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Modern Warfare III loses the plot and delivers some dumb fun
Image Courtesy of Activision Press Room

Modern Warfare III loses the plot and delivers some dumb fun

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 came out 12 years ago, putting gamers in the shoes of elite Western commandos and an ex-Spetsnaz operator, all working desperately to prevent the onset of another world war. It was a fast-paced treat, resolving gloriously with a blood-soused ruffian lighting a cigar while his newly conquered foe dangled by the neck nearby.

It was met with rave reviews. It also set records at the time, selling over 6.5 million units in the U.S. and the U.K. within 24 hours of launch, netting Activision over $400 million. The money just kept pouring in from there.

In an effort to transfer lightning from one bottle to another and then slap a $70 price tag on it, developer Sledgehammer Games and Microsoft-owned publisher Activision swapped “3” out for Roman numerals, gave 14-year-old Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer maps a facelift, and offered a partial and anticlimactic retelling of how fictional Cpts. John “Soap” McTavish and John Price helped thwart the toxic schemes of the terroristic Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Makarov.

It appears the original and the most recent title in the brand recycle, Modern Warfare II (2022), may have set the bar too high in terms of story, sales — MWII cracked $1 billion within ten days of launch — and player expectations. So far, the reviews have mostly been damning or, at the very least, dismissive, and the sales are reportedly down 25%.

The game comprises a single-player campaign, a multiplayer mode, and an open-world zombie mode that is all but Warzone with fewer brain-dead variables. Each of these elements, if taken alone, would not be worth the hour it takes to download the game or the 200GB it hogs on your hard drive. However, as a whole, it’s a full meal of shooting fun.

Image Courtesy of Activision Press Room

The single-player campaign is a blast to play right up until it isn’t. Apart from a mind-numbingly dull shipyard mission, a sparsely populated nuclear reactor mission, and a glorified walking simulator ostensibly inserted as a reminder that Black Ops: Cold War could have been a whole lot worse, the levels are relatively punchy and well-designed.

Always two steps behind Makarov, a cartoonish villain dead set on black-flagging his way to radioactive Russian greatness, you have to bleed your way around civilian corpses and useless ally NPCs in hopes of exonerating an insurgent leader from a made-up country that might interest John Bolton.

The campaign alternates between rail shooter and open-world combat. Since you’re usually kept busy finding the whatsit in the latter, there’s little time to contemplate how much first-person shooters benefit stylistically from strict limits and atmospheric straightaways.

Sledgehammer teases the potential of moral choices and dialogue trees early in the game, but it’s a bug, not a feature. The next time you see dialogue options of any significance, you’ll be disarming a bomb that threatens to do you the kindness of wasting the cast of pixel-deep characters who’ve been sporadically grunting at you with British accents.

There’s been a lot of chatter about this game being a glorified DLC repackaged as a stand-alone game. It certainly seems that way, concluding on an offbeat with a laughably lousy eulogy for the four hours you killed trying to put a bullet in Makarov, followed by a slapdash post-credits scene. There is certainly no glorious finale and no cigar, just a setup for postmodern warfare between East and West.

In fairness, the hours preceding that final disappointment are not without their share of cheap thrills. Storming a Slavic terror financier’s stylish beach compound and raining down fury in the obligatory AC-130 gunship mission were both standouts.

Image Courtesy of Activision Press Room

The multiplayer is excellent, delivering face-warming hours of consistent fun with maps designed back before Bin Laden was fish food. Geriatrics’ muscle memory will guide them to victory while new players will discover that sometimes the old ways were indeed the best. Players are once again permitted to slide-cancel and can work their way up the ranks to level 55 with the help of a mini-map. Those who fast-stab their way to the top will find plenty of gear-unlocking challenges to keep them occupied until Activision begins substantiating the game with more DLC content.

Finally, the open-world zombie mode delivers some progressively challenging missions and a massive hellscape to execute them in. Like the open combat missions in the single-player, the terrain is relatively bland; however, there’s a lot more to explore in this mode.

While the Call of Duty franchise has dared to push some boundaries over the years (e.g., Call of Duty: Black Ops III succeeded as a provocative work of cyberpunk) and surprise gamers with the occasional plot twist, at the end of the day, COD is energy drinks, not fine wine; mushroom clouds, not blue-sky thinking; Michael Bay, not Tarkovsky.

Once a year, just ahead of Christmas, kids and adults with stress to transmute answer the call for some dumb fun. Modern Warfare III may underachieve on much, but on this — when factoring in all three game modes — it delivers.

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