First-person shooter campaigns seem to have taken a bit of a nosedive as of late. With the likes of Halo Infinite failing to recapture the glorious charm of the 360 era, it fell on the annual Call of Duty release to satiate audiences. MW3, the latest title in the Modern Warfare reboot series, was set to do just that. Bringing back an iconic villain, ramping up the stakes for Task Force 141, and following on from MW2’s exciting cliffhanger ending felt like a recipe for success.
Unfortunately, and I simply cannot state this enough, what we got was an unbearably dull filler piece clearly intended to be DLC that will neither satisfy hardcore Call of Duty fans nor appease newcomers to the franchise. It is an unmitigated disaster only saved by the series’ refined gunplay and modicum of character development the gruff Brits of Task Force 141 have received. Simply put, do not purchase MW3 for its campaign alone, as it is neither worth your time nor the extortionate $70 Activision is asking for.
“MW3 not only alienates anyone but the most hardcore of Call of Duty fans but also mitigates the need for any meaningful character development in a story that costs $70 to play.”
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s narrative follows Task Force 141 as they attempt to take down the nefarious Vladimir Makarov after he escapes from prison. That is about all the story you’ll get in MW3’s 5-hour campaign, as absolutely nothing happens between the game’s first mission and last. There’s a plot to detonate bombs with gas in them and something about Makarov’s financier, but neither of these filler B-plots amount to much, and it’s all in service of getting you from the first mission’s admittedly exciting setup to the final mission’s underwhelming ending.
Additionally, if you haven’t played any of Warzone 2’s various seasons, you’ll have no idea what is going on. Despite having played the previous campaigns, I was left blindsided by the story developments that had seemingly occurred in a Warzone season months ago. If you find yourself asking why Graves is back from the dead or why Alex, the guy who was seemingly blown up at the end of the first game, is miraculously hanging out with Farah, then chances are you missed out on some crucial context given in a separate game.
It’s a demonstrably terrible narrative choice that alienates anyone but the most hardcore of Call of Duty fans while mitigating the need for any meaningful character development in a campaign that costs $70 to play. As a result, the unremarkable protagonists feel no more complex in the third installment of the series than they did in the first. Price will still seek justice at all costs; Gaz is still a nothing character that hangs out in the background; Soap and Ghost have the best relationship but barely any screentime together; even Farah, who I genuinely enjoyed in MW1, does little more than tell you that war is bad.
“Makarov and, frankly, Task Force 141 are unequivocally squandered in this seemingly AI-generated debacle.”
Perhaps MW3’s campaign’s greatest sin is its mistreatment of Makarov, the infamous terrorist whose role in the original Modern Warfare 2 mission No Russian cemented his legacy as one of gaming’s greatest villains. Alas, in MW3, he’s relegated to doing little more than pout and angrily spew malicious speech about world domination and how the West isn’t particularly nice.
It’s a shame, as the actor portraying him, Julian Kostov, is actually tremendous and manages to wring out every last bit of genuine terror from the character that he could. It never really amounts to much, though, as outside of 2 missions, Makarov and Task Force 141 barely interact, with the latter merely playing catch up. Without spoiling the game’s pitiful ending, MW3 does little with its once notorious villain, instead offering a meek introduction to him that newcomers are likely to scoff at. Makarov and, frankly, Task Force 141 are unequivocally squandered in this seemingly AI-generated debacle.
“Open Combat Missions largely descend into a bloodbath as stealth is not only a severely underbaked mechanic in MW3 but also rarely encouraged.”
Of course, none of this would matter if the missions contextualizing this barebones narrative were any good. Unfortunately, although frankly unsurprisingly, they’re not. The prominently marketed feature of MW3’s campaign was the Open Combat Missions, which promised an open-ended mission structure that could be approached in a multitude of ways. However, despite being one of the focal selling points, these OCMs are little more than the Spec Ops missions from MW2 with Warzone mechanics.
You’ll be dropped into a large map, some, if not all, of which are the Ground War maps from the Multiplayer mode, and let loose with objectives to complete. In all fairness, there were excellent moments within these missions, such as driving a jeep off a boat into an unsuspecting crowd of enemies below. However, these are few and far between and don’t quite make up for the failings of the OCM’s supposed open-ended structure.
Unfortunately, Open Combat Missions largely descend into a bloodbath as stealth is not only a severely underbaked mechanic in MW3 but also rarely encouraged. Should you shoot a guard and not get a headshot, you’ll alert practically every other enemy in the vicinity, forcing you to either run away or fight back, which is significantly more enjoyable each and every time.
“It’s not that any of the missions in this campaign are offensively bad, they’re just unremarkably by the numbers, offering little in terms of innovation or creativity.”
Outside of these OCMs are the traditional linear missions. Alas, these have to be some of the most uninspired missions in a Call of Duty game. There’s little substance or even spectacle to the majority of these missions, as, for the most part, the whole point is to literally move from point A to B and shoot everything in between. In conjunction with the OCMs, which take up around half of the overall missions, you’re getting a lot of incredibly repetitive mission structure without bombastic set pieces or anything new and inspired in between.
There are a few variations on the tired formula. One mission requires you to go undercover in a Russian base, but all that amounts to is not walking too close to any of the other NPCs. My favorite mission saw you ascend an apartment building, clearing out each floor until you reached the top. Frankly, in hindsight, the only semblance of enjoyment I derived from it was the similarities it shared with the Dredd and Raid movies.
It’s not that any of the missions in this campaign are offensively bad, they’re just unremarkably by the numbers, offering little in terms of innovation or creativity. It speaks much to the rumors that this was initially intended as DLC, as even the previous game in the series managed to offer unique and gripping mission design in the form of Alone and El Sin Nombre.
“It is undeniable that the gunplay is perfect, but that hardly justifies burning through the nonsensical narrative and uninspired mission design.”
Fortunately, the extremely refined gunplay saves the day, elevating MW3’s doldrum campaign to something slightly above genuinely awful. It is effortlessly enjoyable gunning down evil Russians, as shameful as that is to admit. Sledgehammer Games has really nailed the punchy, impactful, and suitably gory gunplay to the point that by the time the story wrapped up, I was eager to hop into some Multiplayer.
It’s a shame, as had the mission design been even remotely good, this gunplay would have felt significantly more exhilarating, wrapped up in an engrossing framework that heightened its best elements. The Highrise mission is perhaps the closest we get to this, albeit with some significant caveats.
However, it’s hardly fair to say that something that has not only been a staple of the franchise for a long while now but is also available in a more enjoyable format and for free in Warzone 2 is the saving grace of this campaign. Of course, it is undeniable that the gunplay is perfect, but that hardly justifies burning through the nonsensical narrative and uninspired mission design. Simply put, the gunplay in MW3’s campaign is a well-oiled feature barely holding together a crumbling foundation.
“MW3 is a next-gen showcase, a very pretty marble statue that’s been sanded down almost too much to the point that it has lost all semblance of any art direction.”
Visually, MW3 is a mixed bag. Its dogmatic dedication to photorealistic graphics is admirable and shines through, especially during certain cutscenes. However, it also reduces it to a drab, monotone, and visually uninspired eyesore that rarely peaks beyond its carefully packaged luster. Certain missions look visually spectacular, although none as remarkable as the faithful recreation of Amsterdam in MW2, but are frequently let down by the game’s Michael Bay-esque murky color palette that’s is refined as a blue raspberry popsicle.
It’s hard to really critique MW3’s visuals, not least because they’re almost identical to MW2’s, but due to the fact that they are technically competent. They’re a next-gen showcase, a very pretty marble statue that’s been sanded down almost too much to the point that it has lost all semblance of any art direction. I can’t say that effort didn’t go into the visuals of MW3, as that would be demonstrably untrue, but they are, at least to me, boring at best.
“MW3 is not offensively bad, but it is an enormous waste of your time at an insultingly high price.”
Despite my shameless disdain for MW3’s overpriced and underwhelming campaign, I did genuinely go in with the expectation of at least enjoying it to an extent. The previous two games, while not works of art by any means, provided a competently told narrative featuring a group of mostly interesting characters set against a political thriller backdrop. MW3 really didn’t need to do much to match their level of competency, owing to both Makarov’s involvement and the heightened stakes teased at the end of the last game.
Unfortunately, it absolutely fails to deliver on practically every aspect it should, save for the visuals and gunplay, which have remained refined and fun yet admittedly stagnant for the past few entries. The narrative is as barebones as it could be, practically Apple TV+’s Ghosted levels of shamefully mind-numbing, and fails to capitalize on its unique opportunity to revive one of gaming’s most compelling villains. Its mission design is extremely lacking any form of innovation, instead relying on the creatively bankrupt backlog of missions from better games to get players through the exhausting 5-hour campaign. In short, MW3 is not offensively bad, but it is an enormous waste of your time at an insultingly high price.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Campaign Review
The MW3 campaign gets by on Call of Duty's expertly refined gunplay and little else. Its nonsensical narrative nosedives almost immediately, not least because it requires you to have played every Warzone Season to understand. It's also mind-numbingly dull, a tiresomely Sisyphean exercise in misery that desperately wants to seem complex in its shallow exploration of politics and current world affairs. Instead it comes across as pitiful and boring, further hindered by the uninspired mission design that never extends itself beyond go here and shoot them. Purchasing MW3 for its campaign is a huge waste of money, let alone time.