Call of Duty cycles through its lineup of villains on a yearly basis. Sometimes it’s Nazis, other times it’s Russian nationalists or zombies. But the most dangerous threat is one without a lust for brains or access to weapons of war; it’s stagnation. And while many Call of Duty teams often switch up just enough variables to stave off monotony, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III fully submits to the annual churn.
The campaign embodies this, as it rushes to a conclusion with little care for the details. COD missions usually follow a predictable yet mostly effective formula of packing together various one-off gameplay mechanics through fluctuating levels of intensity. Modern Warfare III cuts out necessary buildup and most of the variety, leading to basic stages riddled with pacing issues. Many max out at around 15 minutes, which means the usual rollercoaster of ups and downs has been stripped down to only include the descents. The spectacles are also less bombastic, and the abbreviated journey to them only further diminishes their appeal.
Speeding ahead also impedes the storytelling since it barrels through beats at an astonishing clip. How Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II’s antagonist is alive and why they’re now an ally was haphazardly glossed over in a cutscene from a previous multiplayer season. Vital details like that are just more casualties of its hurried pacing.
While much of the campaign poorly emulates what COD has already done, the wider Open Combat missions attempt to take that blueprint into new territory. However, the promise of more agency is undone by how shallow these stages are. Exploring these larger levels is not worthwhile as unlocking new guns is often redundant. Upgrades and weapons also don’t carry forward between missions.
Objectives can be tackled in different ways, but these options don’t go far beyond going loud or sneaking through using rudimentary stealth mechanics. Static mission and map design, limited interactivity, and a lack of meaningful rewards deflate their intended replayability and mean 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 are not exempt from the malaise that affects the whole experience. Lower score thresholds and more agile movement mean competitive multiplayer matches have a faster tempo that’s still kept in check by the higher time-to-kill. This cadence allows for thrilling firefights, but time spent out of combat is a drag. Earning all the same gear each year is already a tiring process made even more laborious by MWIII’s grindy unlock system and busy menus.
Competitive multiplayer, while familiar, highlights at least many of the series’ strengths, but the Zombies mode can’t even shamble over that low bar. Turning Zombies into an extraction shooter waters down the formula since success now requires multiple matches. The high difficulty means players must repeatedly drop in and acquire better gear before moving forward. The process is slow and tedious and full of uneventful loot runs and, if killed, lost progress.
Zombies feels more like a limited-time Warzone event cobbled together from existing ideas and assets and that sentiment permeates throughout MWIII. Each pillar is an inferior patchwork of past ideas from its stunted campaign to its multiplayer that, while the strongest mode, is comprised of 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.