Modern Warfare 3 campaign: the meal you cobble together from leftovers when you’re broke


I find late title cards fascinating. When/how creators choose to drop the name of their game/film says a lot about how they perceive their work, and what they want to immediately call attention to. In that way, the title card for Modern Warfare 3’s campaign is quite effective. It tells you all you need to know about the experience you’re about to have with it.

It drops exactly one minute and 25 seconds into the campaign, just as a squad of soldiers emerge to the surface of the water. It is so hurried, lands with so little fanfare, and arrives after nothing of any significance had taken place. It’s the game telling you it offers very little worth caring about, and it doesn’t even know what to do with what little of it there is.

Activision kept touting Modern Warfare 3’s campaign as a direct sequel to Modern Warfare 2’s, so I think it’s fair to bring up the opening of that game to demonstrate just how deep the gulf is between them. Much of MW2’s story revolved around tracking down and disarming missiles that had fallen into the wrong hands. So the game uses its opening to demonstrate the sheer devastation only one is capable of when it is in the “right” hands. The stakes have been established, and it’s enough to justify rolling that title card.

In simple terms, the Modern Warfare 3 campaign is an attempt at tickling player nostalgia, without actually doing the work to justify it. Makarov, a recurring villain from the original Modern Warfare trilogy, was not brought back in the two Modern Warfare reboots.

Yet somehow, the game expects us to believe that he has not only returned, he’s also always been a villain that Captain Price and team are already familiar with. What follows are a few missions, many of which take place at various points of interest in the Verdansk map from the original Warzone.

Sometimes they’re accompanied by in-game cutscenes (not the expensive, Blur-produced ones) and simple scripting – but never a true spectacle. The mission that retcons Makarov’s existence is one of those, taking place at the stadium from the same map.

This reuse of old locations almost always comes across as doing the best with what you have, rather than recontextualising something familiar. I don’t envy Sledgehammer Games here. It was dealt an unfair hand and asked to make it work.

That all reached its tipping point for me with the Open Combat Missions. When they were initially announced, I was actually briefly excited. I thought Sledgehammer was bringing back some of my favourite mission types from Modern Warfare 2. That game never gave those missions a moniker, but they not only introduced a new style of gameplay to the series, they ended up being standouts in establishing the game’s characters.

The squad is back, and worse than ever! | Image credit: Sledgehammer Games, Activision.

The Open Combat Missions that actually exist in Modern Warfare 3 are cordoned off areas (many of which come from the same Warzone map), with simple objectives to follow. You’re on your own for all of them, and the other presence is a voice on the radio that barks the same orders at you every two minutes, with the occasional contextual line when you approach something of interest.

There is certainly some freedom given to the player here in how they approach objectives, but there’s hardly any reason to do anything creative. You don’t need to find an Ascender, get to vantage point, pull out your scope, tag enemies and take out anyone overwatching. You can just as easily drive a car through the front door, get upstairs and do the deed.

It doesn’t help that the “stealth” system is so poorly built that shooting an isolated target with a suppressed weapon can somehow alert everyone around you. It’s almost 50-50 as to whether your next decision will go unnoticed by the AI, or trigger a wave of reinforcements.

None of MW2’s rapport, character banter or humanity exists, and none of that game’s smartest systems make a return. Open Combat Missions are just soulless, naked filler that exist to pad the hour count.

You’re going to be revisiting plenty of landmarks from Warzone’s Verdansk map.

Bringing back things we have seen before is Modern Warfare 3’s MO. For the campaign, this isn’t just limited to Makarov, it also extends to the sort of No Russian of this game. A post-credit scene in Modern Warfare 2 planted the seed, so it’s not entirely unjustified. I would even say that this version of No Russian is smarter (read: less blatant) than the original.

I won’t spoil the specifics here, and while it ends up being another needless setup for a major turn that gets resolved almost immediately, I have to applaud it for understanding the essence of that style of false flag attack, rather than finding a way to replicate the same events.

Towards the end of the Modern Warfare 3 campaign, it becomes very clear that some beats needed to be hit, and certain conclusions needed to take place. It’s at that point that the game drops all pretence, and skips to the “real” events faster than you can skip through a bloated Netflix show.

Every mission now has to have a major character death or the inexplicable return of Makarov, just to disappear again in a cutscene. Some of those moments are so nonsensical that you could only laugh.

This trailer is doing a lot of over-selling.

The best thing one could say about the Modern Warfare 3 campaign is that it’s competent. However bereft of new or exciting ideas it is, the package is polished. I ran into one or two bugs that aren’t worth mentioning, but the funniest one by far is that the post-credits scene (itself another big event that could’ve been part of the game) did not play for me and I had to go into the Cinematics menu to check whether there is one, and play it.

It’s almost as if the game itself is more done with its own fiction than you are with it.

I can’t find any compelling reason to recommend anyone play the Modern Warfare 3 campaign. Even if you already pre-ordered the game, you may as well spend those six or so hours on something else while you wait for multiplayer and Zombies to unlock. Maybe those will justify your $70.