— Activision

There’s no easy way to get to the roof. Tough. That’s where the target is, so that’s where I need to go. Between us is a vertical labyrinth of dilapidated buildings and rickety scaffolding cobbled together by a group of terrorists who know enough to plant explosive traps all along the way. What the traps don’t catch, the mercenaries will, armed to the teeth and ready for anything.

I fight my way through nine stories of bombs and bullets, but just as I reach the rooftop, I hear a soldier swing in on a zipline behind me. I whip around and light him up. Turns out, it was one of my guys. The screen goes dark. “Friendly fire will not be tolerated.” Game over, try again. Fine with me, I’m having fun. But will it last?

On paper, there’s a lot wrong with this year’s entry. Top of the list is the woeful production schedule, for fumbling the bag). The pace, the feel of each weapon, and the ludicrously good audio all combine to make that multi-billion-dollar cosmic gumbo we’ve come to expect. For the significant portion of its audience that wants to come home at the end of the day, crack a few beers, and game the night away, Modern Warfare 3 absolutely delivers.

The core multiplayer experience — Team Deathmatch — is the star of the show. And it’s great. Activision brought back maps from a 14-year-old release that fans often point to as among the best in the series while making enough modifications to keep things interesting. The different game modes provide plenty of variety in terms of playstyle and strategy, and the return of the minimap and increased mobility make this the fastest-paced entry in recent memory.

As I said up top, the less you care the more fun you’ll have. It didn’t bother me that my K/D ratio sucked and that I didn’t understand the avalanche of loadout options. (I got by just fine picking up the discarded weapons the “good” players drop all over the place.) Eventually, I found my groove, got a few streaks, and carried my weight in the more objective-based modes like Hardpoint. My adrenaline was pumping and my friends were trash-talking. When I called it a night, there was a smile on my face. Can you ask for much more than that?

Longtime fans may ask for more than that. If you’re a serious Call of Duty player there’s a lot to pick apart in Modern Warfare 3. The armory system is a mess, challenges are all over the place, and a disorganized UI isn’t helping anyone track goals or manage what they’ve earned. It’s also got an enormous, vocal fanbase full of people who want different things. There will be plenty of updates in the coming weeks and months to try to find a balance that makes as many fans as happy as possible. But for casuals like me? We’re good.

Dead Map Walking

Modern Warfare 3 puts its own spin on Zombies, the fan-favorite mode made famous in the Black Ops series. Instead of waves of enemies and unlockable maps, MW3 Zombies switches to extraction-based story missions on a wide open map partitioned into difficulty zones. It’s a bold new direction that ultimately doesn’t pay off. Asking players to commit to 120-plus minutes of non-stop gaming across three acts, especially when failure means losing everything, is a bit much.

This new Zombies mode lacks the pacing and purpose to keep you there. The gameplay loop involves opening up the map, putting a ping on one of the dozens of different “contracts” available, and then traveling to its location while fighting off zombies. Once you’re there, you can accept the mission, which are all variants of standard multiplayer tropes like king of the hill, payloads, etc. You have zombies, obviously, but also AI mercenaries. Completing contracts and gathering loot earns you Essence, a currency you can use to unlock stronger weapons and gear to venture further into the more difficult areas of the map.

When you’ve got a solid three-man squad and you’re knocking out contracts on the massive new Urzikstan map, you can see the potential. The problem is too many things have to go right for it to be a good time. If you’re playing with randoms, you know it’s hit-or-miss when it comes to teamwork, competency, and objective awareness. Even on a good squad, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, which is admittedly by design but still doesn’t take the sting out of starting from scratch after sinking so much time into it.

The Verdict

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 doesn’t come close to the quality you’d expect from a franchise with this sort of reputation celebrating its 20th year. The campaign is too short (especially at $70), which undermines what could’ve been a great story, and lacks any standout moments or compelling reasons to revisit it. The new Zombies approach has potential but isn’t quite there yet. There’s still fun to be had, especially given how little we’ve seen elsewhere in the genre this year. A solid multiplayer foundation can’t support the weight of everything else that’s been piled on top in an attempt to legitimize what is, unfortunately, one of the worst entries we’ve seen.


Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is available now on PS5, PS4 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Microsoft Windows.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.

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