Call of Duty cycles through its series of villains on an annual basis. Sometimes it’s Nazis, other times it’s Russian nationalists or zombies. But the most dangerous threat is without access to the lust of brains or weapons of war; This is stillness. And while many Call of Duty teams change variables enough to prevent monotony, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III submits perfectly to the annual churn.
The campaign embodies this, as it jumps to conclusions with little care for details. COD operations generally follow a predictable but often effective formula. Modern Warfare III cuts out the necessary buildup and much variety, leading to rudimentary levels riddled with pacing issues. Most are about 15 minutes, meaning the usual roller coaster of ups and downs has been removed to include only downs. Spectacles are also less bombastic, and a brief commute to them further diminishes their appeal.
The forward pace barrels through the beats at an astonishing clip, stifling the storytelling. How Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II’s antagonist is alive and why they’re now allies is casually explained in a cutscene from the previous multiplayer season. Important details like that are more casualties of its hasty footing.
Much of the campaign poorly imitates what COD has already done, with the vast open combat missions trying to take that blueprint into new territory. However, the promise of greater agency is undone by how shallow these levels are. It’s not worth exploring these huge levels as unlocking new guns is usually unnecessary. Upgrades and weapons also do not carry over between missions.
Objectives can be tackled in different ways, but these options don’t go beyond going loud or sneaking using basic stealth mechanics. Static mission and map design, limited interactivity and lack of meaningful rewards reduce their intended replay value 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 flex COD’s signature smooth gunplay and impressive sound design, but aren’t immune to the discomfort that affects the entire experience. Lower score thresholds and more agile movement mean competitive multiplayer matches are faster paced while still being kept under control with more time to kill. This cadence allows for exciting fightfights, but the time spent in combat is a drag. Earning the same gear every year is already a laborious process made more laborious by MWIII’s grindy unlock system and busy menus.
Competitive multiplayer, while familiar, at least highlights many of the series’ strengths, but Zombies Mode doesn’t sag above that low bar. Turning zombies into a takedown shooter dilutes the formula because success now requires multiple matches. High difficulty means players must repeatedly disembark and acquire good gear before proceeding. The process is slow and tedious and full of uneven loot runs and if killed, progress is lost.
Zombies feels more like a limited-time Warzone event put together from existing ideas and assets, and that feeling permeates throughout MWIII. Each pillar is a low-level patchwork of ideas behind its multiplayer, from its stunted campaign to the strongest mode, featuring systems lifted wholesale from MWII with maps from 2009’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. This year’s COD is a threadbare expansion. masquerading as a sequel and an embarrassing way to mark the series’ 20th anniversary.