The experience of playing Modern Warfare 3 can be likened to watching a TV show abruptly cut off mid-season, leaving the writers scrambling to hastily tie up loose ends. This departure from the typical quality of COD campaigns is evident in MW3. Even the worst COD campaigns still delivered mostly coherent stories and jaw-dropping action set pieces. Unlike its predecessors, this installment fails to deliver the anticipated story and engaging set pieces. Out of the 15 levels, only a meager 4 adhere to the traditional Modern Warfare standards. The campaign disappoints with its brevity, and lack of coherence, and never lives up to its namesake. Despite improved gameplay mechanics and exceptional audio, I can’t recommend purchasing MW3 solely for its campaign. I will say that mixing up expectations is okay and I will be reviewing the game based off of what it presents and not what our expectations might be.
The opening level kicks off in typical Call of Duty style, showcasing stunning graphics and engaging gameplay during a prison break. However, the subsequent missions take an unexpected turn. The narrative seems to veer off course, resembling a Warzone-lite experience, straying away from the core of Modern Warfare. Most levels start you in a sandbox off ill-prepared, scavenging for gear, and engaging in somewhat mundane tasks, such as infiltrating, disarming bombs, and marking crates. With one level starting you with just a knife and being told to find new gear on the fly, and then you realize you’re playing Warzone-lite.
The New Kid: Open Combat Missions
Welcome to ‘open combat missions.’ These dominate the campaign, departing from the anticipated Call of Duty gameplay. While a few missions, like the seaside infiltration or navigating a confined apartment building, offer enjoyable moments, they are regrettably scarce. It’s baffling that you consistently commence these missions without basic gear such as night vision goggles or a rope ascending tool, forcing scavenging for the same equipment repeatedly. However, after completing the campaign, you can replay levels with previously acquired gear. In addition, sometimes weapons found in the levels will be ill-suited for the mission. For example, finding a rifle with a night vision scope but the mission takes place in the day. These missions reminded me of the recent Battlefield campaigns which included a few linear levels but mainly comprised of open sandbox-style missions to be approached in any way you wish.
The open combat missions suffer from notable flaws. Their brevity, some lasting a mere 5 minutes, leaves them feeling lacking and hastily put together. If nothing else, the lack of anything dynamic happening in the missions is what is the biggest letdown. I’m by no means a speed runner, but I was even able to beat one level in barely over 2 minutes. The AI also presents issues, often detecting players unrealistically and behaving in a glitchy manner, detracting from stealth gameplay. As someone who usually opts for a stealthier approach, my enjoyment diminished as I encountered bugs from the AI throughout the campaign. It also appears that the AI never stops spawning if you get seen. Furthermore, the absence of robust AI teammates in critical moments further hampers the experience.
One ultimate example of all these issues is a night mission where you must recover phones while your squad mate covers you with a sniper rifle. While doing the mission, my squad-mate never fired a shot and I would get spotted by an AI 100 yards away through a stone wall and a house as I crawled through tall grass. Trying to maintain stealth, the mission took me almost 20 minutes. Replaying it on normal and going loud, took me only 5 minutes. And my teammate still never fired a shot. In another mission, Ghost said he would cut the power as I snuck into a house, but he never did. I’ve even started some levels, taken a single step, and then every AI in the level got alerted to my presence.
Notably, a handful of missions encapsulate the essence of a classic Call of Duty experience, with intense squad-based combat against numerous adversaries. One standout moment is a tense firefight causing you to pick your shots carefully as dozens of civilians are weaving in and out of the chaos. Regrettably, these moments are scarce in the overall campaign. In addition, you only spend 4 missions out of 14 with your squad which severely diminishes the sense of camaraderie in the story.
Modern Warfare 3 STORY
The narrative, mostly conveyed through cutscenes and background radio chatter, is another missed opportunity. Despite remarkable production quality, the story fails to develop meaningfully. Much of the key action occurs off-screen, and any set piece usually occurs during cutscenes. The lack of control during pivotal cinematic sequences diminishes the immersive quality of previous COD games. It is also just overall messy and incoherent. As you jump from mission to mission with barely any context or understanding of the overall plot.
The story though is incredibly well-acted and looks phenomenal. At this point, I wonder if it’d be cheaper to film the cutscenes in live-action, due to how amazing the graphics are. One gripe I have though is with Makorov. His actor does an amazing job, but the writing here makes him feel less of a gripping villain and more like a “random Russian bad guy #4 who speaks in cliches.”
In essence, Modern Warfare 3 feels more suited to a cooperative campaign or a DLC bridging the story between MW2 and MW3. In fact, tinfoil hat time. I would not be surprised if the campaign we got originally were only supposed to consist of the 4 or so missions with our squad mates as a DLC to coincide with the original MW3 maps being added to COD HQ. But somewhere along the line, it was decided to be a full release so the devs were forced to pad the campaign with open combat missions and lots of off-screen radio chatter.
The potential for a more cohesive and engaging narrative seems evident in the few standout squad-based missions, suggesting the possibility of a more concise and compelling experience. Nonetheless, the overall product falls short of the expectations laid out by the original Modern Warfare 3.
WHERE TO GO NOW?
Despite the shortcomings, I believe there are valuable lessons to extract from this experience and certain positives worth highlighting. Specifically, the potential of the open combat missions stands out as a concept that, if reimagined, could substantially enhance the gameplay. Imagine if these missions were more sparingly incorporated into the campaign, meticulously designed for dynamic encounters. Consider the mission in the game where you assume the role of a disguised Laswell infiltrating a base to rendezvous with an informant—a mission in the game that currently lasts a mere 4 minutes. And is probably the shallowest level in the campaign. This mission, given a revamp with the open combat style, could have significantly more depth.
Your starting point could be miles away from the base, offering multiple pathways to approach your objective. Stealth becomes crucial as you seek to obtain a uniform, allowing for infiltration akin to a Hitman-style level. Should you be detected on your approach, your squad mates stationed in the hills could provide overwatch support. The target with the keycard would react to your detection, fortifying their position and intensifying the challenge of infiltration.
Implementing these dynamic elements could substantially elevate these missions if revisited in future COD iterations. Presently, open combat missions often involve off-screen squad mates, missing an opportunity for cooperative play. Integrating cooperative elements into these levels could vastly improve the overall experience.
Graphics – 85% of the time, the game looks incredible. And it genuinely is incredible how amazing the cutscenes look. Gameplay-wise though, I experienced a rare amount of bugs for a COD campaign. I encountered multiple issues with water textures causing them to blink to an empty black causing missions with water frustrating. Along with that, I encountered issues where the thermal scopes would not correctly display, making aiming with them difficult.
Gameplay – The amazing gunplay we have come to expect is here. And possibly the greatest it has ever been. However, the incredibly short missions, buggy AI, and sometimes boring open combat missions really hurt my enjoyment of the game overall.
Story – The story is incredibly underwritten and all too brief. All of the key action occurs outside of the player’s hands making you feel disconnected from the story. The story is well-acted, but the narrative itself leaves much to be desired.
Audio – All of the guns and explosions pack a great deal amount of punch and leave your ears ringing. I do wish the music itself was a tad more memorable as the music felt very relegated to the background and never elevated what was on screen. Might be personal preference, but I found myself wanting to hear Brian Tyler’s original Modern Warfare theme or even Sarah Schachner’s Modern Warfare theme from the newer Modern Warfare 2. Both of those soundtracks brought a sense of scale, tension, and melody to the previous iterations that Modern Warfare 3 lacked.
Note: I completed two playthroughs for this review.
1st-Hardened-took my time and opted for a stealthier approach: 5 hours 36 minutes including cutscenes
2nd-Normal-played at the pace of a normal shooter: 2 hours and 16 minutes without cutscenes
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