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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 review

AT A GLANCE
  • Yet another ridiculous rollercoaster of a campaign
  • More of the multiplayer you like, less of what you don’t
  • Juggernauts
  • Saying goodbye to Price and Soap
  • Waiting for a true evolution in Call of Duty multiplayer
  • Juggernauts

Wondering what to expect from Modern Warfare 3? Look no further than the opening logo. As the first letter of “MW3” dramatically flips to reveal a bright and blatant “WW3” instead, the game both promises and warns you: This won’t be realistic, this won’t make complete sense, but this will always be epic. What little restraint the first two had managed to maintain is now gone in favor of an extremely wild and, yes, occasionally wacky sendoff for the trilogy. If you’re willing to suspend disbelief and go along for that ride, however, Modern Warfare 3 is more spectacularly scripted, unapologetically over-the-top fun than ever. 

Around the world in 6 hours

Despite their linearity, despite their ludicrousness and despite their length (or oft-maligned lack thereof), the Modern Warfare franchise’s single player campaigns are famous for a reason: each mission is uniquely designed and uniquely memorable. That sounds obvious, but can you honestly remember or distinguish every level from the last Halo, the last Battlefield, even the last non-Infinity Ward-developed Call of Duty, Black Ops? We can’t. Yet phrases like “ghillie suit” and “sinking ship” and “AC-130” are all we need to instantly flash back to our favorite moments in Modern Warfare 1, while “airport” and “gulag” and “burger town” all hold a special, shared meaning to those who experienced Modern Warfare 2.

That strength is particularly exemplified by Modern Warfare 3, in which the open conflict between Russia and the United States depicted by the second game spreads to encompass and engulf the entire globe, pulling the player into unforgettable battles set in unmistakable locations. Rather than fight through some vaguely European countryside or generically South American shanty town like before, you’re gunning down enemies on the streets of New York City, London, Paris, Prague and Berlin. Not just New York City, but the immediately recognizable floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Not just London, but the very iconic London metro system. Not just Paris, but – what else – the base of the goddamn Eiffel Tower. After straying far from reality in Modern Warfare 2, the developers have detached completely here. Believable? Not really. Clichéd? Maybe. Thrilling? Oh yeah.

Still confident, still controversial

True to Modern Warfare tradition, the stunts and sequences pulled off in each mission are as extreme and exhilarating as the settings. One takes place in a crashing passenger jet, with both you and the hijackers attempting to aim at each other through turbulence and temporary anti-gravity as the plane plummets to the ground. Another starts with you scuba swimming through a flooded commuter tunnel past dead bodies and drowned cars, then sneaking onto a submarine for close-quarters combat, then racing past the Statue of Liberty in a boat as the whole harbor burns and explodes around you. That’s a single mission! Sure, these games are only shooters, but the variety of action that Infinity Ward invents within the genre continues to amaze.

Notice we say Infinity Ward, not Sledgehammer or Treyarch – although Modern Warfare 3 required a collaboration from multiple developers after many of the franchise’s original creators left to launch their own company, this entry still seems like an authentic, Infinity Ward-style Modern Warfare game. Surprisingly, even the story and characters are handled with confidence, so much so that this campaign succeeds in tying together the confusing plotlines of the previous two campaigns, making a lot more retrospective sense of them in the process.

Of course, sticking to the series formula leads to a few predictable flaws as well. At 5-7 hours on Normal difficulty, Modern Warfare 3’s single player is just as short as you’ve come to expect – though, with this degree of popcorn movie insanity unfolding from minute to minute, you shouldn’t feel cheated. Minus the usual breathless cliffhanger, the ending is a bit anticlimactic – though the final fade-to-black scene is close to perfect. And yeah, there’s a totally transparent (also: maudlin, manipulative) attempt to drum up controversy less than halfway through the game – though its inclusion is easier to justify than the massacre from Modern Warfare 2.

Next page: Enough on the campaign already! What about the multiplayer?

More, more (and more) multiplayer

Reviewing Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer is simple. Not a fan of the online in Call of Duty? This is more of the same. Enjoy the online in Call of Duty? This is a lot more of the same. Rather than risk a reinvention – or even a major evolution – of the most popular competitive gaming of the current generation, Modern Warfare 3 wisely stays with what’s working, then adds and adds and adds. We won’t say this is the absolute best the multiplayer has ever been, as the maps left us slightly underwhelmed and many of the features are carried over from previous entries, but this is by far the most.

All the weapons, modes, perks and packages made classic by Modern Warfare 1? Check. The superb cooperative play introduced by Spec Ops in Modern Warfare 2? Yes, and with missions that cast you as an evil plane hijacker or an artificially intelligent camera turret, particularly inspired this time around. Everything worth copying from Treyarch and Black Ops? No Zombies or currency system, but Gun Game (every kill earns you a new weapon), One in the Chamber (a single bullet, three lives) and Theater Mode are back.

Truly new additions include modes like Kill Confirmed, in which a downed enemy’s dog tag must be collected before the kill counts (encouraging domination through scavenging as well as shooting); Team Defender, in which the side holding a flag earns double points per kill (combining the rules of Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Assassination into one); and most significantly, Spec Ops Survival, a wave-based co-op siege battle that clearly takes cues from Gears of War’s Horde, but throws in airstrikes and suicide bomber dogs. If none of those sound appealing, create your own mode with Private Matches – of the custom brews we sampled, a zombie infection with Juggernaut suits and a Gun Game with ever-worsening weapons stand out.

Leveling the field

Don’t mistake the size and scope of Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer, however, for some kind of bloated, overstuffed “everything and the kitchen sink” approach. This is refined, with developers keeping what fans loved and losing what fans loathed. Gone are game-ending nukes, gone are dual-wielded shotguns and gone are overpowered ninja perks.

Replacing these imbalances is clear support and appreciation for those of us who suffer from such winner’s cheats – the 99% who play Call of Duty casually and occasionally, but eventually lose interest as the competition becomes harder and harder to keep up with. For us, Modern Warfare 3 provides “pointstreaks” instead of “killstreaks” so that we can earn rewards even if we die. For us, the game offers “support” packages like deployable turrets instead of “assault” packages like predator drones. For us, there’s Call of Duty Elite, the new social service full of interactive maps, match statistics, weapon suggestions and overall strategy – while hardcore players will surely use it to get better, we can use it to overcome the learning curve and become hardcore someday ourselves.

Is it better than…?

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare? No. While Modern Warfare 3 features double to triple the amount of multiplayer that Modern Warfare 1 did, it’s still adding bricks to the groundbreaking foundation laid by the original. And while the campaign is a wilder adventure, it’s also way, way wackier – we miss the quiet and restrained mastery of “Ghillies in the Mist.”





Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2? Maybe. The missions are bigger and slightly better in Modern Warfare 2, but more memorable and cohesive in Modern Warfare 3. We prefer the multiplayer map design in Modern Warfare 2, but the variety of modes and features is clearly superior in Modern Warfare 3. A tie, then… which considering the development bumps this entry faced, is really a victory.



Call of Duty: Black Ops? Yes. Fightin’ around the world with Price and Soap trumps slogging through the clichéd jungles of Vietnam with Reznov any day – the setpieces made possible by the fictional, futuristic World War III of the former blow away what’s allowed by the historical constraints of the latter. And unless you’re obsessed with Zombies or tomahawks, the multiplayer in Modern Warfare 3 offers more.




For those who skipped straight to the end

If you’re looking for a new kind of shooter, look elsewhere. Modern Warfare 3 succeeds by doing more – much, much, much more – of what’s always worked spectacularly for the series. We still can’t get enough.

More Info

Available Platforms: Xbox 360, Wii, PC, PS3
Genre: Shooter
Published by: Activision
Franchise: Call of Duty
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language

180 comments

  • Spazerman - November 8, 2011 1:38 a.m.

    i'll stick to battlefield 3...
  • shawksta - November 8, 2011 1:48 a.m.

    To Each their own, Im more of a COD fan but i respect Battlefield Allot. You seriously shouldnt come here and say something like that.
  • Moondoggie1157 - November 8, 2011 6:59 a.m.

    Don't cry, it's ok :)
  • Redeater - November 8, 2011 2:15 p.m.

    God bless you sir for at least not saying first.
  • CaptCOMMANDO - November 8, 2011 1:44 a.m.

    This review feels empty some how.... I can't quite put my finger on it. Not enough meat? Feels rushed? I don't know. Maybe I was expecting more than 2 pages. Regardless, I already knew MW3 was going to be more of the same and expected a high review. (I was rooting for BF3 in this FPS war but, oh well...) My money is still on SKYRIM though. YEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAA
  • shawksta - November 8, 2011 1:47 a.m.

    "gone are dual-wielded shotguns" Awww, oh well, I wasnt pro with those anyway. Great review, I cant wait to get it today ^_^ COD is also one of those "More of the same is a GOOD thing", im definitly gonna be having more fun! That is, until i gotta buy more games this month in which i have to balance :P
  • mikeylawson - November 8, 2011 1:50 a.m.

    Uncharted multiplayer ftw. Yes the people are bullet sponges a bit too much but its just so fun! And thats the key.
  • taokaka - November 8, 2011 4:02 a.m.

    WOOT!! Uncharted FTW!!! this whole COD vs Battlefield for king of multiplayer is stupid when in my opinion, acting like a monkey > jets. It should be more than a two way battle for best multiplayer and it has just clicked that my comment is rather stupid for a COD review but hey I'm a fanboy, what can I say?
  • CitizenWolfie - November 8, 2011 2:15 a.m.

    For all the fanboys and girls, here's a "pick your own comment" for MW3: A: SUCK IT BATTLEFIELD! 9 OUT OF TEN STOMPS ALL OVER YOUR 8 AND FROSTSH*TE ENGINE! COD RULES!!! B: *sigh* All the sheep will buy this in droves again. I'll stick to Battlefield and its far more realistic multiplayer. There's room for both in the world but personally I prefer MW3 from what I played last night. The campaign had me hooked and the couple of TDMs I played were (while more of the same) pretty well balanced and the Support streaks really made me feel like I was making more of an impact for my team whereas personally I felt BF3 is a bit unforgiving for noobs like me. But really it's like comparing Laser Quest to Paintballing or Draughts to Chess. Sure the graphics are starting to age now but it still feels fast and responsive and despite being essentially a corridor shooter, not being penalised (read: instant death) for playing how I want to play it feels great. And to end on a slightly troll note, the midnight launch was lots of fun. Completely packed store with a good atmosphere and even the staff looked like they were enjoying being a part of it. The Battlefield launch however consisted of 12 or so people looking rather grim because the queue was taking about 15 minutes to go down and nobody talking about how excited they were to play it.
  • christian-shaffer - November 8, 2011 7:31 a.m.

    Excellent comment! Actually made me laugh out loud!
  • austincharlesbond - November 8, 2011 2:21 a.m.

    "Saying goodbye to Price and Soap." please tell me you haven't just spoiled the story for me, gamesradar
  • ParanoidAndroid - November 8, 2011 2:38 a.m.

    No, it's just the last in the trilogy.
  • S135 - November 8, 2011 2:38 a.m.

    I think it's more of a "final game" goodbye, than a "everyone is dead" goodbye.
  • chrisat928 - November 8, 2011 2:44 a.m.

    So what you're saying is It's better than Halo Reach? #troll
  • Burdmayn - November 8, 2011 9:39 p.m.

    Over a year later and I still laughed at this, thank you for that.
  • avantguardian - November 8, 2011 2:48 a.m.

    one thing that bums me out: after watching some livestreams of this game i noticed the in-game stat counter in a game of domination still only listed pts/kills/assts/deaths, a la MW2. omitting black ops' addition of game mode-specific stats (like points/flags captured, defends, etc) seems to undermine IW's pledge to encourage more teamwork this time around(teamwork? in CoD? lol! yeah dude, whatever...). why list only the k/d stats in objective games? that said, i'll be playing this soon, and extensively. also, what do you guys say we help make GR's comments on this game the most civil on the internets? i know we can do it...BELIEVE!
  • blynd_cyte - November 8, 2011 3:13 a.m.

    I enjoyed it, it was a decent game. I thought the first two were better and at only 4 hours, 43 minutes, it left me a little unsatisfied. I can't play online and I have more of an interest in the story anyway so it felt very anti-climactic. The battle in New York was underwhelming at best. Maybe games are shifting their focus to online play. Maybe I expect too much. I just wish I had felt like I'd made more of an accomplishment when the credits roll.
  • Travia220 - November 8, 2011 3:13 a.m.

    A 9/10 for a six hour campaign. I'm sorry, but the campaign is more of the same as the last two games. Yes, explosive, action oriented but that's where it stops. I'm not sure why the Campaign gets praise for being more of the same. Same for MP, why should it be praised for being more of the same? Your post regarding BlackOPs, you mentioned clichéd set pieces, yet Modern Warfare 3 is completely full of them in the campaign, the maps are the same boring crap as well. It's more interesting BF3 gets slammed for doing a Linear Campaign, but oh god! IF it's modern warfare we can't possibly hate on it for that. Both games campaign absolutely sucks horrible, linearity, hand holding, Michael Bay explosions everywhere.. these are not things to praise for either of the games. Yet, alas, MW3 gets away with it. The MP is just more garbage handholding, instead of trying to make better players, trying something different, it fails in all those aspects. Any other game would be slammed for using the same formula but not Modern Warfare. I don't usually call biased, but seeing these ridiculous reviews that give it high ratings, while other games that attempt to do similar get low ratings. Modern Warfare 3 should be a 5/10 at most. It doesn't do anything new, it doesn't bring any new graphics, mechanics, or anything. No new plot. So why, oh why, is it praised for this? Can't bother to give a high profile game a proper review? Modern Warfare series is the reason most FPS suck to this day in age, yet it's given the Seal of Approval. It should be penalized for this crap, not praised.
  • j8mie - November 8, 2011 5:26 a.m.

    Well said that man. It does seem that certain game franchise's are allowed to get away with a lack of originality once they have won over our hearts and minds. I was always a fan of the original two CoD's, but the switch to modern warfare was a real turn off for me. I knew they'd have to invent a war of their own, which would lead to ridiculous set pieces around the World, and sure enough IW have done just that. The idea of Russia invading America is laughable to say the least, and although games are meant to be a form of escapism, when you are setting them in present day, you still need to "ground" them with believable scenarios. A real shame.
  • Shinn - November 8, 2011 3:35 a.m.

    I seem to remember something about you saying Reach took around 8 hours to complete, and well I was done with it a little over four hours after the midnight launch. Is MW3 the type of game that encourages fast play in the single player? Because if it's similarly shorter for me like Reach was I might wait until after Skyrim and AC:R. (I'm sure the game is great, but I'm finished at Uni now and I want to find longer single player games to entertain myself).

Showing 1-20 of 180 comments

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