Duty could’ve taken a year off, or sold this package as a budget-price stop-gap. But no, Activision wants you to cough up £70 for what amounts to DLC. You would be doing yourself a disservice by supporting a company as willing to gouge your wallet as this – just stick to Warzone.

Score: 4/10

  • Visuals: 8/10
  • Story: 1/10
  • Gameplay: 8/10
  • Performance: 9/10

Version tested: PS5

COD MW3 technical performance

In terms of performance on PS5, it's exactly the same as Modern Warfare II and Warzone 2.0. It's stable, runs well, mostly looks nice, and has an optional 120fps mode.