Any fan of the Call of Duty franchise will tell you that the conversation around this year's new entry, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, has not been positive for the most part.
Reports that MW3 was originally planned as a DLC for MW2, only to be changed into a full-price release midway through production, certainly started things off on a sour note. Nobody likes to be charged more than they were initially expecting, do they?
What didn't help matters is that MW3's single-player campaign, which released earlier than the multiplayer modes for players that pre-ordered the game, marked a stark change from what fans have come to expect. While there were some traditional linear levels, there were also 'open' missions that looked more like Warzone maps with a few objectives dotted about.
Again, this pre-announced feature would've put a sour taste in the mouth of traditional CoD campaign fans before they'd even completed the game's sizeable install and started playing. So, surely the game is a total car crash and not something we'd recommend at all? If that kind of takedown is what you've been expecting to read here, you'd actually be wrong!
That's right, folks. We're here to provide one of the more positive and optimistic MW3 reviews, as we've actually had a pretty good time with it so far. Sure, it still stings that this could've been a more affordable DLC as opposed to a £60 investment, but reports of this being a terrible game are way wide of the mark.
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Even the campaign, which received most of the ire we've seen, is better than you might expect. The graphics are top-notch, some of the level design is really fun (the very first level has a great segment where you descend through a prison and wipe out foes on every floor, for example), and the gunplay feels just as awesome as we've come to expect. Sure, the story is a twisty mess that doesn't feel much like reality, but that doesn't mean you won't have fun blasting your way through enemies between the cut scenes.
Speaking of cut scenes, we'd actually say the performances are pretty good from the MW3 cast, with Shadow and Bone star Julian Kostov making an immediate impression as the big bad Vladimir Makarov. A couple of scenes were plagued with glitches, though, where audio and image would go way out of sync, which is obviously pretty rough for a AAA game.
Even the Warzone-style open levels have some benefits, and it's not hard to see the thinking behind them. Presumably, Activision's metrics tell them that people spend more time in multiplayer than solo play, so why not try to bridge the gap a little? Why not try to teach those more solo-leaning players the basics of Warzone and the other multiplayer modes while they're at it?
That being said, we did find the traditional levels a lot more fun to play than the open levels, but both were pretty harmless as ways to spend a few hours with your brain switched mostly off. It'll be very interesting to see if future CoD games keep this blend in tact, revert on the decision or perhaps even double down on it and make 'normal' missions even more rare. That's not something we'd encourage, as those traditional levels can be really cool.
Of course, a game like this will live or die based on whether people actually want to play its multiplayer content for the long term. And in that respect, we'd argue that MW3 is actually looking pretty healthy, with loads of enjoyable classic maps coming back and lots of nicely varied playlists to keep you occupied. The matchmaking could use a little bit of work, we'd argue, but the overall multiplayer experience is pretty fun. An easy way to kill some time.
That being said, we found the new Zombies mode a lot less fun than the 'normal' multiplayer modes, with the decision to make it an open-world undead experience removing some of the horror. Playing in little teams against slobbering hordes can be fun, but perhaps some more claustrophobic maps would've been a better fit than this bland open environment.
All in all, with the core gameplay seeming to carry over from MW2, it comes as no surprise that the shooting itself feels best in class and the matches can get really competitive. Modern Warfare 3 feels like a game in a healthy position, especially considering all the anger it received before even coming out.
With a few updates and additions in the MW3 seasons to come, it could even become great. For now, though, we're quite happy saying it's a lot better than we'd expected. It's far from a total misfire.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is out now. We reviewed on Xbox Series X and S.