Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Call Of Duty is struggling. It has been for years. Despite core development duties cycling between four studios now – Infinity Ward, Treyarch, Sledgehammer Games, and Raven Software – the crushing demands of hitting an annual release cycle have clearly worn what delights there once were in the formerly-venerable military shooter series down to a barely recognisable nub.
This year it's Sledgehammer's turn, picking up from Infinity Ward's 2022 Modern Warfare II remake and trying to round out a story that didn't need a retelling in the first place. To call the campaign half-baked would be an insult to undercooked pastries the world over – Modern Warfare III's solo mode clocks in at about seven-to-eight hours, if you're lucky.
Picking up from last year's game, things start out fairly interestingly, with an extraction mission centred on an isolated gulag that provides at least a slight narrative twist. Soon though, it's the now overly familiar experience of running around and gunning down faceless enemy forces, switching between protagonists almost every chapter as the story tries to build to a meaningful denouement. (Spoiler: it fails.)
"An open-map shooter shouldn't feel boring or predictable, but it does."
In Sledgehammer's defence, the studio clearly wants to do more here. The single biggest addition is the introduction of open combat missions, intended to move the campaign away from the series' tendency for glorified corridor runs in favour of expansive maps with multiple goals that can be tackled in any order to complete the overall objectives. It has potential, but feels let down by chore-like aims (GPS tag some crates, destroy X number of things) and no real stakes. There's the illusion of being able to try different approaches to achieve your goals, but in reality it's all dull shootouts — there's no point attempting stealth, for example, when groups of enemies are clustered around every target. An open-map shooter shouldn't feel boring or predictable, but it does.
Even Modern Warfare III's multiplayer offerings, CoD's bread and butter, feel phoned in, largely recycling maps and modes from its predecessor. Cutthroat, a 'new' nine-player mode — three teams of three players – attempts to introduce some squad-based strategy, but ultimately feels like an update of Gunfight, while almost everything else is the epitome of "been there, done that". Zombies, meanwhile, remains a somewhat deranged delight, abandoning the po-faced seriousness of the campaign and competitive multiplayer for a PvE battle against hordes of undead. Yet here, a shift to larger maps and extraction objectives makes for an experience that feels more like Warzone crossed with DMZ. It just doesn't impress as it once did, and overly long 45-minute matches drain it of any remaining fun.
As an added bonus, you can experience all of that mediocrity for the low, low cost of… almost all your device storage. Modern Warfare III eats up over 200GB, but that's just the download size — you need more space still for files to install onto, before some is clawed back once it's done. On PS5 (version tested), if you've not expanded the internal storage, you'll need to effectively clean out the default SSD to have a hope of installing everything. Sure, you don't need to install everything — if you only want the campaign, you can ignore the multiplayer components, for example — but the sheer bloat of the game feels excessive.
But none of that matters, does it? It's Call Of Duty, and people are going to keep buying it year in, year out, almost on instinct at this point, giving absolutely no incentive to change direction. The money train might be careening wildly off track, but it’s still a train full of money. What kernels of innovation there are here are ground to dust under the weight of being Annual Franchise Entry #20, leaving Sledgehammer with little, if any, room to try and evolve the experience. Short of CoD taking a few years off to catch its breath and rediscover what made players fall in love with the series all those years ago – which, let's face it, is not going to happen at this point, especially not after Microsoft splashed out $68.7 billion to gobble up parent company Activision – this might be the best we can hope for from the series: a constant regurgitation of its past glories with barely anything new to say or do.