Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III (2023) Review – Got That Familiar Feeling

Activision and Infinity Ward (along with the other core studios behind World at War and such) have been making Call of Duty a yearly outing for three console generations now. Typically, players would get to enjoy an Infinity War-developed modern title before alternating into whichever Treyarch or Sledgehammer Games have been working on. This year’s entry changes the formula by bringing a direct follow-up to 2022’s Modern Warfare II rather than giving a change of time period and focus.

Last year’s Call of Duty Modern Warfare II ended with a tease of Makarov, the antagonist behind the original Modern Warfare trilogy taking center focus in the reboot trilogy once again. Makarov once again remains this antagonist who is constantly one step ahead of Task Force 141, but the constant chasing back and forth again aims to justify a global trip with firefights across multiple continents. The campaign itself lacks the tense moments of Modern Warfare II’s Borderline and other urban environments. Instead, the campaign for Call of Duty Modern Warfare III leans heavier into higher stakes missions, including catastrophic bombings and terrorist acts in various forms. Even an analog to the infamous No Russian mission returns with players taking the role of a hostage combatant in the midst of a mile-high planejacking. 

To change up the formula of linear firefights that the single-player campaigns are known for, Modern Warfare III implements a new mission type known as Open Combat Missions. These give the player a small sandbox to run around in and complete a checklist of objectives at their own pace. The formula change results in missions that feel less like the handcrafted experiences that were the pinnacle of the Call of Duty experience but instead are wide open areas where silenced weapons are the most effective tool. Going loud or accidentally wounding an enemy with a silenced pistol shot rather than killing them outright typically results in an alarm going off and alerting every enemy across the map (plus reinforcements) to your position. On lower difficulty levels, you’re given some leeway on surviving a few shots between the increased health pool and armor plates, but with enemies remaining as lethal as ever on the highest Veteran difficulty, it can be an exercise in frustration when you get spotted. Checkpoints are still available in these open combat missions but infrequent enough that you may find yourself repeating the same checklist of tasks over and over.

In lieu of the collectible intel from prior Call of Duty titles, Modern Warfare III’s version of collectibles in the open combat missions are instead lethal weapons and equipment. Prior to each deployment/respawn, players can select any bit of gear that they’ve acquired by way of a bright safety orange crate. No longer having to rely solely on guns dropped by enemy combatants procured on-site, players can start each mission with sufficiently lethal or incendiary ordnance. For personal preference, I always enjoyed playing the campaign to get a bit of active training for the multiplayer and try out each new gun. Keeping each unlock limited to that specific open combat mission makes sense, but as someone who didn’t find the campaign thrilling enough to replay, the unlocks were lost on me.

The multiplayer remains the main draw of any Call of Duty title and Modern Warfare III is no exception. That signature arcade shooter delivers competitive matches in just a few minutes’ time. You won’t find too many surprises in the roster of mission types, as many were featured in prior Call of Duty titles. Domination, Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Hardpoint, Search and Destroy, and Free-for-All remain the main staples and can be played with a Hardcore variant instead. Some newer modes take familiar spins on larger-scale modes like Ground War to throw more players in a match at once. Invasion and War each provide players with a new massive map to play around in and if six versus six wasn’t frantic enough for you, Invasion puts twenty players on either side with additional AI teammates.

Most of the multiplayer maps in Call of Duty Modern Warfare III are back again from the original Modern Warfare 2 (2009). If you were curious why Activision only remastered the campaign for that particular title, those maps such as Rust and Highrise were waiting to be brought back in full HD. Sixteen maps are available in the launch of Modern Warfare III, with other maps from last year’s game also being brought forward into the new game. For all of the carry-forward content available in this year’s entry, it’s a disappointing omission that the same full selection of multiplayer maps was not included in that list of forward-looking content.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare III is the first real title in the series to offer the ability to “carry forward” most all of the unlocks, weapons, and operators from the previous title into this year’s iteration with only minor limitations (musical tracks and a particular licensed vehicle). It’s generous that Activision didn’t force players to purchase Snoop Dogg for a third time. Going into multiplayer or the reenvisioned Zombies mode with a familiar weapon from Modern Warfare II felt like a security blanket but I quickly found myself drawn to the new Riveter automatic shotgun, among others. Having that head start from last year’s title also meant a wide range of weapon accessories to utilize in the gunsmith.

Fans who have been playing the Treyarch-developed Call of Duty titles already have a preconception of what the Zombies mode should entail: small sandbox maps with objectives and easter eggs scattered about while dealing with wave after wave of the undead. This year’s entry only feels like Treyarch Zombies in name alone. Instead, the multiplayer mode is largely just the DMZ mode that was released alongside Warzone 2.0 from last year. Perhaps the only exception is the lack of PVP and having to compete against other players to complete their goals. Instead, players can drop into Urzikstan in three-player squads and even group up into squads of six by banding together, something that’s nearly essential when working into the center of the map and the highest tier of threat.

Some of the common upgrades from Zombies make their appearance, such as the wall buy and mystery box weapons, perk sodas, and pack-a-punch machines. Much like DMZ, players can bring out a loadout into the battlefield and bring back a limited amount of gear on a successful exfil. If you want to have to worry about backpack space, armor plates, and self-revive kits much like Warzone proper, you’ll find plenty to enjoy about this year’s Zombies mode while mode purists won’t find that same magic this time around. 

Call of Duty Modern Warfare III builds off of last year’s strengths and weaknesses without having enough identity to stand up on its own. So much of this year’s content is recycled in ways the series hadn’t seen before. If you skipped Modern Warfare II and care not for the campaign, the breadth of multiplayer modes can keep players engaged for the next twelve months. It’s tough for Infinity Ward to shake off the comments that this year’s Call of Duty is merely a $60 expansion pack. Even for a fan of the series that has hit prestige year after year, the content this time around is a tough sell. The multiplayer modes and ability to “Carry Forward” unlocks into Modern Warfare III gives players both a fresh start while not forcing them to start from scratch as in previous years. Modern Warfare III might not be one of Call of Duty’s strongest entries, but the multiplayer offerings still remain the biggest draw going forward.

Reviewed on PlayStation 5 (code provided by the publisher).

Products mentioned in this post

Call of Duty Modern Warfare III

Call of Duty Modern Warfare III

A weak campaign with an unsatisfactory cliffhanger resolution, a Zombies map that’s little more than rebranded DMZ, and a selection of multiplayer maps taken straight from Modern Warfare II (2009), Modern Warfare III barely stands up on its own merits, especially if you’ve thrown countless hours into last year’s entry and have plenty to carry forward.

  • Carry Forward to keep players from having to purchase the same DLC weapons and operators year after year
  • Fresh new open world map for the upcoming Warzone refresh
  • Double the available guns and accessories
  • Armory Unlock system lets players pick and choose the order they unlock killstreaks and equipment
  • Diversity of campaign missions, from snowy sniper shootouts to AC-130 gunship overwatch
  • Large roster of multiplayer modes beyond just the standard Core MP selection
  • DLSS 3 support
  • Open Combat Missions are stealth-focused sandboxes with a weak checklist
  • Despite puffing him up in the original trilogy, Makarov is an unremarkable antagonist this time around
  • Zombies more little more than DMZ with a few new perks
  • Very little original MP contact that wasn’t already in the last two games called Modern Warfare II
  • Unsatisfying campaign resolution that feels open-ended to lead into some Warzone questline over the next 12 months

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