Call of Duty rotates through its lineup of villains on an annual basis. Sometimes it’s Nazis, other times it’s Russian nationalists or zombies. But the most dangerous danger is that which has no access to the lust of the mind or the weapons of war. This is the status quo. And while many Call of Duty teams change variables often enough to prevent monotony, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III features annual churn entirely.
The campaign embodies this, as it jumps to a conclusion with little care for details. COD missions generally follow a predictable but mostly effective formula of packing together various one-off gameplay mechanics through fluctuating intensities. Modern Warfare III does away with essential builds and most types, leaving the core stages riddled with problems. Many people max out at around 15 minutes, which means the usual roller coaster of ups and downs has been pared down to include only descents. Springs are also less bombastic, and their shorter travel further reduces their attractiveness.
The forward momentum also hampers the storytelling as it moves through the beats at a staggering clip. How Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II’s antagonist survives and why they’re now allies was casually flashed in cutscenes from the previous multiplayer season. Such important details are only more casualties of his haste.
While much of the campaign closely mimics what COD has already done, the broader open combat missions try to take that blueprint into new territory. However, the promise of further agency is undermined by how few these steps are. Exploring these large levels isn’t worthwhile because unlocking new guns is often pointless. Upgrades and weapons also do not carry over between missions.
Objectives can be tackled in a variety of ways, but these options don’t go beyond sneaking up or using rudimentary stealth mechanics. The static mission and map design, limited interaction, and lack of meaningful rewards reduce their intended replayability and mean that one run is more than enough. Nonlinearity is novel here, but novelty alone is not enough.
MWIII’s multiplayer modes more clearly divert COD’s signature smooth gunplay and impressive sound design, but aren’t immune to the glitchiness that plagues the entire experience. A lower score limit and more agile movement means that competitive multiplayer matches have a fast pace that is still held back by long kills. This cadence allows for thrilling firefights, but time spent outside of combat is a drag. Getting the same gear every year is already a tedious process, made even more laborious by MWIII’s grindy unlock system and busy menus.
The competitive multiplayer, while familiar, at least highlights many of the series’ strengths, but the zombies mode doesn’t budge on even that low of a bar. Changing the zombies to a takedown shooter waters down the formula as success now requires multiple matches. Higher difficulty means players must enter repeatedly and acquire better gear before progressing. The process is slow and tedious and full of rare loot and lost progress if killed.
Zombies feels like a limited-time Warzone event that pulls together existing ideas and assets, and that sentiment extends throughout MWIII. Each pillar is an inferior patchwork of past ideas, from its stunted campaign to its multiplayer, which lifted wholesale from MWII with maps from 2009’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, along with the strongest mode. Contains systems. This year’s COD is a thread extension. Masked as a sequel and a shameless way to mark the series’ 20th anniversary.