Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Review

Developer: Infinity Ward / Publisher: Activision / Price: $59.99 / Played on: Xbox 360 / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore/Drug Reference/Intense Violence/Strong Language]

What are you expecting? It’s a fair, if not the only relevant question to ask about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Hyped by Activision itself in its media campaigns as the most anticipated game in history it certainly has plenty to live up to, fall back on, defend, and celebrate. Is it any good? Well, of course it’s good…very, very good in fact. Whether that detail means you’ve already pre-ordered or are buying on day one, waiting and seeing, or dismissing it as another cash in by an evil corporation is a decision likely made long before this review hits. That’s the strange dichotomy of the Call of Duty franchise; it is in part revered and regaled by millions of players, and also reviled by a frothing, vocal contingent. Well, it’s here, it’s bold and brassy, familiar, and tightly wound. Get out your pitchforks and lanterns, this is the Machinima take on Modern Warfare 3.

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Story

I’ll start with the story because this section will be short. Makarov, the nationalist terrorist from the last game, is still at large and this time rather than significant but relatively small-scale attacks he’s managed to unleash World War III. Of course, it’s not some simple political stand-off that escalates in a tumultuous cacophony of rhetoric and brinksmanship. No, it’s nasty, painful… and oddly believable. It also allows for a globe-trotting adventure where regular protagonists like Price and Soap, along with SAS leader Burns and ex-Spetsnaz (and, possibly, Makarov henchman?) Yuri shoot up some of the world’s greatest cities (and Hamburg). New York gets it from a full-blown Russian invasion. The London attack is the game’s “controversial moment”–the one it teases you at the start to skip if you’re prone to complaining–but is far, far less discussion-worthy than the notorious airport scene in Modern Warfare 2. Not to spoil it, but that’s not because the scene doesn’t have narrative strength, but because it’s a passive moment, where your viewpoint is one of innocent bystander, not active participant.

Chasing down information and insurgents in the shanty towns of Sierra Leone shifts the pace and style of warfare, but it’s when prize monuments in Paris come crashing down that the popcorn blockbuster movie formula kicks in (but for a fraction of the cost… making the movie of Modern Warfare 3 would probably cost north of half a billion dollars). It’s brassy, outrageous, and bold, which fits the dynamic, and keeps the story pulsing throughout the 12-plus hours you’ll be playing through it.

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Multiplayer

What you’re no doubt expecting is significant advances on the multiplayer side. Fair expectation. And the MW3 experience is good, definitely refined from both Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops, with the real difference maker encapsulated in Elite. Team Defender, where each team battles for a single flag, will clearly be a dominant mode online, while Kill Confirmed is likely the highlight. It’s team deathmatch with a twist, and that twist is gathering tags from the bodies of your team’s kills, or those of fallen teammates to deny your opponents the kill. It’s way simpler and way more compelling than it sounds. When you drop an enemy, he drops a tag. If one of your players captures that tag (or you do), it counts as a kill on the scoreboard. If an enemy captures it (they see opposing tags in red, you see yours in yellow), then the kill is essentially denied. While it’s different and therefore prominent, it’s also fun and adds a dynamic wrinkle to the team deathmatch format.

The 16 maps also display an evolution of apparent lessons learned from the previous games. In our extensive time in Team Deathmatch and Kill Confirmed games, the maps highlighted numerous routes through buildings and around landmarks that made it difficult to run set patterns, and provided players of all levels the opportunity to be involved in the action. In addition, there are also 12 maps designated for Spec Ops mode, which is basically a two-player horde-style format where you face increasingly daunting waves of enemies. It can be quite fun, the action intense as the heavily armored juggernauts are added as the waves progress, alongside helicopters, attack dogs, even suicide attack dogs! Kills in this mode earn you cash that you then spend on buying ammo or weapons, artillery, grenades, claymores, and also your own airstrikes and even a squad of Delta Force AI comrades to help you and a buddy survive. In a world where Gears 3 has notched Horde mode up a level with its strategic additions, Spec Ops is a relatively vanilla format. You can play it on your own for shooting practice, but its real purpose is as two-player co-op.

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For all the multiplayer hoopla, the biggest difference maker is the addition of Elite. Regardless of your preference for the free version or the expanded premium edition, the fact that you can track your play to such a degree is huge. So much information is tracked it’s A) scary, and B) awesome, as it can teach you to run the maps better and illustrate the ideal weapon loadouts for your play style. It’s also available on multiple levels: play on console solely and the app will provide solid, core information about your play patterns; on a computer the software is incredibly powerful, helping you dissect every game, every kill, each location, and weapon performance; in the mobile format (which we saw fleetingly, but is promised for day of launch) you can create custom classes that upload to your account so you can tweak on the go, then use in-game… assuming it all works as advertised.

In the big Prestige chase, leveling now has more practical oomph behind its numbers. The level 80 cap raises the bar on what you need to achieve to level, but the benefit from Prestiging now has value. Each Prestige earns a token, and those tokens can be cashed in for specific benefits–a couple hours of double XP or weapon XP, or even resetting your stats. It’s certainly not significant boosts, but at least it’s something, and I hope those bonuses are increased over time for the most committed players.

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Bottom line

True, there is an awful lot of game here. Most of you will dive straight in to multiplayer, which makes sense and defies logic at the same time. But you should be assured that the multiplayer is a cut above the rest, with a ton of options and the ability to customize a huge number of details on any of the maps you set up for Private Matches. The single-player evolves the story where you’d want, if you care for that aspect. It’s fair to say that there’s a clear formula at work here, so while some of the set piece moments are suitably epic in scale–racing in vehicles, breaching doors in dramatic slow-mo, or unleashing aerial hellfire–you can’t say it’s particularly unique or original. It’s not just rehashed, but finely polished, expertly executed examples of what’s made the Call of Duty franchise so hugely popular. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

9.5 / 10

  1. Great review, really captures the game well
    But one thing, i think the written and spoken version should be different, because i get it a lot that i read the review on the blog and then switch on the video and go, wait I know this from somewhere. Do you think you guys could do somethin about that?

    • We do this because as writers, it allows us to serve multiple formats (i.e., the blog and the script for the video). This is why we post the video above the text, so you can watch it if you prefer to see moving pictures instead of text. There’s really no reason for Rob to write two separate pieces on the same game.

      • Yea. This does make sense, but I was just wondering, you know, maybe bring in a little bit of personal flavour into the video version. I personally prefer the written version, but maybe if you messed a little bit with the video one. Oh well, it all makes sense if I think from your perspective. AS I previously said, great job guys :D

  2. I saw that this was posted by Lawrence and was like “Hey,this might be an honest review on CoD.”,then I notice the video “CoD:MW3 Video Review – Rob Smith” and was like “Oh well….you gotta do what you gotta do.”
    I’ve just given up on scoring by this point when it comes to massively marketed games such as this…so I can’t really condemn Rob for that.Scores aren’t exactly the best way to judge a game,but that’s a rant for another time.
    Of course that doesn’t mean I’ll stop following you guys,I like IG and I like the blog and people that hang around here,it’s just sad to me that Rob reviews the big juggernauts with massive marketing in this style.

    • OK,I’ll at least give Rob credit for following the golden rule of game reviewing: Have the score to roughly match the percentage of the positive aspects,which the review points out.
      For those who just want to express their CoD hate feel free to do so,but at least try to be constructive like me and then someone might give 2 cents about your opinion.
      For the record I don’t hate CoD,I just don’t like what it has become all the way from CoD4:MW.I haven’t played any CoD game so I can’t really fault it for what it is.

      • What can you do? He gave it an honest review and I do trust his opinion seeing as he has, don’t quote me on this, nearly 20 years in the gaming and media entertainment industry. That’s probably older than you, and me. If this was a new and original title I feel like it would get the same review if not close it. The problem is that the series is getting old. It’s a great formula for a game, but they’ve been doing it for 8 games now.

      • Yes,I do agree with your points…

  3. Pingback: Modern Warfare 3 Rises To The Challenge Of The Game Reviewers | Kotaku Australia

  4. I gotta say… 12 plus hours?

    I finished it in 6… on veteran. No under estimation, my game time is literally 6 hours

    • I finished within 7 hours on Vet. However, if you are one of those crazy completionists who have to also find every piece of intel, then it will definitely increase the amount of time that you play to find those intels hidden in each level.

  5. Machinima is sucking activision’s dick.

    Honestly, these guys get paid by activision and Xbox to promote their consoles, games, etc.

    95%? Bullshit.

    The game is dull, boring and lacks anything new. There is no polish or innovation to the game.

    Battlefield 3: The 2011 Overachiever, got a 90% from Machinima despite its incredible gameplay, innovative multiplayer, Great Campaign, New features, and significant innovative graphics engine Frostbite.

    Machinima doesn’t seem to consider MW3’s precessor MW2. Compare those two and MW3 seems like an overexpensive map pack.

    Suck Activision’s dick more Machinima. Your ratings mean nothing.

    • Then why rage if the review means nothing? My god, people like you are more annoying than the so called 12 year old you claim are part of CoD’s fanbase

    • Does it matter? Many players believe that the game is good. I’ve played Battlefield 3 too, and the gameplay is magnificent. The story was amazing as well and the graphics were breathtaking.

      I’ve played Modern Warfare 3 as well. The story was amazing as well. It did what it was supposed to do, It made me excited, it made me sad, and more than often, made me angry. That is what MW3 is meant to do; take you on that movie thrill ride and provide you with an enjoyable experience.

      The multiplayer experience I cannot comment on. Why? They both were really good. The only difference is the tactical vs arcade style, which is based on preference. Does that make a game bad? No.

      Seriously, I liked both games. The only downfall for both is this stupid community fight where people believe its a dick measuring contest. Shut up, enjoy both games, and maybe expand your world and try other games like in the horror genre or JRRGs. Beats the hell out of arguing with random strangers when you can be more productive, like lets say, adding more time to your game.

  6. The 12 hours… yeah, I took it from the amount shown when I finished the game, and thought it seemed long… I guess it counts “pause time” so 12 is high.

  7. I'm Not Telling My Name

    A good chunk of machinima’s videos and viewership are related to COD and generate revenue for them. I don’t think Machinima can be trusted to be unbiased in this review.

  8. Wow, i’ve been told that this game was terrible, turns out that you cannot find a decent rating for any games. I dislike the rating’s of this game. For me and most of my friends that are on PC are more tactical people instead of an arcade shooter game. I would criticize on both BF3 and CoD. Both are bad in their ways and all but, CoD never got a beta out so it never gave any chance of it to be polished. I see these games as crystals that have potential. BF3 was released as a rock and was polished during the beta and game, where as CoD is behind and is presented as a rock and is slowly polished into a crystal worth looking at. Battlefield 3 still has it’s problem but, CoD is presented full of problems. Therefore in my oppinion this game was overhyped for like many other games and now everyone is either satisfied or majorly unsatisfied with what Infinity ward and Sledgehammer co-operative progress.

  9. Well said FailPlayer. I have one thing to add: “what were you expecting” indeed. I mean MW is one of the best selling games of all time, how much can you change it, add/delete, before It’s something else no one wants to play? I enjoy this quite whole heartedly, it’s exactly what I wanted (minus a Famas :c ) MW2 with more game types more maps and a few tweeks. Halo did the same Damn thing and y’all love it so much.

    • All it would’ve taken is minor tweaks to the gameplay to actually make it better, like what Treyarch did, and Gears 3 has done. And it’s not like thinking of the little things is hard… example, Treyarch had leaning around corners, and then a Dolphin Dive. Infinity Ward don’t want the Treyarch additions in their game, fine, but there’s still stuff they could add, and most of the thoughts can come from just looking at the campaign. Like a quick roll left or right when proning.

      They didn’t even make an attempt at such a thing, which is why you can hardly call it a sequel. That’s fine if you absolutely loved the CoD4 gameplay to death with the only thing added over the last 5 years being throwing knives, but generally people expect little tweaks and additions to make or change their way of playing each sequel.
      Hell, Team Fortress 2 has been out longer and it’s changed more for the better.

      There’s just nothing more to expect with this game, and with that, even a nomination for multiplayer game of the year would give me an aneurism. The only thing that changes properly is the campaign, which is always good, but until we see a good, long and highly eventful single player like they used to do that will at least last a full day, I can’t throw any love out to the franchise anymore.

  10. Modern Warfare 3 is not a good game, fellas. Its a no skill flail fest of one bullet kills and air support. Every second of the game there is a UAV of some kind up so, theres that…. It takes Zero skill to run around with a shotgun and one shot kill people on the tiny maps.

    Multiplayer should be more fun than a death every 3 seconds from an unseen foe. The campaign was the worst of the 3 Modern Warfare games and Spec Ops, while ok, is just seems to be a little less than this game was hyped for. Survival would be fun if it was 4 people instead of two, but its missing something.

    Overall, this is the last Call of Duty im buying without playing it first, in fact. Anyone want a hardened edition? Its going on Ebay later today. Ill probably never take it out of its fancy box again so i might as well sell it.

    Battlefield 3 is so much better, ill be satisfied playing that….even the Uncharted multiplayer is more fun.

    Your rating screams of subjective fanboys. I expect more from you guys.

  11. To all the people complaining about this getting a higher score that battlefield its worth remembering that all reviews are subjective personal opinions and if you personally enjoy the game then they really shouldn’t get to you, unless of course there’s a niggling doubt in the back of your mind that you’re not having as much fun as you have convinced yourself which doesn’t go away no matter how you try slap it down with the wet flannel of weak excuses. Like the ones mentioned in above comments and smeared all over this video on youtube.

  12. I wish he hadn’t mentioned so much about the storyline, would have been some nice surprises which feel a bit spoilt now

  13. I just wish that Infinity Ward (Or any developer working on a call of duty title) would take an approach more focused on balancing and making it competitive than on just adding as many different things as possible to add “value”. Because really, what do killstreaks, deathstreaks, perks, and equipment do to make the core moving and shooting gameplay (the single best part of the call of duty engine/series) better? Nothing. Taking out killstreaks and deathstreaks, reducing the effects perks have, getting rid of launcher spam, scrapping all equipment but frags/semtex/flash/stun/smoke, and actually taking the time to truely balance the guns, would make a game worth playing. The best Call of Duty ever was CoD4, because it was the simplest game in the series that ran on the current (and by far the best) engine. Adding in all the crap doesn’t make things better, just look at tf2. One of THE most balanced shooters ever, and its as basic as they come.

    • I think that’s what Treyarch tried to do with Black ops. Making a good balanced game with actual gun action, but we saw how that ended. In my opinion i prefer Black ops because of this.
      even the idea of a deathstreak makes me annoyed. the ignorance of actual well “warfare” the MW-series gives is just childish. and the people playing the games are usually worse.

  14. Since I just bought BF3, I don’t think I’ll be getting another fps for a while.

  15. I’m so happy I didn’t purchase this game. I played 1 round of Spec Ops at my buddies dorm room and I have one word for this game.

    MEH.

  16. 3 of my friends and more are even considering selling their xbox because this game was such a huge disepointment..(they mostly play COD on xbox) are u serious with the 9.5 score then? I havent played the game myself, i intended too but there seem like there is no one who really cares for it, then also meaning IW to care enough to actully fix it sometimes.
    it was suposed to say mw3 on my wishlist for christmas but i think i’ll cross it out. either the reviews are insanly good like this one which probably is from a trusty fan of the series or its from a regulaur gamer saying its horrible.

  17. 9.5? ok there…..and pigs can fly…

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