I'm not entirely sure what to make of the Modern Warfare 3 campaign. It's not terrible but it's also far from great - lacking any real big set pieces and at times feeling like it's been assembled from a Warzone construction kit of pre-made pieces. About half of its 14 levels are open areas to explore (what Activision is calling Open Combat Missions), where you'll find various multiplayer upgrades, gear, and weapons to help complete a few objectives scattered around the map.
Fast Facts: Modern Warfare 3
Release date: November 10
Platform(s): PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PC
It can work, leaving you feeling under-gunned and outnumbered as you creep around trying to get an edge; unsure where the threats are and what to expect. When it does click it can capture the TaskForce 141 fantasy well - just you and your wits trying to survive second to second. But for the most part, these small free-roaming beats often feel like the game is trying to do something it was never really made for.
For example, most of these open missions are presented as stealthy infiltrations. Largely because
if when you blow your cover everyone attacks - there's no sense of depth to the AI here as you creep about. You might get a few stealthy kills here with the silenced weapons you nearly always start with, but it feels more like luck than anything else. More often than not you'll alert every enemy in the vicinity and then have a slug-out gunfight, hoofing it from cover to cover until you kill them all, or somehow (if you have the space and cover to pull it off) manage to lose their attention, resetting the alert.
It all feels like it's been built out of gameplay elements that weren't meant to do what they're doing, with simple objectives placed around fragments of recognizable multiplayer maps. The constant chatter of allies incessantly directing you to goals, or the fact reinforcements are constantly shipped in to prevent you ever clearing a map of enemies, all feel like a game doing its best at something it wasn't meant to do. That's quite evident from the fact that, in many cases, if you die you just restart the entire mission, just with whatever gear you've collected along the way. One level just straight-up parachutes you back into the action when you die like you've respawned in Warzone. It doesn't feel like a true single-player experience, but more like a passable impression of one cobbled together from multiplayer components.
There's a germ of an idea here but more a proof of concept that, with more time, could create a really interesting open-world Call of Duty. A few free-roaming levels do work, mainly the ones set in more enclosed environments. One in a tower block can be exciting, as you fight freely from room to corridor, while another set in Warzone's Verdansk dam area has a good mix of space and cover to battle through. There's even a quite simple level set in the Verdansk stadium that works surprisingly well for what it does. Many of the other missions, however, are just boxy maps with some things to tick off scattered around.
The open, unscripted levels and plentiful reuse of Warzone areas, gear, and mechanics (right down to loadouts where you can change your gear) smacks of a game that had to be made fast and lean. There are only really three or four of what I would call 'scripted levels' with a sense of flow or design to them. The final level is the biggest and most polished of these but doesn't entirely feel like it was ever meant to be the big climax. Tellingly it's the only level set in a recognizable, real-world place, with almost all the other locations consisting of various forests and mountain ranges of Call of Duty's usual fictional Middle Eastern countries.
The story, like much of the game design, feels unformed but also just about works. Julian Kostov turns in a great performance as Makarov but his brooding sinister intent feels lost in a plot that doesn't have any more teeth to it than 'bad man does bad things'. There's clearly a history between him, Captain Price, and the rest of the team but it feels like something was lost. I'm fairly sure the entire plot motive hangs on a single, almost throwaway line about Makarov wanting to start a war between East and West, which doesn't quite feel like an ample enough frame to support a globe-trotting array of international incidents. Between the loose mission design and the sparse, non-committal plot there's no real sense of urgency or drama too much of it - despite the best efforts of the cast. For all the fuss about this being the first direct sequel in Call of Duty, the rushed implementation suggests it may not have been by choice.
There are hints of a more traditional Call of Duty campaign in the roughly six hours it took me to compete Modern Warfare 3 - one mission on plane, for example, is a trademark bit of playable COD exposition. But the majority of the missions feel assembled instead of crafted, and there's very little texture variation to either them, or the game overall. When I think of the Call of Duty franchise I think of big action set pieces, and occasionally surprising missions with unexpected mechanics or ideas breaking up the overall move forward and shoot everything thrust. This lacks any of that and feels more like it's being made to do as much as it can with as little as possible and is underwhelming in a way that feels like it knows it can do better.