Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2023) Campaign review – Soap on the ropes

By Sam Smith
By November 10, 2023 Game, Reviews

The final chapter of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare remakes has landed, but those expecting a glorious conclusion to the story of Task Force 141 may be better off playing the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

While all Call of Duty games, including the Modern Warfare 3 remake, are mostly renown for their multiplayer experience, there is a contingent of gamers who remember and still look forward to the story campaigns. Nobody does cinematic first-person shooter experiences quite like COD. In fact, the excellent multiplayer often overshadows many of the superb single player experiences COD has delivered over the years – which in our view is a travesty.

Even a five hour playable movie set in one of Call of Duty’s various timelines is usually good enough to forgive such a short playtime. After all, you’re paying for the multiplayer, the single player experience is just the cherry on top. The story of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare isn’t just one of the best COD stories ever told, it’s one of the best FPS stories ever told – and one of the most memorable in all of gaming.

The original trilogy made us laugh, cry and marvel at how the medium of gaming can produce such powerful storytelling. Even Treyarch’s beloved Black Ops series couldn’t hold a candle to Infinity Ward’s original Modern Warfare trilogy when it came to this arena. While the original Modern Warfare 3 was admittedly the runt of the litter, it was still a fun and satisfying conclusion to the adventures of Task Force 141 and their allies – those that were still standing by the end that is.

Task Force 141

Task Force 141 is back, but not in the way you remember.

Are COD campaigns still relevant?

Of course, not all Call of Duty campaigns have been so celebrated. It was disheartening for some COD fans, who still enjoy the campaigns, to see certain games omit them entirely, making minimal effort to build a universe or expand an existing one. This was especially true after Black Ops 4, which was when some of us gave up on Activision Blizzard caring about a game’s story, and were resigned to the fact that COD was now all about multiplayer. This felt especially true following the rise of Warzone and the fall from grace of the Medal of Honour, and then the Battlefield, franchises.

So when the remake of Modern Warfare was released in 2019, complete with a brand new and overhauled campaign, retelling the epic tale from COD’s single player glory days, we were overjoyed – and it didn’t disappoint. Then neither did its 2022 sequel Modern Warfare 2. Better yet, the games made an effort to build a shared universe with the recent Black Ops and World War 2 titles, weaving COD into one consistent narrative of its best stories for the first time ever.

Not only that, the remakes had the benefit of hindsight, allowing players to spend more time with beloved characters like Gaz and Ghost – who were both unceremoniously killed off in their original games, then becoming posthumous fan favourites. While the series repeated the same classic story beats like Shepherd’s betrayal, No Russian, Makarov’s sinister string pulling, we got to see it from a new and revised perspective. The writers were much more carful with the fates of the characters, understanding their popularity and the player’s desire to see them overcome the villains.

Naturally, tragedy would need to accompany the triumph, and many players braced themselves for this inevitable heartbreak in the remake of Modern Warfare 3, yet, we never expected this gut-punch to come in the form that it has.

Ghost MW3

It’s nice to see that Ghost made it to the final chapter this time.

Not going out with a bang

The reason we’ve placed so much emphasis on storytelling and characters for the first part of this review is because that’s what keeps some Call of Duty fans playing the campaigns. If it wasn’t for this, many of us would have joined the majority of players in skipping the campaign and jumping straight into the multiplayer every time a new COD game releases. But some of us expect a little more from our games. We grew up loving single-player first-person-shooters and reject the notion that such experiences no longer have value.

Although, if the Modern Warfare 3 (2023) campaign is anything to go by, Sledgehammer Games is also of the view that single player gaming is a lost cause. There are two main things wrong with it, for starters, the MW3 campaign is a dull slog through various open-world segments in a pale imitation of Warzone, but without the other players. The map is full of dumb AI enemies and the experience lacks the fun, polished and cinematic stylings of previous Modern Warfare campaigns.

Rather than being a tight, curated and thrilling experience, the MW3 campaign is the worst parts of every open-world shooter you’ve ever played jumbled into one. The camaraderie of infiltrating a base with your band of brothers is also gone. Instead, you’re a mindless one-man army who has to go here, kill a horde of enemies, then go elsewhere and do it again. Yes, the fan favourites give you instructions by radio, but it’s not the same. It’s not even close. If we’re being honest, to anyone who’s ever played a COD campaign before, this will barely even qualify as one.

Open combat COD

Open Combat missions are a disappointment.

Lacklustre storytelling

The second major issue with the MW3 campaign is the story falls flat. This is supposed to be the thrilling conclusion to the remade Modern Warfare saga, the game that wraps up the story with a neat bow and leaves us satisfied, but pondering the geo-political issues at play, just like we did back during the original MW games. Alas, not this time. Makarov isn’t the sinister and Machiavellian puppet master he was in the original series, here, he’s just a two-dimensional moustache-twirling villain who’s depth and motivation seems to have been lost since MW2. Perhaps he’s been hanging out with Skeletor over in Warzone.

It’s a shame, because while there’s some fun to be had, at no point does the MW3 campaign compare favourably to the previous remakes, or even the campaigns that came before. Even its efforts to remind us of COD’s past glories with some segments that are reminiscent of previous games fall flat. Remember that time you wore a ghillie suit? Let’s do it again just to capitalise on your nostalgia before sending you back to another boring open-world area.

Here’s the thing, if this is what future Call of Duty campaigns are going to be now, then maybe it’s time to let them go. Maybe we are all just better off enjoying COD for its awesome multiplayer and accepting that single player campaigns, at least for this franchise, have had their day. There’s lots of other alternatives out there, Doom, Wolfenstein, even open world shooters like Far Cry all make an effort to deliver a thrilling single-player experience. In Far Cry’s case, we suspect that’s what MW3 was trying to deliver. It’s just not what anyone asked for.

Or Activision Blizzard, Infinity Ward, Treyarch and Sledgehammer Games can all prove us wrong and can redeem the series in the next inevitable entry of Call of Duty. The outpouring of disappointment regarding the MW3 campaign has shown us that people still care, the developers need to understand this and make a decision about future COD campaigns. Do you drop them? Or do you remind everyone who’s the best?

Until then, will someone please pass me the soap?