These multiplayer impressions were conducted through the first weekend early access of the beta on the PlayStation 5 version of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
It’s always amusing when a developer’s attempt to sell their direct sequel to a long running franchise is through the repudiation of the last entry. This is the case with Activision so quickly moving on from last year’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” to this year’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3”. Ignoring the deja-vu of us having another “Modern Warfare” trilogy under our belts already (and the fact this year’s entry started reportedly as premium DLC for last year’s game), “Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3” finds itself in an interesting predicament.
Some of this year’s headline news include the remastering of the entire suite of maps from 2009’s “Modern Warfare 2” into the modern version of the “Call of Duty” engine and bringing Zombies to the “Modern Warfare” sub-series. However, the biggest talking point Activision and Sledgehammer Games have been trying to drive home in the pre-release environment is how this year’s entry walks back so many design decisions Infinity Ward implemented to last year’s game to bring back the hardcore players put off by it. But does walking back said design tenets make for a better multiplayer game than last year?
For some context: starting with the rebooted “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” in 2019, the franchise moved into a new iteration of its technology to provide a brisker, slicker, faster paced version of the game. From elements like more precise slide mechanics with the ability to slide cancel, tactical corner weapon perching and tactical sprinting, “Call of Duty” certainly felt like a more nimble shooter whose brisk feel and extra mechanics created a bigger skill gap between a more traditional player and the hardcore. The skill gap became wider with the introduction of 2020’s “Warzone” battle royale mode, which unlocked the potential of those extra mechanics and completely changed the flow of how players would play in “Call of Duty”. In the three years 2019’s “Modern Warfare ” was in rotation, there were complaints at how unrealistically wide in general the new mechanics made the skill gap and made even just going back to playing normal multiplayer a lopsided affair. Infinity Ward catered to these complaints when they moved on to their 2022 sequel.
While tactical sprinting and weapon perching made a return, movement speed in general was considerably nerfed in 2022’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2”, and slide canceling was neutered heavily so as to try to level the playing field in the multiplayer (and the changes were implemented with the extraction mode “DMZ” in mind). Also more tried and true franchise staples like the perk customization of your soldier as well as weapon unlocks were given what some would say unnecessary/complicated changes (perks would not activate until a certain point in a match; unlocking weapons would require leveling up specific weapons or “extracting” the weapons in DMZ instead of just unlocking via leveling up your character).
These changes, while definitely favorable to the more traditional player, were not received well by the more hardcore community. In light of the DMZ mode not being well received at all, and “Warzone” players feeling the mode got hurt because of the catering to DMZ, the reception 2022’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” got overall was definitely less glowing than its predecessor, and the popularity of the game waned heavily in comparison. Considering the healthy support the 2019 game got for three years even when other entries like “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War” and “Call of Duty: Vanguard” came to market, seeing Activision move on so quickly and make what we originally heard was gonna be premium DLC for last year’s game into the next numbered “Modern Warfare” entry says a lot.
So with the context out of the way, does this year’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” right the so-called ship with the mechanical walk backs, and does it do anything new to justify the new entry? Based on my time with the beta, I can imagine hardcore players will be happy, though I’m concerned about the viability of the multiplayer as a whole.
As someone who enjoyed the slower nature of last year’s multiplayer, playing it back to back with the beta of “Modern Warfare 3”, you can absolutely feel the increased speed in the new one that reminds me a lot of the 2019 game. If anything, and I haven’t reinstalled the 2019 game to confirm, I would dare say the movement in “Modern Warfare 3” feels even faster, especially after you crank up the FOV. If you are someone that loves playing the run and gunner and spraying your opponent with an AR or an SMG as you slide and jump your way through a firefight, you’ll be in heaven, because the feel of this game is almost obscenely fast. But if you were not for that kind of playstyle, it will heavily depend on you getting some of the wider maps for you to feel like you have a chance against the bunny hoppers.
Speaking of maps, as promised, “Modern Warfare 3” brings back the classic maps from the celebrated 2009 entry. In the beta, you get access to four maps: Skidrow, Fabela, Estate, and Rust. While a map like Rust is less special since Infinity Ward kept bringing it back in some of their older games like “Infinite Warfare” and 2019’s “Modern Warfare”, the other three maps did bring some warm and fuzzy feelings seeing them recreated in the higher fidelity version of the engine (even though it is funny seeing how much they removed the mountain ranges of Estate if you remember the 2009 game). To Sledgehammer’s credit, they recreated the maps almost to 99% accuracy, so if you remember previous flanking and hiding spots to approach the opponent, they are almost all here.
But even as enjoyable as the maps are you can definitely feel how they were designed for a different set of mechanics all those years back. Some of the changes Sledgehammer made to accommodate the new feel of the game have made some areas feel wider and less tighter than what you remember them being, on top of some extra aggravation when you include weapon perching. For those that are old enough to have lived through it, some of 2009’s “Modern Warfare 2” maps were heavily criticized by how camping heavy they felt, and in this beta we actually have two big offender examples from back then in Estate and Skidrow. When you include the map design with the weapon perching, the camping problem actually feels exacerbated with this game. Don’t be surprised if you are able to rack quite the kill count perched on top at the cabin in the Estate map, or the second floor areas of Skidrow.
On top of some of those mechanical aggravations mentioned, probably my biggest complaint in seeing the new maps, is the graphics themselves. While there is no denying the smoothness provided by the current iteration of the engine as well as the high resolution afforded by current generation machines, it’s just clear the art style employed in this “”Modern Warfare” trilogy is just bland, ugly and pedestrian. “Modern Warfare 3” employs an even more bland and grayish look to all its maps that makes the game feel ugly despite the sharp look and smooth framerate.
On top of that, in the pursuit of more photo-realism, it also makes these reprised, remastered maps feel like they have a readability problem. Sometimes there is so much unnecessary detail smudged together with the gray looks, don’t be surprised if you find yourself firing at your teammates thinking they are your enemy because the visuals themselves just make it that hard to differentiate at times what you are looking at. Having replayed 2009’s “Modern Warfare 2” via Xbox Backwards Compatibility earlier this year when servers got fixed, you can definitely feel there was thought put in the old game to differentiate your enemies from the environment (aided also by the lower level of detail). It’s in stark contrast to the new one where enemies blend so much, its hilarious seeing so many attempts at friendly fire which I know will be aggravating when players do the HUD-less Hardcore modes.
Ground War also made its return and the beta allows you once again to partake on its proto-“Battlefield” style matches in the “Call of Duty” engine. I have always held the belief “Call of Duty” works better as a close quarters twitch style shooter than the more grander scale matches that are more suited to the “Battlefield” sandbox. But I did enjoy Ground War in last year’s game the few times I played it and this year’s game it definitely feels on par with that, just with the faster movement. If you are hoping to get your feet warm with the feel in this year’s game for when they debut the new “Warzone” map, I feel Ground War currently is your best shot at a warm up. It’s just still not my preferred way to play “Call of Duty”, particularly when you get caught up in the long runs through the big map to find your opponent.
I definitely wanna give it more time before I can render a full verdict on whether or not the direction taken in “Modern Warfare 3” is the right one after how rejected last year’s game feels in hindsight. I still need to see if progression to unlock weapons is as obtuse and specific like it was last year (up til Level 10 it feels more straightforward but who knows). I need to see if the rest of the maps they are bringing back from the 2009 game also have the same plus and minuses I felt with the beta offerings. I have to hope that when we move on from the launch offerings, the map additions they’ll develop to complement these remastered maps can at least make a mark.
It feels as though the franchise keeps relying on maps developed close to 10 years ago (something you can even blame the “Black Ops” sub franchise from doing). And more than anything, I hope the full game provides a real hook of its own, as what’s on offer here so far doesn’t really dissuade the notion that this was premium DLC from the last game blown up into a full game due to the less than stellar reaction from the hardcore players. Maybe we’ll get that hook in the campaign and the zombies mode, the latter of which is rumored to be added into the beta in the coming days which will be interesting.
In the end, even with the additions and subtractions from last year’s game, this still feels like more “Call of Duty”. Considering the franchise’s continuous success, that’ll either be a good or bad thing depending on where you are with the franchise at the moment. At least from the multiplayer side, depending on how you felt with last year’s game, these changes will determine for you if it’s worth enlisting again to the yearly cycle. But based on the offering, it’s a faster old dog with the same bag of old tricks so far.