In June 2023, the trial between Microsoft and the FTC revealed that around 1 million PlayStation owners use their machines to only play “Call of Duty.” That’s a kind of market dominance that simply doesn’t exist anywhere else. It’s like buying a stereo system to just listen to Taylor Swift or subscribing to Netflix just to watch “The Kominsky Method.” It’s kinda crazy. It speaks to the devotion of the “CoD” fan base, which is being taken advantage of with the inferior 2023 edition of the game, titled “Modern Warfare III,” but is basically just souped-up DLC for the cost of a new game. For the first time, gamers can carry over the load-outs and operators from the last edition, but that’s because this is essentially the same game with new bells and whistles. As if they knew this would be a harshly received cash grab—it has the worst reviews of any modern “CoD” game—the developers didn’t even go as far as creating new maps for the launch of “Modern Warfare III,” remastering classics from the 2009 “Modern Warfare II.”
And here’s where things get tricky. The launch maps rule. Certainly more than the launch maps for the last two releases. They’re classics for a reason, and the biggest problem with the multiplayer offerings in recent “CoD” editions has been map design. So, yes, it’s all overly familiar and over-priced, but it’s also a better launch version of the most important multiplayer game in the world than the last few years. Put aside the sense that Activision is charging their fans more than they should for something they already have, and “Modern Warfare III” can be enjoyable on its own explosive terms, although I understand why so many are refusing to put that aside.
You know what would have helped? A rocking campaign. The single-player, story-driven experiences in recent “Call of Duty” games have been decent—more focused on chaos than character or plot—but if they knew that “MW3” was going to be a multiplayer retread, the developers could have put more effort into the campaign. Let’s just say that didn’t happen. Not only is the campaign here one of the shortest, it’s ridiculously unambitious and clunky in its design.
The campaign unfolds after the events of 2022’s “Modern Warfare II,” opening with a raid on a Verdansk prison to break out the terrorist Vladimir Makarov, who is maybe an ally now based on a cut scene in a last year’s multiplayer season? Wait, what? (That’s just one time the storytelling here gets, to be polite, muddled.) A Russian company named the Konni Group, which is seeking nuclear material, was behind the breakout, and the rest of the campaign plays out like a Mad Libs version of this kind of narrative. It’s uninspired and remarkably short, but its most annoying trait is the inclusion of several open combat missions—less story, more freedom of movement, weapons/perks found in the environment. In theory, this allows for more authorship on the part of the gamer, but they just add to the sense that this is another part of the “MW3” experience that’s unrefined and incomplete. It should also be noted that fan-favorite Zombies mode returns in a tougher iteration that most fans have been mixed on. Even that aspect has been called underdeveloped by fans. Nothing here was designed to impress as much as hold gamers over for at least a year.
The truth is that “Modern Warfare III” started life as an expansion pack for last year’s game, but that was shut down roughly 16 months ago, forcing the developers to rush this release into existence. It’s not hard to see what happens when a game like this has such a short development time. And it’s further evidence to suggest that maybe the teams behind “Call of Duty” should take a year or two off.
That’s simply not going to happen, and not just because around a million PlayStations would get dusty. This is one of the most profitable entertainment franchises, and no one would shut it down for a full year. However, it’s interesting to see how the once too-big-to-fail world of the MCU has at least started to crumble. Could that happen to "Call of Duty"? If Activision keeps taking this fan base for granted, they will eventually leave. They should really make an effort to bounce back with next year’s release, giving fans the same degree of sharp map design but in new environments and with new toys to play with. And maybe they should take a couple of years between campaigns to make them pop. If the next edition didn’t have a campaign but really rocked its multiplayer offering but then 2025 came back with the best campaign ever? Fans would understand. Especially the ones who don’t know what other games can do.
The publisher provided a review copy of this title. It’s now available for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC.