The new MW3 promises new freedoms with its campaign. And falls brutally flat on its face with this experiment
Auweia, how could this happen? This is the first thought that pops into my head as the credits roll on CoD Modern Warfare 3 and I organize my thoughts to type up this review. And yet I love CoD campaigns with all their rough edges!
They may not rank alongside Hemingway or Dostoyevsky in terms of narrative art, but they almost always deliver high-quality Steven Spielberg cinema to play along with, a few hours of pompously choreographed action in which time just flies by. The Modern Warfare series in particular has reliably captivated me for over ten years with its bombast and memorable moments.
And suddenly, during the grand finale of the new MW trilogy, time no longer flies by. Instead, I look annoyed at the clock, perhaps thinking about taking a break after all. Instead of experiencing memorable moments, I keep shaking my head
For the first time in a long time, a CoD campaign simply doesn’t captivate me, instead sinking into irrelevance. And yet everything had actually started quite promising
It’s actually quite nice here!
The story gets off to an extremely atmospheric start, with a night-time attack by special forces on a high-security prison. While the spray whips wildly against the walls, I climb the building by rope and take out guards with a silencer. Here you can see the first 10 minutes:
The team advances in formation, night vision goggles flicker. A coordinated blast provides a distraction, precise hits from ambush take out the advancing enemy reinforcements. Then the “all clear” over the radio, all hands forward. I’m immediately back in the middle of a SpecOps thriller! It can go on like this. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.
Modern Warfare 3 takes me to many places, such as the fortress by the sea, that seem really tangible and provide a lot of variety: in the icy tundra of Siberia, the ice cracks under my combat boots, the tunnels of the London Underground shine in the ghostly light of neon tubes and in the mountainous landscape of Urzikstan, I even pause at the beginning of a Sniper mission to admire the picturesque panorama
(MW3 certainly has some spectacular sights, like this mountain range in Urzikstan. Captain Price is on the prowl here.)
Without a doubt: Modern Warfare 3 looks great and sounds fantastic – from the bassy boom of a shotgun to the rattle of a helicopter on approach. The usual buttery smooth animations do the rest to make this game look and feel smooth and precise.
A real highlight are also the cutscenes, which could easily compete with big screen rivals with their military flair and good actors. Even subtle nuances in the voice or small facial expressions come across magnificently. The English dubbing is highly professional
The actual story of MW3 is far less professional. The plot seems unimaginative for long stretches and really only serves as an excuse to chase me across the globe as a member of Task Force 141 on a terrorist hunt
With Captain Price, Soap MacTavish, Ghost and co., the usual suspects are back in the game, but exciting new additions from MW2 such as the grumpy Alejandro Vargas or the mysterious Valeria are missing without a trace and without any logical explanation.
Instead, a former arch-villain from MW history makes an appearance: Makarov is back! Yes, the Makarov who made international headlines in the infamous scandalous mission “No Russian” in the old MW2 from 2009. Although, of course, not exactly him, but a reboot version of the character. This new version of Makarov, however, is the most one-dimensional decal of a supervillain I’ve ever seen: vicious and simply bent on destruction.
(The linear sections of the story alternate between stealth and action at a comfortable pace.)
He takes hostages, blows up dams and commits other atrocities seemingly without any tangible goal or hint of humanity. His crude motto: “No one is innocent.” Uh-huh. Every James Bond villain from the 70s has more depth and charisma. Apart from that, the motives are familiar: Global destabilization, stolen missiles, poison gas and attacks, Task Force 141 must in turn stop all this and hunt down the villain. Good versus evil. As always.
We don’t have time for feelings
And for all the acting, none of the characters seem anywhere near as multi-layered as, for example, in the surprisingly complex campaign of Black Ops: Cold War from 2020, where even casual conversations between side characters often brought exciting details to light.
(At several points, MW3 sends heavily armored soldiers after us. Even a shotgun blast at close range isn’t enough)
MW3 doesn’t give itself room for emotion, but gallops through the plot far too quickly. This becomes particularly clear when Makarov’s terror takes center stage: When I stop a brutal attack on a soccer stadium, dozens of civilians are slaughtered before my eyes, but the carnage ultimately remains a backdrop Where the game should pause to provide important context, it continues immediately. No time for emotions, we have to stop the villain after all
At another point, a close confidante of 141 comrade-in-arms Farah dies before her eyes. Almost unaffected, she pursues her mission: “I’ll get the missiles!” At the end, CIA spy Laswell comments dryly: “Sorry about your friend.” And that’s obviously the end of the matter. What counts is the mission. Just don’t let any feelings arise
The same also applies to the story ending, which is as abrupt as it is unceremonious. Captivating storytelling looks different. Ultimately, even the 9 rewards for playing through the campaign are more of an incentive than the fate of the characters!
The Sandbox Lie
Modern Warfare 3 reaches its real low point in the so-called Open Combat Missions, which make up around half of the 14 story chapters and are supposed to take Call of Duty’s freedom of action to a new level – at least according to the marketing promise. However, what is advertised as a military sandbox with playful freedom quickly turns out to be a poorly concealed means of artificially stretching the playing time of the 5-hour story.
(In the open combat missions, we are always traveling solo. AI comrades only accompany us in the linear sections)
The Open Combat Missions throw me onto a freely accessible and drivable map with three to four fixed mission objectives. How I complete them and how I proceed is up to me. Optional items such as weapons, armor plates and killstreaks from the multiplayer are scattered throughout the level. If I loot the weapon caches, I can call in a reconnaissance drone or an air strike to escape from dicey situations.
What sounds exciting on paper is ultimately nothing more than a round of DMZ or SpecOps – only alone and without the appeal of PvP or co-op. The sandboxes quickly turn out to be arenas where I bluntly shoot at not particularly clever bots and tick off a checklist: destroy three helicopters here, find three cell phones there. The objectives are all unimaginative fetch quests, the playful freedom feels contrived and irrelevant.
Where in Black Ops: Cold War, for example, I could still have a real influence on the course of a mission with my decisions, in MW3 my choice is completely irrelevant: whether I sneak, loot or seek out open combat plays no role in the outcome.
There are no exciting locations to see, story tidbits to discover or secrets to uncover. Using vehicles is hardly worthwhile and once I have eliminated most of the enemies, the game simply delivers new enemies to the map by truck. The action is only accompanied by irrelevant radio messages: “Headshot, he won’t get up again.” Yes, thanks for the info
(The dialog in the cutscenes is impressively and atmospherically staged, but remains superficial.)
Even sneaking around enemy patrols feels unsatisfying. Firstly, stealth doesn’t give me any noticeable advantage and it’s simply more efficient to shoot enemies over the top. And secondly, the enemy AI fluctuates so much that stealth becomes a pure game of chance.
One time a guard spies me lying in dense bushes from twenty meters away. And another time I stab an enemy right next to his comrade, who then scratches his head: “Was that something? Hm, must have been the wind!”
With the Open Combat Missions, Call of Duty simply gives up what is probably its greatest strength, namely a thrilling production like in a blockbuster movie.
Thrillingly exciting missions like “Clean House” from Modern Warfare 2019, large-scale battles with dramatic scenes like the collapsing Eiffel Tower from the old Modern Warfare 3 from 2011 or quiet moments of tension like the legendary “All Ghillied Up” mission from CoD 4: Modern Warfare – I look in vain for highlights like these in the new installment
(Again and again we visit parts of the former Warzone map Verdansk, like the stadium here.)
Instead of captivating me with the usual linear, but carefully curated sequences, MW3 repeatedly throws me into soulless wannabe Far Cry sections and tells a story that can hardly be surpassed in terms of unimaginativeness.
The predecessors would have offered enough points of reference – such as the consequences of Philip Graves’ betrayal or the fate of Valeria. So what remains? A technically very robust shooter, the vague hope that Modern Warfare as a series will quickly overcome this low point and the question: How could this have happened?
What on earth was that? As the credits roll on MW3, I stare at the screen, quite perplexed. I think about how upset I was after the end of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The anger over the murder of Ghost in MW2 from 2009. The euphoria when I stormed the deck of a submarine off the coast of New York in the old MW3. None of these feelings are there.
Instead, what remains is astonishment at a sudden and unsatisfactory ending, missed opportunities and brazen asset recycling. Because if there’s one thing I definitely don’t want in a CoD campaign, it’s to be put into artificial bot matches on set pieces from Warzone maps.
Yes, the gunplay is still powerful, actors like Barry Sloane as Captain Price deliver a really great (English) performance and sometimes I feel like a real special forces superhero – for example, when I take out several guards with a silenced sniper rifle unnoticed with one shot. But the spectacle and showmanship for which I love the MW series so much is missing for long stretches.
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