Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 campaign impressions - one step forward

Ghost with his characteristic Ghost stare
(Image credit: Activision)

The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2023) campaign kicks off with a bang. Opening on a nighttime prison break, the game almost immediately has you rappelling through a pitch-black panopticon taking potshots at guards as the prisoners begin to riot.

Illuminated by the bright blue glow of night vision goggles, it’s a fantastic opening set piece in the latest entry in the blockbuster first-person shooter (FPS) series that acts as a perfect way to bring you right back into the bombastic action that we enjoyed throughout the campaign of its predecessor, Modern Warfare 2. An old enemy resides at the heart of the prison and, once freed, international terrorist Vladimir Makarov begins to put a sinister new plan into motion. 

With a potentially catastrophic international war approaching at a rapid pace, the stakes have never been higher - provided that you’ve already forgotten about the time we thwarted orbital death lasers in Call of Duty: Ghosts or saw the results of the literal global apocalypse that preceded the events of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

Friendly faces

An early mission in Modern Warfare 3

(Image credit: Activision)

This recurring threat, of course, means the return of the legendary Task Force 141, whose exploits have been the main focus of the rebooted Modern Warfare sub-series. There’s undeniably something incredibly satisfying about seeing familiar faces like Captain Price, adorned with his absolutely iconic mustache, and the mysterious Ghost back in the saddle once again. It’s like meeting up with old friends but, given the relative recency of Modern Warfare 2, it’s hard not to feel the impact of their return is somewhat lessened. 

Picking up right where Modern Warfare 2’s live service content ended, this is a far more conventional sequel than many previous entries - if you haven't played before, check out this video outlining the story so far. This is evident partly in the narrative’s tone, at least if the first few hours are anything to go by. While 2019’s Modern Warfare reboot was extremely gritty, featuring several shocking sequences with surprisingly grounded depictions of modern combat, last year’s Modern Warfare 2 embraced a far more explosive action-movie approach to its storytelling.

From everything we’ve played so far Modern Warfare 3 falls firmly in line with the latter with plenty of amusing Marvel-esque quips. That’s not to say that there aren’t still some gripping moments throughout the opening, however. One early stealth segment sees you step into the shoes of Task Force 141’s CIA handler Laswell as she infiltrates a hostile military base while disguised as an enemy soldier. Staying a safe distance from guard patrols with your weapon firmly in the holster, it’s an exhilarating change of pace that delivers a memorable departure from the series’ traditional “shoot first, ask questions later” approach to combat. 

Like many Call of Duty missions, however, the mechanics here can feel a little basic compared to other FPS games. It’s no surprise that the stealth in a series about shooting is very limited but, after we experienced the introduction of some interesting ideas like item crafting in Modern Warfare 2, something a little more ambitious would have certainly been appreciated.

Freeform fighting

An open combat mission in Modern Warfare 3

(Image credit: Activision)

Outside of the traditional linear moments, Modern Warfare 3 introduces Open Combat Missions (OCMs). This entry’s flagship new addition, OCMs are effectively open-world segments that allow you to approach a series of objectives in any way you please. While we saw something like the beginnings of this idea during the Modern Warfare 2 story campaign, particularly with the large semi-open environment of the “Recon by Fire” sniping mission, your ability to go off the beaten track has been greatly expanded this time around.

Although we were half expecting OCMs to be few and far between, they actually comprise the vast majority of the game’s opening. For example, the second mission sees you dropped into a large open port armed with nothing but a knife. Sneaking around and taking out unsuspecting heavily-armed guards is an engaging challenge while scavenging any weapons you can find encourages you to experiment with your arsenal in a way that’s quite unlike anything we’ve seen before.

OCMs are effectively open-world segments that allow you to approach a series of objectives in any way you please

In addition to the weapons dropped by enemies, there are various crates littered around the map filled with useful goodies. This includes customized versions of weapons, complete with their own skins, additional armor upgrades, or even killstreaks ripped straight from the game’s multiplayer suite. Vehicles like ATVs or armored cars are also scattered here and there, granting the ability to quickly traverse flatter areas. There’s almost something very Warzone (the game’s online battle royale component) about this method of gaining gear, but it’s unquestionably effective.

In one memorable moment, we managed to get our hands on a few automated turrets. Tactically placing them at vantage points around our current location, we fired a few loud shots up into the air in order to attract any nearby enemies. The result was complete carnage and a very smug feeling of satisfaction.

Occasional loadout boxes allow you to choose to instantly equip something from a selection of discovered items, with a handy progress bar on the pause screen denoting how many unique weapons you have managed to uncover. This seems perfect for increasing the replayability of Modern Warfare 3 and we're already greatly looking forward to going back to these maps after our initial playthrough to hunt down any hidden treasures which we might have missed on the first try. 

For more about Modern Warfare 3, read our interview about how open combat missions change the rules of engagement or find out what the developers learned from indie development.

Dashiell Wood
Hardware Writer

Dash is TechRadar Gaming's Hardware Writer. Before joining TechRadar, he was a print journalist writing articles for some of the UK's biggest gaming magazines including PLAY, Edge, PC Gamer, and SFX. Now, when he's not getting his greasy little mitts on the newest hardware or gaming gadget, he can be found feverishly devouring the latest Nintendo Switch otome.