Release date: November 10, 2023
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows
Developers: Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games
Engine: IW, IW 9.0
Mode: Multiplayer video game
Composer: Walter Mair
Genre: First-person shooter
"Review Copy Provided By Activision-Blizzard"
I've taken my annual march through the battlegrounds of "Call of Duty" campaigns since they started dropping yearly with 2005's "Call of Duty 2." as it's the the digital equivalent of a roller coaster ride: sometimes it's a jaw-dropping experience with loop-the-loops, and other times it's a kiddie ride that's over before the thrill even kicks in. Having marched through the franchise's offerings year after year since the days when "Call of Duty 2" hit the shelves in 2005—save for that one odd year in 2018 when "Black Ops 4" ditched the campaign mode—I've found myself swinging between exhilaration and exasperation. Let's not mince words: some entries like "Call of Duty 3," "Ghosts," and "Black Ops 3" missed their mark so spectacularly, they left me wondering why I bothered. Yet, the disappointment of last year's "Modern Warfare II," the follow-up to the 2019 reboot of the "Modern Warfare" series, felt like a gut punch I didn't see coming.
The 2019 reboot, for all its bravado and questionable forays into the depiction of war crimes, at least had the decency to strip things back to basics, refreshing the series in a way that made me think, "Okay, there's life in the old dog yet." It took what made "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" a satisfying end-cap in 2011 and gave us a reason to dive back in, using modern tech to spruce up the visuals and gameplay to a shiny new level.
Fast forward to last year, and the picture wasn't quite as rosy in a lot of gamers and reviewers eyes. "Modern Warfare II" strutted in with all the visual finesse and refined gunplay of its predecessor but fumbled the ball with a story that felt less like a new chapter and more like a poorly stitched together homage to the original trilogy. The promise of tangling with drug cartels ended up as a series of rehashed scenarios that felt as fresh as day-old bread. Level design that started with a spark of creativity quickly fizzled out, and half-baked ideas were discarded faster than a bad hand in poker. The narrative, instead of charting new territory, seemed content to retrace the steps of its forebears, leaving me to wonder if the next installment could pick up the pieces and carve out its own legacy. So, here we are, nearly a year later, with "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III" dropping into our laps like an unexpected guest at a party. Developed on the double-quick by Sledgehammer Games, this latest installment begs the question: Can it redeem the missteps of its immediate predecessor and bring something new to the table, or is it doomed to be a glorified DLC masquerading as a full release?
The short answer: it's a bit of a mess.
Try as it might, "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III" doesn't quite manage to stand tall as a worthy successor to last year's offering. The new elements feel haphazardly slapped on, with novel ideas lacking the development they sorely need. While the core "Call of Duty" gameplay mechanics are solid enough to deliver a few hours of fun, they're overshadowed by a sense of creative stagnation that's hard to shake off. More troubling is the return of familiar plot points and gameplay elements that, rather than being reinvigorated, are simply regurgitated with little to no finesse.
The story picks up the dangling threads left by "Modern Warfare II," thrusting us into a conflict stirred up by the infamous Vladimir Makarov, who, fresh from his prison break, joins forces with the terrorist group "Konni." The setting—a volatile concoction of the fictional regions of Verdansk, Kastovia, and the country of Urzikstan—provides a backdrop for atrocities that echo Makarov's past misdeeds. It's up to Captain John Price, Soap MacTavish, Ghost, and the rest of Task Force 141 to put an end to his reign of terror. But as we delve into the plot, it becomes painfully clear that we're treading old ground, with the campaign failing to inject any real sense of originality into the proceedings. The big twist this year is the introduction of "open combat missions," which are touted as the franchise's first foray into sandbox-style gameplay, stepping away from the linear narrative that's been its bread and butter. These missions promise a bigger scale and more freedom, but they fall short of the groundbreaking evolution we were led to expect.
I'll give credit where it's due: the open combat missions do showcase the series' combat mechanics in a new light, and there's a taste of the freedom you'd find in modes like "Warzone" and "DMZ." The third mission, "Reactor," comes closest to realizing this vision, offering a playground that seems to take a leaf out of the "Just Cause" series' book, where you're given carte blanche to wreak havoc. However, this novelty quickly wears thin as it becomes evident that these missions are little more than rehashed ideas from other modes, retrofitted into a campaign that struggles to justify its existence as a standalone title.
And the AI—oh, the AI. It's a wild ride from one extreme to another. At times, you're up against adversaries that wouldn't look out of place in a slapstick comedy, bumbling around like they've forgotten their training. But then, without warning, they switch gears and become sharpshooters capable of feats that would make a seasoned sniper tip their hat. This inconsistency doesn't just smack of laziness—it screams it, echoing the rushed development cycle that seems more interested in meeting deadlines than crafting a polished experience.
As for the more traditional, linear levels, they're what you'd expect from a "Call of Duty" title: explosions, high stakes, and enough gunfire to make you think you're in the middle of a Fourth of July fireworks display. They're competently put together, sure, but they're not going to blow anyone's mind or redefine the series in any significant way.
When the credits roll on "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III," you're left with the unmistakable feeling of having played through a "greatest hits" compilation rather than a brand-new album. It's got the tunes you remember, and you might tap your foot to the beat out of familiarity, but it's lacking the verve and originality needed to truly stand out. In the end, "Modern Warfare III" feels less like a bold new step forward and more like a retread of well-worn paths. It's not a complete disaster, but it's a far cry from the groundbreaking experience we were hoping for.