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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III Multiplayer Review

Modern Warfare boldly goes where it’s gone before

12 years on since my introduction to the Call of Duty series in the form of Modern Warfare 3 and my subsequent full-blown addiction to that title, it’s safe to say that these old ears don’t quite hear the relentless annual calls to duty at the same volume. It’s a series I have always loved and one that manages to suck me in every year, but the modern glitzy assault of microtransactions (and sometimes macrotransactions) and soupe-du-jour franchise tie-ins never fail to make me feel a little old. Every year it becomes harder to dig through the neon filth of the battle passes and invitations to buy this or that preposterous thing (Nicki Minaj skins anyone?) in order get down to the core of what really is a highly polished, well-honed multiplayer shooter machine. But that core is there I promise you, and this year’s Modern Warfare III is no different. While the series’ refusal to innovate at this point is brazen to the point of absurdity, Call of Duty remains a one-of-a-kind juggernaut in the multiplayer FPS space, however bloated and battle-weary both it and its old fans have become.

Still got it (kind of)

If you are a fan of the Call of Duty franchise, you have absolutely played this game before. Exceedingly similar in both look and feel to the soft reboot of Modern Warfare and its sequel Modern Warfare II, and sharing the same Gunsmith system that’s been kicking around since 2019, you’ve been here before. Not only does it ape the feel of its modern predecessors essentially note for note, developer Infinity Ward has also dug into the archive and recycled over a dozen maps from 2009’s Modern Warfare 2. If the numbering system and chronology at this point is confusing I promise you that you’re not alone.

I will admit that I only have a passing memory of MW2 (as mentioned MW3 was the true debut title in my illustrious Call of Duty career), so the resurrection of these maps doesn’t truly tickle my teabag, but I can appreciate that many of these maps harken back to the simpler designs of the games of yore that I truly miss. In the core multiplayer modes of Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Domination and the like, small maps with predictable three-lane designs will always be king in the opinion of this reviewer. Maps like Highrise, Wasteland, Rust, Terminal and Scrapyard are simply a blast no matter the mode due to the deliberate predictability of their design, ease of memorisation and simple flow. Some middling maps have less flow until you learn their intricacies (Sub Base and Karachi come to mind), and other maps like the massively open Quarry and labyrinthine Favela can go back to the hell hole from whence they came (a controversial take I imagine for fans of MW2).

Many of the maps prioritise mid-to-long range gun fights, meaning the trusty class of assault rifles and godforsaken class of sniper rifles are the most likely thing you’ll find yourself on the business end of (depending on your level on honour). I’m yet to find a perfect SMG rush or shotgun rage-inducer strategy for the majority of the maps, and I haven’t seen nearly as many of those on the battlefield either, however given the positively ludicrous amount of guns in MWIII it’s surely only a matter of time. Indeed, MWIII draws directly on the roster of guns from MW and MWII (and their upgrade progress from those games is carried forward), meaning it is absolutely bursting at the seams with death-dealing choices. It’s moderately overwhelming, and some of the differences between weapons in a class are a little hard to tease apart, but experimentation is key and you’re bound to fall in love with at least one of the several dozen boomsticks on offer.

As mentioned, the Gunsmith system returns and is largely unchanged, allowing you to fit up to five modifications on different parts of the weapon which can do things like affect aim down sight (ADS) time, sprint to fire speed, hipfire accuracy and recoil. Most attachments grant boons and penalties in multiple categories, and how you build your weapon can make a substantial difference to how it plays and feels. These changes are unfortunately represented in a nebulous slider system (I would prefer some hard numbers), but whether an attachment gives you what you need without sacrificing too much in another stat is a simple matter of experimentation and refinement. A relatively subtle new aiming manoeuvre called Tac Stance can also be affected by attachments, giving another dimension to how you build your dream gun. Essentially a hybrid of hipfire and full ADS, Tac Stance gives you more accuracy than the former and more manoeuvrability than the latter and can be super useful for SMGs and shotguns in particular.

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This starship should never have flown

Other useful additions to Gunsmith come in the form of Aftermarket parts, which are special attachments acquired by nominating a particular armoury unlock and then completing a requisite amount of daily challenges (x amount of double kills, y amounts of headshots with an LMG, you know the drill). While these armoury unlocks are awesome (I have a Cronen red dot laser sight that I can’t live without), the grindy nature of the system for unlocking them is less so. There are dozens of these unlocks and they are not just for attachments, but perks, equipment, and even special guns too, yet there are only three daily challenges and a bonus challenge in a 24-hour period to unlock them. The Sidewinder battle rifle requires eight daily challenge completions to unlock (and it’s terrible to boot), meaning if you are just playing the core modes it would take a two or three days of consistent logging on. Luckily at the moment there appears to be some sort of bug where daily challenges can be completed more than once to speed up the process, so maybe get on that while you can.

While the core modes are where you’ll obviously find the most action, as is tradition the game does try its hand at at least one superfluous mode that is usually destined for the single-digit player count bargain bin shortly after its introduction (something which is a killer for us players girt by sea who like pings under 50ms). This year it comes in the form of the limited lives 3v3v3 Cutthroat mode, which for my tastes is drier that an oven-baked Salada. You either eliminate the other team within the time limit or capture an overtime flag to win a round, and if you die then you have to watch your remaining teammates try and do better until you respawn the following round. I’ve never been enamoured with limited lives Call of Duty modes, as I’d rather respawn in a heartbeat and throw myself directly back into the fray, but perhaps fans of Search and Destroy who are used to that sort of thing might find something to love here.  MWIII also attempts a revival of the relatively entertaining War mode from Call of Duty: WWII, but it’s a fairly underwhelming affair with only a single map featuring objectives that feel silly rather than the epic I think it’s going for. At best it’s a meatgrinder where you can maybe test out some new guns without fear of damaging your KD ratio, as (whether by design or a bug) kills and deaths sit at zero by default and don’t contribute to your global stats.

Stay frosty, Snoop Dogg

Funnily enough, the greatest amount of innovation comes in the ever-popular Zombies mode, which this year blends the formula with an open-world concept that feels like fresh horizons. It kind of feels like a mashup of Blackout and rouge-like elements that makes each run contribute to the success of the subsequent run as you complete contracts, hunt for precious loot, build up an arsenal and progress a unique story on a gargantuan map. It’s a mode I only tend to dabble in, but there’s some substantial decaying meat on these zombie bones this year, and it’s sure to slake the undying thirst of the Zombie mode die-hards out there.

At the twilight of any of my Call of Duty reviews, it’s customary to address the technical performance, which in a title this fast is essential to get right. Given it feels predominantly like a large expansion for MWII, and the fact they’ve been at this caper for the better part of two decades, the graphics and animations are incredibly slick, and the net code appears relatively smooth. Playing with a wired connection on Xbox Series X I typically found low latency, high-quality matches with ease. The time-to-kill feels a little on the long side compared to the Modern Warfare reboot (which is absolutely fine by me), and the dreaded sensation of feeling like you’re getting melted in a millisecond while your gun seems to shoot flower petals is largely absent. In a welcome move you can also switch on the option to monitor latency and packet loss in real time on your HUD, so you can easily decide whether it’s your trash skills or trash internet (porque no los dos!) which is causing you pain.

Final Thoughts

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The Call of Duty franchise has become a bloated behemoth of a thing, steadily cheapening its aesthetic over the years with aggressive exclusionary microtransaction strategies and a dedication to the cartoonish pop culture skin market inspired by the house of Fortnite. But beneath all of that is a game whose mechanics and moving parts have been iteratively refined over annual release after annual release, and it remains one the tightest FPS experiences out there. Modern Warfare III’s core multiplayer is finely tuned, content rich and incredibly addictive, but it is simultaneously uninspired and unadventurous in the extreme. Like an old man shaking a bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies I yearn for the glorious past of the series, and perhaps a pared back experience that does away with the rot that has infected the game’s exterior, a rot that partially masks its strengths as a mechanically fantastic multiplayer shooter. But as long as people buy into battle passes and flash-in-a-pan tie-ins, and the game eventually ceases to be a license to print money for Activision-Blizzard, then I guess I will have to answer the annual call of duty alongside Groot, Snoop Dogg and Spawn to get my fix for now.

Reviewed on Xbox Series X // Review code supplied by publisher

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III Multiplayer Review
War. War Never Changes
Modern Warfare III does even less this year to shake up the multiplayer formula, but mechanically it's the same finely honed beast that sets the bar for fast-paced multiplayer shooters
The Good
Visual and mechanical polish sets the bar for fast-paced multiplayer shooters
Glut of offensive options bolstered by the still excellent Gunsmith system
Some of the recycled MW2 maps have that perfect classic Call of Duty feel and flow
Network telemetry data on the HUD
The Bad
Virtually idenitical in look and feel to its modern predecessors
Insistence on aggressive monetisation and lurid skins are not a vibe
Armoury unlocks will be grindy if they patch the daily challenge bug
Cutthroat mode does not inspire, War mode feels hollow
7.5
Solid
  • Infinity Ward
  • Activision
  • November 10, 2023
  • PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X&S / Xbox One/ PC

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III Multiplayer Review
War. War Never Changes
Modern Warfare III does even less this year to shake up the multiplayer formula, but mechanically it’s the same finely honed beast that sets the bar for fast-paced multiplayer shooters
The Good
Visual and mechanical polish sets the bar for fast-paced multiplayer shooters
Glut of offensive options bolstered by the still excellent Gunsmith system
Some of the recycled MW2 maps have that perfect classic Call of Duty feel and flow
Network telemetry data on the HUD
The Bad
Virtually idenitical in look and feel to its modern predecessors
Insistence on aggressive monetisation and lurid skins are not a vibe
Armoury unlocks will be grindy if they patch the daily challenge bug
Cutthroat mode does not inspire, War mode feels hollow
7.5
Solid
Written By Kieran Stockton

Kieran is a consummate troll and outspoken detractor of the Uncharted series. He once fought a bear in the Alaskan wilderness while on a spirit quest and has a PhD in organic synthetic chemistry XBL: Shadow0fTheDog PSN: H8_Kill_Destroy

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